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 :))

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last ride of the year

Dec distance: 299 km

Jalan Buroh, 89 km. Primary mission: spend the last hours of the year in therapy - cycletherapy. If last year was the worst year ever here, this year is better - but not by much. Or perhaps it's just a different kind of bad; the last year I'd spent Christmas cycling in this little red dot of an island was in 2002. I don't have a break, just a break with tradition. Calculation and judgement carries into playtime. Secondary mission: log 3,500 km for the year; no more, no less. It all boils down to today's ride, which is double my usual distance. Traffic is heavy at Kranji; work vehicles jam up the road. Elsewhere, a foreign worker (not the "foreign talent" kind) sits alone in the dark, bottle by his side, with his thoughts and silence for company. At the turn around point, I treat myself to an ice cream cone - low fat, high calcium; comes with stamp of approval from Health Promotion Board too. Then I go for a curry puff. Work weighs heavy on my mind, which works things out as I cycle on auto pilot, unconsciously able to stop, go, turn, filter. And I make it home with 3,500 km cycled for the year. Since I cycle a little further than last year, I guess this year is a tad better than the last one. Today is also the last day of my first blog on Pacnet.
Happy new year, o blog reader :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Home for Christmas 2

Punggol, 40 km.
Strategic intent: have a fun, safe ride. Not the same old route to Woodlands. No rain and little traffic. Environmental scan with weather radar. Observe three readings, note rain location and pattern, gauge wind direction.
Resource requirements: blinker and reflective strips, money for taxi just in case, big water bottle. No sunblock, contact lenses or arm warmers; too much hassle, too little fun.
Tactical execution: set off in late afternoon for picturesque Sengkang and Punggol. Little traffic, no rain. A little bit of offroad, where I once crashed and had pain in my wrist for a year. See radio-controlled aircraft fly. See dotted sky; as speckled as dirt on window pane - ah, kites; about 30 of them, silhouetted and still, see how they hover in the sky! One kite is printed like a radio-controlled aircraft. Check out a new road, it's broad and wide and takes me to Tampines. Sometimes, I don't know exactly where I am but keeping to strategic direction and reassurance presence of compass gets me home.
Performance evaluation: distance is a little short, but good fun. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Home for Christmas

Woodlands, 47 km. The last time I was home for Christmas was in 2002. In subsequent years, I was away cycling: Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia ... This year, work keeps me here while others go away. Here, some wear bling bling to Christmas parties. I put on my 'blink blink' to warn motorists to keep away. Cycling here is different from riding elsewhere because I:
a) Look at the weather radar to see whether and where it would rain (wet season here, dry season there)
b) Think about when drunk drivers would be on the road (Christmas is big party time here, not over there)
c) Cycle here at night (street lights here, usually none over there).

On the road, I see the law of the jungle in action: a car driver without even signaling cuts into a motorcyclist's way to make a left turn. A motorcyclist cuts into a cyclist's way; at least the former beeps the latter to relinquish her right of way. At Woodlands immigration, a procession of big trucks forms; 4-wheelers, 14-wheelers, 18-wheelers ... the tail back trails all the way back to the Turf Club.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No where but here

0 km. Non-riding day. Yesterday, I dig. And lay out my cycling clothes. Today is a nice day to cycle. Sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy. I wait all day for it to rain. It does not. I feel bad I do not cycle. Till I remember why I ride: to feel good. Since it feels good not to cycle today, why should I feel bad? I should get back on the saddle soon. Or the endorphins will not flow and my butt will get fat.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dry in wet season

Lim Chu Kang, 66 km. Digging and lifting dirt is backbreaking. After a few hours on a dig yesterday, my back is sore. I cycle today anyway. I meet some Singapore cyclists I'd met in Timor, but they're looking for dirt. Me, I'm a roadie on MTB. I cycle with a solo roadie along the road, decked out in blue including bar tape. Two solo riders together. After some leap frog where we take turns to overtake each other, he leaves me behind. I'm knackered. I stop to eat and explore a river bank though, ironically, my water bottle is dry. I stop again to buy a drink. I'm pushing it, going on a two-bottle ride with just one water bottle. I didn't expect rainy December to be such a scorcher today. Life throws another curve-ball? Not really; if it rains all the time during rainy season, it'd be a deluge and that hasn't happened since the days of Noah.

Still, life has surprises. I see a lorry ahead in the wrong lane. The light is "green" to go ahead but "red" for turning. The lorry turns. I hear a quiet bang; if bangs can be considered quiet, this is one. When I pass the accident spot, a car is wedged between the lorry and a lamp post.

I reach home, grateful to be safe and for blue skies. And the rain pours. As a character in a Hindi movie said, if you're on a crowded train and someone pukes, look outside the window.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Truly it's relativity

Woodlands, 47 km. Usually, when the sky is this shade of grey, I say, "It's going to rain." In December, when the sky is mostly grey, I say, "It might not rain" and I cycle. The sky is tentative; a few drops of rain fall, but my sweat falls more. I wear no sunglasses nor sunblock. The sunlight pours down. I've cycled this route so many times, it starts to bore me. I seek to enjoy the ride. But though the motion (pedal) is the same, the emotion is different. Just as the journey matters, so does the destination.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Cycle and carriage

Upper Thomson Road, 10 km. I cycle to a friend's house to collect some cookies. It's a short ride but I almost end up in the undercarriage of a terrible taxi tyrant who suddenly switches lane. "Oi oi oi!" I yell and brake. The driver must've heard me; he certainly didn't see me. He stops and waves me on. Perhaps he's suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning; his window is down. Shaken, I wobble on my bicycle and a driver in the next lane is alarmed enough to pause. It is drizzling. I arrive at my destination, collect chunky cookies, chat a bit and cycle home. I ride on the pavement for a while - no cars, no pedestrians. Just trees that offer some protection from the drizzle. And from undercarriages and undertakers. As for the home-baked cookies, which I first saw on a blog, yummy. I guess they'd taste even better when fresh from oven instead of air flown thousands of km.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Face fate

Nov distance: 255 km

Woodlands, 51 km. I'm almost whacked by a cab as I leave the carpark. I yell once, steel still comes. I yell again and swerve, cabbie waves apologetically. Better than waving goodbye. I go off the beaten track, to places which I've passed by but never looked. Lighting flashes, thunder rumbles. I tempt fate and keep exploring. I think I can get away with it, but I'm wrong. The drizzle turns into a down pour. I sit and wait. A foreign worker stops at the bus stop and talks to me. "Water?" He asks if that's gotten into my camera. "Monkey," he says, pointing across the road. Two of them walk on the railings, then sit side by side. Companionship. A lorry passes, packed at the back to the gills with foreign workers clutching black dustbin liners, that flap in the wind and glisten in the rain. It's their only protection against the elements.

At least, I get to stop at a bus stop, with a roof over my head. The down pour turns into a drizzle. I wave goodbye to foreign worker and ride off into the sunset. A car turns into my right of way. With my wet rims and brake blocks, I can barely stop. The car stops. I go on living.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Trouble comes in threes

Sembawang, 65 km.
First, I rush out of the house and forget my sunblock. Go back and get it? Forget it. Second, I get "bombed" by a bird. The bird crap is so close to my nose I can smell it (the crap, not the nose; though my nose smells, it has no smell). Third, while dismounting, I scratch my top tube with my cleats. Ugh, such a newbie mistake. Ugh, what an ugly scratch.

But good things happen too. Despite massive floods a few days ago where cars drowned (and no one did) in a "once in 50 years" phenomenon (so says the Minister for Environment, today is cloudy yet sunny. I dont' get sunburned. My fellow cyclist leaves the start point but sees me and comes back for me (I'm a minute late because I stop to wash off bird crap and my bike isn't stolen in the process). And we ride so slowly, I see things I might not have noticed.

