Cycling is like life. Cycling with no goal is meaningless. What meaning is there cycling in circles? Or living aimlessly? Meaning comes from direction and destination. Join me in my life's journey on a mountain bike :)

Blogging since 2003. Thank you for reading :))

Friday, February 05, 2016

Long winded

1-5 Feb, Sri Lanka, 414 km

Prologue
This isn't a particularly long ride, but it was harder than I'd expected. While the coast is flat, I didn't figure the headwinds would be so strong. Or so long winded. They blow all day, perhaps 10 km/h. No need to calculate the vector; I head north, the wind blows south. Most of the time, I go below 20 km/h, at its worse, 14 km/h. The weather is hot but not humid; a good thing about the wind is, the wind blows sweat and heat away.

Headwinds aren't new to me; I've faced them in the Outback. So I've learned to grit my teeth and grind on. While I've cycled over 68,000 km, Sri Lanka brought new experiences. I've:
been chased by dogs, but not a three-legged one.
raced before, but not while touring
gone hungry, but not had a liquid lunch of ginger beer
wondered how to keep my bicycle safe while I sleep, but not used two bedrooms before.

Beach Road: I like it a lot, because there's a lot of it
Route
1 Feb fly there, nightstop Negombo Village Guesthouse
2 Feb Negombo to Kalpitiya, 129 km, nightstop Randam Hotel fka Windy Lanka
3 Feb Kalpitiya and its environs, 141 km
4 Feb Kalpitiya to Negombo, 144 km
5 Feb fly back

Riding
I do some off road, single track, double track, dirt roads and roads. I know I'm lost when the trail
peters out. To get back on track, I track like a hunter, looking not for footprints but tyre tracks.

Night riding: to clock more miles, I do some riding at night. It's not really safe. Cows, dogs and pedestrians don't have blinking lights at night. And the glare of oncoming headlights is blinding. Once, the timing of the passing vehicle was such that I saw pedestrians walking abreast by the roadside: just enough time to see them but too little time to avoid collision if they were near enough. A near miss.

Over 400 km, I see three other cyclo tourists. One of them was solo like me. We wave to each other / exchange thumbs up.

Traffic and other hazards
I like watch dogs ie dogs who sit there and watch
Traffic is heavy along the A3, which refers not to paper size but the road connecting Colombo to Negombo and much else. I ride along the road shoulder, because, as one guidebook put it, bus and truck drivers "consider cyclists a waste of valuable tarmac ... get out of the way quickly". You're "at risk not only from traffic coming from behind, but also from oncoming vehicles overtaking another vehicle". The good news is, traffic thins out north of Negombo.

I never really felt menaced; I've felt more menaced cycling in a carpark back home.

I get frazzled on my last day of cycling, when I go to the beach at Negombo. It was harrowing as the road to the beach is narrow: it's jammed with traffic and a wedding procession. To win the race against the sun, I squeeze past whatever gap I see, including on the pavement, to get there and back to my hotel to box up my bike and wash up.

Dogs are are all over the place, usually sleeping by the roadside, sometimes trotting about, almost always in packs. Almost all the time, they ignore passersby, but I am chased twice, once by a three legged dog.

Refueling aka food and beverage
Fried roots? 
Short eats are aplenty, in "hotels" (even small shops call themselves that).  Meals that fill are less available. Except in tourist areas, most people dine at home, so there's little demand for filling food. I eat what I bring: cereal bars.

One night I have rice and curry. Another time, I have what seems like fried roots. There are also scattered bakeries. Most of the time, it's short eats and provision shops.

At a "hotel" (eating place).
The ad above, EGB, is for ginger beer
Food stalls usually serve drinking water. If you're squeamish about hygiene, well ... No tongs or gloves are used when handling food - more likely, the food handler handles grubby money then food. Customers may eat with their hands; if you do, use the pitcher of water available for that purpose: don't drink from that!

An alternative to short eats is ginger beer; I quaff the 1 litre version. It's refreshing, calorie rich and not sickly sweet unlike some short eats.

to be continued

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tests

Jan distance: 210 km

Seletar, 40 km. A few days ago, I took a test which was administered immediately after a course. I've not sat for a test since last century. Somehow, I passed the written test (multiple choice) with full marks, followed by a practical then oral tests.

Today, instead of being tested, I do the testing. On equipment: a Revelate bag, on loan from V (she even delivered it!) In my tours, I've always used a seat post rack. This bag doesn't need a rack at all.

Test over, now to do the "scoring" of bag with rack vs Revelate bike packing bag.

