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 :)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Deft handling

Pasir Ris, 36 km. A front derailleur that shifts to the big chain ring, the granny ring but skips the middle? And the problem is not fixed after more than one trip to the bikeshop? Ok, I'll take a look at this strange phenomenon on L's foldie, though I'm doubtful I can fix it if professional bike mechanics can't.

The derailleur plates and all three chain rings are aligned. The chain can go up the big ring, but won't come down to the middle; it stays on the big one and grinds away on the derailleur plate. Click again, and the chain goes to the small ring. Two clicks, two chain rings. Well, it's not as if the chain jumps from big ring to granny in one click. This can only mean one thing.

I fiddle with the barrel adjuster and voila, job done, just a few seconds.

On my way back, I see another phenomenon. A guy doing a track stand. He doesn't even have his hands on the handlebar. We're not talking about a split second here! Now that is what I call a master.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

HIgh noon

Seletar, 65 km. I'm on the road at 0615. Cyclists are out in force; clustered along the roads, red tail lights blink like fireflies in flames.

At 1100, when the sun beats down, there are still cyclists on the road, but mostly cycling solo. There is a lone runner on the road, clutching a water bottle.

I wonder what she's training for. The five of us cycling today are not training; we spend six hours on the road, with some of the time on Myco mushroom farm eating (mushroom stout and ale?!) and gawking at Animal Resort.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sun shiny day

Woodlands, 50 km. It was sunny when I started cycling Matt Black, kitted up with a rack and bag for the first time as a trial. Then it rained. Another first for Matt Black. When I get home, the sun comes out.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Island in the sun

Mar distance: 219 km

St John's Island, 64 km. Who would've thought that:
  • A tiny island could be so pretty?
  • This island, previously used to hold those with cholera and then political dissidents, is now a holiday camp?
  • Another island nearby could become a country, and when its first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), died, the world's largest democracy, India, declares a day of mourning? And Australia and New Zealand pay homage to him in their parliament?
  • While LKY was alive, British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the former to learn how to govern.  A British Prime Minister learning from an ex-colony, five decades after independence?  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Twists and turns

Photo courtesy of Ah Tak
Seletar, 57 km. There are about 20 golf courses in this small country. That's a lot for an island which has only three official mountain bike trails*.

Tonight, the two become one. Sort of. For the first time in my life, I get to cycle in a golf course. What a treat!

Five km per loop. The first is with a volunteer guide, a club member, who takes us where the buggies go. Only it's at night. It's kind of dark, but not quite. There's a lot of light pollution that hinders night sight. It doesn't help when a girl wants to avoid sprinklers, turns her bicycle around and shines her light right in my face. Then the sprinker hits me, it feels like someone turned a hose on me.

The path twists and turns, just like at work, and goes up and down. Lights from cyclists behind and in front of me light up my way, but the way the light twists and turns on their handlebars is distracting: sometimes the road is bright, sometimes dark, and there are drains, kerbs and water hazards.

I let everyone close behind me get ahead. By the time I'm on round 5, I'm alone. The golf course is all mine. I start sprinting as if I'm racing. Just like old times, on my Little Red Tank.

*After Tampines trail got bulldozed. The number varies, depending on source. National Parks lists three, Razor TV mentions five.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Admiralty Road West, 37 km. Dark clouds gather. I wait for the rain to fall as dusk draws near. The clouds hold back, but the light inexorably fades. So out I go. As I head back from the ride, lightning flashes. I speed up to beat the rain. As I near home, I see that the rain has fallen, but not on me.

The dark clouds didn't blanket the entire sky, and I had options where to cycle. I'd headed where the dark clouds faded. I escaped.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Beauty and the bleak

Sengkang 36 km. I feel tired, but I cycle anyway. On the road, the tired feeling slips away. With traffic around me, I have to keep my wits about me, or I might end up in permanent sleep.

I look for a beautiful place and find it. No matter how bleak things look, there's beauty to be found somewhere.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

High horse

Matt Black amidst the greenery
Upper Thomson Road, 25 km. I'm tired but take Matt Black through its paces: the slopes I trained on Inner Mongolia race and a bit of off road. With its 100 mm suspension fork, my new ride has a higher centre of gravity and feels less steady. But bouncing downhill is so plush. Instead of a jarring experience bouncing about, I glide downhill and just need a feather light touch to feather the brakes downhill. Going up slope, I use all 30 speeds.

I follow a single track along a stream and see a guy in his birthday suit, all lathered up, bathing in the stream. There's also a family with a girl on a high horse. She gestures me to pass but I don't want to rattle by and startle it.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Feb distance: 433 km

Tuas, 96 km. The Year of the Horse was neigh neigh neigh, nay nay nay. Would the Goat Year be meh meh meh?

The year has changed. And so has my bicycle. While I've been on Matt Black before, this is the first time it's for a long ride not a commute of a few km.

I fine tune my shifters, seat post height and saddle position since my back starts to hurt.

This is a faster ride than my Little Red Tank. Is it the Racing Ralph tyres? The non-downhill rims? The frame geometry? For sure, it's not the non-series Shimano hubs. I wonder how much better the ride would be if the XT hubs of my Tank were on it.

Matt Black has two bottle cages but one can't hold a 750 ml bottle. Still, the bicycle seems faster and I might need less water for that reason?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Highs and lows

13-16 Feb, Cebu, Philippines, 301 km

My bucket list includes a modest wish to cycle in all of ASEAN. The "easy", nearer countries are done. Two more to go: Philippines and Myanmar. Onward now, to the country of over 7,000 islands: Philippines, in a quick getaway.

