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 :)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

PM, pm, pm

11-13 Sep, Johor, Malaysia, 197 km

Day 1: 11 Sep. Kong Kong, 63 km
Polling day. Another watershed election (just like in 2011, where percentage votes to the ruling party was the lowest ever). This year, all seats are contested for the first time since independence. What will be the vote share in the Prime Minister's constituency? As I leave the country after voting, will I return to a different kind of government and so a different kind of country?

Polling day is a public holiday over here, but near the border, it is rush hour traffic as we cross in the afternoon (post meridiem). Over here, I'm almost hit by a car passenger who opens her door and crosses the road without looking even once at traffic. and a motorbike wing mirror wings me at immigration.

My bicycle feels funny. Or at least, I feel that it feels funny. It's as if the rear tyre is flat. Phobia? Turns out to be my bag swaying, creating a flat tyre feel.

Night stop: Kong Kong Taison Seafood Resort

Day 2: 12 Sep Kota Tinggi, 70 km (approx). We're temporarily misplaced. Google Map says there's a road here? Then I get lost, separated from the group in mere moments amidst the foilage.

I call out. Blow my  whistle. Make ohone calls. No answer. I backtrack to the the tarred road and wait for a call. What a first...

More off-road. This is Matt Black's first fully-loaded off-road. Even my Little Red Tank hasn't experienced that. I wonder how the tourers, on their skinny three, handle so well: gravel, gullies, soft sand that decelerates tyres suddenly. I plunge downhill as my bike scrabbles downhill on the gravel at over 28 km/h.

At a fork in the road, we somehow split, some take the high road, others the low road. We meet and eat at Ulu Tiram. I've seen it on the map years ago. Now I know why we've not visited before: it's a dusty busy town.

Night stop: Mayres Hotel

Day 3: 13 Sep, Singapore, 64 km (approx). The air is bad, visibility is low. Sure, we can see the road, but not the blue sky. The clouds blend into the battleship grey of Made in Indonesia particulate matter. Around this time in the past few years, haze season would've ended. But the season seems to have shifted. Political mood has shifted too; landslide win for ruling party, with the "men in white" rolling back the "blue sky" party.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Private investigation, public interest

Upper Thomson, 39 km. Over two days (7-8 Sep), I use my bicycle to take photos (with a camera, not the bicycle haha). When facts are interpreted, they might be coloured by opinion not be based on facts. Since I'm the one most affected, it fell upon me to put things right as a matter of public interest: to go onsite, to take photos, stitch them together and ask tough questions, lest misfortune befall other members of the public.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Slow and steady

Good morning Mersing
4-6 Sep, Johor, Malaysia, 279 km

Day 1: 4 Sep. To commeorate Bike 'n' Blade's 10th event, we reprise the route of the 2005 inaugural ride. Instead of a ferry to Desaru, we bus up on 4 Sep. The only cycling I do on is ride 10 km to the bus pickup point. DHL volunteers wraps up our bicycles and loads them. "It's a mountain bike," one volunteer says. Instead of stuffing my machine with the other carbon road bikes in the bus hold, he carries my heavier bike into the bus.

It's great to catch up with some repeat charity riders; we meet once a year. E flew back home from Shanghai just for this. And I'm glad to have  a room mate who doesn't snore; room are assigned randomly.

Nightstop: Pulai Desaru Beach Resort

Rain and shine
Day 2: 5 Sep, Mersing, 135 km. We ride at 7 am. It rains. It's cold. I zip up and ride. The sun comes out. I'm glad, until warm becomes steaming hot.

Non-horizontal, to the horizon
I stop and talk to one volunteer support crew. When I cycle, I have wind to blow away heat, but they stand in the sun. One says cyclists riding in the heat inspire them.

Mersing. I was here two weeks ago. And here I am again. It doesn't get easier. And my butt still hurts. I stop and fiddle with my saddle several times.

So many people pass me by, including a roadie who says "Yay, mountain bike." Two volunteers are on motorbikes: a lady on Ducati and a guy on KTM. I wish I had one of those.

At the hotel, I use an ironing board to dry laundry in the sun, and improvise a plumb line  to adjust my saddle fore-aft position.

Nightstop: Hotel Seri Malaysia Mersing

Feeling at a loss
Day 3: 6 Sep, Desaru, 124 km. After breakfast, I notice my rear tyre is flat. It was ok when I sat on it yesterday afternoon to adjust my saddle.

I look for the hole in the inner tube: I can't see it, feel it, hear it. I fill the sink with water using a makeshift bung, but still fail. I feel the inside of the tyre with both hands but feel at a loss. I replace the inner tube, hoping that what's happened would be like in Inner Mongolia: replacing the tube would fix the problem.

Bad morning
A volunteer checks out of the hotel for me; he says the rest left 5-10 minutes ago. At 7 am, the official flag off time, I sprint to catch up. In the cool morning air, my sweat drips like rain drops on my top tube.

I catch up with riders at the first rest stop. At every stop, I pump up my tyres. It's a slow leak, and I ride slowly. For the first time ever, I see the sweeper, S. He's a regular at charity rides over the years and for the first time, I have a break with him.