PS: it's not quite true I'm testing the equipment. It's also true my equipment test me, to see if I know how to use them.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hope for the best

Changi 71 km. It's been raining on and off. I leave my camera at home; in a downpour, I've seen how the rain seeps in. Even when I ride towards blue skies, rain clouds just appear overhead in ambush. So why bother with the extra weight and add one more thing (wet camera) to worry about?

But it doesn't rain. Not a drop. I miss some great shots. I should've taken my camera and if it rains, just add more water proofing. Instead of thinking "it'll rain", I could've thought "it might not rain, and I might get some great shots".

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Lighting and thunder

Upper Thomson Road, 57 km. Weather girl says it'll rain. I think, maybe they'll get it wrong today as they have on some other days.

As I head out, I see dark clouds. So I ride towards the light. Perhaps I was in the eye of the storm; suddenly the sky turns dark and rain pours. The storm is directly above me; I can tell from the split second between lightning and thunder. That's close!

The trees arch overhead, like a tunnel. In between is a light grey of heavy rain, undergirded by the dark grey of asphalt. The rain stings as it hits my bare arms and face. Yes, the weatherman is wrong: this is not a "shower" (a shower is like what you feel in the bathroom); this is a thunderstorm.

My disc brakes squeal in protest as I brake downhill. But I've figured out how to fix the noise without removing the pads and lathering them up. Squeeze the brakes, the manual equivalent of anti-braking system. Perhaps that gets rid of oily film. Or perhaps the storm is so heavy, it flushed oil off the road.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New year, new thinking

Upper Thomson,  42 km. There's only a minute (pun intended) difference between 2359 on 31 Dec to midnight. But when the minute ticks over, a new year begins: a small change that leads to a big one.

In my first ride of 2016, I decide to ride at night, on a Monday. I was going to go somewhere but decide to do loops instead. I've disliked cycling loops as I go in circles, but I realise that even if I go some where and come home, that's a loop too.

The road I loop is quiet and empty, with the occasional car - and wild boar. It used to bore me, but what's not to like? Instead of journeying to a destination,  my destination today is the journey itself.

What used to feel like a chore is now fun.

Also new is my cyclocomputer, replacing my 20 year old one that seemed erratic after being beside a blinker.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Making the numbers

Pasir Ris: beauty of friendship
Dec distance: 388 km

Pasir Ris, Upper Thomson, Seletar, Ubin, Lim Chu Kang 317 km*. I was resigned to 2015 being the year of my lowest mileage ever since I started serious cycling 12 years ago, in 2003 (the year of my first expedition). But I didn't want this year, a tumultuous one, to end that way.

Mileage is within my sphere of influence, though this year's haze (supposedly the longest in local history) was not. So I resolved to ride the miles and make the numbers. But this wasn't going to be mindless performance driven. I want to have some fun too, and ride to nice places, not do mindless loops like a demented hamster or a trapped rodent in the rat race.

Reflections

As I ride, I have flash backs of good things in life, mostly abroad with friends and family. Not about work. Someday, work ends. But friends and family: in a life well lived, friends and family will be gathered around my deathbed. Worked till death, no.

Christmas is meant to be a merry occasion ("merry Christmas"). But not for someone I passed on the road. He passed away. He lies on the grass, with a "fatal accident" sign metres away from him. A small crowd gathers around him, all deathly silent. He's still, but probably still alive [afternote: when I passed the site again, I notice the fatal accident sign is dated Nov. No confirmation bias here!].

Ubin: blue skies and sunshine
I erred elsewhere though. Newbie errors. At Ubin, I wipe out twice: first, my wheels lose traction over roots; second, I make a tight turn on the trail and stall. Somehow, no falls at the black diamond trail (ok, I got off to walk at the neck breaking spots).

I'm happy overall. Ubin, on this weekday, has people including a skateboarder who ignored my warning and blundered into my path. The coffee shop is closed. For "lunch" I've an ice cream cone from a nice lady and a cereal bar.

2x2 matrix

If I take a pessimist's view, the km target will be within grasp, but slip away. So many km, so few days left - and worse, if the remaining days of the year are dreary and wet instead of bright and sunny. If I take an optimist's view, the remaining days might be bright, not grey.

Rain or shine, I want to make the numbers and have fun in the process. On New Year's Eve, I'm
If life's a bitch, heal at the beach
rained on twice. And twice, metal nearly hits me. The first is elbow distance away. The taxi driver who saw the near miss was astounded and shouted in my support. The second near miss comes from behind - the driver jammed brake in time. In both cases, I'd the right of way. I could've been dead right …

I reckon I could plot all rides on a 2x2 matrix (sun or rain, safe or unsafe). The "magic quadrant" (would be the top right box: bright and safe). This ride is both wet and unsafe. But it's successful. I exceed my target. This year has been horrible, but it isn't an all-time low mileage.

