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 :))

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Adjustment

Jun distance: 84 km

Upper Thomson, 21 km. My Little Red Tank has a top pull front derailleur. My current ride, Black Matt, is bottom pull. Both have an irritating creak. The difference is, the former is 10 years old, and so creaks are understandable. The latter is so new. Where is the sound coming from? Sounds like the drivetrain, but it’s intermittent.

I adjust the front derailleur out of desperation, by trail and error, as my notes on derailleur adjustment for Little Red Tank might be the wrong way round. Or am I wrong?

I mess the adjustment up so bad that I notice, but manage to reverse the damage till it's the way it was, with intermittent creak.

No matter how bad the mess, for this one, I can try again.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Something is better than nothing

Upper Thomson, 24 km. I could ride a short distance, or decide that it’s not worth the effort. In the end, I ride a bit, because something is better than nothing*. It boils down to purpose, i.e., why I do this. Not to build mileage per se, but to preserve a modicum of base fitness. Surely, I’ll be doing long rides again. Overseas :)

*Of course, context matters. For a thirsty man, some water is better than none. But there is such a thing as falling short too, like jumping across a stream but not covering enough distance and ending up in the water.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Imagination

Seletar, 21 km. The taxi driver drew beside me and honked loudly. Not a short, soft beep that signals, “stay your course, I’m passing through”, but a long sharp honk that says “get out of my way”. My lights were on, I was wearing reflective material and riding by the side of the road. So why blast me?

Perhaps I’m imagining things. Sure, there was that honk, but it might not have been directed at me. Perhaps the driver wanted to give warning and nothing more.

If I don’t know what the intention was, why think the worse of this stranger ad feel worse? It's better to give the benefit of doubt - and feel better.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Shameless

Seletar, 18 km. How shameless, to cycle for 18 km only and blog about it. Then I realise, it's not just about the distance. I started my ride today to clock mileage, then decide it's more about fun and as I have other things I want to do, I'll go do them.

It was fun, then I let a "door gift" get to me. At a traffic light, a car driver lets off passengers. A door opens. A second is all that it would've taken for the door edge to hit me. The passenger says "sorry", then argues: "The light is red. I should've looked, but you should look too." If the door opens right in front of my face or into my side, I wouldn't have known what hit me till, lady. You're sorry? Not as sorry as I'd have been.

Shameless.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Appreciation

May distance: 77 km

Seletar, 28 km. My long working hours have been getting to me. Then I met a chef today, who works
seven days a week to “keep the place afloat”. He cooks, cleans and chats with customers. He even showed me, when I asked, what pasta he used.

I’m glad he’s there to feed me, and I’m glad that after work, I get to ride, and to see a sight like this (photo).

I realise that when something is gone, I appreciate what I had but no longer have (like being able to sit down and drink coffee while working). And when I appreciate what I no longer have, that which I once had, though gone, still brings a warm afterglow. After all, I'm fortunate to have been able to enjoy it.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

What’s wrong with that?

Seletar, 25 km. This is how it is nowadays. No more running, limited riding, limited to the distance I

used for road tests.

Still, the piddling distance is not to be pitied. I can still enjoy the peddling, short though it is. It doesn’t have to be long to have fun. Just make the most of the little available, whether it’s km or other scarce things. Including time.

I pass an old building. In its heyday, it must’ve been bustling, given it’s size. Now, it stands silent, abandoned. “Useless”, some might say. It was something, now it’s nothing. It’s served it’s purpose, now it rests. What’s wrong with that? And who knows, it might be repurposed.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Taken for granted

Seletar, 25 km. I used to be able to cycle every weekend, but sometimes didn't want to. Now, it's hard to ride even if I want to.

When time is short, distance is short.

Cranking out the short, laughable distance today is an achievement, given the time and energy I've left after working 10 to 11 hours a day, six days a week for the past three weeks (inclusive of less-than-an-hour lunch hour). And more of that to come.

Since my discretionary time has drastically fallen, I’ve to make choices. Some things I drop totally (like running), some things I reduce, some things I maintain. To choose, I’ve to value things. Which means, some things which I’d taken for granted, I now appreciate more.

When there’s less time, there’s less time to waste, which means making a choice to do things I value more.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Many memories, many thanks

This wasn't there the last time I was here
Johore, Malaysia, 139 km. It was in 2003 when I started making day rides across the border. I like
riding abroad as it beats riding from traffic light to traffic light in this garden city or, some say, a city in a garden. A garden is cultivated by man, but wide open spaces is made by nature i.e. it’s natural, not artificial.

The place looks familiar, yet different. It's like meeting someone after years of absence. New roads, bridges and directions pass familiar buildings. To get to where I'd breakfast with my friends, I clamber up a slope: a heap of dirt one storey high.

Another side of Johor Bahru
Riding to Pekan Nanas, reality bites. The distant past has "dimmed" the distance and climbs. Memory is past, reality is present. Time has passed. I'm older, fatter. Well, my tyres are fatter, from 1.25" slicks to 2.1" knobbies.

