Saturday, June 27, 2015

Thoroughly baked from Malacca - Day 2 (113km)

Traditional way of making coffee - the good ole sock!

The awesome view of Spore Straits 20th floor up from Taman Perling.

Never slept with so many bicycles in my life in the same room.

Crystal Inn has always been our choice bike friendly hotel in Batu Pahat as they have good clean beds and powerful aircon, ensuring our laundry is 100% dry. Waking up fresh, we were ready to hit the road again but first order of the day was to fuel up at the buffet breakfast. Our target was firstly Pontian 73km away where we planned to meet our buddy Ying Chang for lunch at 1pm, then to Johor Baru.

Leaving at 745am, we worked our way through the morning traffic continuing along the coastal Highway 5 towards Pontian. Weather forecast indicated a chance of rain and that was so welcome in light of the previous day's blazing sun that really burnt us "hitam" (black).

Getting out of Batu Pahat was a little challenging as laid before us were about 7-8 km of rolling hills. Nothing too difficult to worry about but enough to ensure a decent workout. This agrees with my philosophy of life - work hard early to enjoy later.George was somehow notably stronger today and I struggled to follow him. With the hills out of the way, we maintained a steady cruise of 25km/h towards Senggarang where we stopped for a short break at the ever familiar airconditioned Shell station an hour later. Taking refuge in airconditioning is truly life-saving and prevents heat stroke!

My best friend on the Malaysian roads.

Here, I discovered a most "delicia" snack - Gardenia Sambal Billis bun. This has spicy chillies and anchovies as a filling and downed with cold Milo, I was in heaven! I must stock up on this.


Our next stop was Benut at the 48km mark. This town brings back memories as we had to put one newbie tourer on the bus here as she was exhausted coming from Pontian on our last trip up to Malacca in Feb last year. Happy to report that Judith has made huge progress since and is an extremely competent tourer now. As we passed along the shophouses, I spotted a coffeeshop selling Dim Sum and noodles which got me to a screeching stop. I cannot believe how hungry I was and needed to eat constantly but I suppose as a touring cyclist, we can do so without feeling the least guilty. As the famous Wanton Noodles with Ying Chang was in a mere 1 hour's time, George and I shared a Kway Teow Mee soup noodles which brought immense satisfaction for a princely RM$4!


For some reason, the last leg to Pontain was a real slog. Things were really hotting up and temperatures got to around 36c again at noon. What we did not expect were headwinds blowing directly in front of us. No matter how hard I peddled, my cyclometer showed a paltry 15km/h and it was sheer torture. It did not help that my old knee injury started to play up too. Never before riding 25km on a flat road brought so much misery!

But then suddenly like a life raft that appears unexpected before a fatique swimmer, Ying Chang came from nowhere and overtook us 5-6km before we reached Pontian. He had cycled from JB and was bored waiting for us at MacDonalds as he arrived one hour too soon. With tail winds, he was flying! He then gallantly came in front of us and allowed us to draft him. That really lifted our sagging spirits and we were doing a more decent 20+km/h into Pontian town where the first order of the day was to attack the famous ice cold Indian Chendol - a coconut milk with palm sugar dessert. It had many people enjoying themselves there and we were glad we got seating.


The town of Pontian is famous for its food, most notably Wanton Noodles. There are several eateries there but for today, we targetted Sin Kee Pontian Wanton mee which is conveniently located next to a bicycle shop. This one is unique in that it has a tomato sauce based gravy and is absolutely delicious. The chef is a very nice baldy guy and he chatted with us. For starters, we also had tasty Otak roasted in banana leaves which I could easily polish off a dozen myself.


Before this blog becomes LovetheFOOD, its back to the adventure. This being the hottest part of the day, we were doing our ride back to JB in short bits. An easy 20km or so to Pekan Nanas proved tough especially with so much food and liquid sloshing around in our bellies. When we saw the first petrol station upon reaching PN, we dove straight for some much needed airconditioning. I was at this stage looking like a drowned rat and a cold 100 Plus isotonic drink helped me maintain my sanity. At this stage, we were looking and smelling far from presentable. Ying Chang suggested we go for coffee to wait out the heat and we found a nice coffeeshop in town.


