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 30, 2010

New year, new decade, new bills?

Dec distance: 325 km

Serangoon, 12 km. After my rear tyre exploded last week, I pay more attention to the rear wheel. It rumbles. I cycle to Bikeshop1. I'm told the hub is toast. My rims are worn too. The boy gives me two options, Novatech wheelset or a custom-build wheelset with Mavic rims and XT hubs. I hear the cash register ring and my bank account drain. I go home and Google my options. What I find online, is either scant or scary.

Off to Bikeshop2. The man hears no rumble but perhaps he’s hard of hearing? He removes the 18 bearings from the hub, soaks them in petrol and cleans the inside of the hub with a dirty pillowcase dipped into the solution. He says the inside of the hub is ok; it’s not pitted nor grooved. He dips his finger into red lithium grease and coats the hub liberally. I suppose there’s some hair from his pet dog mixed in too. “How much”, I ask. He’s silent until he’s put back the wheel. “$10”, he replies. He declines to service the front hub. “No need,” he says. Both wheels have turned 39,000 km over 7 years, but the weight is on the rear one. He says my 7 year-old rims are worn, but still serviceable. $10 to end my last ride of the year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cloud with silver lining

Kranji, 59 km. The last time I passed here, it was raining. I didn’t have my camera with me anyway, as I suspected it would rain. Today, I pack my camera to shoot the same place.

As I reach the place, it rains. Shoot, I don’t shoot in the rain. I turn back. Bumpety-bump goes my rear tyre. I dismount and look. It looks ok. I cycle on. Bumpety-bump. I cycle on. When the wheel shudders as I brake, I dismount and do another visual inspection. Hmm, the tyre seems to be undergoing plastic deformation. I cycle towards home gingerly, with downhill speed the same as uphill speed. Just when I think I’ll make it home, “bang”! Not a piddling puncture, but a blasted blowout. I pushed it too far, the tyre shreds and the inner tube blows. Now I push on, literally, about 4 km towards home. I walk on grass to save my shoes.

If it wasn’t raining, I wouldn’t have turned back. My tyre would’ve blown. I’d have been stranded somewhere so remote there are no taxis to hail. And no mobile phone with me either. Just as well it was my rear tyre. If it was the front, I may have lost steering control. So, if you must take risks with your wheels, let it be your rear one.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Belief and unbelief

Jurong West, 100 km. The news reader says, “in Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born”. Do people say, “where Buddhists believe Buddha was born”, or “where Muslims believe the Prophet was born”? Did the news reader mean Jesus’ birthplace is in doubt, or Jesus’ birth is in doubt? Around the world today, people dress like Santa and go “ho ho ho” but seriously, there’s no fat dude living in the North Pole running a toy factory. We know the factories are in China! Which is why today is not called “Santa-mas” but “Christ-mas” with Christ-mas cards, carols and gifts. So how did Christmas (2,000 years and counting) come about but not Santa-mas? How long does it take to debunk something?

As I ponder this, I cycle off the beaten track. It looks like a dead end and dog country but a man on a lorry says it a through road and no dogs. So I cycle on. A few workers gesture to me that there’s no way out. And I see a dog. Fortunately, it’s had its fill of suckered cyclists and leaves me alone.

I believed the lorry man but it's the wrong guy. I then believed the workers who toil there and my eyes which tell me to back track. To be absolutely sure, when I’m on the main road, I circle around where I was misled. Yes, there’s no way out.

My detour leads me towhere I’ve not cycled before, but I’m not really lost. I believe my compass when it points north. Just because I believe doesn't mean it's so, but some things are really so.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Lim Chu Kang, 103 km. Yesterday, I sleep almost 12 hours. Closed eyelids shut out the world and the darkness swallows, albeit for a while, the troubles that confront me. Once in a while, a star shoots across the sky. For a while, it dazzles, then it is gone. On the ground, the mire is still there, poured from above, stirred from below.

I continue my stay-cation. A vacation is when you vacate home and travel elsewhere. A stay-cation is when you spend the night at home. Instead of my usual year-end break, I stay on this little island. Today, I do a century ride. It is so hard to cycle 100 km. I don’t mean it’s hard because I’m on fat tyres. I mean, this island is so small! I detour into housing estates, twisting and turning, which beats going around in circles. On the same journey, I see urban, suburb and rural areas. For the entire journey, it rains not. Once in a while, the heavens give me a break :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recovery ride

Woodlands, 51 km. The back of my right knee hurts. Must be the result of my 42 km run two Sundays ago. The pain goes away after a few km and doesn’t come back. Physiotherapy helps physical pain go away. Is there anything that makes mental / emotional / spiritual pain go away?

Some people believe in karma / retribution, that those who’ve done wrong will get their just desserts. A cosmic calculator that works out the score and distributes the rewards and the punishments. Well, I believe in a Celestial Being, not inanimate but divine, that sees, knows and feels. And born not necessarily on 25 Dec, but on the original Christmas Day :p

I so hope that next year, things will work out better. The last decade was the worst of my life. And I hope you'll have a good year too, the first in a new decade.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stick or quit?

Nov distance: 254 km

Woodlands, 52 km. For seven rides in a row, I cycle the same route, with its 25 upslopes and 49 traffic lights. I'm not tired of it yet. Same road, same sights, perhaps what's different is the traffic conditions and the cyclists who pass me. A guy on a titanium frame and carbon chainstays overtakes me. I crank up my wattage and keep up, till I get tired ... tired of following behind. So I surge past and we part ways.

I stop by the same shop for lunch, though I don't eat the same thing as last week. The cook-boss tells me he's in business for 20 years, though the shop I eat at is less than a year old (his other branch is the first branch). He's done well enough to drive a BMW. He says it's a hard business, with long hours.

So how does he keep it up for two decades? He sure can stand the heat in the kitchen. As for me, two colleagues quit, one after 2-3 months. This is after she tells me her time frame was 2-3 years. The other tells me she'll stick around "for a very long time" and it turns out the time frame was weeks. What gives? I don't get it. Perhaps us old sticks in the mud, just stick around too long.

How I long to be back in Cambodia. To cycle far away from home, away from the things that eat me up, to be away where the road is long (photo).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunblock, reprise

Woodlands, 52 km. Sun is out. Sunblock is smeared. Bicycle is rolled out - at a different time, lest I, uh, run into that woman-who-ignores-shouting-cyclist again. I’m still shaken by my experience last weekend. Imagine if I’d skidded and bounced face-first into a parked car’s window or smashed into one of fat mama’s kids ...