Gearing up
View from Mt Busay
Day 1, 13 Feb, Cebu. This is my third trip to the Philippines, but first time I'm cycling there. When I get off the aircraft, 3 guys "help" me by pretty much just touching my bicycle box then ask me for tips. That took me by surprise.

Also surprising was when a motorcyclist shot out and almost side swiped me.

Most surprising of all was a climb up a 550m hill called Tops (Mt Busay). I'm glad I found it; the housekeeper at the bed and breakfast told me how to get there. I max out all my gears and I'm not even fully loaded. At one point, my speedometer shows 0 km/h, which means I'm going so slow, below 4 km/h, that the speed doesn't register. It's a wonder I didn't stall.

My ears pop and water bottle goes "psst" when I sip it.

Going downhill here is no fun. I ride my brakes but still go down at over 30 km/h; it is that steep.

Nightstop (for the whole trip): BugoyBikers B&B, run by a German who also runs a bicycle tour with three full time cyclists.

Herculean, sisyphean
Day 2, 14 Feb, Cebu.  We agreed breakfast at 7 and ride at 8. Past 7, the cook scurries in. "Sorry, sorry," she says and whips up breakfast. I wolf down eight slices of bread and two eggs. We needn't have hurried. Cook notices and asks me what I'm looking for. I point out that the guide is not here. She makes a series of calls.

Guide, G, shows up 45 minutes later. He didn't know he'll have to ride all day today. I choose the longest ride: over 70 km, though it is marked the most severe: "breathtaking", with gradients in some places at 19%, according to the guidebook.

We ride in the clouds. Downhill all the way, right? Wrong. It's a series of rolling hills. Down, then up. Interminable. Isn't this supposed to be the top? But up we still go, as slow as 3.6 km/h. My mind comes close to snapping. I tell myself: "Don't fret. Don't fight. Just sit back and pedal." So long as I pedal, the crest will come. One after another.

My sweat band gives up. Sweat drips into my eyes. Ouch.

Going uphill is tough. Going uphill on broken road is tougher; tyres lose traction going up and going down when braking.

As I head downhill, a jeepney comes up. Too close. I make a snap decision to ride into a gully filled with gravel. To brake here may break something. I roll out of the gully as another bus comes up. We pass with inches to spare. And there's cats and dogs crossing too.

The guide keeps going even after two hours of his. He stops only when I ask him to. We have just two short breaks and lunch. With two peaks at 700 and 890m, and total of 3,000m, he says.

The guides I met so far know their toys. "You have a strong bike."is it a Tank? I've only seen it online." "Nice saddle, a Brooks."
Copper mines, I'm told

G says today is he longest he's guided. "You survived back there. The Europeans I guided didn't make it. How old are you? How much do you ride?" I reply: "About 40 km per week." "You're the strongest ride I've guided. What's your secret?" "Drink Coca Cola."

Back in the city, G weaves and turns. I dodge traffic to keep up. Once, a pedestrian brushes against me.

As requested, G takes me to a bicycle shop, YKK. It is the biggest in town, and bigger than all but one shop in my country. It's even got Merlin and Lightspeed. The price tag is in six figures. Pesos.

Back in my room, I see the dirt from the aircon is still on the bed, though I did say the aircon was on the fritz. I raise the matter. The servicemen are other bike guides. They remove the entire unit to clean it and clear out the ants.

Sweet trip
Day 3, 15 Feb, Bohol. At around 4 am, the aircon shrieks like a banshee again. Dogs bark, roosters crow. I get out of bed at 0530 and prepare my own breakfast. The guide, D, is just 10 minutes late. But we needn't have hurried. The 0730 ferry is kaput. The next one is an hour later. So we do a fast and furious ride to Mactan and back. Sunday morning and the traffic is like a workday as we near 8 am. "People are going to church and market," says D.

Chocolate Hills, background, Green Grass, foreground
On the ferry, I lie down on the sundeck (at least, it looks like one) for a snooze. It's more peaceful here, no dogs, no roosters, no aircon.

Bohol has rolling hills. Not as bad as yesterday, but I'm already knackered.

There's a 600m climb, then up steep steps to see the marvels of nature: Chocolate Hills.

We head back the way we came to catch the penultimate boat, at 1845. We have a night ride back to "the office" (that's what the guides call the B&B.

Over the top
Day 4, 16 Feb Mount Busay , Cebu (again). I'm up at 0630 but cookie doesn't come at 7. So I help myself to breakfast then head out to cycle.

It's a manic Monday morning rush hour. Yesterday, a pedestrian bumped me. Today, a jeepney passenger hopped off and ran into me. Good thing I held steady. The bad city air and frenzy gets to me. Too many lungsful of PM2.5.

Enough. I head back to the suburbs. It's nice and quiet but I keep heading into dead ends.

Enough. Back to the mountain. Mt Busay.  'm relieved to reach the top. Not just because of the tedium. I've to check out of my room. It's scary on the way down the second time round. I reach a max speed of 52.6 km/h. That doesn't sound fast but this is with overtaking and oncoming traffic.

I do one more lap around the area and call it a day. At noon, checkout time, the owner reminds me to checkout. He gives me more time so I pack my bicycle in air-conditioned comfort.

It's been somewhat of a bad trip. It was arranged at short notice. A day's worth of photos ruined because of wrong camera setting. A lighter wallet, because of an air ticket booking error. The assistant supervisor goes out her way to escort me to a rival airline, works out a low fare and gets me a priority booking. I get a flight home the same day - which then gets delayed by 1.5 hours. But then, any ride you can walk away from is a good ride. Despite the mishaps on the road, off the road and in my room, there's not a scratch on me. And I do get my bicycle back notwithstanding the change in airline.