To Ang Mo Kio bikeshops, Seletar Rd 39 km. Time to say goodbye to some cherished things.
- goodbye, bike rides to Johore with A, who's going to Ireland with his wife J for a year. When I found out a few days ago, I was shocked. It was so sudden. What do I do now with my wad of ringgit? A invites me to a farewell dinner at Seletar Rd on 27 Feb. I ride there; it's faster than taking a bus. I ask a fellow rider what he's gonna do without A's "GPS-in-his-head". Fellow cyclist says: "I don't know, just ride north, I guess."
- goodbye, Iron Horse? Have been planning a real terror ride called "The hills are alive, with the sound of cursing" which takes bikers from one series of roller coaster hills to another. Not even sure my left knee and hip can take it (yep, recurrent problems - alarming - old age creeping up on me as I ride?). So I wanna upgrade my Iron Horse wheelset. "No," says Mr Bikeshop Man on 26 Feb. "They don't make good 36-spoke wheels anymore. The good wheels are 32 spoke, so you gotta change your cassette to 8-speed, which your frame can't take. Moreover, you gotta change your shifters. Gonna cost you $400, might as well get a new bike, what about that Scott over there?"
- goodbye, Iron Horse brand. On 26 Feb, I went to a bicycle shop near Bugis which claimed on its website and business cards that it sold Iron Horse bikes. Bikeshop Man says the last time Iron Horse bikes came in was in 1997.
Sun 23 Feb: Through the maelstrom
To Tampines, East Coast, Tanjong Rhu, Changi Naval Base 98 km. How can anyone want to cycle through the maelstrom / "asteroid storm" of East Coast Park? And why on earth did we cycle in East Coast not once, but twice on the same day? It's safer on the roads than on East Coast, where pedestrians, joggers, rollerbladers, cyclists, skooters, prams, move in all directions regardless of race, language or collision. And surprise, surprise, I see another Iron Horse; looks like a newer model. "Posers" there too: really, really fancy bicycles but the cyclists don't look like they ride long and hard. Long and hard we ride. It is supposed to be a short ride, 34 km roundtrip to Tampines mountain bike trail (photo) and the "quarry".
But because all the rental bikers pull out, Gentle Giant and I are free to ride further. I end up on the road from 9am to 8pm. Titanium saddle performs very well; butt doesn't hurt as much as my $18 saddle.
Route to Changi Naval Base is a long, hard road. A long incline, plus headwind, and the sun beating down (weatherman said it was gonna rain). A roadie joins us on a (I heard) $8,000 bike. He can overtake us - and stay ahead - though he has a flat front tyre. He did fix it with his compressed gas pump, but his second inner tube gives up too, mere minutes later. So I was right to have given up on slim tyres and racers. Look at my tyres now: 2,700km without a flat!
And I'm glad my Iron Horse is finely tuned (it's primitive, ancient technology so I can adjust it myself). On the road, it makes a hypnotic hum (actually, more like a contented purr that goes "rrrrrr"). No creaks, no clanks. Unlike a few fancy bikes I heard that day. Still, I gotta upgrade my bike parts. Brother says I can "borrow" parts from his Marin for the next two years while he's away. But I'm gonna get my own wheels literally, so I can ride harder, faster, longer.
Fri 21 Feb: The night riders
To Bedok, Changi Expo / Beach Park, Tampines 62 km. Have been looking forward to this ride since I heard about it. Almost agonising pain, waiting for the time to come. And come it did. I fit out the bicycle with lights and set off for Bedok. I see other riders on the road. Some of my bike pals? Nah. Then I see someone familiar, and she sees me too. It's Gentle Giant! (She's leading this ride, and the ride is her idea.) How fortuitous; I had 30 minutes to kill, now problems is solved. I don't have to sit beside Bedok Reservoir to feed the mosquitoes. SH shows up and together we ride to "H"'s home, who is down with chicken pox. It's so bad, it's as if chicken feathers are trying to grow out of his skin.
We pick up Aviation H (B joins us later at Changi Village) and the ride proper starts. The narcotic hum of the tyres, the roar of the wind rushing by. Somehow, I don't remember hearing myself breathe. Beside the Changi Coast, one more stimulation: the smell of the sea. A heady mix.
At Changi Coast Road, a B747 lines up parallel to the road. Its lights cut through the midnite dark like light sabres the length of the plane, while our bike headlights make little splotches on the road. The 747's turbines increase their whine as it lumbers down the runway, while our tyres hum as we labour down the "highway". The plane overtakes us, and takes to the air. Time for the passengers to dream...
