Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unlikely bedfellows

Chris' world renown touring bike, the Surly LHT had the opportunity to sample the beautiful bike paths along the Swan River yesterday with my Dahon Speed Pro 24 speed folding bike, all the way to Heathcote and Applecross Jetty.

These two bikes are designed for different purposes. The LHT for long distance, kick-ass, heavy duty, round the world touring which in car speak would be more SUV/Jeep type. Whereas the MR2 foldie is for fast road riding with the convenient option of collapsing into a small package, enabling it to jump onto trains, buses whenever the occasion calls for it.

Yet, the unlikely bedfellows had lots of fun riding together and enjoyed a priceless morning.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Get us to the church on time!

Its a joy to have my buddy Chris and his missus here with me on their holidays. Needless to say, they are ardent cyclists and it was a natural thing to do for all 4 of us to cycle to church yesterday. The only person who didn't seem too happy was my son Jem as he cycles to school everyday, and had to cycle again, on Sunday. Well, certainly not a case of "like father like son" here.

Taking the excellent bike path straight to church, we made it in 20 mins even though we did it leisurely, 5 mins before service. I was surprised to see so many bicycles parked at church and attribute it to the nice sunny Spring days we are enjoying at the moment.

We return via the scenic route at Canning River along the Shelly Foreshore and both Mr and Mrs Chris really enjoyed the breathtaking views. As I write this post on Monday morning, they are out to explore the city, by bicycles of course.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bicycles a great way to go, says the local paper!

Glancing through the local community newspapers Melville Times today, I was delighted to read about the use of bicycles by the Police here for their operations. The article entitled, "Bicycles a great way to go", touched also about safety aspects of cycling including wearing high visibility clothings, footwear and a proper helmet as well as learning "roadcraft" skills and a sense of courtesy.

It was also encouraging to see the local Primary Schools conducting cycling clinics as part of their PE courses. The article concluded by affirming cycling as a means to deepen the relationship ties between parents and children.

As a cyclist, I can only be very grateful to live in this beautiful part of the world which appreciates and affirms the benefits the simple bicycle can add to the wider community and our lives.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moonlighting with Brommie

Though its Spring, the afternoons are getting hot here in Perth and I took the opportunity to enjoy a night ride for the first time. A cool 16c, zero UV, having the bike paths all to yourself and just sheer solitude made for a most enjoyable ride. Sometimes its important to have quietness to reflect and take stock of life.

There was a full moon which lighted up the dark paths and just cruising through the night air with the sound of spinning wheels is absolutely therapeutic. I did my usual 12km loop round the Canning Bridge and did it anti-clockwise. It was a bit weird to be the only one cycling through Mt Henry Bridge bike path at 930pm and I was happy to spot one lone cyclist making his way home from work. We exchanged greetings briefly and I came across just one more lone cyclist with no lights on my entire ride.

Took the opportunity to experiment with night photography and I loved playing around with the lighting. There was not a soul around in most places so I could take my time with the dimunitive Canon Ixus. The only place that seemed alive was the Raffles Hotel (yes, Perth has one too but not associated with The Raffles Hotel of Singapore) whose pub was half-filled with merry-makers.

At the jetty, my only "friend" was a huge white rat who stared at me for a while, wondering who this walking "Christmas tree" was and decided to wisely scamper away. All in, it was a delightful moment moonlighting with Brommie and relishing some alone time.

Be still, and know that I am God Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

PAP 1200km Audax Ride

Nuclear Heng and I, on one of our Speed Pro rides in 2007.

My friend "Nuclear" Heng shocked me when he told me of his plans a few months ago to take part in this crazy bicycle race from Perth to Albany and back. 1200km in 4 days! The least I could do is offer him my house as his base and Heng actually rode the whole distance. Although he did not make the timing in the 2nd half of the race due to inexperience, he did very well indeed as a first timer. Heng also remarked how impressed he was with the organisation and the helpful and friendly folks there.

He chose to ride a Dahon Tournado, a full-size touring bike that can pack into a smaller case. It proved to be an excellent choice as it was very comfortable and fast. I cannot imagine spending over 12 hours each day on a saddle for 4 days. Remarkably, Heng only suffered swollen ankles due to water retention despite the extreme torture.

