29-30 Mar: Warning - millipede crossing
To Desaru, 162 km. I see a one inch long millipede crossing the road. Inching its way across, just like most of us inch uphill along them hills to Desaru. We make it. But some creatures didn't: a baby monkey (with a trail of blood from its mouth). A chicken. A snake. A couple of monitor lizards. Guess they weren't monitoring the road and became road pizza.
There, but for the grace of God, go I. Was buzzed by a bus on the way to Changi Village to start my longest trip ever. It was the earliest I'd ever set out for a ride too - 6 am. It's cool, it's dark, and traffic is light. But amazing how many people are on the road getting to work.
In Malaysia, one of the cyclists get recalled to work. Others get lost. A couple of punctured tyres and what sounds like a hub with stones thrashing about in it . My front derailleur is OK. And I twist my foot but get away with it.
What I did't get away from was a thrashing by one LCT. I spin at 39 kmh, this guy just cruises by. He cuts a lonely figure, silhouetted on the hill tops on the road to Desaru as he waits for the rest of us. Inspiring, yet demoralising to see him "flatten" the hills while the hills flatten me. I put my head down and keep pedalling, keeping my eye on my bike computer. My wheels turn slowly, the sweat pours furiously. I think I make it no. 2 behind LCT. But along the way ... I forget to enjoy the ride. The blue sky, puffy white clouds, swaying trees, friendly visitors ... all forgotten. All because I want to keep the speck-in-the-distance that is LCT in sight. All because I want to perform. Grim determination does that - it gets you there, but without the fun. Anyway, all of us eventually get to the end point - just a matter of time.
Time overtakes us. I cleverly leave my lights in my bag at Pengarang as we scoot off to Desaru. Night falls. It's dark. Now I have to cycle close to someone to "borrow" the light. It also means I lug the heavy lights all the way to Malaysia just to decorate the inside of my bag.
In the night, unknown things rustle about in the grass alongside the road. And unknown things buzz about, hitting me and my helmet. Some of this unseen stuff is big - it hurts when exoskeletons whack into me. Watch your air intake; keep your mouth shut! As is typical Malaysian courtesy, cars give us a wide berth, or trail along behind us. No horning, just gentle patience, lighting the way for us with car lighting.
The next day, I have a huge breakfast, then eat a rather large lunch a few hours later. Some of them, including EK, leave our lunch spot Mary Brown (we had lunch there too yesterday) first. This is EK's first major ride, on the first bike he ever owns. He keeps up with us, sore butt and all, still cheerful. I stay back to enjoy the aircon (Mary Brown is the only eating place with cool air). Soon, our glorious leader D says it's time to go. So I go. But there's no sight of EK and the rest of the Giant gang who'd set out first. Am I lost?
I see the Singapore city skyline in the distance, so I know I'm heading in the right direction. Still no sight of the Giant gang - and no sight of any cyclist behind me. Without any indication of progress, I keep my head down and do the best I can, pushing myself, keeping my eye on my speedometer. And then, round the corner, a sight for sweat-stained eyes - the Giant fans. I keep up the pace. Anyway, fast or slow, we all end up in the same boat together.
Tech note Having seen LCT on his Norco, I wonder about getting a new bicycle - there are 11 of us so there's stuff to look at. Some say aluminium frames only last a few years. Get a titanium frame, I'm told. Well, my bicycle seat has titanium and it's performing really well. But I'm not sure I want such an expensive bike - would be terrified of losing it, scratching it. And what if it doesn't flex as well as chromoly? Anyway, along the road, we pass other groups of riders on fierce-looking bikes. We leave them behind.
Back in Singapore, I head for a bikeshop and reach in time to see the shutters come down. So I head for another one and replace my chain, bottom bracket and crankset - I'm just fed up of all that wasted energy. Besides, better parts tend to reduce effort and injury. The replacements cost me $118 and saved about 1 kg. That's double the price of the headset change (see entry 23 Mar) for the same weight savings. Bikeshop man tries to adjust the front d for me. Not really satisfactory.
Thu 27 Mar: Quest for perfection leads to imperfection
Tech note To Old Upper Thomson Rd, 23 km. Took half day leave to road test my bicycle. Something seems wrong with my front derailleur; noticed that after 23 Mar ride when I was cleaning the chain. I adjust the front d back and forth, but it doesn't seem to shift as I adjust. Old age? I go to a bikeshop and change the front d. But it clearly wasn't meant for my bicycle, contrary to what bikeshop man had to say.
