Friday, June 27, 2008

Touring Lessons I've learnt...

Urgh! Another hill
Bagged foldie - your ticket to adventure & fun!

Get the best room your budget allows you to... nothing like a good rest to be refreshed

Be adventurous not just on the saddle. Try new foods!

This friendly farmer stopped his Landrover to have a chat with us. Nice!

Foldies going into the room with no trouble at all!

The KTM trains are quite comfortable and spacious. A conductor "testing" the seats.

A sense of humour is arguably more impt than a spare tube at times!

1. Foldies truly open your travelling options - The bus we took had a pretty tight luggage hold that only foldies could fit in. The hotels did not mind us bringing the bikes into the rooms, even unbagged, giving us 100% security. No worries coming back in the train with foldies. The conductors were ok with 3 guys & 3 bags with foldies. This trip could not have been done with a full size bike, travelling the BHT way we did.

2. Having a bike gave us the ticket to explore places freely and made interesting places so accessible. I reckon everyone should bring along a foldie on their trips. You see and experience so much more.

3. Foldies bring out the best in people. Smiles, curious questions, friendly waves & toots on the road and a general desire to help us. One restaurant invited us to fill up our water bottles for free. This makes all the difference when you travel.

4. Do not underestimate hills. They can kill you esp when they come wave after wave. On hindsight, I should have ridden my Bike Friday Tikit fitted with Biopace 42t chain ring for superior climbing ability. But their touring rack is still in development. Lynette, help!

5. Always eat well and sleep in comfortable rooms. Also, bring water. Too much is better!

6. Watch out for your ride buddy. Rides are fun and safer when you are not out to prove anything. Its also ok to ride together with different bikes. Sadly, some narrow minded folks don't think so. Mutual encouragement, sharing of resources, concern and help for each other make all the difference. Putting on a servant attitude will make your ride real enjoyable for everyone. Don't forget to bring along your sense of humour too!
7. ??? Do add to the list if you like, click comments :) I would love to hear from your experiences.

Paul's amazing Dahon Curve D3 commuter/tourer

Don't mess with this guy! He has a deadly Curve...

Doing this trip on a 8 speed foldie is already challenging enough. Paul, who lives to ride, decided to bring along his white little cutesy 3 speed hub-gear Dahon Curve D3 for the crazy adventure. The Curve is a strict 16" wheel commuter and is arguably the best value foldie at S$850. With its standard Big Apple tires fitted with optional rack, mudguards and Thudbuster seatpost, it is surprisingly capable as a mini-tourer. Mr Brown of the infamous Mr Brown Show has one too!

Made for the humble purpose of "commutes combining riding with bus/train rides", using the Curve was like using a Honda Jazz to do the Trans Borneo race. Guess what? With Paul's iron legs, he was the fastest among us. Maxed over 60km/h downhills! Even with only 3 speeds, the Curve under Paul's power put us to shame. He even overtook a fully laden logging truck struggling uphill!

The Curve truly is a most remarkable bike. Paul has made folding bike history by being the first 16" 3 speed bike to conquer Cameron Highlands!
Check it out at:

Joy & pain captured - CH to Gua Musang ride

If your idea of bicycle joy is cycling fast without pedalling, hitting over 60kmh over a stretch of 24km, then you will love flying down the Cameron Highlands/Gua Musang highway. You can see how well made and wide the excellent roads are. A tandem with its heavier weight has been known to hit over 80kmh, and its safe. Add in nearly zero traffic, this is as good as it gets!

But what comes after the 24km downhill ride as mentioned earlier, is endless rolling hills, one after another. They seem to be wickedly engineered to torture you into submission and exhaustion, as can be seen in this video. Ideally, one should have a support vehicle that will bring you up those long hills and you just ride the downhills. But for those keen on "suffer-fest", it could be your cup of tea! Be warned, this is an absolutely deserted stretch, no mobile phone coverage and no drink stalls till 75km mark.

*Kena tekan - a malay euphemism for getting tortured.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The cycle of Heaven and HELL - Pt 2

Will those !!##xx hills ever end?

The heart of the Taman Negara jungle

Salvation #1 - Dragon fruit with red insides. Yumz!