Tech note: there is a colourful film of oil in puddles which spray up onto rotors and brake pads. I guess this causes my new brake pads (just a few weeks old) to screech. The screech went away after I poured water on the pads and squeezed them against the rotor. The screech came back after I wipe the rotor dry …

Well, I sure am not going to get a third set of pads! I replace the new pads with the initial stock brake pads. No screech!

Bikeshop man had asked me to buy new pads, because once oil gets on the pads, they will screech. Fixes include using a blow torch to burn away the oil, or to use prescribed solvent that won't damage the pads or rotor. Thinking there should be less drastic solutions, I brushed the stock pads with detergent and soaked them for several nights. Let's see how they work on the road.

*Instead of writing a post for every ride, this is the first time I'm combining several days' ride (25-31 Dec) into one post.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

See, sea

Sembawang, 41 km. Yesterday, it rained so hard, parts of the country flooded. Water even flowed into some public buses (looking on the bright rather than stormy side, at least buses were running). I plotted how to get to dry "land" as a pedestrian, but I haven't done standing broad jump for a long time. And I might slip and fall too as pavements and roadsides have turned into streams.

Today, rather than risk being rained out at my usual ride time, I'm on the road earlier rather than later. I head towards the sea. I like water in me (hydration) and outside of me (landscape), but not on me (drenching, blinding rain).

Sunshine, sea and greenery: some of the best things in life are free.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Resolutions, resignations, ruminations

Balestier, 30 km. I'd resolved to ride Matt Black henceforth, and retire Little Red Tank. It's been plagued with front shifter problems and clicks when I pedal. But I couldn't relegate it to this role, and took it out for a spin.

When I'd tried multiple times to fix the shifters and trace the clicks, it defied me. Now, old bicycle, old faithful, rolling over 44,700
km, has somehow "healed" itself. Somehow, all the problems disappeared, and I didn't have to do anything. What's the meaning of this?

Matt Black, on the other hand, has just over 1,800 km on it and it squeals like an irritated pig when I brake to a halt.

I don't know if Little Red Tank is safe to ride, after crashing it several times during races, after carrying loads on tours up and down mountains. Which is why I retired it, resigned it to its fate of short errands. I might be short-changing it, but better safe than sorry eh?

Last weekend, I ruminated (nay, agitated) whether to ride or not. If I'd cycled, it would be to chase numbers. My annual total mileage is at risk of a record low. But what's the point? What do the numbers mean? Racking up mileage (kilometre-age?) for the sake of numbers and not enjoying it seemed senseless. If it's not fun anymore, and the result is just a number, why bother?

So, instead of riding, I went running. I intended to run just an hour, so I fueled on coffee and a couple of dried prunes. I was on the trail for 2.5 hours, none the worse for wear. I didn't even feel hungry.

I even thought of blogging here about running, instead of confining blog posts to riding. "Confining" is just that, confining. Why not spread my wings, and go where I've not been to before?

Dear reader, what do you think?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Peace and quiet


Nov distance: 152 km

Central Business District, 33 km. I head to town to get Matt Black tuned up. The shrieking front brake persists despite persistent washing. At the bikeshop, I explain the problem and the solution is not more solution (liquid) but replacement. Huh? The pad is barely wornout. Whereas, the solutions thrown up by Mr Google involve washing with various liquids / sprays to remove oil.

So how did oil get on my front brakes? Road spray? Do motorbikes don't seem to have this problem too?

On the way home, I look for a road to peace and quiet, and find it.

Back home, I do my sums and find, to my pleasant surprise, that Matt Black has covered about 1,800 km. How did that happen, since I was riding Little Red Tank too?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Suffer and hate it, or suffer and enjoy it

Not Jurong Town Hall Road, not Old Jurong Road, but Jurong Road
Jurong, 65 km. There've been times when I don't feel like cycling and when I do, I drag my feet.

Today, as in past weeks, I peer out the window, hoping for clear blue sky and clear air. Today seems like such a day. I'm off, in search of memory lane - a pretty road I saw years ago while on a bus, but never cycled on.

The sky turns grey, but not with haze. Water falls, visibility falls, temperature falls, danger rises. I was about to shelter in a bus stop till the rain stops, then remember Velominati rule #9: "If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass … you could suffer and hate it or suffer and enjoy it. Fixating on the unavoidable does little to make one feel better about the matter."

And then I find memory lane. The green open spaces are gone, but it's still a nice, quiet road. There's a busy expressway beside it, but the quiet road remains quiet, the way I like it.

In future, even if there're blue skies and clean air, even if I don't feel like cycling, at least, I can feel grateful.