Like last week, the sky grows dark, the clouds rumble and thunder roars. Rain pelters down. I sit beside a reservoir and zip up. My jersey I mean. I don’t have to zip up my lips as I cycle solo. I see several other solo cyclists. I guess the pelotons are on the road at dawn, while high noon is for us soloists.

When the rain lets up a little, I stop for lunch. The stall owner is glad to see me. Can’t be that many cyclists who stop to eat his food I guess. We talk a little about his business and he moans about the laws of the land. He says 'we don't have to work anymore" but somehow he still wants to cook, but not over expand his business. He's got human resource problems. Nice lessons there, for those who'll listen and learn. Our chat is like one of the highlights of the week. What a week it's been. Hope the sun shines on me really soon, I'd like to bask in it for a while. Without sunburn.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Woodlands, 51 km. The sun shines. I smear on sunblock for my dose of cycletherapy. To spice up the ride, I count the number of stop lights. There are 49 sets (each set is two or more traffic lights; a pedestrian crossing would have two, an X-junction would have four or more). This makes almost one set of lights for every km on the route. I sure wish there was a set of lights where I have my accident.

The rain pours down as I cycle downhill. A group of pedestrians cross the road; a big lady with some teenagers. I yell. Lady looks at me, looks away and continues crossing. I jam brakes. Brake blocks grip wet rims. Tyres lock. Forward motion continues. No time for evasive action, no time to brace for impact or wince. Bicycle meets body. She takes 1-2 steps sideways, still carrying her umbrella above her head. No blood is shed. Everyone remains upright, my foot unclips by reflex. Lady giggles and says something which sounds like “I thought highway code says I should launch myself into the path of a cyclist going downhill in the rain and bicycles have anti-lock braking systems”.

Sunblock doesn't block the rain from pouring down, nor blockhead from jaywalking.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Come and go

Woodlands, 51 km. I arise from my sleep because of a funeral dirge. Drums bang, cymbals clash and  do I hear clarinets? The mourners gather in the carpark, dressed in white t-shirts. Someone holds and old lady by the shoulder, I guess it’s the widow.

When they are gone, I go too. Cycling I mean. The same Woodlands route. I'm not quite tired of it yet, but someday I will. Before I do, I'll count how many stop lights there are on the route. I'm sure there are more stop lights than there are upslopes on this route (25).

Two tyres lie in my living room. All worn out. They’re still serviceable, I’m sure I can crank some distance out of them. What I don’t know is, whether they’ll blow. That’s a risk I don’t want to take.

Things don’t last, do they? Or they last, but not in the form they once were. Consider the PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain. Once great imperial powers, especially Italy. Its been around for over two millenia. They used to lord over all. But now?

Somethings don’t last a lifetime. When it comes to relationships, especially blood ties, they last for life. The question is, whether they work or not, and whether they work without working at them.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mismatch meets match

Woodlands, 50 km. For the first time, I’ve mixed tyres. All my life, tyres are the same; if one is 1.25”, the other is 1.25”. Today, I have 1.95” semi slicks in front and 2.1” knobbies in the rear. That’s another first; the fattest tyre I’ve used before today was 1.95”. Riding a 2.1” is like riding on a fat cushion of air. Nice. Sometimes I ride over stuff on the road just for fun. I can feel - and hear - the buzz of the knobbies as chemical energy becomes mechanical energy becomes sound. Today, I count the slopes on the route: 25. Slopes they are, I wouldn’t call them hills; that’d be making hills out of molehills. Well, most of them anyway. As I ride up the steepest road, a worker carrying shopping bags stops and stares, then cheers me on. As I reach the top and ride down, he offers me some of his groceries. I smile and wish him “subah Diwali”.

After cycling over two hours, I get home, brew a cup of tea, and start pounding the road. I just want to see what happens when I do my own dualthon. My legs protest. It feels like I feel some way into a half marathon. As I go on, the ache goes away. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Perpetual punctures

Oct distance: 992 km

Woodlands, 61 km. The past few days, I patch and replace innner tubes. Pump them up at night, find them flat the next day. Find more holes, patch them, pump them up. Check tyre, find bits of glass and stone, gouge them out. Tubes still go flat, including from where the rubber meets the valve. Must've done this at least six times. I run out of tubes, buy new ones. Bikeshop man says, things aren’t the way they used to be. Inner tubes aren’t latex anymore, they have a shorter lifespan. Perhaps that’s why holes keep appearing when I pump my fat tyres to 50 psi. No point fixing the tubes anymore. Is that what happens to people too? Under pressure, they deflate. You can patch them, but some just go. And tubes have to be the right size for the tyre - unless you’re out of tubes and have to make do. And when you make do, the tubes eventually go.

I stop by my regular mechanic to replace the chain (the other shop has a tool that tells me the chain is so worn, a new chain will skip). Regular bikeshop man says if the chain skips, it’ll be because of the smallest cog; just run the chain for a few months on other cogs. Indeed, the chain skips like a happy school girl out of school on her way to get a new dress.

Bikeshop man might’ve saved my life too. He says my tyre is frayed. Huh? It just looks like a scratch to me. He holds it to the sky and ... light comes through in places. It's as if someone took a sewing machine needle to the tyre. He says, just a bit more pressure and it’ll go boom. Imagine that, if I’m whizzing downhill beside passing traffic.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wetter doesn't matter

Woodlands, 50 km. After suffering in Sarawak, I accidentally reset my cyclocomputer to zero. There goes tens of thousands of km on my odometer. Then I notice the sensor hangs by a bit of plastic and promptly breaks, which I superglue back. As I head out of home, the leg of my sunglasses snap off. And a lift door nearly slams into my bicycle. As I finally get on the road, the drizzle turns into a downpour so heavy, it goes "ting ting ting" on my bell. I cycle on anyway. Usually, I'd cuss the rain as I dislike getting wet. But since I'm wet from the word go, there's no need to avoid rain, which will wash off my sunblock and keep me cool. When you're already wet, wetter doesn't matter. I'm happy to be able to cycle today and get home in one piece notwithstanding the bus that pulls out when my rims and brake blocks are wet.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Back to Borneo

Sat 9 - Sat 16 Oct
Sarawak, 784 km (alternative title for this post: suffering in Sarawak)

This is my longest charity ride yet, with BikeAid (Singapore), in conjunction with Lions Clubs in Singapore and Sarawak.  Quite apart from the fact that I could confirm my participation in this ride only three weeks before its start, there are three ominous omens: official bicycle charity ride jersey does not fit, there is a problem with my airline booking (eventually solved) and a few days before take off I discover a problem with my drive train (eventually mostly solved). This would be my 10th major expedition.