Salvation #2 - an oasis in the wildnerness, 75km point

End of the torture - GM turnoff

What goes down must come up...

This summed up the rest of the 70km route. 1km of downhill followed by 1 km of climb, repeated at least 40 times - like a heart-rate chart! The rolling hills caught us unprepared and the very limited gearing of our foldies translated to excruciating uphills. The basic idea was to attack the hills with a powered descent, hoping that the momentum will help ease the struggle. But after hill #25, we had no more strength left and simply glided down the hills, pedalled until the bike could not move, then began the long push up the hill. Even iron leg Paul, who could overtake a slow climbing timber lorry at the early stage uphill, soon succumbed to fatique.

The torture saw us consuming more water than we planned for and we soon ran out. Thoughts of folding the bikes and begging for a lift from some good Samaritan flashed temptingly like an oasis in the desert. Pushing the bike up painfully each hill with aching legs, I began to appreciate why people who did this route had a support vehicle. With no mobile phone coverage, we could not call for help if we collapsed. The sight of 2 dead dogs with flies buzzing around as I passed it saw me wondering if that was going to be my fate too. I was a defeated man in every sense of the word but thanks to the encouragement of RW and Paul, and the great shame of a failed trip, we gritted our teeth and inched forward pedal by pedal, step by step.

Miraculously, a fruit stall appeared out of nowhere. The mercy of God! Fresh pink dragon fruit never tasted so good and we devoured them immediately. It started to drizzle and this was so cooling. The seller asked why we did not simply take the bus. We smiled. The much needed refreshment gave us enough strength for another 10km.

Then the torture began - again. This time, left leg began to cramp up and fortunately, some Counterpain Gel did the trick. It did not help that we have descended to 200-300m, gone was the cool air forever. As we fought the losing battle of the hills once again, our spirits and bodies were fading. I was coasting down hill #? wearily in a semi-conscious state when I saw Paul waving with a big grin. At 75km out of nowhere in this "highway of wilderness" was a small wooden hut selling ice cold drinks and food. Jehovah Jireh - God the Provider intervened again! I was so delighted that I charged into the dirt entrance road at full speed and did a rear wheel skid turn, in joyous celebration. Ice cold pineapple juice, creamy hot tea, instant noodles with egg - it was the best RM$7 spent ever. A truck full of Tenaga workers drove in and looked at us curiously, wondering what possessed these 3 mad fools to attempt such a ride.

The replenishments really gave us the boost needed and the turnoff to Gua Musang soon appeared. We rode the other 16km to town briskly, surprised at our newly found energy. The sun was setting, marking the end of our day in hell and we were so glad.

Tired, smelly and grouchy, we rode into town on our little wheeled bikes in the dark. A great meal of rice, wild boar, pork & peanut soup, eggs and bean sprouts did its job splendidly to nourish us. We managed to get the last 2 rooms at Fully Inn, the best hotel in town and collapsed into our beds gratefully.

We have been through heaven and hell in one day and survived to tell the UP and down tale of 3 crazy foldies, finishing 115km in 10 hrs! Though we've earned our stripes deservingly, perhaps even foolishly, we WON'T be doing this again for a long while. Until amnesia sets in ...

The cycle of HEAVEN and Hell - Pt 1

RW's fan club - friendly Malaysian
Nice flowers

Nice curves

Flying down the hill, Paul style!
The FUN begins!

The wise learn from experience, the wiser person learn from the experience of others. The fool disregards both.

In my research about this exciting ride, I had the privilege to dialogue with a very wise and helpful cyclist who have done this ride in Sept 2006. Fae Tang emailed me the GPS altitude map, gave me priceless advice about the very challenging terrain, warnings about mechanical failures, lack of mobile phone coverage and the inherent danger thus the need for a support vehicle.

This somehow challenged me to no end. Instead of a 26" or 700c bikes with 24/27 speeds with granny gear, we were going to attempt it on 16,18 & 20" wheels with humble 3 speeds and 8 speeds respectively. Instead of a support vehicle, we were going to carry our fully loaded panniers all by ourselves. Each "armed" just with the altitude map, 2 spare tubes, 2 water bottles, 1 can of 100 plus isotonic drink, chocolates, musli bars and 2 pieces of roti chanai kosong (Indian bread) laced with sugar, we went into battle with high spirits and high hopes. Afterall, I have just conquered Sumatra and perhaps had an overinflated sense of confidence.