23 Mar: Animal Farm
To Kranji, Lim Chu Kang 73 km. Led group of eight cyclists to check out Kranji Dam and Turut Track. At the track, got chased by a representative of the pack of dogs (see 14 Mar entry). The beast got within smelling distance of my foot; wish my socks could wage chemical warfare on the dog. What's scarier than being chased by dogs? It's cycling in a place knowing it was the site of a recent dog attack - and that the only way out is the only way in. Good thing Gentle Giant was there; felt better that another human being was around. Dogs left her alone - but blocked my path. I wait by the lily pond and pray, then ride like the wind past the dogs, who explode in a frenzy of barking and motion. But ha ha, they're on the wrong side of the fence so I'm free.
This is an "animal farm" ride, past fish, cow, goat, frog and bird farms. We also see a mountain of manure with a tractor on top of it. And a rustic country road which winds its way past a mangrove swamp into the Straits of Johore, with kelongs (and Johore) in the distance.
Gentle Giant sends an e-mail after the ride saying it was a killer ride with not enough rest. Sorry guys (but I did offer a few rest stops, but there were no takers).
Tech note Paid $60 to put Iron Horse on a slimming programme; liposuction of head(set) which saved 1kg. Agonised whether to get a new bicycle, be it GT, Scott ... all of which retail for about $600 with Deore parts. They're not that much lighter than my horse - which has character. It's like driving a Morris Minor, Citroen 2CV or air-cooled Volkswagon compared to a Japanese car. Bikeshop man suggests upgrading my horse with parts from the Scott because he wants to sell the frame separately, but then seems to change his mind because he wouldn't quote a price.
Fri 21 Mar: Brushes with death
To Marine Parade, Changi 65 km. On the way to Marine Parade via Still Road, several SBS buses brush by me, competing to see which one can get closest to me without actually touching me. First time I've ever cycled to Marine Parade, on yet another night ride organised by Gentle Giant. We are joined by a Yeti, who is from togoparts; first time I've ever cycled with one. First time too, that I helped to change an inner tube, using my tyre levers for the first time. We go through Changi Coast Road and East Coast Park twice. Gentle Giant is fast. I'm thinking again about getting a new bicycle. After a while, inefficiency gets to me. I reach home at 4.20 am; first time I've ever been home so late.
Thu 20 Mar: To buy or not to buy?
Tech note To Hougang 15 km. Front derailleurs went cranky after 16 Mar ride. I ride to Hougang to adjust the derailleurs by the roadside by a lampost. Also stop by a Hougang bikeshop. Bikeshop Man says he can upgrade my entire bike to Deore for $600. (Funny, some other bikeshops tell me don't waste my money / can't physically be done.) He also tells me to get a new bicycle with equivalent parts would cost $1,400.
16 Mar: Going where I've never been before
To Tuas 121 km. Have you ever had a lady bird, pale pink with little black polka dots, land on your arm? Or see a white egret swoop across four lanes of road in front of you? Or ride on a straight road eight lanes wide - with no traffic as far as the eyes can see?
On today's ride, I have. I go as far southwest as one can possibly go in Singapore, all the way to Tuas Power Station. The reclaimed land is so barren, with no trees in sight. The only source of shade is near a big pungent-smelling, polluted canal. And yet, there's a ladybird in this blighted place. Other life forms: a pack of four dogs which I blundered upon. All they had to do was lunge at me, but they don't - too hot in the mid-day sun, I guess. On another road, I see a litter of pups follow mama. One pup darts back. Uh oh, I need to get past mama. I scoot past. Mama merely looks at me. I guess all this makes up for the two attacks on 14 Mar night.
This is quite a ride, I break a few personal records. I've gone where I've never gone before, in the physical and metaphorical sense. Longest ride and longest solo ride. Longest duration without stopping to rest (except at traffic lights or to check my map / compass). I also get embarrassingly lost several times. Jurong and Choa Chu Kang estate are a labyrinth of roads. The only way out: forget the map and rely on the compass.
I never knew Singapore still had traffic roundabouts - in Jurong. I navigate it twice without incident. I also never knew roadies could go so fast. A pack of about 20 zip past me though I'm already going at 39 kmh along Mandai Rd.