It was good that we took a short cut that led us to Gelang Patah where we parted ways with Ying Chang who parked his car at Nusantara. There, we rested at Amin Restaurant and finished off freshly made ice lime drinks and I took the opportunity to ice my aching knee. This injury occured when I was cycling up the very steep Wulin 3275m peak in Taiwan some years back and sadly, it does play out every now and then. Guess age is catching up on me.


As we had a dinner appointment with Claudine and her family at 7pm, we reluctantly got back on our saddle and cycled to Taman Perling where we were to spent the night in our friend's condo. The 12km ride there was on the coastal highway with fast traffic but fortunately, we enjoyed a very broad shoulder. The first thing that we did upon arrival at the condo was to hit the pool.

What a wonderful way to end a long and hot ride all the way from Malacca. I will never forget the refreshing dip in the cool blue pool and I leapt in joyful celebration for the 210km ride. My grateful thanks to God for his protection and provision on this adventure, and for great friends like George and Ying Chang for doing this together with me! You guys rock.


He will not let your foot slip, he who watches over you will not slumber. Psalm 121:3 NIV

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thoroughly baked from Malacca - Day 1, 22/6 (98km)

It must have been nearly 13 years ago when I last cycled back 220km from a church camp in Malacca to Singapore with my friends Koh Gay and Marvin. It was a fun ride home but I caught a high fever at Batu Pahat due to the heat. I was stucked at The Katherina Hotel for 2 nights to recuperate. Since then, I have cycled up to Malacca twice and I always enjoy riding the coastal route passing small towns and cruising along the quieter roads.

Last weekend we had church camp again at Malacca, this time at the Marvelux Hotel. The theme was Connecting the Dots and it was wonderful to indeed connect with the great folks at Evangel and connect afresh with God's Word, preached so well by Rev Dr Mark Chan. Because Malacca is such a historically rich city, it was great fun to organize an Amazing Race game for the participants that took us to her iconic attractions.


Riding back to Singapore was a golden opportunity for me to get back in shape to prepare for our upcoming Very Southern Thailand Adventure Ride in early August. Hence, my faithful Bike Friday Expedition nicely folded into a very manageable bag rode up in the car and sat obediently in my hotel room until it was time for action. I was very grateful to have a good friend George Kee who took the bus up with his Dahon foldie on Sunday night to accompany me on our 2 day 220km ride down south to Singapore. My policy is always to ride with a buddy for safety and practical reasons.


After a big breakfast at our hotel, we left at 745am. The plan was to cover as much as possible the 100km ride to Batu Pahat before the blazing sun was in her full glory. It was wonderful to be spinning again and I was surprised that I  was in better shape than imagined. Of course we had to stop for pictures as my kind of touring is not about speed but about savouring magical moments. 


Leaving the city of Malacca and entering the quiet countryside, we were surrounded by greenery and open spaces. Passing through the unique Malaccan designed houses with its pointed roof, I recalled as a young boy my father who was an Art Educator, teaching me about its uniqueness as we drove along in his Toyota Corolla. 


While architecture did not really catch on with me, I was fascinated more with cars and still am. Parked inside these houses were old cars and what caught my attention were 40+ yr old Toyota Corollas that still served faithfully. I spotted 2nd Gen KE 20, KE 30 as well as a KE70 in superb condition. It is a testament of Toyota's bullet proof reliability. 


We entered the beautiful town of Muar at about 1030am some 45 kms later and took a picture of the river as we crossed it. In the old days, traffic had to use a car ferry but today, there is even a lane for motorcycles and bicycles on the bridge.