Boxing day
Day 1: Sat 9 Oct, Singapore to Kuching, non-cycling day. Baggage boys seem to delight in finding new bicycle boxes to bash. My immaculately undented box picks up two ghastly foot-long gashes in just one flight. Another guy has his bicycle hard case bashed so badly it loses a wheel. The Customs officials take an interest in our boxes. I wouldn't say we were detained; we certainly weren't herded into a room for interrogation. We mill about as a phone call is made so that the paperwork (proving we weren't crazy, we were indeed in town for a charity ride) is produced. Fortune takes a turn for the better. It turns out my room mate has all the bicycle jerseys. I trade my S for his L, which is too small for him. He'll give my S to his 6-year old kid. And why did I order an S? Because, being a Small Asian Dude, my jerseys are either S or even XS. As it turns out, just about everyone else finds their official jerseys too small.
Nightstop: Four Points

Automatic transmission
Day 2: Sun 10 Oct, Kuching to Seri Aman, 190 km. Lions Club dignitaries turn up in force to pray for our safety and send us 15 cyclists off. The first few hills lead me to ask myself, "Is this it?" Of course not. Soon after, I'm trundling uphill at below 5 km/h. And it rains. I worry about going downhill. What lurks beneath those puddles - a pinch flat? high speed blowout? ticket to judgement day? Nah, just spray. My chain keeps shifting on its own; from the smallest cog to the next and vice versa. When it shifts, I click instead of the other way round. To remove the confusion, I fiddle with the barrel adjuster by feel as I cycle, until automatic transmission becomes manual. I arrive at the hotel at 6pm. That's 10 hours on the road including breaks. Two others are ahead of me, one on a Trek carbon roadbike and the other on a Conalgo hybrid. I log 64.7 km/h going downhill, I wonder how they did.
Nightstop: Regent Inn

Discounted travel
Day 3: Mon 11 Oct, Seri Aman to Sarikei, 167 km. Six hours of sleep after accumulated sleep deficit is barely enough for me.  There's barely a cloud in the clear blue sky. In the blazing heat, I blaze ahead, being the second to reach the lunch point, behind Conalgo dude who has a blistered toe and carbon crank arms. After lunch, I lie down (beneath a ceiling that looks like hub and spokes) as there is time for a siesta. Others join my lead ... When I get up, I overdose on isotonic drink and have a rumbly in my tummy. I send down a combo of 2 tablets and a capsule to sort things out and I cycle again.

As the road crosses rivers, the bridges remind me of Timor Leste. This ride sure feels like Tour de Timor - race against time, sometimes skipping rest points. These mobile rest points (support vehicles) are spaced out every 10 km. This doesn't sound far, but the rolling hills sure make sweat roll fast and the km slow.

As I carbo load, I realise I'm like a hamster. I stuff my face then spin. Later, I see a nice place to eat again: a bus stop inlaid with mosaic beside a park. A support vehicle stops, tops up my fuel and proceeds to chase down one more guy in front. As it turns out, a few minutes ahead is a compulsory stop. Change in plans.

All our bicycles go up the support vehicles so we can ride - in the cars - nearer to town. There, with traffic police escort, we cycle into town. Some people breakaway. "Would you like me to chase them down?" I ask Chief Cyclist. "How are you going to do that?" By sprinting ahead then slowing down to 15 km/h. Why was our distance cut short? a) the ride took longer than anticipated and there is an official dinner. b) thee is a steep downhill with a elbow bend which, if mishandled, may lead to more than scraped bloody elbows.
Night stop: Dragon Inn

Cycling on ceremony
Day 4: Tue 12 Oct, Sarikei to Sibu, 53 km. Today's ride is ceremonious, with police outriders again.

We cycle at a controlled pace, first to a spectacle shop which offers free eye tests and spectacles to poor school kids, who go for means test and eye test. I hear some spectacles have come from Singapore opticians. We make such a spectacle of ourselves, we end up as a full page story in the next day's Chinese newspaper.

Things are back to 'normal' after that: us Fearsome Four blaze the way to Agape Centre in Sibu, which houses several non-profits eg Association for Children with Special Needs, then to Sarawak Society for the Blind and Methodist Children's Home (for the latter, there are gifts of stationery).

Our hotel is so high class, bicycles aren't allowed into the rooms :o I sure miss it; I can't use it as a clothes rack. High-end hotels have hangers that hang only in cupboards, and I can't hang just-washed-in-the-sink bicycle clothes in there, can I? Still, it's a nice room, and we get one in the corner.

Ceremonies continue with a formal dinner, where Lions are dressed to kill. There is food, speeches, District Governor as guest of honour, violin solo, a Chinese guy singing Italian opera, and dancing girls - not that kind of dancing girls for this is a dignified dinner - I refer to a fan dance.
Nightstop: RH Hotel

Slipping into slipstream
Day 5: Wed 13 Oct, Sibu to Bintulu, 246 km. Morning call 4.30 am. Breakfast 5 am. Flag off at 6 am. Ok, 20 minutes later than that. This is the longest day. I so want to finish the ride. Lunch at 10 am. Half an hour later, I'm off. Speeding downhill, dodging potholes. Nice, on a nippy mountain bike. I also have fun chasing the slipstream of passing timber truck with long loads of sawn timber. At a rest stop, I hear a cyclist has crashed: a rear wheel has knocked a front wheel off balance. I ask the medic for news, he says face plant with multiple abrasions, victim is hospitalised for observation. The Fearsome Four become the Three Terrors, one of whom cycles so light, he doesn't even carry sunblock. I'm told it can get as hot as 42 degrees Celsius, I'm glad I didn't know that then.

Back on the road, I see a man in a conical straw hat with diving mask in one hand and spear gun in the other. Later on, I see a hunter with a straw basket and rifle. I also see death metal hurtle towards me, as a vehicle goes the wrong way in my lane while overtaking traffic. I wave it away; like magic, it goes away.

At a stop point, I hear a crew member talk to another cyclist about me. "Ah, I see, it's smaller so he has to work harder." They could be talking about my wheels or cranial capacity.