Less than 15 km from the end, a sweeper vehicle stops. The crew gently talk me into boarding. This is the first time I'm swept up. I feel deflated like my tyre. Yesterday, "slow and steady wins the race," a roadie told me. Today, a slow and steady leak gets me.

What's the use of cycling on knobby tyres if they puncture like slicks on the road?

On the bus to Singapore, I examine a punctured inner tube. Back in Singapore, I turn the tyre inside out and study it. I just can't see it. I flip the tyre right side up and study it. There, clear as day, a wriggly piece of wire, 1 cm long. It looks like a staple. How did it penetrate the tyre where it hurt most, missing the big knob beside it?

Moral of the story: stick to the discipline of checking the outside of the tyre at the end of every ride, and check the tyre first thing in the morning.

Well, at least my saddle and butt are ok.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saddled with a problem

Aug distance: 648 km

Woodlands, 52 km. It's a pain in the butt to deal with a pain in the butt.

I ride with a different pair of shorts and find myself fiddling with the saddle, mm by mm. Then it hits me: when I cycle uphill, I feel better. Perhaps it's not the fore-aft saddle position that's the answer.

I raise the saddle. Have I found the sweet spot? In a few days' time, when I do a >300 km charity ride, I'll find out.

I also modify my sponsored helmet. The built-in visor dries out my contact lenses. And I need my sight to spot car drivers who veer across my lane to turn, and parents who let their kids play on the road then lose track of how many kids they have. They caution one kid that I'm coming. I jam my hydraulic brakes (my first emergency braking on this rig!), skid and see the dad reach out - not to steady me, but to grab his other kid.

Traffic. What a pain.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pedal for penance

Straight and narrow, peace and quiet
Pekan Nanas, Johor, Malaysia, 158 km. Still feeling regret at not doing a 1,000 km ride, I cycle north with A to welcome the magnificent seven who went the full distance.

Since we're early, I head off to explore Ulu Choh while A wants to meet a friend.

Ulu Choh: for years, I've passed the road sign pointing to this place. What's there? A map can only tell you so much.

Ulu Choh has a big school, a temple, a mosque and a quarry. Wow. Really quiet roads. It leads to some fenced off official-looking installation. Is there a short cut to Pekan Nanas? Let's ride and see.

I end up off road. Mosquitoes. Mud. A small stream, then a big one with a partially collapsed concrete bridge. I hear traffic. My compass tells me where to head. But where do the trails lead? Under time pressure, I ask a worker for the way out. He directs me towards a road beside a house. I bash through the foliage, then see the sign of danger.

Dogs. Rats, got to back track
I back track to where I came from to where the magnificent seven stop for lunch. They arrived about 20 minutes before I did.
After lunch, they celebrate their 1,000 km milestone by the roadside and toast themselves with 100-Plus from a support vehicle which was part of their charity ride.

On this ride, I found my answer to the question: should I have chosen the soft option of cycling 390 km instead of 1,000? The answer is "yes". I suffered on this ride, and it's only 158 km. I don't mean the off road part, which was so eventful I didn't think about pain.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Food for thought

15-18 Aug, Johor, Malaysia, 390 km

Clear blue skies, feel the heat blown away by breeze
Day 1: 15 Aug, Tanjong Sedili, 129 km. I was thrilled to ride in Pengarang a decade ago, with its quiet, winding rural roads sprinkled with gentle villages and villagers. Now, the place is ruined by development, with long straight roads and hurtling lorries (at least, the drivers give us a wide berth).

I don't recall going to Sedili was so no fun, with rolling hills, headwinds and searing sun. The ride is like eating a baguette: I start at one end and end up at the other. When W rumbles past me on his fat bike (29 niner with 3" tyres), I know I'm in a bad way: dead tired, dead last. Until G ends up at the end, worse off than I am. I wait for him in the shade, then pull him along.

Night stop: Jason Bay Beach Resort

Paleo diet
Day 2, 16 Aug, Mersing, 84 km. At breakfast, I listen to WK talk about his paleo/ketosis diet and marvel how he powers himself to ride his possibly 30 kg, fully loaded fat bike which includes a 1.5l bottle.

At lunch, there's no room at the inn. Inn Keepers, the riverside  coffee shop where we used to lunch and luxuriate after a day's hard ride, has moved. With ferry services gone, business dried up. All good things come to an end. And what goes up, must come down. That's true when it comes to cycling hills and mountains. How true is that for life?

Is going up good in life? But an "uphill climb" sounds like a bad thing. And "going downhill" also sounds like a bad thing too. In cycling, "up" is usually bad and "down" usually good - well, to some cyclists anyway.The famous wanton noodle store at Jemaluang is closed for business today. It's the first time I've seen it closed. Some customers direct us to another shop nearby, not visible from where we are. It is a nice place with good food. When one door closes, another opens. There, I take WK's fat bike for a joy ride. It has indexed, friction shifters!

Back on the road, I've an "extended discussion" with Matt Black, which is on its maiden expedition. Several times I stop to adjust the saddle.