The beginning of the ride to Blue Valley junction was easy enough, 7km of downhill followed by 7 km of climb. It was freezing flying down the hills and smoothening the tight corners but climbing proved tough. We had to push our bikes up at some stages. That was the first sign of trouble that our bikes were vertically challenged. Only Paul, who has iron lungs and iron legs on his simple 3 speed Curve could go up seated, for now.

An old British Landrover, the iconic farm vehicle of the Highlands, stopped to chat with RW and I. The chinese driver shared our passion and wished us the very best. Our little adventure attracted many toots of encouragement and smiles. Such were the friendliness of the sporty Malaysians.

If ever there is such a thing as "ride heaven", this stage of losing 1100m in 23km must be it. Paul hit 60+kmh on his little Dahon Curve D3 and RW on the Birdy did 50kmh for a good 35 mins. The wide, safe, deserted roads with breathtaking scenery made for a real paradise. I learnt the art of "air braking" using my body to slow down the bike instead of overheating the brakes. Words cannot describe the exhilaration. It was like riding a motorcycle with no engine. We were like gliders defying gravity, literally flying effortlessly and silently.

In my 3 decades of cycling, this takes the cake for best road downhill experience! A glimpse of bicycle heaven for any cyclist...

Sunrise and sunset in the Highlands

1600m above sea level! Cool and nice.

Dahon Speed 8, Birdy Monocoque & Dahon Curve D3
Different brands, happy friends...

Boh Tea Plantation, estb 1929

Equatorial - bike friendly!

England in Malaysia?

10 finger lemon - cute!

I got a great sense of satisfaction loading our 3 bagged foldies into the surprisingly small luggage hold of the coach to Cameron Highlands. It fitted snugly and so did we - in big comfortable seats. That made the 500+km long journey relatively painless. Leaving Golden Mile at Beach Rd punctually at 1030pm, the big bus cruised smoothly through the night. It was fun talking about anything and everything with Roadwalker and Paul, until I drifted unconsciously into the night.

The familiar swaying and groaning of the bus around sharp bends woke me up. It was about 7am that we began our ascent up the winding roads to our destination. There is something magical about being closer to the heavens and seeing the first light illuminating the magnificient hills and valleys. A light drizzle made it all the more beautiful. Stepping out of the bus, we were greeted with cold, fresh 15c air that woke us up better than the best coffee brew. Without any warm clothing, our teeth were chattering.

Equatorial Hotel, 4km further up from the highest town Brinchang, welcomed us and our bagged bikes warmly. At 1600m high, it is the highest hotel in terms of altitude and many say in attitude (very customer and bike friendly). This is a good place to stay if you are in the Highlands though it could be a bit far to walk to town. Fortunately, this was not a big issue for us. We had small wheels.

A bit of a rest and we wasted no time to explore the brilliant highlands. Being the first day after the mad school holiday rush, Cameron Highlands was delightfully quiet and that made for a very pleasant visit. RW felt a bit winded by the hills but soon got used to it. We visited the Robertson Rose Garden (a very helpful Mr Muthu proudly showed us his impressive flowers), the Boh Tea planatation (closed on Mondays) and a Watercress farm. This is Vegetable Heaven and everything green thrives here. Naturally, fresh greens and fruits abound and we enjoyed sumptous meals with all sorts of veggies. Charcoal steamboat (a hot pot where you cook all sorts of fresh veggies and meats) is a must try here and our ride back from dinner in the dark was a bit scary but exciting.

A long but amazing day indeed, up in the heavens.
You alone are the Lord. You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you. Nehemiah 9:6

Friday, June 13, 2008

Descending from clouds into jungle... June 23 - Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

So you like downhills? This should satisfy you! Thks to F Tang for sharing this map.

The long & winding road - a joy to ride?

In about a week's time, 3 foldies will be descending from the peaks of Cameron Highlands down into the heart of the Taman Negara Rainforest. This largely downhill descent is 120km and is along one of the newest and deserted roads of Peninsula Malaysia. I've been talking and dreaming about doing this for nearly a year now, and its just had to be done.