Hills, hills, hills. To console myself, I think of Laos where the climb is long and Timor Leste where the roads are rough. Most cyclists are in the support vehicles. There is some talk that all of us have to ride in cars. A senior support crew member says, "ride on". Even when I'm stopped later by another crew member, senior dude tells me, "Ride on." So I get back on my bicycle and oblige. Only three of make make it all the way to Bintulu, where local mountain bikers and a police car escort us to a stage for another ceremony, where sponsors are honoured and we're garlanded on arrival and thoughtfully plied with drink and cake before a late dinner. A guy shakes my hand, "Congratulations, Hamster." Another asks for a group photo of us Three Terrors. I've finally broken my personal best distance, which was 225 km in one day.
Nightstop: Li Hua Hotel

Easy day is hardest day
Day 6: Thu 14 Oct, Bintulu to Miri, 128 km. Morning call 4.30 am, breakfast at 5, flag off at 5.45 going on 6.20. Today's distance is merely hundred plus. I am so slow, W asks if I'm ok before overtaking me. At a rest stop, A asks what I'm doing back there; I usually whizz past the first rest stops and few cyclists see me except at the start and finish. Yesterday was my best day, I do overtime so today my body is off. Or did it help that yesterday I wore a jersey that reads "Borneo Motors"?

As I near lunch point, I perk up. But things continue to go wrong. Km after km, I cycle on. No food in sight. Every glint in the distance, I hope is a support vehicle. Hopeless. I'm a goner. I see a shack by the road and break out my emergency rations. My butt is busted too, so I cool it for 15 minutes.

I get up and go, to make the next food point an hour away. Alas, that's not to be. I come across W who tells me "change in plans". Cyclists are being rounded up and driven to lunch point. So there you have it, a veteran who's completed all of Tour de Timor is in the broom wagon for Sarawak. It seems only four cyclists make it all the way today (and for the entire expedition, only two made it all the way past 800 km, one on a Trek the other on Cervelo). After lunch, we're driven to the outskirts of town under police escort to Pusat FDK Miri for more photo opportunities like cheque presentations. The cycling is over. At the grandest dinner of all - about 20 tables - people go on stage to be thanked. About RM80,000  raised for eight charities, I hear.
Nightstop: Eastwood Valley Golf and Country Club

The seat of the problem
Day 7: Fri 15 Oct, Miri to Kuching, non-cycling day. My bicycle box takes another two hits from the airport baggage bullies. That's way too many; my previous box (which I bought in Thailand) survived seven flights to Cambodia, Timor Leste and Brunei, and retired after the cardboard got too "floppy". I patch up the box then get help for myself - massage for my legs. I scream like a girl - actually, worse - as the girl next to me looks at me bemused since the worst she goes is a soft "ouch".

The injured rider is out of hospital. I tell him his battle scars are more honourable than mine, he tells me not to make him laugh as his mouth hurts.

Dinner is at a Lion dignitary's home. Ten cars driven by Lions take us to the multi-millionaire's home. The fleet of cars parks in the driveway with room to spare. We run out of space in our tummies as we gorge on local delicacies.

I reflect on why I'd a bad ride yesterday (crewman tells me I've done 95% of the ride; to me, anything less than 100% is "fail"). The answer is too little sleep, too much confidence.  There's a rhyme, there's a reason. Things I relearnt in the last hundred km of a 800 km ride: 1-2 buckle my shoe, 3-4 eat lots more, 5-6 lubricate, 7-8 tyres inflate, 9-10 contingency plan ... If only I'd eaten more of that less than appetising breakfast, pumped up my tyres and not counted on that supposed foodstop at 80 km. Worst of all is the pain in the butt; even coasting was a sore affair.

Baggage bullies bounce bikes
Day 8: Kuching to Singapore, non-cycling day. I wonder how our bicycle boxes get so bashed up. Today, I have the good (or bad) fortune to see for myself. Why stand on ceremony when baggage loaders stand on bicycle boxes and pass the buck / box to another guy in the belly of the aircraft. All the "fragile" stickers are for decoration. Ok, they are more useful than that; fragile stickers help hold box together after it gets bashed.

My thanks to the Lions. They provide the support vehicles, turning up at wee hours of the morning and driving us to and from dinner. In cars that start and stop, they ride and jump out into the blazing sunlight, bearing bananas, bread, water, isotonic drink. They cheer us on, give us directions. At lunch stops, they sometimes pay for us, or someone has supplied the food. They gave their energy and money. Thank you so much.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Yanking my chain

Hougang, 20 km. The tell-tale signs were there. Over 500 km ago, my chain would, while being cleaned, do a little skip as I spin the crank backwards. Figuring it was a stiff link, I ignored it. Until last night. Instead of a little skip, it does a big leap upward then jams. It seems to behave itself when I ride though. Should I risk it in Borneo next week, all 800 km of it? Being pusillanimous (or is it prudence?), I call bikeshop man today. He closes shop at 11 pm, so I cycle after work to meet him. Bicycle creaks with excitement especially when I stand on the pedals. I describe the symptoms to him. He spins here, spins there, but the chain behaves well and spins silently compared to the roaring embarrassment I feel.

Desperate, I say, “look, it’s as if some of the cogs are bent, see how they tilt”. He removes the wheel and says, “look, the cassette is so loose I can remove the nut (referring to the cassette, not me) with my bare hands”. He tightens the nut. $4 for his labour. And off I go. Back home, the chain still does a little jig. And so do I.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Tired tyre

Lim Chu Kang, 77 km. What a week it’s been. A member of parliament dies. A helicopter (an Apache, no less) falls from the sky. Mrs Lee Kuan Yew dies. And I see a throwaway line in an article in the most influential local newspaper which sets off alarm bells and keeps me awake. All these, in the tail end of the week.

All this is too much for me. The thought of the next five days is scary too. And after that, about 800 km of uphill climbs in Borneo. Time to start rolling. I blast past a few roadies, but when I’m spent, they zip past. They stop to rest, I don’t; a few short minutes later, they overtake me again. Suitably chastened, I fall in line obediently. But I can’t keep up and fall behind. They stop, I don’t but this time they don't chase.

After over two hours in the saddle, I stop too. It’s been a hard week, surely an ice-cream will cool things down. I choose a rainbow-coloured one to brighten up my life and catch my breath. I’ve aged and slowed down, haven’t I? Or is it that run last night? Or the Fri night at work?

I look at my rear tyre, I see the wear and tear. It’s a matter of time before it retires, which is a nice way of saying, it’s refuse. But that’s the fate of a tyre isn’t it? it doesn’t even have a choice of where it’s rolling. We’ll all die, at least we have some say where we’ll go in life.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seeing red

Sep distance: 482 km

Lim Chu Kang, 73 km. A "red belt" is not what I wear, it is what I am in when one traffic light after another is red against me. This really scrubs my average speed, because I slow down gradually and have to pick up speed again.

I cycle one of the hilliest routes I can find on this little island. I shouldn't even call them hills; that would be making hills out of molehills. They are slopes. Without a heart rate monitor, I  monitor my breathing instead. I ride a tad below gasping level. The only time I stop is at traffic lights, to catch my breathe. 