My dream is a reality now, to cycle with my own bicycle gang. Last year, when I started serious cycling, I'd come across groups and wonder who they are, can I belong. Now I belong to a nice bunch of cyclists. Really fortunate. I hear about "posers"; people who show off their bicycles but can't ride. Well, my cyclists aren't posers; they really like cycling. Now, I can cycle as often as twice a week like this week. Not that I'll give up cycling alone. A bike ride can be a journey of self-discovery, where I cycle to places unknown to me to find out things unknown about me. On journeys of self-discovery, the self goes alone. Just me, my bicycle and my God.
B breaks off at Tampines to go home, I break off at Bedok. The others cyclists on for supper. I reach home at 2.15am.
Sun 16 Feb: All dressed up with no where to go
To Seletar and Tampines 35 km. Supposed to cycle to Johore today with AF and co. Got up at 6am. But it'd been raining since 3am. Hoping against hope, I ate my breakfast, smear on sun block (how's that for optimism?). SMS comes: ride is off. Waah!!! All dressed up and no where to go, except back to bed. Weird, wearing sun block to bed. Got another SMS. Meet at Seletar Rd. Well, if you can't cycle, you can talk about cycling. And we did, for over an hour. M joins us too. We pour over Johore maps as the rain pours around us. I looked at the sky and at my bicycle. On its own, it really looks good, until the Giant XTC gets in the picture. When the rain lightened, I scoot off to recce Tampines for next week's BOAC ride.
Titanium saddle hurt my butt. Picked it up yesterday (4 km) from brother's bicycle (if it's going to have dust on it, might as well have my butt on it). First time I've touched titanium, I think. A tells me it costs about $120. Sure it's light; about half the weight of my $18 seat. But my old seat sure is more comfy.
Wed 12 Feb: Beside still waters
To Sungei Punggol and Sengkang, 41 km. Met the gang, led by Gentle Giant, at Upper Thomson, then rode to Jalan Kayu. I took over and led the group to the big secret place down by Sungei Punggol. The trail is becoming overgrown. Someday, it'll disappear! I've never seen mountain bikers there and today is no exception (though there are miscellaneous fishermen and campers this time).
The place is still as picturesque. We sit under the shade of a tree by the still waters and chat. And chat. Feels like we sat there talking for an hour - more time than it took for us to cycle there. Lunch at Sengkang, then to the home of SH's relative for Chinese New Year visit. Great hospitality; the hosts kept plying us with food and drink - bikers' paradise indeed. As we sat there, we talked about cycling to Bukit Timah someday.
Cycling has become an addiction. I keep thinking about it since this year's Pengarang trip. Like I said, this was one of the best days of my life. I think the others are very keen too; after all, they send e-mails about it while at work, and can't sleep on the eve of a ride.
Bike still giving problems. I hear creaking whenever I life my front wheel or merely rest my arms on the handlebars. Some slack in the front wheel too. Yup, new fork is loose. I go home, pick up plumbing tape and head for Cycle Corner to tighten my new fork. Hope it stays tight!
Meeting the gang and seeing their fancy bicycles has also tempted me to get a new bicycle. Poor Iron Horse, to face abandonment after years of faithful service. But maybe it'll still ride with me. Today, I saw how a $2,000 bike got dented after another bike tilted onto it; no one was cycling either bike! And another rider had two blowouts on the same trail, while my Iron Horse tyres are original; no punctures after 2,500 km. That's the advantage of being "solid state", I guess. To fight temptation, I look at a 1990 Bridgestone catalogue. Ah, look at the chromoly frames and the rigid forks. Don't they look good?
Sat-Sun 8-9 Feb: Fellowship of the spins
To Pengarang, Malaysia, 115 km. What a joy it is to belong to kindred spirits - people who are so excited about spinning wheels they can't sleep on the eve. This weekend, a handful of us rode to Pengarang. While I've been there before, this ride is different. It's the first time I've cycled off-road there. It's the first time I've ridden my bicycle with a new fork (see bikelog 6-7 Feb).
Overall, the Pengarang ride was great, though it got kinda slow on the first leg - crawling along at about 15 km on the roads. But the sights and sounds made up for it. The blue sky and puffy white clouds. The grass waving to us in the wind as we passed by (ditto the kids we passed by). Butterflies dancing around my handlebars as I ride. The roar of the sea mixed with the hum of the tyres on asphalt or the crunch of gravel. The birds chirping. The rush of the wind. All these really sing to my heart. And is balm for my head. Though the sun beats down hard, the cooling wind takes away the heat and my headache. A memorable weekend for about $40! The company was great too.