Like passing over 50 Suzuki Swifts parked by the road, colour coordinated (black, red, yellow and white parked based on colour - I'm going so slow I can count them). Like how tree-tops mirror clouds; when trees line both sides of the road, the tree-tops frame either side of the puffy clouds. Clusters of green cloud-like leaves and "cotton wool" clouds of white.

Friday, November 20, 2009


On my bike I ride
The miles pass, my heart is light
And my world feels right

Ode to my bike

Your frame supports me
Your wheels transport me
When I feel blue
Riding you sets me free

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Sembawang, 42 km. It's been overcast almost all day. I sneak out hoping the rain won't fall. I wander about, checking out the promising places I'd passed before. Everyone of them peters out. As I turn back on an abandoned road covered with dead leaves and branches, the ground shifts, my bicycle stalls and I fall gently - on broken glass. Fortunately, no blood is shed. Why would anyone put glass out in the wild? It's not like it's a dump. As dusk falls, the rain drops fall. I speed. Fortunately, it remains a drizzle. I also avoid a fountain of blood as I filter past two lanes that lead to an expressway. Like a miracle, the traffic just cleared in time for me to get in lane. Light rain and suddenly, light traffic. Wow ...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Same route, different thoughts

Woodlands, 48 km. I've been cycling north for the past few weeks. Surprisingly, I'm not bored yet. Though the route is with little variation, my thoughts seem different. I used to rue living here. This time of the year ("winter"), it tends to rain. And this island is so small; just 120 km to ride around it. I'd wished I lived in US (where I can ride to different states) or in Europe (where I can cycle to different countries). Having watched a documentary about ice storms and snow, I realise I took for granted I can cycle most days of the year here, even if I need to fly to ride further distances. As I cycle home, I happen to turn my head and see the sunset as a huge orange poised above a train track. Nice ... I open my eyes, see what I can see. And don't take sight for granted either :)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Last night, this morning

Woodlands, 49 km. Last night, the thunder rumbled and the rain poured. Some streets were flooded. At least one car stalled. Some firemen removed a manhole cover and a 1-meter water gushed up. This morning, I hurried to ride under the cloudy sky, anxious to finish the ride, to be wet only with sweat pouring down, not rain. Also in a hurry is a taxi-driver inching out from a side road. He stops, I go since I have right of way. He moves. I yell twice and brake ... unable to stop before him, I end up in front of the taxi. He stops a handwidth away from me. He waves apologetically. What if he'd hit me while I was riding and the impact hurls me onto oncoming traffic. My poor bike might be irreparably damaged and so might I. Still, having had such a close call after so many km on the road isn't bad, is it? I cycle on. As I pass familiar sights, I realise they look better because I'm wearing sunglasses. They make colours richer. Without them, objects are washed out in the harsh sunlight. Illusion, or just prudence? If looking through coloured lenses makes things look better and help prevent cataracts, surely looking at life differently helps too?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Journey or destination, a means or an end?

Oct distance: 148 km

Woodlands, 55 km. I didn't have to peer out the window to check the weather. The sunlight streaming in and the heat streaming in tells me it's a sunny day. I know I'll head to Woodlands but make several detours. It's not like I'm in a hurry to get to my destination and back, I'm out for a ride and so I ride.

I pass some boys and their toys - golf and model airplanes - and realise we've some things in common.
  • Mostly boys: though golf does have a higher proportion of girls, most mountain bikers and aeromodellers are guys.
  • Toys: they all slice through the air (including golf balls and clubs), so aerodynamics and aerospace materials are used. Bicycles do go airborne a little and roll on the ground. 
  • Weather affects us: we bake in the sun and are at risk of lighting strikes when it rains.
Some things are different.
  • Getting there: usually, cyclists can get to their start point on their own. Unless golf courses and fields are at their door steps, golfers and aeromodellers need a separate set of wheels.
  • Health: cycling is healthier. Golfing would be healthier than it is, if done without buggies and caddies. Aeromodellers do some walking but mostly stand there and twiddle thumbs and whirl. Cycling can be hazardous to health though, because of traffic or crashes.
As I cycle home, it suddenly pours. I wait 30 minutes. Better to chill out at a bus stop than get home and spend more than 30 minutes cleaning my drive train :p

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mind games

To Woodlands, 47 km. I have a right not to ride. When something feels like a chore, to do it is a bore. When it's done for fun, it should be fun. So I lie in bed until I can stand it no more, then stand up. The sky is grey. Is it as grey as far as I can see, or beyond? Not that I can see far, when the sky is blocked in high-rise Singapore. Hence, I yearn for wide, open spaces. I fire up my Mac to look at the weather radar. All around where I live, a bright green hovers. That means rain. Will I get wet? The answer need not be blowing in the wind. Less than an hour later, the bright blob has become a piddling puddle. On the road I go! The road is slick with rain barely 2 km away from where I live. I pack my camera with me. Once in a while, I stop and shoot. To see the beauty in the ordinary. Even if it is an incinerator.

Things (grey sky) might look bad, but the bigger picture (weather radar) puts things in context. Even if it's bad, it might not last that long. Even if it does, look for the beauty in the ordinary.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Woodlands, 46 km. I didn't cycle last week. Why bother when it feels like a chore? I am mired in malaise today too, until evening. I'm seized by the urge to rise and ride. And so I do. I usually ride to Woodlands clockwise. Today, I do it in reverse. Without the need for arm warmers or sunblock to ward off sunburn. Nor sunglasses and contact lenses. Nice and simple. Traffic is heavy and there are a few close calls. When traffic thins out, I look at the sky. Wispy cirrus clouds after the cumulo nimbus in the morning. I rue riding without my camera. Shots missed: smoke stacks silhoutted against the greying sky.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Privilege cycling

Sep distance: 309 km

Woodlands, 48 km. In mass affluent Singapore, there's privilege banking. But privilege cycling is foreign though Singapore has more high-end bicycle shops than any other city in ASEAN. One month after Tour de Timor, I reflect on the privilege of cycling in a government-sanctioned race where roads are closed for us, and food, safety and security provided for over five days. In 2003, hardened ex-communists welcomed us with respect after we cycled the length of Peninisula Malaysia to Betong. In 2005, I had a police escort all the way from the middle of the causeway to Kuala Lumpur . This cyclist is not as welcome in his own country, even in cycling-designated spots. The only time privilege was given on a large scale was 2009's OCBC Cycle Singapore, when roads were totally closed for the route (50 km for a few hours). Still, what a privileged life cycling I've had :) And I'd no close calls on the road today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Positive spin

Tuas, 112 km. I never thought I'd fight the urge to cycle. First I read, then I lunch, then look for excuses. For an hour, I look at a weather map to see where rain falls and figure out where the wind blows. The odds are 1/4 cardinal points that I won't get wet. Excuses, excuses. When the sun is out, it's too hot. If it's overcast, it might rain. So I ride. As far west, as far south as I can, till the road runs out. I marvel at compact Singapore. North is Sungei Buloh nature reserve, where migrating birds stop. South is an industrial complex. Here, I almost collide with a dragonfly. In both places, wide, empty spaces. Should've brought my camera. It's cloudy. When the sun peeks out, hues of orange and pink burst out. Instead of snapping photos, something else snaps: my sunglasses. It stays on my face anyway. A car (in the wrong lane) nearly hits me. Later on, another car hangs back to let me get in lane. How quickly the weather changes. I keep above my cruising speed but the sky opens 30 minutes before I get home. Rain stings, brakes barely work. I can barely see; no wipers on glasses. I remove them; the first time I cycle with contact lenses and no eye protection. Water gushes by the roadside. I get wetter than at Timor river crossing. I'm glad I didn't bring my camera. And the pouring rain has washed away the encrusted Timor dirt from my bike.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A different spin