At a Y junction, as I go straight, a red car cuts across my path within spitting distance to squeeze into the side road. "Bully!" The wind shreds my protest. I hope the passenger has seen enough to fear for her life in the hands of the driver. At another junction, I inhale sharply when I see a driver with a phone glued to her ear. I let her move off first. Better to trail in her wake than for me never to wake up ...

After cycling two hours, thoughts of ice cold Coke appears in my mind. I keep going. This is serious training, in the early afternoon, to prepare me for a multi-stage charity ride in Sarawak next month. Better get used to it boy! So, ice cold black liquid with brown froth in a red can, is only in my mind. As for the red belt, perhaps I imagine it too. Perhaps the number of red lights I come across today is about the same as before, just that with two red lights in a row, I pay more attention to  red lights today compared to past rides. What you pay more attention to, is what happens more often?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lame excuse

Woodlands, 48 km. My foot. It's hurt for about a week. Since last weekend, when I ran 21 km. Having run a half-marathon once a year for three consecutive years, this year's run is the most painful yet. The past years were a breeze. Which is why I signed up for this year's. It's a walk in the park, right? No, because of the "after-effects". Still, it's nice to know that in the last 10 km, I overtook over 1,100 runners. What I don't is, will I be able to cycle today? After all, I'd have to unclip and put my foot down at traffic lights. And would my foot seize up? Still, no lame excuse not to cycle today; I've signed up for a 800 km charity ride next month :o Though my foot tends to hurt with every step (especially the first few steps), cycling isn't that bad. Perhaps it's because most of my weight is on the saddle.

Rather than risk having a sore foot and stranded somewhere, I do a short ride though, at the charity ride briefing, group leader says "no 50 km rides, that's not enough". I chase a roadie today and ride close to my lactate threshold a lot of the time.

Tip: to know whether I'm at lactate threshold, I listen to my breathing. If I gasp like a goldfish out of water, that's supposedly the threshold. I also pedal better, consciously pulling up one leg as the other one pushes down.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The toughest, the highest

Sat 4 Sep - Sun 5 Sep

Kota Tinggi to Kuala Rompin to Kota Tinggi, Johore, Malaysia 361 km.

Different cyclists, same results
Day 1, Sat 4 Sep, Kota Tinggi to Kuala Rompin. The rule is, at the start, start slow. Let those who want to go fast, go. Time and again, the rule has proved to be immmutable - especially if you know the lead cyclists. Full carbon road bicycles vs aluminium mountain bike. I've barely five hours of sleep. And I cycle to the start point.

"But this time it's different," I tell myself. I don't know the lead riders, maybe I can keep up. And I do. For a while. Then, I drop back like a kite with a cut string. I end up cycling alone. The support crew drive by to check on me once in a while, to see if I'm alive or a zombie. To help me save calories, one of them, from sponsor Equinix, even tops up my water bottle and peels bananas for me. From what he tells me, I gather I'm in the 40-50th percentile. I'm fast, but not as fast Father Time, who's fast catching up with me. To keep up with the young triathletes on tri-bikes, I rest less frequently - just a few minutes at water points and I'm off.

This Charity Bike & Blade (the 5th in the series) is mind-numbing. It used to be just to Mersing, with one long stretch of rolling hills. Now, there's those hills, plus those at Endau. It take too much energy to even play songs in my head. So I just aim for the crest of each hill and focus on my form, including my breathing. That's living in the moment. No more music in the head, that's too tiring.

One breath at a time
Day 2, Sun 5 Sep, Kuala Rompin to Kota Tinggi. It rains heavily at night. The road is wet, the rooster tail of water sprays from wheels, whirring and humming. Cycling at 16 km/h at the start to warm up is too slow for me. I do my usual 20 km/h warm up then crank it up to 25 km/h. The roadies catch up. Unlike yesterday, this time, I don’t chase. Until someone in white shorts comes along at 32 km/h. We take turns to draft each other.

As cyclists pass, I see compression leggings, aero-bars, high-end full carbon bicycles. Shorts are in different colours, but we wear identical white Uvex helmets and lilac jerseys - the official colour of St Luke’s Eldercare. There are 98 or so cyclists, we raise about $360,000 for charity, the highest ever.

Unlike in the initial 3 years of Bike n Blade, where there were more people on mountain bikes, the numbers dwindle in the subsequent two years. This year, there are only 2 mountain bikes. My small wheels and small crank churn to keep up. At one point, I end up pulling a peloton along as no one wants to take the lead. I soon end up cycling solo; spent after pulling people along and I can’t keep up thereafter. What a difference a few km/h makes.

Few people stop to eat, except for lunch. This is a high performance crowd, stops are only at support vehicles - especially the 100-Plus truck that comes with ice-box. someone asks if he can have a few cans to put on his burning butt.

This year’s Bike n Blade is toughest. Besides the rolling hills to Mersing, there's the Endau hills. My heart falls when I am at a crest and see a series of rolling hills ahead. As I cycle, I think of Laos - if I can make it up those 1,500m mountains, i can make it here. Near the end, I think of my marathon run. If i can finish that, i can finish this.

I see road kill, grotesque in death. If it’s too mangled, I look away. Otherwise, I identify it - to keep my mind off the ride. There are snakes, cats, dogs. Sometimes, birds peck away at scraps on the road. If the road kill is fresh, I hold my breath. I also see hills, denuded of oil palm, with trails snaking up. How I want to ride there instead of on the road.

I hurry to catch the 3pm bus ride back to Singapore. Bicycles are gingerly placed in luggage compartments or on passenger seats, with cling-wrap or bubble wrap. When we disembark, I choose to cycle home, the same way I start the ride.

Tips: when tired, moaning doesn't make the climbs easier. Instead, focus on form, live in the present - how to pedal, how to breathe. All that's needed is to cycle up this crest, and the next, one at a time. Break time up into 15 minute chunks, with a sip of drink as a treat. Don't have to last hours, just last 15 minutes, and the next, one chunk at a time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shouldn't have, could have

Aug distance: 355 km

Changi, 55 km. Changing a bottom bracket shouldn't affect the front derailleur shifting, but it does. I turn the barrel adjuster, turn the screws, then cycle to bikeshop man for expert opinion. He fiddles some more then says "ok". He could've charged me for the service, but doesn't. My front derailleur plates shake though the entire assembly is clamped tightly on the seat tube; I ask if it's time to change it. He says, "no need" and declines to make a quick buck off me. I cycle around his shop, with his screw driver in hand, until I'm content that the shifting is just so. Then I cycle to the easternmost end of the country, to buy a bag for my top tube. So I can stuff it full of calories and other stuff for the coming weekend's two-day, 400 km charity ride.