The plan is to catch the night bus from Singapore 500+km north to Equatorial Hotel, Brinchang, Cameron Highlands. Spend the day enjoying the cool mountain air and then begin the ultimate descent of 1500m at the crack of dawn to Gua Musang. Return is via the famous *jungle train - and due to the bus and train travel arrangements, the folding bike is the only way to go here. Tour buses aren't very friendly to have full size bikes in their belly and trains certainly won't allow full size bikes in the passenger cabins.

This promises to be one heck of a downhill ride as can be seen on the altitude map so it should be fun, exciting & challenging. Stay tune...
*.Traveller Henrik Meurs took the slow jungle train from Gemas to Wakaf Bahru. He writes: "The trip on the Jungle Railway to Kota Bahru is one of the most beautiful train trips possible. The scenery can only be described as breathtaking. There are quite a few stops during the first two or three hours. After that, villages become rare and the train starts climbing the first flat mountains. From then on we enjoyed endless views over primary rain forest, large trees interrupted by exuberant plants and monkeys at play. After 4 or 5 hours, when you just start to think that you might have seen all the wonders the Malaysian jungle has to offer, the train enters the mountains. Words fail me to describe the beauty of the scenery of these two or three hours during which the engine pulls you through the mountains topped with rain-forest, over wooden bridges and through narrow gorges. The fare was just 21 Ringgit, about $5..!"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

"Sumatra" - featured on CGOAB

Check out our recent Sumatra trip across the volcanoes if you have not already done so. It was selected by the editors of Crazy Guy On A Bike, the definitive touring bicycle adventurers' online journal, as a "featured article".

Congrats to Chris Wee (his 3rd award) on the excellent pics and entertaining storylines. Told you it was good! :)

Friday, June 6, 2008

A climbing tikit for $30!

I've always wanted to improve the climbing ability of my Bike Friday tikit - and the cheapest way is to reduce the size of chain ring from 53t to 42t. I managed to find an unused 1980s new Shimano Biopace elliptical 42t chain ring at Rebound Centre which was duly installed on my tikit.

Effectively reducing the gearing by 20%, the tikit now can really tackle those hills easy. Downside is the downhill performance isn't so good as you tend to spin out faster - after 35km/h or so. Such are the things in life I suppose.
More info about the advantages of elliptical chain rings here by the late guru, Sheldon Brown.

Best $30 zhnged mod ever, I reckon...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A true story about Foldinitis

Once upon a time on a Saturday afternoon, there was a man who got smitten with a disease - Foldinitis. Keong caught it riding a few days ago with a group of foldie riders along ECP, no thanks to me. He was surprised how well quality folding bikes rode and completed 32km with a large grin and a slightly sore bottom. Then, a certain restlessness descended upon poor him - a very typical symptom.

Fortunately, the solution was simple. A trip to the local Dahon Clinic (aka Speedmatrix) soon confirmed that yes, it was indeed Foldinitis and a cure was at hand. I, a long time sufferer, prescribed the brand new 08 Vitesse D7 priced at a reasonable S$850. A test ride soon saw Keong smiling again. It came in Obsidian Black which Keong loved and was happy to wait for his 55th birthday present to arrive in 10 days. An upgrade to the cushy Schwalbe Big Apple tires, Dahon touring rack and lights was recommended and Keong's VISA sealed the deal.

The Vitesse is Dahon's mid range aluminium foldie and is a value for $ buy. It rides surprisingly well and weighs a respectable 11.3kg only. A recent shootout conducted by AutoExpress saw the Vitesss beating other more expensive foldies like Birdy and Brompton (one may argue - what do car guys know about foldies?).

I have to stop infecting people with Foldinitis! Opps, too late. Another friend I invited to the Clinic brought home a Curve D3 as well. Its a bad habit that I can't seem to control. But seeing how it brings people together in the great outdoors, improves *personal fitness, and doing its green bit for our world, it may very well be a "good" disease worth catching.

With Foldinitis, we can all live a little bit healthily and happily ever after.
*Do check out the impressive SGH LIFE Centre if you are serious about improving your health. Focus is on lifestyle disease management & prevention using holistic treatments. Keong went and was very impressed, and a visit led him to take up cycling seriously.