Muar is very well known for Assam Pedas Fish (spicy sour fish dish) as well as Otak Otak. But we wanted something more agreeable with our stomachs and by God's grace, we stumbled upon a lovely Bak Kut Teh restaurant in a cool and shady part of town. This is a rich Pork Rib Soup eaten with rice and our small wheeled bicycles were met with fascination. The owner came to sit down with us and have a chat about our adventure and the friendliness of small town folks is truly a blessing. We really enjoyed the meal washed down with ice Chinese Tea and it was really hard to get back on our saddles.


Riding out of Muar, a very cool elderly Muslim gentleman wearning a white tunic and sporting a goatee came alongside me on his motorcycle to ask where I was heading and to wish us journey blessings. That was much needed as at noon, the sun dial was switched to maximum!  My Cateye cyclo computer was registering 40c at times and this was giving me a bad migraine. Just coming in from the cold wintery days of Perth, the contrast was literally unbearable. A quick stop at a provision shop for drinks and shade, I took the opportunity to have an impromtu cool bath. This was my first time after years of touring! That with 2 Panadols got me going again. Even under the roof of the shop, the temperature hovered at 36c!


The ride to Batu Pahat in the heat of the day is certainly not pleasant. I usually will be finding a place to have an afternoon siesta from 12-3pm but we wanted to arrive early. Being Ramadan or the Muslim fasting month, all Muslim shops were closed. The only places open for us to revive were petrol stations and the few Chinese coffeeshops. Our favourite were aircon Shell Stations and here, George taught me a quick way to cool down. Just stick your head into the fridge! It works!!!


Fortunately, nearing Batu Pahat the roads were lined with trees and that provided the much needed shade. The trick was to ride slowly through the shade, and speed up out in the open sun.

We arrived at Batu Pahat just before 4pm and checked into our regular Crystal Inn. The ice cool aircon lobby felt like heaven when we entered and this being a bike friendly hotel, we could take our bikes up to our spacious room. It was a pity that our friend KC could not join us here as planned as he fell ill at the last minute. A quick shower, nice cold tall drinks and a little horizontal meditation got us springing back to life again. 


After 98km of cycling, we were famished and deserved a good feed. A quick walk round the corner of our hotel, we discovered Ah Tee Seafood or Restaurant Hai Chen. Turn left exiting Crystal Inn. Left again at traffic lights. Walk 200m pass Hyundai Showroom 2nd left. We ordered sweet sour pork, claypot veggies and a lovely Lotus root soup, eaten with hot steaming rice. 



The meal was absolutely delicious with a home cooked taste. A flaming wok is the key to choosing a good restaurant and it helped that the service was friendly, efficient and attractive too! We were blown away when it came to settling the bill - an amazing RM$32 or A$12 for the 2 of us.


After dinner, we went on a walk and stumbled upon a very busy night market. We spotted a spa offering traditional massage and enjoyed that very much. George and I had no problem falling asleep after a hard day's ride in our airconditioned hotel room.

We were thoroughly baked but not burnt out yet. Somehow we managed to survive the hot ride and my thoughts drifted to the next day as it is an even longer ride.But the wise words of Jesus in Matthew 6:34 made a lot of sense as I drifted quickly into dreamland.

So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.

Monday, May 11, 2015

3rd Brompton Anniversary Gathering in Singapore

Pic BromSG

Pic BromSG

Pic BromSG

Pic Roland

The Brompton is arguably the best folding bicycle for city use, with its unbeatable compact fold. It also happens to be my first folding bicycle, which I bought used in 2005 for a princely sum of $400, with the Avon Cyclery decal proudly proclaiming its British heritage. I supposed Bromptons were an unknown entity then. I have enjoyed bringing my precious Brompton to many countries and even entered it in a bike race through Angkor Wat.

The Singapore dealer for Strida bicycles was looking to expand their product line then and I loaned him my cream colour Brompton for 2 weeks. They got the dealership and as they say, the rest is history.

For Singapore use, the Brompton has proven itself exceptionally well. With its ability to roll when folded, thus avoiding carrying 11kg through MRT connections, its unbeatable folded package and frisky performance, it now has a cult-like following. This has resulted in Brompton Cycling Clubs and yearly gatherings, which I was invited to a few weeks ago by my good buddy Roland and his wife May.