I was very touched and honoured when he gave me the Audax PAP 2010 race jersey. It is a beautifully designed piece of art but I would feel embarrassed to wear it as although I do tour, 300km per day is certainly way beyond my capabilities. Nevertheless, it must be the best gift any cyclist can ever hope to get! And to think its a collector's item already as only 2 cyclists from Singapore have it :)

Thank you very much Heng and congratulations to you and all your buddies for taking part in the Audax PAP ride.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Carry me around Putrajaya and KL

It has become a bad habit for me to bring along a foldie when I travel and the destination this time is Putrajaya, the government city of Malaysia 40km south of KL. The missus' purpose was a World Health Organisation meeting while mine was equally important - exploring the marvel of modern Islamic architecture and its surroundings. My foldie of choice was the stick Carry Me, which rode snugly in my hatchback for the 320km drive up from Singapore.

The luxurious Marriott Putrajaya was our base for 2 nights and it turned out that the hotel was flooded with police and security personnel due to the presence of many Health Ministers from all over the world staying there as well. Outside the hotel, around 30-40 motorcycle outriders were parked neatly ready to escort the VIPs for their meetings.

It must have been a strange sight for them to see me, this "Minister" of folding bikes there unfurling my CM in the posh lobby ready to do my morning ride. Unfortunately, the area where I was isn't exactly bike friendly as it was surrounded by superhighways so it was to be a very brief morning ride, disappointingly, around the hotel. This was confirmed earlier by the concierge who said, "Here, very hard to ride la. All highways!"

Nevertheless, I took a 30min courtesy shuttle bus to KLCC, where the famous Petronas Twin Towers is. This used to be the tallest structure in the world a few years ago and still commands an impressive sight. It was great to catch up on my shopping and to show my Japanese friends T & R around.

Lunch was at Little Penang Cafe, which never fails to draw a long queue at noon. But the wait was worth it. We had signature Penang dishes - Hokkien Prawn Mee, Lobak, Kuey Pie Tee and finished off with Chendol. Delicious!

Training back to Putrajaya was a 2 step process on the very efficient metro. KLCC to KL Sentral, 5 stops away, for a fare of US50 cents and the KLIA Express Train to Putrajaya at US$3 only. Amazing! I was especially impressed with the latter train as it was fast, spacious (can take regular bikes easy), clean and supremely comfortable. Highly recommended indeed in light of the massive traffic jams everywhere.

What blew me away however was the courtesy night tour of Putrajaya where the Marriott arranged for us. Putrajaya is the Canberra equivalent of Australia. Where it differs are the many glitzy and huge buildings of Islamic-Mogul architecture,

strategically located around various parts of the man-made Putrajaya Lake all connected together by wide boulevards and 5 distinctly designed bridges.

It was really a sight to behold as we marvel at the impressiveness of this metropolis. Just the Prime Minister's Office Building, Perdana Putra, would be more than adequate for any King and anyone who has the privilege to be invited there would be left gaping at its opulence.

I suppose cycling around Putrajaya itself would be possible and quite fun if you can get yourself there by getting dropped off somehow but the lack of trees and shade would make it most unsuitable and uncomfortable in the scorching heat of the mid-day sun.

Perhaps if I come by here again, it would be a great night ride destination that deserves a more detailed exploration, preferably on a foldie.

Monday, October 4, 2010

No sweat cycling

Note how nicely my umbrella hung!

The heat and humidity in Singapore are absolutely 2 unbearable liabilities in this beautiful country. It limits cycling to early mornings or late evenings. But what happens when you have to cycle mid-day? I had to go to the Polyclinic today to X-Ray my fractured finger and it was going to be a long drawn day with endless patient queues I'm told. I was mentally prepared for that and armed myself with a LP guidebook on Lao and my trusty MP3. What remained was how to cycle there without breaking a sweat.

For starters, dress comfortably. Shorts, T-shirt, slippers and no helmet (please don't ape me here). I even brought along an umbrella in case it rained or got too hot. Yes, safety was compromised but I was going to ride really s-l-o-w-l-y and I did. Its still not compulsory for helmets here and I wonder if the heat got something to do with that.

Life in the slow lane actually turned out quite fun. When I encountered pedestrains on the bike path, I followed them at a snail's pace catching a bit of their conversations even. Riding slowly with the luxury of no deadlines opened a new world for me.

I reached Bukit Batok Polyclinic in a leisurely 25 mins (5km ride) and succeeded staying relatively sweat free. The 3 hour wait there was not as long as I expected and parking fee was irrelevant thanks to the Mamachari. I just chucked it near the front porch and nobody seemed to mind. The great news was that my finger has healed well and I couldn't believe the total bill of consultation plus X-ray turned out to be an incredible S$22.05 or US$16.60 only!