Tech note Discovered that my Iron Horse distorts magnetic fields. It can deflect a compass by 90 degrees! Bits of my rear rim also came off today - after effect of the 23 Feb ride where a tiny stone lodged between the rim and brake pad. Really tired on the way home - I realise after I get home that the lube on my chain had disappeared - boiled away? It's so hot, even the water in my bottle is yucky warm. With the lube gone, no wonder it's so hard to pedal. How can lube disappear so fast? And my front derailleurs go cranky too. Time for another bicycle? Which one?
14 Mar: Night of the four-legged piranhas
To Turut Track 50 km. Supposed to have been a ride to Mt Faber today organised by Hospital D. No one seems to have details; maybe no Horses allowed. Anyway, inspired by Gentle Giant, I decide to go night cycling again - but this time alone, since Gentle Giant cancelled her ride.
This is the first time I've gone on a solo night ride. At Kranji, I look at Johore Bahru and it looks like a metropolis of bright lights. In contrast, the Singapore side is shrouded in darkness, with red lights at Kranji Transmitting Station dotting the night sky like so many Iron Giants' eyes.
I reach Turut Track. My sense of foreboding, which I started off the ride with, grows stronger. A car is ahead of me, backing into Turut Track. I cut into the track before the car cuts me off. Turut Track is dark - so dark that my bicycle light actually makes a difference. I wind along the road in the cool night air. A spider's web brushes against my lips. Phoey! Suddenly, barks rip into the air. I'd just slipped by a pack of dogs. They attack the car behind me. My heart sinks. The only way out of Turut Track is past those dogs, since the track leads to a dead end. I reach the dead end. So does the car. I know I've gotta get ahead of the car. If the car goes ahead of me, the dogs will surround it and block my way. And I don't have a reverse gear.
I shoot ahead of the car. I pass by the spot where I think the dogs are. Nothing. But before I can heave a sigh of relief, barks in sensurround rip through the air again. I see black shapes - about five dogs? - hurtle out. They're somewhere ahead of me, I'm not sure where. There's only one way out. I shoot through the pack at 34 kmh. I hear the nails of these four-legged piranhas on the road. I look back and one of them barks at me. I keep on going and leave them behind. On Kranji Way, I keep to the middle of the road - not just middle of the lane, but of the entire 4-lane road. Who knows what lurks in the shadows? I pass by two dogs sitting by the open gate of a factory. They ignore me. I pass another pack, the leader looks in my eyes and lunges at me. My left leg, which had started cramping 12 km into the ride at Seletar, cramps in a major way. Fortunately, the second pack of dogs was just kidding, I think.
9 Mar: MBA qualified
To Tampines 37 km. So, I thought I knew how to adjust my brakes (see 7 Mar entry). Wrong! At Hospital D's house, he shows us basic bike mechanics (adjusting brakes, fixing punctures and chains) while his relative shows us traditional Malay hospitality, plying us with food and drink. I thought I knew how to adjust brakes, but I was wrong. I look at his skill, modify his technique to suit my bicycle's ancient technology and presto! brake squeal is reduced.
For the first time, I remove the rear wheel from a bike and put it back on (hey, I never had to do it with my bike; almost 3,000 km on the same inner tubes). Another first: the bicycle I messed around with is made of carbon fibre (see how generous H is, to volunteer his bike for our tender mercies). Also the first time I wear my brother's Specialized helmet - and the first time the not-so-Gentle Giant dropped it on concrete :-(
Hospital D talks about riding in Lhasa next year. Talk about mountain bike action (MBA) - the whole place is mountain. Sounds interesting, but I'm not sure about altitude / mountain sickness. And will my heavy-duty Iron Horse be too heavy? But come to think about it, some of those alloy bikes are heavy too, with front / full suspension. As they keep talking, I make tracks - to Tampines mountain bike trail.
For the first time, I test my semi-slicks off-road. Poor traction on gravel and loose sand; slip sliding away, as the song goes. But on dirt tracks, stony ground or grass, wow, they are slick. I ride along at 16km/h on the trail with 280 kPa, compared to 11km/h the last time I rode on my full knobbies. I tear up (yup, uphill) Tampines Road at 32km/h - cruising speed. Time will tell how the semi-slicks perform in the rain and mud.