It was wonderful to see over 300 Bromptons gather under the Marina Bay Flyover and I was impressed by the organisation. AIA Life Insurance was sponsoring breakfast and coffee/tea, as well as giving out generous goodie bags later consisting of a bicycle pouch and a power bank. This being the 3rd such gathering, it attracted fellow Bromptoneers from Europe, Malaysia and even Thailand. I could not believe that there was even a drone operated by Patrick Pereria, a professional drone pilot to take videos from the air! At the end our ride, there was also free cold drinks sponsored by Monster.

What caught my eye was how far Brompton owners would go to "upgrade" their precious steeds with Titanium bits, fancy accessories, modified 11 speed Alfine hub gears, super light wheel sets which all add up to already a very expensive bicycle (retails around S$3k stock). No wonder one of my friends remarked that this was a rich men/women bicycle club and my plain vanilla 13 year old fairly used Brompton looked rather tired and out of place amongst her glittering brethren. Interestingly, there was a Brompton recumbent ridden by Olivier from Belgium as well that added to the spectacle.

Pic Brom SG

Kudos to the organisers for a well planned event with "unfold and ride" races, best dressed competition, best modified Brompton award and we did a group ride to the brand new Cruise Terminal. With 300 Bromptons gliding together, it was quite a sight some with a dog in their front basket.

                                                                                                     Pic BromSG

It was great to meet old friends and make new friends, and experience the camaraderie among fellow Bromptoneers. This is what cycling is all about and I look forward to next year's gathering of the Bromptoneers. Will it exceed 350?

Pic Roland


This is a video shot by Patrick of Avion 360 of last year's Brompton gathering. Very impressive.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Connected at last!


Berenda, one of the many LCSG Angels that helped organized the event - Pic KC

Pic Taiwoon



For the longest time, the wonderful cycle paths of the East Coast Parkway in Singapore had a most unhappy ending. One can cycle all the way from Changi Village, through the lovely East Coast Park for nearly 20km or so but it ends abruptly at Fort Road. It's like watching a beautiful movie only to experience a power failure and all the build up that takes much work to develop suddenly gets killed just like that.

Hence, I was overjoyed and very pleased to learn of the opening of this most important connector recently and yesterday, the National Parks organised a ride to celebrate this opening. My good buddy Roland invited me to tag along and I joined over 100 cyclists at the Road Safety Center that met at 8am. There was a briefing about the finer points of cycling this most magnificent part of Singapore. It was also lovely to meet many cycling friends and good to see Taiwoon, the co-founder of LCSG there all beaming and inspiring his flock.

Pic Daphne Ngo

2 rides were organised, the 8km and 14km routes and I joined the latter. It is always nice to be on my Tikit chatting with friends as we cruised together as Group 2. The connector starts by a special green bridge for cyclists that went overhead, passing Fort Road and continued along skirting the Marina Bay Golf Course. This very significant 1km + journey then led to Rhu Cross, which fringes the lovely Marina Bay "lake", and allowed us to enjoy this beautiful and famous playground of Singapore. The ride through Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands etc is truly a must do for any visitors to Singapore as it is truly breath-taking.

We did a loop passing through the Singapore Flyer and the impressive new Singapore Sports Hub and Stadium. I noticed too how crowded the waterways were with so many kayaks as well as dragon boats speeding away. We returned back to the East Coast Park once again via the Happy Connector (for a lack of a name) and was pleasantly surprised at the lovely welcome back at the Road Safety Park. Cold drinks, bananas and a much appreciated goodie bag with gifts of arm sleeves, a small bike pouch and a map of the East Coast Cycling area.

All in, it was a lovely morning well spent. Kudos to the National Parks for the wonderful job at making the Singapore cycling scene more and more vibrant and to LCSG for their tireless advocacy and support. It is indeed delightful to be able to cycle from the Singapore River all the way to Changi Village completely on the wonderful park connectors. Connected at last!