I'm going to need the calories and the sleep. This week, an intense week including a 1-hour forum on radio and some human resource matters. Then 400 km to cycle. And, 21 km to run the weekend after that :0

Sunday, August 22, 2010

When early is late

Lim Chu Kang, 71. I usually cycle in the late morning (except that, for most people, cycling so late in the day is unusual since they ride at dawn). Today, I laze about and have lunch before I cycle, which means I'm on the road in the early afternoon. Early afternoon is usually when I get home, followed by the view of the inside of my eyelids. Instead, I'm awake as adrenalin pumps as fast as my heart as traffic buzzes me. I see there's a new sport in town among motorists, to see how close they can brush past cyclists.

As I cycle, I can't wait to get home. My mind is filled with thoughts of a nice cold drink, with lots of ice. Meanwhile, my head pounds, my eyes smart from being dried out by the wind and my legs burn. And I soon feel sleepy, because my legs pump like pistons when they are usually still in sleep as I nap. I want to keep going but dark clouds hang low on the horizon, sort of like the sword of Damocles hanging over my head. Any excuse to cut short the ride, so I head home.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Double trouble, double pedal

Lim Chu Kang, 95 km. Two bad things happen on Fri, which affect my sleep. On Sat, I don't quite want to eat. On Sun, I just feel like doubling my usual mileage, partly because of next month's charity ride and partly because I have so much energy - or is it angst? or a new bottom bracket that feels so good? As I head out, a neighbour sees me in my cycling gear and says "wow". Not because of how good I look, but because it is drizzling.

On the road, I see a roadie ahead and give chase. To narrow the gap, I shift to the big chain ring. Click, click, click, where's the power surge? I look down and see the chain around the crank. As this is a non-stop ride, I get the chain back on the chainring and overtake the roadie. I play with the front derailleur cable, until the chain somewhat behaves. But at a steeper slope; under higher load, the chain sticks again. More fiddling, and the shifting seems to work fine.

I start to weary, my legs burn, but I keep going. Strangely enough, I don't feel hungry though all I have for breakfast is a little packet of cereal (without water, just chew it like cereal in a cereal bar - but without a bar that gets crushed). The only water I drink, I what I carry. The only rest stop I get is when I stop at traffic lights. And for a train. It would be ironic to say, "I'm out to train, I won't stop, not even for a train."

When I get home, the sun shines.

I wonder if the cereal packet holds a lesson for me. It's frustrating to eat a cereal bar or biscuit that's all crumbled. So, might as well eat crumbs right? Just pour it down the hatch. From making a virtue of necessity to double loop learning?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Worn out and cranky

Serangoon, 16 km. My crank shakes even when the bicycle is stationary. I cycle to see bikeshop man. He tells me the bearings are worn out and the entire bottom bracket has to be replaced. Although his shutters (the shop's, not his eyelids) are half shut, he doesn't turn me away. As I didn't expect that I have to replace the entire assembly but just ball bearings, I didn't have much money with me. I hand bikeshop man all my cash. Bikeshop man rounds the price down so I have $5 left in my pocket.

When I left home, I'd wanted to train for next month's charity ride. But dark clouds hang menacingly overhead. The overcast leaves me downcast and I cycle home. Yesterday was a sad day - a team member's last day in the office. And another member gives me bad news in similar vein. I wonder if the sun will shine tomorrow. I desperately need some sunshine in my life.

Tech note: the broken bottom bracket, installed in Jan 2005, has spun for almost 30,000 km. At home, I listen to my new toy. To hear your bottom bracket sing, place your ear on the saddle (with ear still attached to head of course, or else sound quality will be affected). Then turn the crank. If the bottom bracket makes a racket, it sounds like trouble. My new toy sounds so good, a nice smooth rrrrrr. It rides smooth too.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bait and switch

Lim Chu Kang Road, 71 km. How I want to laze about on this public holiday, National Day. The thought of training for next month's charity ride puts me off. Ok then, no laps, no interval training. I pack my camera. Just go out and cycle for fun, that’s the bait. The sun is out and blazing. As it to be expected. It hardly ever rains on National Day. Don’t rain on the parade!

I stop and snap photos wherever, whenever I like. Places that had unforgettable memories (eg where I donated blood just to get beyond the barb wire a couple of hours out earlier). Places that had dogs chase me in the dead of night. Places where, in 1942, people fought to the death to defend the mangrove shoreline from invading Japanese. It’s so peaceful now.

When there are hills and slopes, I charge uphill. That’s the switch, no mind-numbing laps, just the thrill of cranking uphill.

As I cycle past military installations, I hope I’ll see the hardware on the roads or take to the air. I see none of them; I must be too late. I rush home to watch the parade on TV. Majullah Singapura!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Pull factors, push factors

Mandai, 47 km. I’m so tired, from sleep deficit bulit up over the work week. When a key appointment holder quits, someone I dearly want to keep, there's the emotional load and the workload to be spread around the team with care. Soon-to-be ex colleague even recommends a replacement and goes through the CV :0

Today, I feel tired even after an afternoon nap. Being tired of feeling tired is the push factor for me to go out the door to cycle. But even before I’m out of the house, I already look forward to coming home. The pull factor is that by training, I won’t suffer so much during next month’s charity ride.

Cyclists are out in force. I see a recumbent and a dozen foldies, in addition to the usual roadies and mountain bikers. Also out, to get me, are two dogs. I hear them before I see them. Fierce barks from across the road. Two black shapes hurtle out across two lanes, locked on my scent, hot on my trail. Their nails click on the road. I am fortunate in my misfortune: I could’ve been on their side of the road going uphill. They have no chance of gnawing on my bones as I crank it up, speeding downhilll. By now, I’m wide awake.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Slow leak vs blowout

Jul distance:  187 km

Mandai, 39 km. My tyre is flat. How does a tyre go flat after I park my bicycle? I expect grit has cut through the tyre into the inner tube. I'm wrong. There is a big hole at the base of the Presta valve. And that's the end of the inner tube; not only is it beyond economic repair, how can such a hole be repaired in the first place?

I change the tube and do interval training for a charity ride next month. Training is boring. As I cycle, I ruminate.

Life has been likened to a roller coaster, with ups and downs. Life has also been likened to a railway track. While one part of life may be up, parallel to it is another rail that may go down. With respect, the second metaphor reflects life better than the first, but is more metaphysical than physical. One rail that goes up while the other goes down  spells "train wreck".