Seletar, 47 km. I wake up, then go back to sleep; it's too early to ride. When the sun is up, I get up. I'm in such a hurry, I forget my sunblock. It's a cloudy day. Would it rain like yesterday? For insurance, I go for a short ride instead of double the distance to Tuas. Seletar is now different. New roads, new turns. Heavy trucks with huge waist-height wheels that hurtle past. And dogs. Dog 1 barks while Dog 2 does a flanking movement. I back out calmly and as the barking continues, I crank up more speed. I almost get whacked by a vacuum cleaner on wheels that sucks up gravel. I could rue all the happenings. I could also be glad the doggies didn't sink their fangs into me and the vacuum cleaner swerved away in time as I appeared out of the driver's blind spot. Why be sad when you can be glad?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Riding with roadies

Bukit Timah, 51 km. I rarely do Saturday morning rides but I do one today. What a strange way to do a charity ride, to ride before, not during, then after. "Before" is when I cycle to the jetty to send them off to Mersing; during, when I'm working; and after, which is today. Everyone but me is a roadie. My fat tyres hum to keep up with their silent slick tyres. One of the cyclists, I know through work. I get a headstart on next week's work as we talk. As we head home, a mountain bike on full suspension blasts past us and leads the way. For a while. Almost effortlessly, the roadies pull away at 40 km/h, pulling me behind them. The change from Sunday late morning to early Saturday morning ride is a change that puts a "spin" on the possibilities of change.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tour de Timor: review

1. Regrets :'(
a. losses: my watch (time to go, analogue-digital face, world time and multiple alarms) and my sports towel. Never in 3 circumnavigations (twice by air, "once" by bike based on over 43,000 km cycled in total) have I lost so many things
b. lacerations: i got some, but my team leader got skinned from hip to knee ...
c. loos: oh, crap. Why are communal toilets exciting? Because you never know when you'll get a clean one.
How fast does a toilet queue move? As fast as the bowels ...

2. Relief :)
a. doggies there were, but no bark, no bite
b. dents: none to bicycle (but a big scratch). I got dented, but that'll heal
c. deaths: none (some riders broke bones though)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Missing Mersing

Changi, 51 km. I used to think cycling a charity ride was hard, but raising funds took effort too. But hardest of all is not being able to do a charity ride. I get out of bed after 4 am. I feel flat, so is my front tyre. I rush to change it and rush on the road, marvelling at how fat tyres can go above 40 km/h. Not that I've got a boat to catch ... I'm going to say goodbye and purposefully leave my passport at home. This is the fourth year of Charity Bike n Blade. This year, the bladers are all on bicycles. I'm asked why I torture myself to show up. I toy with the idea of pretending to be a bicycle frame, hold some wheels and board the boat. But goodbye it is, time to cycle home alone. My front tyre is flat again. Timor-trained-thighs would've fared well if I'd cycled to Mersing, but not Timor-torn-tyres. At least I went to Timor Leste . Still, I'm sad. Gotta be really nice to myself today. But first, I rip out my front tyre, check it and the rim, change the rim tape, patch two tubes ...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tour de Timor: trouble, trauma and triumph

Aug distance: 723 km

Sat 21 - Sat 29 Aug 09
Timor Leste, 529 km.

Some participants, like me, would've packed yet sleepless. Others would be packing and sleepless. This has been a rush job for all of us; the idea for the tour was mooted in May (by Nobel Laureat and Timor Leste President Ramos Horta, no less), to come to pass in Aug, for about 300 cyclists, 50 international volunteers and thousands of local volunteers. Never before have I had so little time to prepare for an expedition; I hear about it only in Jul. Flights, visas, climate, terrain, vacinations, routes, team formation, name, dynamics and training, all have to be settled fast ... Well, let's not call it training. There's little in Singapore to help us train for Timor and its long and steep mountain roads. Moreover, it's a half marathon run I've been training for. The 21 km run is a week before the Timor race!

Sneak peaks
Day 1: Sat 22 Aug, Dili, 9 km. As our flight passes over Timor Leste, we have sneak peaks at the peaks we'll be riding on. We wait in the VIP room to collect our bikes and baggage. I assemble my bicycle at the hotel (essentially, airconditioned cargo containers) and take it for a test ride. There is no TV in my "room" so I gaze at my bicycle instead, and realise that the decals on my bike spell out my team leader's family name and her initials. The cold of the airconditioning is a prelude of the cold in the mountains to come.

Night stop: Timor Lodge

Presidential address
Day 2: Sun 23 Aug, Dili, 39 km. I knock on my team mates' doors but as they still seem to be in dreamland, I cycle along the coast and do a bit of offroad before heading back to become a tour guide, showing the team cheap eating spots. At race registration, I'm asked about allergies. I say I'm allergic to pain ... I receive my race number: 101. MTB101, sounds like a freshman course in university. I improvise a vertical clothes line to dry my washing. The evening is special. Dinner and movie, with dinner speech by President Horta (a vision of "Dili, City of Peace". No war, no violence of any kind, not even domestic violence) and a movie Balibo (starring some of the race officials) set in 1975, when Indonesia did what it did to the fledging state. As if in sympathy with memories that do not fade, the video stalls. After some frantic jabbing of buttons, "rebooting" the player puts the show back on track. And tomorrow, it's Stage 1 of the race.

Night stop: Timor Lodge

Radio silence
Day 3: Mon 24 Aug, Stage 1: Dili to Bacau, 135 km. I have less than six hours of sleep. Each session is about 45 minutes long. Breakfast is hearty: bacon, sausage, toast and bananas. I collect my lunch too.

Flag off is in front of the Presidential Palace. Crowds line the road, which is closed to all traffic except for us cyclists. I start near the front to see what is like to cycle with the front runners. There are so many cyclists, it is like drafting a truck at over 40 km/h, which drops to over 30 km/h, until we hit an average 5% steepness over 10 km. I lunch at 10 am. There are two feedstops, serving bananas. There are slim pickings at roadside stalls - biscuits perhaps, no cooked food. I run out of calories and walk sometimes to cheer myself up. The road is interminable. usually, the radio station in my head plays rock or marching songs. For this trip, the effort drains the "batteries" in my head and I lapse into silence. I listen to my breathing and feel my cycling form.

Two things happen which I've never seen before: i) a newbie "bought-my-first-mountain-bike-a-month-ago" keeping up with seasoned riders and ii) my inner tube bursts with a hiss like an angry snake, because my rim tape shifted. I use a screwdriver to shift it back in place, stretch and wait for my team mates.

Team leader, who cycles with running shoes, shows up with a scorching pace. With biscuits and a Coke in my gut, I crank up again and the two of us finish Stage 1 in over eight hours; almost double the time taken by the champs.

In camp, I fix both rims with electrical tape (that means removing tyres and inner tubes from rims then putting them back), pry a stone out of a tyre wall (some cyclists have punctures, one rider had three) and patch the burst tube in the remaining daylight. I look after my bicycle so it looks after me but it's been a long day. I put a tyre the wrong way round and have to redo it. While inflating the tube, the tyre valve flies off. I have to change the inner tube all over again. By the time I'm done, long queues have formed for the communal showers cum toilets. By the time I'm done washing my cycling clothes, dinner is over. Fortunately, team leader saves some food for me. I brush my teeth beside a drain as I find the showers cum toilets damp, dingy and depressing. So much for Stage 1, the easiest among all five stages ...

