Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An orange sunset in Pakse

It was a most comfortable flight on Lao Aviation from Siem Reap to Pakse, Laos. The twin propellor plane was only 20% filled and we had plenty of attention from the crew and plenty of seats to choose from. The 55 min flight was scenic, hugging the Mekong and providing lots of views of the mountains that await us.

Clearing airport immigration was very casual and relax. This after all is Laos, PDR which rightly stands for Please Don't Rush. The van took all four of us and our bikes to Sang Aroun in 5 mins for US$10. Not cheap considering it was so close. The town of Pakse was founded in 1905 by the French and is a very agreeable laid back town by the riverside. It has decent restaurants and we found the food cheap and good!

We wasted no time to assemble the bikes and it was surprisingly a breeze. 10-15 mins tops. Travelling with foldies really light up our faces. We took an evening ride to test our bikes and was greeted with the most brilliant sunset which lighted the whole sky orange. With the Mekong as our backdrop, it was an artistic extravaganza that only our Creator can paint. We stopped and just soaked in the view and felt something inside us stir.

My stomach is getting better but still not 100%. Grateful that toilet bowl runs are over, for now. Early ride tomorrow to Paksong. Its 50km uphill all the way!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Toilet bowl diaries in Siem Reap

We are now at our fav hotel in Siem Reap, the Auberg Mont Royal. What a surprise it was when I got in last night by bus and was received with a big hug by the owner, Mr Prim.

The 2 foldies travelled with us very easily at the back of a pick-up and thereafter by bus. We met up with3 friends and had nice Khmer dinner except I couldn't eat very much as I'm getting the runs for a few days now.

Really need prayers for my stomach to settle as meeting the Calvary aka Mike and Wei at SR airport tomorrow morning at 9am and then flying off to Laos.

Saw 2 very fierce touring bikes from Germany at hotel lobby. The owner was on a 4 week tour of Cambodia and said each bike cost him 3400 Euros. Black with Rolfholf hub and Marathon Extreme tires, front and rear racks. Inspirational to say the least. But sadly, my best friend now is the toilet bowl... Sigh.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Charmed by Kampong Cham

An excursion into the sleepy town of Kampong Cham proved a delightful discovery for me. Wife's purpose was to do clinical assessments but mine was to explore a new Cambodian provincial town. 120km away from Phnom Penh and sitting idyllic along the Mekong River, Kg Cham is certainly off the tourist radar for now.

This area of Cambodia is where the Cham people live and they are predominantly Muslims. Interestingly, the Malaysian state of Kelantan recognises them and give them rights to citizenship and Bumiputra status. People here are extremely friendly especially to tourists. What still seems to stand out is the French colonial influence seen in the many crumbling but distinct houses and buildings they built some 70 years ago. There is also the fame Nokor Bachey temple ruins, that is similar to Angkor Wat but without the hefty admission charges. Prices here are certainly cheaper than the capital city where our VIP room at the Monorom 2 VIP Hotel costs only US$25 and where basic rooms start at only $15.

I took a rental bike out for a morning ride and enjoyed it thoroughly! Best fun for $1 I reckon and enjoying the cool breezes along the Mekong Riverside was the perfect start to a day. The town of 50000 was already bustling especially the markets and it was certainly fascinating to still see horse drawn carriages along the road.

But what caught my eye was a Surly Traveller Check locked up at the Mekong Hotel carpark. It had S & S couplings. Providence had it that I passed it by this morning and Taylor from Arizona, the owner was just setting off 100km today to Kratie, famous for the Irrawady Dolphins. We enjoyed a great chat as always between touring bicyclists. Locked next to his bike were 2 top end touring bikes with Rolfhoff hubs and unique belt drive system that got me salivating.

Before we left Kg Cham, I spotted another tourer heading out of town. I cant wait for my adventure to begin in Laos next week.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Travel with foldies rocks

My two Samsonites containing a Bike Friday Expedition and a Dahon Speed 8, modified to 16 speed, travelled to Phnom Penh tonight with no issue whatsoever. It fitted into a small Nissan Sunny sedan to Changi airport, Singapore and checking in was hassle free on Jetstar.

I'm always afraid of corrupted customs officials at the Cambodia side as they are always finding ways of lining their pockets. Fortunately, 2 Samsonites with a princely value of more than US$2000 on a luggage trolley did not arouse any suspicion and it sailed through the greedy guys without any hassles.

Even taking the taxi to Blue Tongue Hotel in an old Toyota Camry was a breeze. Travelling with foldies this way really rocks!

Monday, December 13, 2010

An early Christmas greeting

I shall be saying goodbye to Perth for 2010 as I fly straight to Cambodia in the next few hours. Will drop briefly into Singapore to pick up two Samsonites containing my transportation for my epic Bolaven Plateau ride in Laos. As usual, I will be in Cambodia for my annual visit to teach and spend time with the beautiful children of COSI Orphanage. Two years ago, I bought a used Bridgestone folding bike from Japan which I called Blackie for them. It would be nice to see how she is, if she is still around.

Hence although its a little early, its only proper for me to wish all of you a very blessed and merry Christmas. Amidst all the flurry and activities of the holiday season throughout the commercial centres of the world, it may be worthwhile to ponder the true meaning and reason for Christmas in the ancient city of Bethlehem.

My young friend Ryo, 9 years old, wrote this on Bethlehem for his school project which I think is very informative.