At the end of the day, I sing a song to the tune of "We are the world":
"There was a time, when my butt didn't hurt so much, and the hills they weren't really so tough.
I was on my Tank, it blasted everything.
But now I'm on Merida."

I'm ambivalent about whether to go on with the rest of the 1,000 km ride. My room mate, M, says I could go on if I want to. True. But if I go on, it'll be because I push myself to. If it's for fun, I wouldn't. In the end, it's the reason that makes the difference. Why would I want to cycle 1,000 km? Is it to show (to whom anyway?) I can ride 1,000 km? Been there, done that, and then some. I ask J for help, she answers with a question: "What have you got to prove?

Night stop: Hotel Embassy

Long, quiet roads
Coffee and coconut
Day 3, 17 Aug, Kota Tinggi, 102 km. Regrets, I've had a few. For example, I could've joined an airborne
course but didn't, because I wanted to prepare for my exams. Years later, I still regret not jumping. But who knows what would've happened if I'd jumped? And what would've happened to my exam results?

It's been said that people "regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did". Reason: "we can’t console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience because… well, there wasn’t one". Yeah, right. Tell that to those who made seriously wrong choices and lived to regret them.

So, do I go the full 1,000 km or not? I decide by looking at what I'd regret less. Perhaps there's no right or wrong decision here. If there's no right or wrong, what's there to regret?

More clear cut is today's bitter, powdery coffee. Some people might like it. I certainly didn't. As for the MYR2 coconut (with ice), it was wonderful.

Night stop: Mayres Hotel

Birthday cake
Day 4, 18 Aug, home, 65 km. I feel relief and regret. Relief, because the five of us survived Johor Bahru rush hour. Near the border, we stop to rehydrate at a coffee shop. Two of them excused themselves then reappeared with rich chocolate cake to celebrate A's birthday. We gave a big slice to the coffee shop lady who let us use her crockery.

Thanks for the company and the ride
Regret, because we part company today. We've cycled together for a decade, through thick and thin, be it thick noodles in Taiwan or thin thosai in Malaysia. I also regret not cycling the full 1,000 km unlike the other seven who headed north from Mersing.

When I signed up for the ride, I didn't commit to doing the full distance; 400 km was an option too. I was going to wait and see and I decided to take the short cut. I've taken a risk with my ankle, which still hurts when I put my foot down. Yesterday, the pain short up when I banged mud off my cleats against the pedal.

There's a saying: "Quit while you're ahead." There's another saying: "Pain is temporary, surrender is forever."

So, did I do the right thing to quit?

I found the answer about whether it was the right thing to do on 23 Aug.

Saturday, August 08, 2015


Old Upper Thomson Road, 29 km. This post has an odd label: "training". I'm not training for a race. Or for a charity ride. I'm training for a long ride. It could be 400 km. Or 1,000 km.

I have a choice of distance. I know that if I don't train, it's going to harder. So, do I spread suffering over time, like instalments, or pay in one lump sum? Well, that lump sum will be spread over time too: during the multi-day ride. But, with training, instalments are spread out during the training period and the ride itself.

And why am I unsure whether it'll be 400 or 1,000 km? Because I don't know how my injured limbs will hold up. And it'll be Matt Black's maiden expedition too.

Today, for the first time, I remove her brake pads, which have been screeching complaints at me. I brush it with toothbrush and water (but no toothpaste) and the complaints stop.

If only I could brush away the misfortune that's befallen me again and again, at work and at play. But then, these are the vagaries of life.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


Sengkang, 19 km. I like ginger tea, ginger beer, ginger cats. Today, I ride ginger-ly.

In a right-hand drive world, the left leg is the landing gear. The one you twist to unclip and use for "take off and landing" when cycling. It is this left ankle I twisted last week in an ultra marathon.

Just a few minutes into the race.

Which means that I've get to cover the entire distance on a bad ankle. Make that two bad legs, when I stumble mid-way through the course.

X-rays show left ankle foot wasn't broken. "No running for two weeks," says the doctor, annoyed that I didn't pull out of the race immediately. He didn't say anything about not cycling! I go off-road, but dismount when on uneven ground. If I've to unclip suddenly and plunge my foot down, I'd be in a world of pain ...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rolling good times

File photo
Jul distance: 94 km

Lim Chu Kang Road, 83 km. Little Red Tank rolls silently and smoothly. It feels like new. Was it because I'd lubricated the chain two times, without cleaning it before the second time?

I revisit places I last went to in 2009. Some of these places now exist as map coordinates, but which no longer exist in time. That is, what used to be there, like farms and forest, are no longer there. They're just memories.

All the more reason to explore. With M.

The cycling "loosened" my legs too. My calves are tight from all that training in the past weeks. Well, this time next week, I'd be racing and missing my wheels.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The one thing

Around my home, 11 km. My bicycle creaks incessantly. It's not the seat post. Is it the chainring? Chain? Crank arm? Bottom bracket? To get rid of the noise, get rid of the bike? That's over the top.

On a whim, I change the pedals. I crank it up, no noise, no matter how hard I try.

I've neglected my pedals for so long. I brush off the dirt and oil it with tender loving care.

What's the one thing in your life you need to change?