Night stop: a tent. Communal living is noisy living. The noise stops only when a voice somewhere in the campsite yells in exasperation: "will you be quiet?!"

Double trouble
Day 4: Tue 25 Aug, Stage 2: to Loihuno, 60 km. The night gone by was just about the worst I've spent outside a hospital. At least, a hospital has a bed. To start the new day, I do my eye-poking ritual. A contact lens pops out. Pardon me, it's hard to do this in a tent and keep my fingers clean at the same time. Not that there's much time to do all this - the tent has to be taken down and loaded up the trucks by 7am.

Keeping yesterday's calorie deficit in mind, during breakfast, I pack two sandwiches for lunch. Today is Stage 2, with 6% elevation for 5 km after a 25 km ride. I stop at a cemetary to take a photo. Any excuse to pause. A passing cyclist calls out: "Found a spot to stop and die, have you?"

Further on, I see a sign: double black diamond. I know it means bad news. There's no turning back now. I plunge in. It is bad. Very bad. Chunky rocks, loose stones and downhill at 6%. I spend much time airborne on my rigid bike. When I'm in the air, there's no steering control and brakes don't work either. When I'm on the ground, I ride my brakes down at some parts. My semi-slick tyres lose traction. A few times, it's as if I'm going to wipe out, but my guardian angels work overtime. It's as if an invisible force keeps me on my bike and upright. At some points, I want to get off but hang on. I pass a cyclist who's gone down, clutching his arm as a policeman speaks urgently into a walkie-talkie. Further down, an ambulance rocks and rolls upslope.

In over 43,000 km of cycling, it's here that I'm most scared, though unscathed and unscarred. The fear factor comes from looking at the long downhill and all that's strewn below, then hurtling along knowing that I either come out without a scratch or a bloody mess. I reach the campsite at 1215, about 3 hours 45 mins after flag off. A team mate returns in an ambulance and is stitched up. The other two ride back; it's only when team leader removes her bandages that I see the raw, palm-sized abrasions and a puncture wound. I grimace, she doesn't. To save myself from blood loss, I decide to use a lighter shade of shades from the next day onwards. It's hard to see on the roads speckled with shadows of branches and leaves what is a shadow and what is a hole.

Camp amenities are rustic: a shower stall, neck high, with a broken bamboo door, with cool, free flow of water piped in via a bamboo pole.

Night stop: a tent. Around 11 pm, some people decide to play games and music. Team leader tells me that when life "hands you lemons, make lemonade". Here's a glass of lemonade: what's great about living in a tent? Answer: there's no need for room numbers or keys.

Day 5: Wed 26 Aug, Stage 3: to Betano, 111 km. As we cycle uphill to eat, a kind passer-by yells out "breakfast is over". She's kidding, if only she could eat her words. A team mate valiantly starts out but pulls out, I next see her, one arm in a sling, the other taking photos.

The race director wasn't kidding when he said the route downhill is riddled with potholes. Only they weren't potholes - more like wok and cauldron-sized. Next is an incorrigibly corrugated road; as I bounce along a passing rider says: "your bike isn't built for this". When I reach mostly flat terrain, my rigid bike makes up for the lost time spent bouncing in the air and picks a line on the verge of the rough road. I come across a river crossing - a first in my life. I stop to see how it's done, shift gear while at a standstill and make it across with my feet dry ... Then I ride through a village where I emerge dripping wet from a "water festival" as well-meaning people splash and pour water on me from scoops to buckets. There goes my nicely-lubed drive train, and my feet go cold and clammy.

At the campsite, I haul together all my team mates' bags, using my bicycle as a wheel barrow. A bag slips and makes a 2 cm gash on my top tube. Ouch, that really, really hurts. How ironic, my little red Tank unscathed from a double black diamond yet it gets hurt like this. Team stuff settled, next comes my equipment: first, remove the cement-like gunk on my cleats from the river crossing; second, check my brakes. Third, wash myself and clothes when team mates are back. I notice my watchstrap is half-broken; I sew it and tape it up.

Night stop: a tent. I get up around 3 am and walk in the cool night air, under the starry sky. Stuff whatever's out there in the night, I gotta get outta here. Back in the tent, I "turn down the aircon" by lowering the tent flaps. Lemonade: why are the rides so long? Answer: because the nights are even longer.

Hard up, hard down
Day 6: Thu 27 Aug, Stage 4: to Maubisse, 72 km. It's a cold start, I'm up at the crack of dawn but the toilet queue has already formed. I take my place to use the 'gravity flush" porta-loo.

Today is Stage 4. "4' rhymes with "die" in Cantonese. We've been warned about this stage, like "very, very, very steep". Mathematically, it's about 10% gradient for about 4km. I've been looking forward to see how this compares to the mountains of Laos; this thought keeps me going. At a peak of 1,835m, this is higher than the highest Laotian road I've been on, but doesn't feel as hard.

From the peak, it's another double black diamond downhill. I overtake two cyclists while cornering. I should've been twice shy; I cut the second corner too fine and fear the rider behind me might crash into me. So I turn wide and wash out on sand with a bang and tear my new pair of shorts. I squirt water on my knee. I wonder why red paint is on my pedal and realise it's blood. I later count five holes in my arm warmer.

At the finish line, I must've appeared dazed. An official comes up to me and asks: "Are you ok? First aid is over there." But there is another hard hill to cycle up, to the campsite around a "pousada" (hotel). Some kind souls from Singapore have already set up camp for us. I manage to get what seems to be the last load of water for my team mates (I guess this is where my watch tells me "time to go" and I never see it again). After the big bang of a crash, I check my bicycle more carefully, patch an inner tube then patch myself up (the medic handed me stuff and told me to help myself). It's a bloody day, but my best performance to date: 187 out of about 260 riders.

Night stop: a tent. It is wet and cold - not that it's raining; it comes with camping at cloud level. At 2.40 am, someone remarks: "There's a queue for the toilet even at this time." Lemonade: how does the phrase "happy camper" come about? Answer: because of camp humour, like the lady who asks loudly "who nicked my knickers?". It is here that I lose my towel too; something of sentimental value. Which means I use a sweater in lieu of it henceforth.

Washed out
Day 7: Fri 28 Aug, Stage 5: to Dili, 103 km. As I walk down the stairs on my cleats, I slip. "And that's my only fall of the day," I say to the audience. As I cycle to the start point, my cyclometer pops off.

I snap it back on and ride. Along the route, I nod to the policemen whenever I see them. They've been there for hours and will remain there for hours, dotted along the entire route. The route is "washed out" in places, states the stage map. Now I know what that means - the tar has been washed away, leaving big rocks beneath which I bounce on. Having "washed out" myself yesterday, I corner slowly while other cyclists cut past me on corners. Hmm, I should've done that yesterday and save myself all that bloodshed. Along the way, I see red flags planted where road hazards are.

I use my cyclometer as a watch, toggling time and odometer functions with one hand. This is the last stage and I make a last ditch attempt to ride my heart out. I keep above my cruising speed but below lactate threshold. To save time, I barely eat nor rest, nor wet my contact lens that threatens to fly off. That's turning a blind eye. I meet two other cyclists from Singapore, K and L. We take draft each other for a while, then they cheer me on. Soon, I'm out of the hills. The headwinds I'd read about hit me full blast. A vehicle coming the other way avoids me. I blaze past a few other cyclists. The roads get busier nearer Dili. And soon, rider 101 crosses the finish line.