In the little town of Pekan Nanas, there are two bicycle shops. The biggest one is closed. Besides me, there's another mountain biker standing there forlornly. At the other shop, I'm told, unsolicited, that I can upgrade my 26" wheels to 27.5". Interesting!

On the huge roads leading to the border, traffic automatically hold back to let me filter lanes, just because I glance back. That's one reason why I like cycling here. Instead of small places and minds, there are open spaces and hearts.

Thanks to my bike buddies who introduced me to this life. I marvelled at AF, who cycled in 2003 as if he has a GPS in his head: no map, no compass and gets to the destination without getting lost. As for me, I get to where I want to go after getting lost. Well, yeah, there are new roads and bridges :p

Monday, March 28, 2016

Right and wrong

Mar distance: 696 km

Woodlands, 46 km. Bikehop man is annoyed. He glares at me and says he knows what he’s doing. But it’s not by the book. Shimano manual categorically states “the chain’s level of strength [in A] is enhanced compared to the method in Fig. B”. He doesn’t even look at the instructions in my hand.

I've told this to two mechanics in two other shops before. Each time, they are surprised as they don't think there's a difference, but they do as Shimano says. But not this guy.

This will not do. I remove the chain and redo it under his supervision: I need to learn how to install a chain anyway. I’m amazed how a brand new gleaming chain can leave so much black oil on my hands. The pamphlet in the box says nothing about Fig. A and B.

It’s only when I download the full manual that I’m filled with horror. Besides the position of the outer and inner links, chains have a forward and reverse side. I’d a 50-50 chance of getting it right, but I got it wrong.

I break the chain and put it the right way round. It’s the first time I break a chain. Did I get it right?

Afternoon: to answer the above question, I go to another bakeshop and I’m told, there’s no way to tell. And I should’ve used a Missing Link anyway to join the chain. Well, what did people do before Missing Link was invented. Time will tell if I did the right thing.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

North, south, east, west

Forget about Fraser's Hill, Cameron and Genting Highlands.
The most serious climbs are in the land of Gunong Kinabalu
21-26 Mar, Sabah, Malaysia, 517 km

Prologue
I've cycled in every Malaysian state, from Johor in the south to the East-West Highway in the north of West Malaysia), and Sarawak in East Malaysia. But I've never been to Sabah, much less cycled there. Until now.

Route
21 Mar: Kota Kinabalu to Tuaran vv, 75 km

My flight arrives around noon. Where is my hotel transport? A tour guide offers to call the hotel for me. A car* shows up. In my hotel booking, I'd specifically asked for a vehicle that can transport my 140 cm bicycle box. Can you fit a box that size into the boot of a car? Yes! If the car seats fold down. I assemble the bike and am off for an orientation ride and tour.

Rumah Terbalik
Rumah Terbalik, the "upside down" house, isn't really in Tuaran, but the outskirts. Photography
inside the house is prohibited. Most things are upside down: the floor is the ceiling and even the bed is upside down. Some details are off: fans to cool visitors aren't upside down, and typewriter paper hangs ue wrong way. Money on the floor sticks to the floor though.

I run out of daylight, no thanks to the late pickup from the airport. The sun sets around 1830. Roads within Kota Kinabalu are lit and wider than the main routes leading to towns outside it.

*If you're travelling by taxi, buy a coupon at the taxi kiosk in the airport. Ask for Avanza or Inova taxis; according to my sources, bike boxes fit into these models.

22 Mar: Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud, 100 km

As Kota Belud is "only" 78 km away, I take a longer, scenic route to avoid the heavy metal mayhem that is morning rush hour. I swing by Universiti Sabah Malaysia, where some roads are signposted "10%" gradient. I guess that's why universities are called institutions of higher learning.

The road from Tuaran to Kota Belud is barren. Traffic is abundant and roars like an angry sea, but water and cooked food is hard to come by. I lunch on bananas from a roadside stall. For protein, there's a roach from the vendor's knife that crawled into my food, but I pass. When I see a shop named "Melody" it's music to my ears. It turns out to be in the outskirts of town. Town is so near, yet so far. My ears pop with the effort, or does that reflect the altitude?

To cope with the climbs, I max out my gears and wish I had more.  There's no place to sit in the shade, so I get off at one point and push to rest. If the gradient at  USM is undergraduate, then the climbs to Kota Belud are post graduate, and Laotian climbs are post doctoral fellows.

At one downhill, I ride my brakes down, slowing from 61 km/h to 52 km/h. I overtake a lorry, as I think that's safer than overheating my brakes.

It's hot, so hot in Sabah that I pass grass fires, some smoking when I pass by. When I check in, I find the heat has warmed up the contents of containers in my bag.

"Ki" + "Nabalu" = "Kinabalu", as in Gunung Kinabalu
23 Mar: Kota Belud to Nabalu vv, 99 km

Serious climbing starts about 20 km from Kota Belud. The route is barren. Happiness, or at least contentment, is when a food stall suddenly appears at the point of desperation. There's shade, music from the radio and friendly banter from the locals - not that I understand most of what they're saying.