First time I had Gentle Giant "P" as fellow cyclist; she's so helpful, she makes me feel baaad. She pumps a fellow rider's tyres unbidden. And waits alone at the ferry terminal alone for stragglers. "H", "SH", "B" and "M" were there too. "H" is really a great rider: he cycles and videos the ride at the same time while leading the group. B has a great heart, keeping "M" company and enduring her incessant "how far more?". M is a great entertainer, telling us about her exploits in school. With her, time passes quickly. And she perseveres, labouring to keep up with us. SH is generous, buying biscuits for all of us. All great company, swapping stories by the sea, eating ice kachang, drinking Milo, eating burgers... And of course, we remember Bikerboey who's halfway round the world in Chile. Though she isn't with us, we talk about her: her optimism and encouragement.
And me? I conquered three beautiful hills. Who says being "over the hill" is a bad thing? For a biker, it's a great feeling to survey the hill visually, pick out the best routes, pick up momentum and then live by your wits and endurance to make it to the top without putting feet down.
After the ride, it's time to clean up the mess on the bike. I was the victim of the most vicious chain suck ever. Paintwork got ground off the chainstay. Painting the scratches over is like putting iodine on a wound...
Thu, Fri 6-7 Feb: The fork in the road
Ang Mo Kio, 9 km. The problem that wouldn't go away permanently - a loose headset - has resurfaced. Should I get a new bicycle? Or a new fork? And what kind of fork: rigid or suspension? And who stocks 1-inch forks nowadays? Have been to six bicycle shops so far, asking about forks, looking at bikes. Two days before my big ride to Pengarang, I make the rounds of three bicycle shops in Ang Mo Kio. Getting a fork for my bicycle is like considering an organ transplant... Finally chose a rigid fork from Cycle Corner. Small shop, but lots of stuff. Think my shiny new fork looks kinda OK on the bike.
Mon 3 Feb: Cycling in the rain
To Sembawang Park, 40 km. In the rain! Another first for me, leading a ride. Was raining on and off, mostly on. Half a dozen cyclists were to have take part in this ride. In the end, there was just two of us: me and "G" on his trusty purple Trek. Yup, that was him too who showed up on-site on 19 Jan. Since one person showed up, and he was game to ride in the rain, the ride is on!
What's cool about cycling in the rain:
- it's cool. No need suntan lotion, no need to worry about stinging sweat getting into eyes. The ride is air-cooled and liquid-cooled
- there seems to be less traffic on the road. Who wants to venture out in the rain anyway? If they have a choice, it seems even motorists will want to see the sun break out of the clouds before they themselves venture out.
- getting wet. It rained so hard, my shoes got soggy. Cycling with water squelching in the shoes is weird.
- braking power is greatly reduced. Enough said!
- less visibility for cyclist and motorists
- the above two are safety issues. The next point is: I hate cleaning my bicycle! And to think I used autosol on my rims yesterday. Today, had to clean them again.
Sun 2 Feb: Trailing behind on the trail
To Johore, 75 km. What a day of personal "firsts". First time I left the house so early to cycle; 6.45am and it's still dark. First time I've ever cycled to Malaysia (sure, I've cycled IN Malaysia (Pengarang and Malacca) but that's not the same as cycling TO Malaysia. First time I've touched 50kmh. First time I've eaten thosai with onions. And first time I've felt (literally) left behind.
When I cycle with others, sure, there may be others in front. But I've never ever been left behind... When people overtake me, I sometimes think: "Hey, those guys are younger. Wait till they find out how old I am... But today, the oldest looking guy ("D") leaves me behind too. Indeed, looks can be deceiving. The guy ("A") with mudguards and steel frame at one stage led the pack.
Still, a great ride (at least, I can still see the guys ahead, unlike the last leg of nite cycling last year when the renegade riders were smaller than a speck in the distance).
It's a great ride because the terrain was manageable. The bike leader ("A") is knowledgeable and, well, charitable (has encouraging words). In fact, he's incredible; chatting all the way there and back (while I'm panting). Roads are fairly good in Malaysia (though at one point I was a split second from disaster - a slight twitch and I may have ended up in a five-foot deep drain - there was no kerb to warn "watch out"). And it rained. At one stage, it rained hard enough to sting. But hey, the rain stopped and I dried out.
Cycling on Malaysia roads showed me a gentler pace and way of life. Motorists waive their right of way and just let us ride through. No fuss, no horn, no waved fists / fingers. In Singapore, the reverse happens: many drivers take away bikers' right of way and curse while their at it.
Easier going to Johore than coming back. Somehow, ran out of steam at Yishun area. Wow, cycling non-stop from the causeway all the way back to Seletar Rd. Possibly the longest time I've cycled non-stop? Dunno, I was just hypnotically pumping my legs up and down, trying to keep the riders in sight. Well, that'll teach me to laugh inwardly at people on rented bicycle ... Anyway, cycling with better cyclists is like benchmarking. Spurs me on to want to cycle faster and further. Time to upgrade my bicycle?