I eat part of my lunch, give part of it away (the gift gets half eaten; I'm hungry but not that hungry to reclaim it). The crowd gets smaller and smaller as the rest leave to eat and shower. Only a few of us are left until the last Singapore cyclist returns. There goes all the arrangements. Calorie-depleted, tired and hot after the check-in to and fro, I shower, eat my emergency rations in airconditioned comfort and miss the prize presentation ceremony. For dinner, I eat the equivalent of lunch and dinner. There's no medic present but another cyclist kindly passes me some bandages. I also attend to my bicycle, packing it with tender loving care after the pounding it suffered. Then I pack it all in ...

Night stop: Timor Lodge. On a real bed, with air-conditioning and temperature control. And quiet. What a treat!

Day 8: Sat 29 Aug, Dili, non cycling day. Team mates seem to be asleep so I stick notes on their door about transport arrangements to the airport, then go walkabout. A couple of kids come up to me to "high five" though I'm off my bicycle. I visit the Resistance Museum, one of the best looking places in the land. Most of the exhibits are not in English so I fill in the blanks with what I'd read pre-trip. Somethings don't really need words anyway. I eat twice, first in an Indian restaurant with a photo of Xanana with the proprietor, then at a roadside shop. My Achilles heel is my gut / high metabolic rate as I do long rides and rue the need to eat like a spinning hamster. I guess others who love to eat would want to have my metabolism.

I get back in time to catch the transport to the airport. Some of the people I wanted to thank, have disappeared since last night. If you're reading this, "obrigado, adeus".

Some injuries are physiological and visible, eg multiple lacerations. Some injuries are physiological but invisible to the naked eye, eg soft tissue damage. Some injuries are psychological; perhaps only the symptoms are visible.

It was a mad rush, clearing work to go on leave, preparing for a trip to a place I've never been to before, packing for an expedition that involves camping (a first for me!). I don't regret coming, and don't regret running a half marathon a week before my longest off-road ride ever.

It was hard rolling and bouncing over rocks and incorrigibly corrugated roads on a rigid bike with semi-slick tyres and steep roads. What an experience, to have a president of a country flag off a race and have roads closed just for us, with security provided by the police and military under the UN. Riding east, south, west and north, over mountains, over river beds, in valleys, by the sea. With people lining the roads all over the country, watching, cheering, hoping.

It's a moving experience and I don't just mean moving on two wheels. The Timorese struggled for independence, paid for in bullets, bombs, blood and bodies since 1975. A remarkable resilient people, a nation before becoming a state. Viva Timor Leste!

© 2009 Kevin Lee. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Intensity, insanity

Old Upper Thomson Road, 24 km. On Sunday, I run a half marathon (being injured meant my training was only for a 15 km run). The run is ok but I walk like a lame duck on broken glass a few hours later. On Monday, I am on scheduled leave but clear my work emails in the evening. Today, the pace is frenetic; I work 1.5 days in 1 day (based on 8-hour day and lunch at my keyboard) and start cycling after 10 pm. I tell myself, this is not a training ride. It is active rest + road test of pedal adjustment and new brake pads. All is well until a roadie sits on my tail. I crank up my crank but he overtakes me when I clock 43 km/h. My stomach full of murtabak protests at the strain.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tour de Timor: sponsor

OCBC Bank: sponsor of jerseys for Singapore cyclists in
Tour de Timor.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Everything, something, nothing

Old Upper Thomson Road, 27 km. I want everything: my half marathon (which I signed up for first) and my most challenging ride ever. I'll settle for not achieving my personal best time for the run; to complete it will be something. I hope I won't mess up the run and the ride; I'll end up with nothing! Back home, I struggle to change the brake pads of my little red Tank with the very last pair of red pads from the shop. The exercise takes 10 times longer than it should :O

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Seeing red

Woodlands, 65 km. I'm in/on Red socks, red jersey, red bike. Red is also the colour of universal brotherhood and equality, which is about half of the national flag of this little red dot on the map called Singapore (two equal horizontal halves, minus the white for the stars and moon heh). Today's ride turns from 3 to 2 to 1. No show? Ride solo. I do 10 laps around the "Microsoft hill" then charge up a hill 9-storeys high. It is so steep, i max out my gears and my rear wheel loses traction. Back home, the discordant noise of karaoke makes neighbours see red. Today is National Day. Merdeka!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Familiarisation ride

Lim Chu Kang, 78 km. There's a big ride coming up. In the few weeks left, there's not much training that can be done. So we cycle (minus one who overslept) to see how we get along. It's hard to do a "training" ride where participants have varying experience, from seasoned adventure racers to someone going for her first expedition. Is this ride about performance, or to ride safe, gel together better than a gel saddle and have fun?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Check and test

Jul distance: 193 km

Lim Chu Kang, 75 km. The unofficial motto of one elite fighting force is "check and test, check and test". Which is poles apart from its official motto. I check and test 2 pieces of equipment today, including an 8 year old (estimate), 2.1" tyre (a first, none of my tyres have been that fat). I don't want it to crumble away on a high speed turn. A lad with disc wheel and aerobar slices past me as if I'm pushing a pram laden with groceries. A lass labours past me. Is she cursing me or chattering with her clattering drivetrain? There are tell-tale signs no one has talked to her much about cycling. I think about helping but I don't understand her swear words. Telling her the intricacies of of shifting might get lost in translation. Moreover, I don't speak 'roadie' and am more familiar with MTB shifters. We part ways at a junction and I continue with my road test/recce ride. It is a hard, "2 bottle" ride.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Going cycling keeps me going

Woodlands, 57 km. It is overcast. It might rain. It might not. Should I stay in bed? I reluctantly get out to cycle and feel better. A hard ride is when I keep above cruising intensity most of the time. My legs strain and my water bottles drain. I get lost and end up cycling along uneven ground covered by grass, at 7 km/h before I see a hill. I ride up and see a road. Back to normal. I notice that when I strain, I get flu-like symptoms: nose runs, body aches, temperature probably rises. I might cough too, if I squirt water wrong into my throat. I see a guy pitch a tent beneath the noonday sun, a little girl plays by his side. He sees me, I nod, he smiles. What's that about, some output but what's the outcome? A little touch of humanity, I guess.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tour de Timor: pre-trip preparations

Information is drawn from the Tour de Timor website and other sites. Quality of information may vary. Please use with discretion.

Registration 23 Aug 2009 (Dili)
Race Dates: 24 – 28 Aug 2009

Tuesday or Saturday: Singapore to Dili. Planned arrival on 22 Aug.
Austasia Airlines. Flight schedule. Retrieved 15 Jul 09

On arrival, USD30 cash, no credit card, no IOU :P
Immigration Department of Timor-Leste. Tourist & Business Visa. Retrieved 15 Jul 09


“Accommodation arrangements during the race will be the responsibility of the organising committee, which will include Sunday 23 Aug and Friday 28 Aug accommodation in Dili. For those competitors wishing to come earlier or stay later, a number of accomodation options are available in Dili ... The Tour de Timor will soon release accommodation partners in Dili.”
Tour de Timor. Race information. Retrieved 15 Jul 09.

Race briefing will be held at Timor Lodge. so that’s where we could be.
Tour de Timor. Program. Retrieved 15 Jul 09

Timor Lodge: from USD29, “Just a stone's throw from the airport”.
Timorleste-hotels. Accommodation in Timor Leste. Retrieved 15 Jul 09

Re other locations, it seems we would be putting up in a built=up area (in Old Bacao), mountain retreat (in Viqueque), seaside town (in Betano), guest house (in Maubisse; at 1,464m it might be a cold nite, below 20 degrees C)

On race website: “All participants will require personal gear for 7 days on the road including mosquito net, torch, hat, toiletries, sleeping bag and camping mattress, wet and warm weather gear ... Sleeping accomodation will be provided for all competitors from Sunday 23 August to Saturday 29 August 2009.”