For me, life is like an inner tube. No pressure and life is flat. Too little pressure, roll along fine, even comfy, until there's a pinch flat. Too much pressure, explode. If punctured, get to the destination if there's a slow leak.  Or not, if it's a blowout and there's no spare tube or and tools. And it's no use having tools without the know how to change the tube. The ride is over dude unless someone helps out. And the puncture keeps recurring unless the cause is fixed: remove whatever is embedded in the tyre. Otherwise, keep changing the tube and pump up the tyre and patch the inner tube ad infinitum.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ending like the beginning

Woodlands, 48 km. Yesterday morning, it rains so hard, parts of Singapore flood again; it seems more rain fell in a few hours than usually falls in July. This morning, the roads are wet and the skies are grey. I wait till the roads are less wet, so that spray from the road doesn't end up on my cycling togs. When I head out the door, I see the drizzle. I'm committed mentally to cycle so I do. I don't like cycling in the rain. We wear "quick dry" clothes so we stay dry, don't we? The drizzle turns into a shower. I could turn back, but I don't. The task is the same but the purpose has changed. Now, I want to see how big the rain cloud is. As it turns out, really big. The sky from the centre of the island all the way into the next country is a monotone of grey. The rain pours down. Even motorcyclists shelter at bus stops. This time, I'm physically committed; I'm just too far from home. To go home, I have to finish the ride. As I near home, the rain turns into a drizzle and the roads start to dry. Just like when I started. Only, this time, I'm chilled to the bone instead of bone dry.

Do I feel better after the ride? Yes, because the ride is done. If I didn't cycle, I might've rued not cycling at all. And to be warm and snug after a cold ride sure feels better when it's well earned.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A little distance, a big difference

Woodlands, 50 km. My handcrafted-in-Italy, titanium-railed Selle Italia Flite has seen better days. 49 months ago, thousands of km ago. While it is not torn, scratched nor cracked, it is wrinkled. As wrinked as a weather-beaten, aged face that has been sat on. It seems to sag a little in the middle, which is enough to give a pain in the butt after a few hours of cycling. So I shift it (the saddle, not the butt) 5 mm forward, so that the sit bones sit properly on the saddle again. This little distance seems to make a difference to comfort, but time (and over a hundred km day after consecutive day) will tell.

Yesterday, I went for physiotherapy. The therapist says my back ache has to do with the tightness in my hamstring and calf. He also says my right leg is clearly stronger than my left. Which might explain why my right leg got injured from marathon training and saddle sore is not equitably spread across the bum.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Likelihood and magnitude

Woodlands, 50 km. Grey skies here. Grey skies there. The road is wet from an early morning shower (no, I don't mean my bathwater flowed onto the road; I don't get up that early anyway). Will it rain or will it shine? I hedge and put on sunblock but do not wear sunglasses. If the sun does come out, it is likely that I will be toasted. I cycle past a man dressed in trousers, long sleeves, knee guard and baseball cap. No helmet. If he falls, he would hurt his knees. Magnitude of the hurt, should the risk materialise, would be small. However, a knock on the head, can have a large magnitude of hurt. The sun does come out. I don't get sunburnt. I wonder if I've increased the risk of retina "sunburn" and cataracts when I get older.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Laws of cycling irony

Jun distance: 201 km

Woodlands, 50 km. When I awake, the wind blusters and rain pelts down. I head back to sleep. When I open my eyes again, the sun beats down. As I head out the door, there's a feathery drizzle over here. But over there in the distance, I see blue sky. It's safe to ride - weather-wise.

It's dangerous to ride traffic-wise. At a X-junction, a car from the opposite direction turns right across my downhill path. The driver might as well have stopped and opened his door to let me in. I brake and yell. At a T-junction, a driver slips his car out from the side road in slow motion. That's driving dangerously cautiously. I brake and yell. At another X-junction, another driver does the same as the other drivers: when a cyclist is with a red bicycle and red jersey, the light is no longer green in the cyclist's favour, but red. As I go down another hill, a car meanders in front of me across three lanes to turn right. I'm so astounded, the sight takes my breath away.

Here are my "laws of cycling irony". #1: when traffic going in cycling direction is light, braking is heavy. Conversely, if traffic is heavy, braking is light. If vehicles (or better yet, a big truck) is beside cyclist, would drivers have pulled the stunts they did? Probably not. If they did, it wouldn't be cyclist in car. It would be car in truck. #2: when traffic is heavy and pollution is high, cyclist breathing is easier as no yelling of warnings are needed. The slipstream is akin to drafting too, hence less effort expended. #3: it is safer to ride in heavy traffic (heading in cycling direction); even if drivers coming from the other way don't see / ignore cyclist, traffic in cycling direction would plough into errant vehicle before cyclist does, push errant vehicle forward and give hapless cyclist more braking distance.

I've read and heard warnings about Vietnam traffic. I wonder if it's worse than Singapore drivers. Four near misses in 50 km is awesomely awful. Well, I'll find out for myself at year's end.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Do you C?

Woodlands, 47 km. What a week. I get my bonus letter, which means there'll be more Cash in the bank. I do wish I've more, but Circumstances have changed. On 15 Jun, my Cat died. The same day, Cross pen with sentimental value "died". The next day, CD player died.  The thing is, things can usually be replaced (except those with sentimental value). I wait and wait till Sunday comes and I Cycle. My heart isn't really in it, but I Concentrate on my form as I ride the Circuit. Then stop for lunch at the usual place. Courage. C'est la vie.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Same same but different

Woodlands, 54 km. I've been cycling this same route for months. While the route is the same, things are different. i) The soundtrack in my head is different; Abba is playing; classic rock fan has turned popped :o ii) Traffic, while light, is also different. I used to be able to charge up the hill to one of Singapore's most haunted places; today, a truck comes downhill while a family on wheels (pa is on a bicycle, kid scoots about on a scooter) crosses the junction. I also have to pedal furiously ahead of a bendy-bus to get in the right lane of a 4-lane road. iii) A roadie overtakes me and I give chase. I pull into a bus bay and pull ahead; roadie charges on. As we head towards a collision, I throttle back to let him pass. iv) I have a new toy on my stem: a new camera. Actually, not all that new; an impulse buy of a display set that has a scratch on the case and fingerprints all over the LCD screen. iv) I make a detour into a waterfront. Formerly an industrial workplace, it is now a playground.

If things feel the same and you want change, look for what's different. If things are different and you want continuity, look for the same.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

It's about time

Woodlands, 50 km. Rubber time: I usually cycle in the morning but it pours so I adopt couch potato mode: sit on couch and eat potato chips. Time has come: as time passes, the urge to cycle gets stronger and I get ready to ride. Waste of time: the inner tube I patched, is leaking again. It’s not like it sprang a new hole while stationary and why is my fat tyre so puncture prone nowadays? Ample time: what’s the hurry, cyclists don’t have to ride through red lights. When the light turns green, it’s sprint training! Pressed for time: a driver overtakes me on the right then veers into my lane to turn left. Any closer and I would’ve been pressed against the car.