7 Mar: Lights out
To Eunos, Upper Thomson, Yishun, Tampines 53 km. Another night ride, organised again by Gentle Giant. I pump my tyres to 280 kPA (a first!), ride to Eunos and then back to Upper Thomson because I don't want to miss out on a longer ride with good company. It's kinda eerie at Old Upper Thomson Road, with its winding road shrouded alongside by trees wrapped in darkness. The street lights are diffused in the misty air and fail to shed light on the undergrowth. What lurks in the darkness? Saw a dog dart across the road. Is it alone? Well, we're not alone. In the pools of darkness, we see parked cars. No one is sitting upright in them ...
We stop by Seletar "dam" (Yishun Ave 1), but the "music trucks" which blast music out the back are gone. Togoparts riders pass us by. We ride on, to one of the few roads in Singapore with no street lights. By now, my bicycle light is an embarrasment and soon, it peters out. My semi-slicks, however, offer slick performance. Yup, there is indeed less rolling resistance. And they are quiet. I hear the rush of the wind and hear the whirring of the drive train. Far easier to hear the hum of Gentle Giant's tyres ahead of me.
At Jalan Kayu, we make the mandatory stop for prata. I had banana prata. is it a mistake or what; didn't know it's twice the size of the usual prata. Comes with ice-cream too. Yummy. We spend an hour there, then ride on. Cyclists start breaking away enroute and at Tampines, I break away reluctantly. Reached home at 3 am - and started tinkering with my brakes to kill the screeching.
2 Mar: The silent hum
To Admiralty Rd West, Sembawang Park 55 km. Took out my bicycle at 7.20 am for a spin. I don't even leave my house this early for work ... My new tyres are easy to start and easy to cycle uphill with. I can hardly hear them hum, except on rougher road surfaces. Even then the hum is soft. So, less kinetic energy being wasted as sound energy? But can my new tyres go any faster than my full knobbies? Sure, new toys are easier to to ride, but maybe not faster. I clocked 36km/h before running out of road at Sembawang park connector. But I'm not sure it's crusing speed ... or maybe I'm just tired, because I conducted the test after cycling 40km on hilly terrain. Tyres work OK on grass and dirt track. But hardly any traction on gravel. In fact, these tyres pick up lots of tiny stones; have to pry them out with a knife. Wonder how they perform on wet roads though. Hope they're not too slick. I'd hate to slip and crash and get road rash ... or worse.
I help myself to brother's XTR brakes. Think I save a few more grams of weight, just like his titanium saddle helped too. Not sure his wheelset would fit my bike though, but they are light. He offered to loan me his bicycle. Indeed, it's light and fast; though cobwebs abound, just look at the cassette spin! But it's too big. Anyway, I'm stuck to my Iron Horse.
I spend almost two hours cleaning my chain (it's still full of crud despite use of a toothbrush) and fixing the brakes onto my bike (trying to get it right). Need another road test, I think. Sigh, all this effort trying to save grams, when my frame and wheels are so in love with gravity. New seat, aluminum seatpost, lighter brakes and waterbottle cage. But I've added bar ends, tyre repair kit, inner tube and pump. Net weight gain!
Sat 1 Mar: Unslick job on semi-slicks
I recce part of "The hills are alive" route that I'm organising, at Upper Thomson Rd. Then I say goodbye to the tyres that came with my Iron Horse. Got a pair of semi-slicks. They look good, but are still kinda heavy. Still, they cost only $14 each. Should cut down some rolling friction, I guess. The Bikeshop Man used his screwdriver as a tyre lever! How could he! And after he fit the wheel back, the brakes went haywire. So he adjusted the spokes and brakes. Now the brakes are spongy, not firm. I don't like it. Something wrong with the way the tyre was fitted. I see people change tyres in the field and there are no problems. Why does this guy have a problem? I wanted to buy tyres from the smaller shop; the Bikeshop Man there seems to lavish more tender loving care on the bikes. Too bad he didn't have the tyres of the sizes I wanted. I was willing to fork out more dough for Panaracers, Maxxis, Continental... instead, I ended up with something I've never heard of. Let's see how they perform tomorrow.
Could've gotten hit by a bus; TIBS 928 Service 169, 4 pm. Thought of writing to TIBS to complain: he shouldn't have pulled out from the bus bay as I was passing by. But I guess I'll forgive him.