Route: start in Dili, head east in clockwise direction back to Dili. Total distance > 400km
Route map: UNHCR. Timor-Leste Atlas Map. Retrieved 15 Jul 09
Dili map: Discover East Timor. Retrieved 21 Jul 09
From those who have been there:
Lonely Planet Thorntree

Country profile: BBC
News: World Time Server
Travel advisory: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UK). Retrieved 22 Jul 09
US Department of State Retrieved 22 Jul 09.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia Retrieved 22 Jul 09. Crocs, crime and UXOs ...
Time: UTC +9 hours. Weather. Wind speed is 2 to 3x that in Singapore, head wind / cross wind as we head east (especially along the coast) and south, tail wind as we head west and north :O Singapore humidity 70-80%, compared to Dili 60-70%, except at river crossings :P
SingTel has coverage through Timor Telecom :)
Currency, language, availability of ATMs, use of credit card etc, there's some from Timorleste-hotels and references below.

Answers below are from Stone, M (email dated 23 Jul 09).

1. Food and water on the road:
a. how will we get these while on the road before we reach our destination each day;
b. will we have to carry what we need or will there be official rest stops / shops enroute?
Answer: supplied by tour organisers.
From race rules: "For stages longer than 90km a feeding station will be provided at approximately the half way mark. Water and fruit will be available at the feed station. Riders can place their own food in well marked feed bags (rider numbered please) at these points by leaving them at the rider sign-on table each morning. Riders are welcomed to buy food along the course as required and where available."

2. Emergency:
a. will there be a safety vehicle / medical crew we can call if we get in trouble?
Answer: yes,organised by tour organisers. Much of this is being supplied by local organisations such as the UN.
b. will we be issued with communication devices or
c. do we bring our own mobile phones (if so, what is phone coverage like throughout the route)?
Answer: A mobile phone will be supplied to each team. You can also use your own mobiles on Global Roaming or by purchasing a local SIM card. There is good coverage around all of the major centres but limited once in the countryside. A Satellite phone will be in use throughout the race for special requirements and emergency's.
3. Terrain:
a. this is mostly road and dirt road / gravel / sand? or muddy?
Answer: Mostly road and dirt road.
b. any areas accessible only on foot and we have to carry our bikes?
Answer: No, except between Same and Fleisa it is very steep so some riders may choose to walk sections.
c. riverbed crossing: how deep is the water, waist high or lower? how quickly does the water flow?
Answer: Most riverbeds will be dry in late August and running rivers will be shallow.
4. Race:
a. this is a cycling race or do we also have to bring running shoes?
Answer: Cycling only.
b. what time does it get dark in Timor Leste?
Answer: 6.30 pm
c. is there a cut-off time
d. is there a "sweeper" vehicle we must board if we don't pass a certain point by a certain time?
Answer: This will vary for each stage but as an example the first stage will have a time frame of approximately 6 hours to complete, plus a nominal 1 hour for those close to finishing, then any remainding (sic) will be picked up.
Extract from race rules: "If a competitor fails to finish any stage of the race ... then at the discretion of the race jury the competitor may be allowed to continue the race. The jury or race organisers may impose a time (last rider + one hour), or other penalty.

e. what kind of sign-posting will there be so that we don't stray from the route and get lost?
Answer: This is still being sorted out by the local police and District Administrators.
5. Hazards:
a. what can we expect eg dogs / wildlife?
Answer: Dogs, chickens and goats mainly.
6. Accomodation arrangements:
a. we're told to bring mosquito nets, sleeping bags etc. Does that mean that we'll be camping outdoors most of the time during the race? Or some of the time? Or none of the time?
Answer: Whilst on the race course it will be camping conditions, though some large huts are being build for competitors, and some will be in tents.
From race guestbook: "a light sleeping bag will be more than enough".

b. are there shower / washing facilities at every night stop?
Answer: Portable showers are being set up at each camp.
Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
And this too

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rainy or sunny?

Changi, 61 km. Just like last month, fatigue stopped my wheels turning first week into the month. Under a cloud, I spend most of yesterday reducing sleep deficit. I was going to cycle in the night, when the rains fall. Today, the sky is overcast. And I've cleaned my drive train. I head out anyway. The sky clears, the sun shines, my wheels turn. I meet a friend who hollers from the roadside. I explore a place I've never been to before: Johor Battery. And all is well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Door gifts and near miss

Jun distance: 202 km

Changi, 68 km. I'm out to commemorate 2003 NPCC charity ride. Our last anniversary ride was in Jun 2007. We've grown fewer and older. Among the handful of us who show up tonight, one says I look younger. That's because the night is darker. We cycle then chat at a coffee shop, comparing injuries. The adventure racer who organised tonight's ride (and the 2007 one), being charming, has a charmed life. When I head into the toilet, a door slams into me. The assailant says sorry twice and turns on the tap for me. Back on the road, a passenger almost hits me with a car door. Wow, two door gifts in a night. Going home, I cycle just below my ventilation threshold. My speedometer reads 38 km/h for a while. My fat tyres whirl like the wind. My right foot feels funny. I struggle to unclip it then fail to clip in. The cleat is gone. I peer forlornly at the road. On a hunch, I look at the pedal. The cleat's there. I hobble towards home. At a junction, a driver shoots across my right of way. It's a near miss. I don't mean she nearly misses me. She's a near-sighted miss and if I didn't brake in time she would've given me a present of her van.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Mandai, 40 km. Cycling in the late afternoon is less fuss. No sunblock, no poke in the eyes for contact lenses to wear sunglasses, no arm warmers to keep off the sun. I'm out to do Fartlek for fast legs. I've been labouring in expeditions thinking it is normal, but my reading tells me that need not be so. As I train, I see a bicycle ahead of me. It's too small for a motorbike, yet too fast to be a bicycle. I catch up with it at a traffic light and see that it's an electric bicycle. Fast pick up, fast speed. Soon it is out of sight, though I ride over 30 km/h uphill. I'm stunned. I used to overtake petrol-driven versions. Well, I know how to train better now, even when I'm not on a training ride. Knowledge is power and power makes bike go faster :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Almost a century

Changi, 94 km. It's been years since I've joined a group ride with strangers. I end up as the sweeper. I cycle with someone who slips twice and whose slippers drop twice. Four km into the ride, she graciously turns back and another joins her. I cycle with them to the start point. Then my "amazing race" starts as I twist and turn on the park connector trying to find the main group. The ride leader eventually finds me and life is back to "normal". It's quite fun as I ride to places I've not been before and usually avoid (because of the "brownian motion" risks of collision with pedestrians, cyclists and tots in such places). Such places usually raise my heart rate but not today, perhaps because of the company I'm in and my perspective today of going with the flow.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


May distance: 456 km

Woodlands, 49 km. Beyond the big stone blocks lies a forest. Birds chirp. Leaves flutter. Shadows wave. A big open space, with walls several stories high. On the ground, some rotting wooden pallets. Bits of balloon, with ribbon trailing behind. What lay here before, a factory? A staircase without railings rises to another open space. Once useful, once noisy with clomping feet, now silent. Whatever value it created, whatever lives worked here, who knows? Whither have they gone? For better or worse? Does it matter?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bucking with the Broncos

Mandai, 36 km. The road seemed interesting, made entirely of debris. No "protected area" sign. I clamber over a fallen tree with my bicycle, enticed further in. Alas, round the bend, it's a dead end. This time, I slide my bike beneath the tree trunk instead of over it. I'm ready for a boring ride, but I'm surprised. Thrice. #1: back on the road, up ahead are two transporters with two armoured Broncos each. I sprint to catch up and manage to do so only at traffic lights. The leviathans seem to levitate. In their slip stream, at 47 km/h, I give up the ghost. #2: some roadies overtake me. Absolute performance takes over: fat tyres vs slicks, mountain bike vs road bike, aluminium vs carbon. The leap frog begins, I overtake, you overtake, until I break right at a junction. #3: three vehicles overtake me, two of them trucks, challenging "touch me if you can". Woah, I don't know you, please stay more than an arm's length away...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Whither the weather?