The ride is a real grind. Traffic is sparse (but picks up after the junction to Tuaran), the climbs interminable. When my speed drops to around 4 km/h, I get off to walk, then climb back to ride as walking and pushing the bike sucks more.  I stop at a shop perched by the hillside. It has lukewarm "cold" drinks in an ice box; all the ice has melted. Stuff costs more up here. Trucks labour uphill, grinding gears and belching smoke as if panting.

There are some downhills but my heart sinks as I know I have to ride up on the way back. I think about turning back. After all, I don't have to do this. One thought stops me from stopping: if I turn back, it'll be temporary relief. How will I feel later, knowing I gave up? So I ride on, drenched in sweat. Where's the cool mountain air? I also break out my last resort: energy gel.

I'm also troubled by a knocking sound. Pedal? Cleat? At Nabalu, as I stop for lunch, I see that my sole is coming off. It's been flapping whenever I pedal below 6 km/h. This is the first time my cycling shoe sole has detached. Usually, they just disintegrate. They don't make them like they used to? I tie it with raffia and hope.

25 Mar: Kota Belud to Kota Kinabalu and its environs, 125 km

Traffic is relatively light. The sky, cloudy. Some moisture falls even, and it's not my sweat. Is this because it's Good Friday?

After Nabalu, I thought the last day of my ride woukd be a breeze. I forgot. There still are serious climbs, as a "10%" sign helpfully reminds. Someone has dropped small silver fish on the road. By now, most are dried fish that make interesting light brown fish imprints on the road. I was tempted to stop to photograph this accidental art, but the smell dissuaded me. As does the climb. If I stop amidst the toxic mess, I'd be hard pressed to roll uphill.

Some traffic passes me. A car overtakes and comes headlong towards me. Other drivers follow. It was close. I'd rather have traffic tail me; when they do so, they're my impromptu safety vehicles: they block traffic overtaking from behind and deter oncoming traffic. They then give me a wide berth when overtaking from behind. It nice not to be scattered over the road like fish.

After two hours of riding, I am hungry. So it's true: glycogen depletion kicks in at the two hour mark.

I take some Horlicks Malties: one pack if nine tablets has 56 kcal. I'm glad to roll into Kota Kinabalu. I drop my bag off, then ride about town, looking for bikeshops and the coast.

Traffic
Traffic can be heavy on the road R1 that links Kota Kinabalu to Tuaran. The road is dual carriageway,

At times, traffic is hazardous.

Black Death, a black sedan, hurtles towards me. The driver either doesn't see me, or doesn't care. He neither swerves not slows. So, even if the road appears empty, the situation may change in a moment, as traffic can appear suddenly.

There's nothing to draft. Everything, except the rare pedestrian, goes faster. Even petrol tankers and trucks go fast.

Leana Niemand writes about looking into her rear view mirror as she rides in Sabah. Eyes at the back of the head would help too; otherwise, keeping one's  ears open would have to do. A container truck thunders past me. The road shoulder is barely a foot wide. It's a close shave, the kind without shaving cream!
but mostly without a road shoulder. Drivers are generally patient. A blue behemoth lumbers behind me, then overtakes only when it's safe. At first I thought it's going slowly and I try to draft it when it passes, but the driver really was waiting for a safe time to pass, then it thunders out of sight.

Other hazards
Besides traffic, there is, at times, broken glass by the roadside. There are occasional dogs, but the ones I see are almost always no bark, no bite. The mutts between Kota Kinabalu and Kota Belud are mute. But there are some mean mutts, between Kota Belud and Nabulan. One dog crosses the road to chase me half-heartedly. Further on, more mutts menace me. It's not funny, being chased uphill.

People
Like in Peninsula Malaysia, people are helpful, such as with directions. They ask the usual questions: ”Where are you from, where are you going?"

Hotel
Aston Boutec, Kota Kinabalu. Before my trip, I'd asked three hotels for help with
my 140 cm bike box. One never replied me. Another suggested taxi, including models (Avanza, Inova). The third offered complimentary transfer, and this is the one I booked. The hotel mixed up my arrival time, but a tour guide at the airport called the hotel for me (two thumbs up!) and a car showed up. How does a big box go into the car? Into the boot, with seats folded down. I've never seen this before.

Aston Boutec is cycling friendly, except for the absence of a lift. Air con, WiFi, sink and stopper (good for laundry) all work. My room was big enough for my conveyance. Food and convenience stores are a stroll away, and the hotel is relatively easy to find even at night.

Tang Dynasty Lodge Kota Belud is a "big" hotel in a small town. The room I have, Deluxe King, can fit five bicycles and still leave room to walk. Rack rate: MYR89 per night. It's not that hard to fimd, as its a small town but it helps to know first that the hotel sign is "TDL". But the aircon goes "piak" in the night and it's not cool anymore. The repairman washes the filter, then says he'll be back to top up coolant. I never see him again (well, it past 6 pm). I ask for a room change. I get a smaller room, but hotel receptionist says I pay the same price. I'd pay less if I'd walked in, but I used booking.com. In my new room, I kill six mosquitoes (and three the next day). Changing room at night eats into my bedtime.