In Bethlehem, Christmas is celebrated by many churches holding special prayers and services. There are about 20,000 tourists from Jerusalem who cross into Bethlehem at this time. All hotels are super booked and restaurants are enjoying peak times. In the evening, orchestras and choirs play Christmas music in many types of languages.

2000 years ago, a very special baby was born in a humble manger there. All the focus on the season is upon him. Why?

When asked if he could interview anyone in the world, who would it be? Larry King, the famous cynical CNN presenter replied, "Jesus Christ." One of the greatest military leaders in history, Napoleon Bonaparte, described Jesus in these words.

“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”

The story of Christmas hinges upon this baby sent by God to save mankind. His life made an indelible impact upon history. His purpose -to help us get back into a relationship with our maker. His message of love so long ago still reverberates loudly today and it is this message from Bethlehem that gives hope and light to our broken world.

Perhaps I should plan for a foldie ride around Bethlehem over Christmas one day. It should be a most special time. May you and your family enjoy a Christmas filled with love, joy and peace wherever you are. Ride safe this 2011!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Revisiting being unequally yoked

Definitely unequally yoked - fish needing bicycles

Recently, I had an enquiry about my unequally yoked tire combination of putting a fatter tire in front and a narrower one behind from Matt, who visits LTF. He too was looking for that balance between good handling, safety and performance and fitted the same Big Apple/Supreme combination on his Dahon.

Its been 2 years now and after more than 2000km on this set-up, I think this is the way to go if your riding involves more just road riding. While the bike paths of Perth are generally very good 95% of the time, meaning paved and tarred surfaces, there are moments when I simply need to go off the beaten track.

We did a ride to Fremantle yesterday and I was conscious of any non-road surfaces I had to traverse. The first one was when we hit a 300m wooden portion of the river path between Applecross and Attadale. I've always taken this forgranted with the Big Apple in front as this tire simply demolishes all obstacles the route gives it. All the ruts and gaps of the wooden planks were rolled over without any problems in comfort. This would make a 120psi Stelvio road tire absolutely miserable.

Then, there were two off road excursions I had to take. I was riding in front of the pack and somehow missed the usual bike path due to being mesmerised by the natural beauty before me. Rod shouted at me when I realised my folly and had to cut across the field to be on the right path. With the Big Apple, it just did the job like an SUV without any fanfare. The second off road excursion came on our way to Fremantle from Point Walter where we got lost and had to take a short cut through a grassy park. If I had the original skinny road tires on, I would have had to push the bike.

Another advantage is coming up and down from kerbs and this set up allows for that. It makes riding very unencumbered indeed. The Supreme rear tire has always transfered the power easily with no drama and makes for a spirited ride. The Supreme is marketed as the best tire Schwalbe makes although one tourer from Crazyguyonabike seemed to have had some problems with it.

On the road with medium tire pressures at 60psi/75psi, my Speed Pro can still cruise at a very decent speed in great comfort, not to mention mountain goat like sure-footedness. Road debris like branches and dangerous ball-like fruit are not a worry too. Yes, its not as fast as using Stelvios and this set up won't work for anyone who's goal is maximum speed. Its a bit heavier as well and changes the feel of the Speed Pro. But its a worthwhile compromise and opens more possibilities in your riding.

The long and short is being unequally yoke for my kind of riding works beautifully and although there are skeptics out there, I know that at least Matt seems to be in this fold.


Nutty Milo Slice - Its always a joy to share our morning tea and Ken brought along some Nutty Milo Slice which his wife made. It was really yummy, sweetish and full of mixed nuts including sunflower seeds, macademia, almonds, pumpkin, oats, cashew and honey. Such a healthy snack for cycling that I had to have seconds. Here is the recipe if you are keen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How to get killed in traffic!

These NYC bike messengers must be the craziest riders on the planet. Watch how they carve and weave their way through traffic, with such skill and bravado. Way to go when you are truly tired of living!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Brompton by EcoVelo

The Brompton is my first folding bicycle and hence, like any first born, it holds a very special place in my stable. I was very intrigued to study EcoVelo's very comprehensive report on the advantages of a folding bike, especially its space savings which enable foldies to do multi-modal commuting seamlessly.

EcoVelo focused on the Brompton and its article is perhaps one of the best review of any bike I've read covering its history, design, performance, built quality and even options available. Add to that EcoVelo's award winning pics and it makes for an absolutely satisfying and informative read. The reviewer who owns 3 Bromptons has this to say.

"While there are other interesting folding bikes on the market that offer viable alternatives to the Brompton, in my view there’s yet to be another folder that brings together a clean, compact fold and excellent ride quality in such a compelling way."

I largely agree that it must be one of the best foldies around today despite it being over 20 years old. It has many committed devotees worldwide and their zeal is almost cult-like. That speaks volumes to its brilliant design and of course, the piece de resistance - its superb compact folded package. At my last Mandurah 50km ride, I took my Brompton and it had no problems keeping up with a Dahon Speed Pro, a KHS MTB with slicks and a Giant Hybrid despite its limited gearing.

However, there are different foldies out there that are more accomplished in other areas such as performance, handling, brakes, rider fit and comfort and most importantly for me, the ability to carry panniers for touring. That said, if you only can have one folder, do largely commuting and folded size is critical, I too would choose the Brompton and that has nothing to do with it being my "first born".

Note: 1st 3 pics courtesy of EcoVelo.

Update 4 Dec: Vik in his blog The Lazy Randonneur, posted a story about a guy who toured the Pacific Coast 1000km on his Brompton.