Woodlands, 48 km. The biker sits on his bike, then looks up in disbelief. The sun shines, the sky rains. As I look on, I too am confounded. I wait two hours, hooked on the "now cast" to figure out the driest route. When the rain stops, I start. I can't control the weather or what life throws at me, though planning helps. My route plan works; the only water that falls on me is from the road below. Still, nice things can happen unexpectedly. #1: resting pulse rate 60 beats per minute. How did that happen, I resumed running only this week after a five week "injury" break. #2: my wrist, which I hurt on a ride about seven months ago, is much better. The long Batu Pahat ride last week must've helped "massage" it. #3: my tyre patch holds though I'd ripped it off and glued it back on.
PS: on last week's ride, there were three police checkpoints around Skudai. Did that have anything to do with the arrest of Mas Selamat, who was caught in the area last month.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Gone solo

Fri-Sat 1-2 May
Batu Pahat, 323 km.
Day 1: Ride with abandon. There's supposed to be at least eight of us but the organisers abandon their own ride. That doesn't leave me all packed with no where to go, no way. I head for Batu Pahat, my first since Jan 07. A solo roadie passes me and I pass three mountain bikers heading for Kukup. The rolling hills near the end of the ride are tedious but keep the ride more interesting than the boring straight roads enroute. It is hard labour on Labour Day. 161 km is over my limit for a mental-strain free ride. At Batu Pahat, most shops are closed. I thirst. Guardian saves me with provisions. Loud singing from outside troubles me not as I plan a 9.5 hour siesta.

Day 2: Go away to come home. Obstacle #1: breakfast on peanuts (and I don't mean my salary) since Guardian sells no bread. #2: going down four flights of steps with fully-loaded bike. #3: a gate that locks me in the guesthouse. All surmounted. I tax my limited repertoir of songs in my head. I even keep my mind blank but there's too "static". Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" it is. Malaysia is big, unlike tiny Singapore which bulldozes a national icon for motorists to save mere minutes. A dirty drizzle starts. I dodge puddles that may cover subterranean caverns. This is getting old. I'm getting old. I cycle under a cloud. My feet are clammy and wrinkled. That's better than the tortoise in crawl posture in death with a tyre-sized hole in its shell. Or the bloated cat with guts trailing. Or the snake, monitor lizard, chicken and assorted mangled-beyond-recognition road kill. Trucks pass me at unfriendly distances. A lady brazens her way from a minor road to test my reaction. A petrol kiosk owner asks me where I'm from and says I'm crazy. When he finds out I'm solo, he says "even crazier". Indeed. I get home without map or compass. Am I glad to see Singapore.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gimme a break

Jalan Bahar, 76 km.

A returned Singaporean wants to ride
I get up early and oblige.
Not that I sleep well, bad dreams affect shut-eye.
Dark clouds float on high, so we say goodbye.
How quickly the road turns wet from dry.
At a bus stop I sit and sigh.
Grey reaches far as I see with my eye.
I ride on, with my bed I've a date.
But I soon realise, I'm 'neath the edge of the cloud.
As sudden as it hid, sunshine bursts through the grey cloud.
My drive-train is blown dry.
My tyre holds up too, on the biggest hole I'd ever patched.
Oh what a break, my skin nor my bones don't break.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New route, new loop

Woodlands, 55 km. I hear thunder rumble at dawn, wonder if I get to cycle today, and to back to sleep. When I get up, the sun is up. It is a scorcher. I'm not sure where to go and head north, poking my wheel (and nose) just a bit off the beaten track. And that little bit extra leads me to a familiar road that takes me home. Little things, can mean a lot ...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Grey skies and everything nice

Admiralty Road West, 44 km. Unlike past weekends (burn in morning, rain in afternoon), the morning sky is a cloudy sky. To taunt the clouds, I put on my sunblock and cycle with my camera. I retire my very first pair of bicycle shorts (5.5 years old) and ride with a new pair. When my bum feels good, so does my brain. What comfort; sentimentality and hanging on had gotten in the way of comfort. It (the sky, not the shorts) rains but does not pour. The water does not spray up in a parabola from my wheels. My saddle bag feels dry but it is not. So what if it is plastic, the water gets in somehow and my camera gets damp. But it bothers me not. Because it still works. Back home, I warm up my insides with home-brewed chai, after a messy, foul-tasting first attempt on Fri.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Adversity, adaptability

Admiralty Road West, 59 km. Would you spend a night in a place on Singapore's top 10 most haunted list? Well, hundreds of foreign workers spend every night there, a place formerly known as View Road Hospital. I reckon it was vacated 20 years ago, but now, it buzzes with life. As I wander about the north, I see more of them. Strangers, thrown together by a common desire to make a living. Some chat together, others just gather and sit separately by themselves. I'm your kind, please be kind. Many of them live in container-like structures stacked on high. Across their abode, live the locals in flats stacked on high.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Mar distance: 235 km

Lim Chu Kang, 73 km. I see the trees, high as three stories, lie on their sides, pushed over by the invisible wind. The base of their roots, each as wide as a small car, lies vertical. Elsewhere, I see a truck lie on its side, pushed over by invisible forces as it makes too tight a turn perhaps. I feel tired, but I push on. Today's ride (plus yesterday's) is about twice my weekly total. Yesterday, at a "time trial", I push myself so hard, sweat pours off my body and my glasses almost fall off. Age catches up with me. I trash a kid (late teens, I guess, see the look as his mother looks at me) but someone in his twenties walks away with the $1,000 prize. A bad carpenter blames his tools. I blame my clothes; I forgot my socks, wore the wrong jersey (too thick) and thought I didn't need a headband. It takes energy to lose heat.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Do you know where you're going to?

Sengkang, 42 km. The road ahead may look doable and the (intermediate) destination may look attractive. But after a while, that's all there is. A dead end, or you just go round and round. Is that your destination? Where can you go from here? Or the road ahead may be rocky, yet full of promise; when you round the corner, a new vista opens. Over a babbling brook you go, and a trail beckons ahead. Past knee-high mimosa, over waterlogged ground. The cost might turn out to be higher than any potential benefit. I know, because I was there - several times, before you even knew the place existed. Does it make sense for newbies to follow advice from other newbies?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pain and rain

Sembawang, 42 km. Wrist pain: since mid-Sep, six months ago. Back pain: three weeks ago. Knee pain: 1 week. Well, I cycle today anyway. I feel the sun warm the small of my back. Ah, feels good. Then I realise I've no sun block. I tussle within: it might rain, it might not. If I burn, that would hurt. A u-turn isn't necessarily a flip flop. And pain might be creative destruction; that's what exercise is about, to tough up the body. I head head home for my sun block then head as far north as I can. If I could cycle on water, I would be in Malaysia. I pass an olive-green pickup with top-mounted machine gun, with ammunition box attached. I pass a white police van. Soon, I'm in the middle, with a police escort in front and army one behind. Clouds gather, rain falls. But I'm ok, it's rain that refreshes not the kind that drenches. I race against the rain and get home before it really pours.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Short-handed and rattled