Cycling home at 2pm heat was unbearable and I tried doing it with an umbrella opened. One hand riding was quite manageable until a strong breeze came and I nearly flew off the bike. So much for my little experiment to ride Mary Poppin's style. I chose the scenic route and I rode pass Little Guilin, which is an old granite quarry turned into a park and resembles a famous part of China.

Sweat-free cycling is possible in Singapore if you learn how to ride with as little effort as possible. Perhaps we all need to slow down as we too often we move too fast.

Pic courtesy of TW - Ocean Bay Resort, Bintan

Doing so, according to Simon and Garfunkel, can make you feel groovy. I hope this great song will inspire you somewhat for a no sweat ride. Relax lah!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bintan, yet again!

Josh zig-zagging his way up a steep hill

Nothing to do with male body fluids

but a brand of cement named, "3 circles or rings"

There are so many places in the world to explore and so little time to see them all. Therefore, it is rare for me to re-visit a place unless it is exceptional.

Bintan qualifies. The roads are quiet enough but are sufficiently challenging with "nice" hills, breath-taking rides along Trikora Beach sleepy fishing villages, abundance of value for money resorts and of course, great seafood. No wonder Jan Boonstra considers Bintan one of his favourite Riau island to explore on a bike.

6 of us went this time for a 2 night 3 day sojourn. Mike, Kevin and I the old birds with TW, Steven and Joshua - newbies who bravely joined us. I was told the video on our last trip had some influence. It was a classic case of never believing everything you see on the internet as they found out later. Struggling through some of the tough climbs, they wondered what they got themselves into but we were delighted they came along to share the joys and pain! Bintan is certainly not your usual Park Connector excursion.

Pic courtesy from TW

Our ride to Ocean Bay Resort started normally until 1 hour into the journey, a thunderstorm came without warning and soaked us thoroughly.

Getting cooled that way after being baked by the sun was a blessing and we strangely enjoyed it. Our support vehicle told us of a brand new short cut which we foolishly agreed to try only to discover the punishing hills that laid in ambush for us. Yes, it was shorter distance wise but it winded us and by the time we reached the coastal road of Trikora, our tongues were hanging and legs soft like tofu, in addition to getting drenched by the monsoon.

It was always special to stay at Ocean Bay Resort as Tracy the Manager and her staff take exceptional care of us. Each of us had single rooms as the resort was quiet on the weekday and they made the extra effort to ensure the seafood was a culinary experience at each meal. It was a pepper crabs, steamed garoupa, prawns, squid, shellfish, scallop galore and every meal had 6 dishes at least!

The kelong itself is quite big and riding around the long and narrow corridors instead of walking was thrilling and a tad scary.

We enjoyed sitting around talking (mainly about foldies, what else?) and watching the sun set and the stars appearing one by one. Kevin took out his i-Pad and we had fun identifying each star.

Being out in the sea on stilts and enjoying the cool evening breezes with new found friends, while admiring our foldies, must truly be one life's greatest pleasures.

On the second day, we headed out to Tanjong Pinang, the capital city of Bintan for some good Nasi Padang and spa. It was a 70km round trip but worth it as we ate the most delicious local fare (17 course lunch), saw the impressive morning catch of the returning fishing fleet

and felt the kneading of skilled and healing hands on our tired legs. It was also exhilarating to cycle back pitch dark in the night.

The return ride proved to be enjoyable in the morning but most torturing when noon came. It must have hit 35c and we were glad we took the long way back, avoiding those cruel hills of the new shortcut. Still, it was tough work and at one stage, I was so overheated I had to pour cold water on my helmet. No wonder the Tour de Bintan attracts so many racers each year for its challenging route! On the flats, we drafted each other and this is easier with foldies as our smaller wheels enabled us to stay closer. 28-32km/h was achieved without too much effort.

It was a real joy to cover the 200km distance on my Bike Friday Tikit save for one stage while I was flying at 40km/h downhill and the road disintegrated into loose gravel.

That caught me by surprise and the small 16" front wheel went into a deadly weave! I turned pale white and mustered whatever little skill I had to stabilise the bike. Call it sheer good luck or I believe is divine intervention, I lived to tell the tale unscathed! Moments like these remind me clearly of God's graciousness, protection and amazing love for all of us*.
I'm not sure if I will go back to Bintan but there is talk about doing some night riding on this beautiful island. I won't be surprised if I see myself there, yet again.

*He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they'll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling. Psalm 91:11,12

More pics of the trip here from my friend TW.