Kovan, 17 km. A handlebar is meant to have two hands on it. But one of my hands holds a bar end - and a wheelset. The wheelset rattles. So I seek help from bikeshop man. He says something is trapped in the double-walled rim and I would have to shake it out. To console me for going home empty handed(!), he gives me a makeshift rim tape and tells me why the one I made didn't work well. As it turns out, even if I fix the rattle (I didn't), the wheelset doesn't quite fit (diameter is right, but not the width of the rim). What a difference 1-2 mm makes. What a difference a good fit makes. What sadness if something that used to go well goes awry or away ...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

We've moved, it's over, move on

Old Lim Chu Kang Road, 61 km. For years, whenever I cycle past, someone is tending to the land, watering, weeding. Now, the land is overgrown. Whatever sweat has dripped onto the soil, whatever calluses has formed on hands, what was it in aid of? There's nothing left to show. In the distance, heavy calibre weapons boom like rolling thunder, followed by the pitter patter of small arms fire. Dark clouds gather overhead. What's happened to the people who lived and toiled here? I don't know them, yet I wonder. What more the people I know of? But it's time to move on.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Exhilaration acceleration

Feb distance: 220 km

East Coast, 70 km. Once in a while, I have a good day. For warm up, I cycle 12 km to the start point: the Formula 1 pit. I've wanted to cycle on the race track and now I can. There's 2,400 of us doing the 40 km OCBC Cycle Singapore challenge. We're packed like cattle but when the ride starts we somehow space out. I see dropped water bottles (which must've bounced out of bottle cages as we speed over speed bumps). I also see two cyclists go down in separate incidences in shuddering turns but I'm without a scratch as my mountain bike is oh so nippy. In the risky East Coast Park area, we're early enough to avoid the misguided kids and pedestrians (though they must be especially foolhardy to venture on the wrong track with pelotons bearing down). I hang on grimly at 35-38 km/h and start overtaking in the last few km. Near the finish line, I sprint and hear the commentator say, "Here comes a mountain bike, it's not built for speed ... but look at that, faster than a racing bike" as I overtake a spent roadie. I might've been the first mountain biker to cross the finish line but kudos to the guy on knobbies who kept up until the last few km. Oh yes, what a beautiful day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Drag and drop

Mandai, 28 km. Off with the knobbies, on with the slicks. Up goes the speedo, isn't that neat. Moral of the story: if something is a drag, drop it. Unless you've made a commitment. Commitment? What's that? For some, commitment lasts until it is inconvenient.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Smoked and stoned

Lim Chu Kang, 64 km. This is my longest ride of the year so far but that's not why I'm stoned. First, a guy using aerobars overtakes me and the gap grows though I'm going at 42 km/h. Second, a guy in sandals on a creaky mountain bike sits on my tail effortlessly. Third, I pass the farms along Old Lim Chu Kang Road. I'm stupefied to see they are gone. Even the bus stop shelters are gone. Those farms have been there for years. Where have the farmers gone? What next? When there's nothing left, one hopes in hope to keep going. Helplessness is when time is the only weapon ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pain and rain

Old Upper Thomson Road, 25 km. 1939, World War 2 breaks out. 1940, 41, 42: the Allied world reels. Amidst the gloom, there are some "bright" spots, eg Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain. Fighting spirit and grit. I'm not in a life and death situation but in my context, it is gloomy enough. If the world is the world, dropping a stone makes little difference. If the world is a bowl, goodbye bowl. So, what can I do? As I cycle, my right knee hurts. But I push on, as there's a race in 10 days. I don't know if the pain will go on, but until it becomes unbearable, I cycle on. The pain goes away on the right, but the left knee starts to hurt. So I call it quits. For now. But I'll be back in the saddle again. Back in the real world, a "small" gap can make a big difference. A tiny hole in a big inner tube makes a bike pretty useless, right? And unless you're a cyclist, how would you know what that means? Does anyone have a patch? Or an inner tube to inflate my spirits?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Emotion and reason

Sembawang, 32 km. It's comfortable at home. And grey clouds are overhead. But I head out instead of staying home. Riding hard while sniffling from a cold feels bad. Emotion says stay home but reason says, if there's a race this month, train. Why do I race? Well, there's emotion about that. So, this is a mix of emotion and reason: to brave the rain, choose a route that gives a hard ride in a short time without being boring, judge speeds, feel the burn and dodge dumb drivers. But why do people make life-changing decisions based on emotions, when what's at stake is not whether vanilla, strawberry or chocolate taste better? Even if one chooses whether to cycle in Laos or Cambodia based on emotion, expedition and route planning is all reason.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Half a car is better than none

Jan distance: 226 km

Kranji, 49 km. Something has to be delivered by a certain day. The clock is ticking and is not negotiable. You have no car. Do you spend time looking for a car? Or is half a car better than none: get what you can and look for another half; and if you find a whole car in the meanntime, good for you. If it's wrong to get half a car, is it wrong to expect delivery without a car? What counts is whether the non-negotiable delivery is made, isn't it? And if the issue is hunger, would you turn down quarter of a loaf on account that it isn't half?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Appearances and patches

Mandai, 53 km. The roadie overtakes me and I slip into his slipstream. His jersey is unzipped and a walkie talkie (or an ancient mobile phone) is in his pocket. He appears to be a pro as I struggle after him on my fat tyres. As we slow at a traffic light, he appears to intend a track stand but unclips his shoes from his pedals at the last moment. When he tries a few times (rather than in one fluid motion) to insert his bottle into his carbon bottle cage, I reckon he's not been riding that much. Back home, I inspect an inner tube with a hole at the base of its valve and the seal of special glue I'd applied. The "patch" appears to hold up but it remains to be seen if it'll hold up on the road.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What's going on?

Kranji, 55 km. Situation 1: bike shop moves, a pet shop eventually takes its place. Bike shop moves again, another pet shop takes its place. Video shop closes ... and a pet shop takes its place. Coincidence? Situation 2: someone is afraid and to avoid the situation wants to go into a more fearful situation. But is the current situation so fearful when there is much data including first hand experience that says it isn't? Is the other situation less fearful when there is so little data, not even first hand experience? Situation 3: there's a strange sound after I cycle through some undergrowth. I look down and see nothing stuck on my drive train or frame, but still hear something. I'm tempted to ignore the sound but ignoring it doesn't make it go away. I stop for a closer look. A cable has somehow worked itself loose and is rubbing against a tyre. There no friction without sound, no smoke without fire. If it's not desirable or possible to avoid or to change a situation despite best effort, then the only thing left is to accept the situation and change ... me.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Road sights

Kranji, 52 km. Seven elderly gents are out in their Sunday best on the road, one on a mountain bike, the others on road bikes with 1-inch tubing. They are dressed in bermudas, complete with belts. One of them has a silver thermos flask in his bottle cage. Six youths are out on their BMX, dressed in jeans on the pavement. Here and there, is a solitary roadie. It is a pleasant ride, until I'm a housing estate where a demented driver swerves into my lane multiple times within a few hundred metres. He looks back to glare at those he considers to have transgressed, oblivious to what he's doing. The last I see of him, he is gesticulating at a pedestrian crossing a driveway.

Friday, January 02, 2009

New year ride

Serangoon, 17 km. This is an orientation ride of sorts, to get used again to Singapore riding conditions. Somehow, it's easier to adjust to Cambodia compared to Singapore, though the former is right-hand drive. Over there, it is hot but not humid. And I don't have two pedestrians hurling themselves into my path or a woman pushing a baby in a pram to greet my front wheel. All these, on a short ride to get bikeshop man to true my front wheel. That costs me ten bucks, but he also gives me a practical session on how to true a wheel (which I didn't get from reading a book) and solves the failing cyclocomputer puzzle for me. As his business card says, he could be a (bike) doctor ... I reread the instructions (no kidding, the cyclocomputer is a computer) and he's so right.