Time’s up: for the little snake whose belly is split wide open on the road. Keeping time: with a roadie, until Overtime, when my cardiovascular system feels like overload. Nick of time: a driver honks angrily. I look behind over my right shoulder. "What's up man?" I wonder. Then I look ahead and realise another cyclist has overtaken me on my left and is now in front of me. I spot him just in time. He must've done the same to the driver behind me. Dinner time: at a well-reviewed western foodstall in a coffeeshop. Actually, the steak wasn’t that great.  Any time you feel like adding to this list of time, be my guest, please comment :)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ride the waves

May distance: 560

Kluang, Johor, Malaysia
Day 1, Vesak Day, 156 km. The last time the three of us had cycled together was in 2005, on the long ride straight up the middle of Peninsula Malaysia. Since then, the other two have cycled together the length of UK. Why did I get up before the crack of dawn to cycle with them today? Things are inverse; the small Asian dude has fat tyres, the big guys have thin road tyres. We stop by a little village to refuel. Like a tiny hamster, I have to keep eating. Big guys don't have to eat a lot. I hear that bears, unlike hamsters, can go without food for a long time :o The village is so small, there's only lontong to eat but the lack of variety is made up by the friendliness. Two villagers offer, unasked, directions to where we're going. Another takes a photo of us.

My front wheel springs a leak. It's not that I'm overweight! As the wheel sags, my spirit flags - the cumulative effect of sleep deficit and work excitement. Now, I have the added excitement of stopping every half hour to pump up my tyre. I cycle ahead; the longer I'm on the road, the more I'll have to pump my tyre. Once in a while, there are trees by the road. Where there are many trees, the air is discernably cooler. The weather blows hot and cold; the burning sun gives way to rain clouds. I ride at the edge of the clouds and soon I'm back in the sunlight. My pals, in the rear, stop and shelter from the lighting. At our destination, my room mate might be the sole American in Kluang, putting up at a hotel called the White House. But there's no shelter from the giggling girls who chatter and run along the corridor outside our room. The young and the restless ...

Day 2, Saturday, 149 km. Rolling on fat tyres takes far more physical energy than changing the tyres to slicks. But, the mental effort to change tyres exceeds the mental energy to ride on fat tyres. As I wonder on the oddness of it all, I notice the oddness of the things on the road. Sure, there's the usual roadkill: snakes, cats, birds. Then I see a chicken foot; it's a clean amputation. A few minutes later, I see another chicken foot. I don't stop to see if the chicken had two left feet, but it certainly left its feet behind. I also see two cushions and a pair of trousers.

As I cycle on, I so want to stop by a dentist and ask for novocain. For my butt. Would that numb my butt or would my legs go numb too? By now, the sun is burning and we stop almost every half hour to rehydrate. And, just like yesterday, the rains come in the afternoon. No need to rehydrate then, with water pouring from the sky and from below. Rain pours from above and rushes down the road. As cars pass, water roars from the right, wash over bicycle wheels, crash against the curb on the and meet the next surge of water from the right. As I ride the waves, I hope I won't sail over my handlebars.

Not that I have to worry for long, as the rain clouds don't seem to have an exit permit beyond Malaysia. They peter out near the border. Where a puncture awaits me. How do you fix a tyre when traffic is rushing past a metre away? A construction worker unchains the gate to a work site and lets me in. He barely speaks English but his kindness is eloquent enough. I can't find the source of the puncture but replace the inner tube anyway. I certainly don't want to cycle home in the dark. I make it home, whereupon the rear tyre deflates completely. I find a 1 cm wire embedded in the tyre.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When things go ride

Woodlands, 50 km. Part of the sky is cloudy but the rest is sunny. I decide to ride and go for a nice lunch at a certain shop. I dress up in my cycling togs, grab my bicycle. A few pedal strokes later, it rains. Grey clouds stretch as far as I can see. It's a dirty drizzle, wet enough to wet the road so that dirty water from the road sprays up, with the rain not heavy enough to wash the road grime away. As today is a working day for most people, I mistakenly think the traffic will be light. A truck honks me, it pulls so close to me I pull into a bus lane to let death pass. A puddle lies ahead of me, a car joyfully plunges through it and drenches me with spray. As for lunch, that certain spot is closed! Ugh, what a ride. Until I become grateful I make it home alive, without a scratch. My gears shift flawlessly and I wasn't floored when I ride gingerly on wet, slick metal plates on the road where some road work is going on. Many things in a day go right, right? Even a crummy ride has its good side.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Deficit financing

Gangsa, 51 km. I spent yesterday catching up on sleep. Sleep deficit that had built up due to work-related reasons. I want to sleep today, but somehow get up to ride. As I cycle past the nature reserve, the air is cool to the touch. With trees on either side of the road, shadows and a huge green lung mean there's less concrete to bake. Global warming is a form of deficit financing, going into debt using tomorrow's resources for today.

I see a sign-post and detour to check out a new trail. Without my asking for help, another cyclist in the area points the way in and tells me where to go. I end up on Gangsa, which I've not been to for years. I bounce along on my rigid bike and my semi-slick tyres slide about on the wet earth. Fortunately, I do not crash. Though it is noon, there are other bikers about, some resting, others going the other way. Somewhat dangerous, to have two-way traffic on what is sometimes single-track terrain. I ring my bell around blind corners and blind upslopes; sounds so incongruous in the jungle. I'll be back - with more water and with food next time. No calorie or other deficits for me ...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bikes, bites and a break

Bukit Timah, 43 km. While others are out cycling, I'm in bed catching up on sleep. As I head out, the sun is high but dark clouds loom ahead. So instead of heading as far north as one can go on this little island, I decide to drop by a new bike shop, which also sells things to eat ("bites").  I ogle at the gleaming carbon frames and other gleaming toys. There are bicycle jerseys too. I wonder why people wear white ones, like the one I wear today. It is tempting fate, it is tempting road grime and puddles to splatter all over it, to turn washed jerseys that smell nice but look unwashed. Yes, it rains today, but I have a break today. As I cycle, the rain falls ahead of me. By the time I get there, the road is wet but does not splash up. The rain has damped down the oppressive heat that beats down from the sky and wafts up from the ground. It is cool, it is nice. What a break!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Mentally-physically mentality

Tuas, 111 km. I didn't ride last week. Just didn't feel like it, so I kept my cycling gear. Burnout?

Today, I cycled till there's no more road. When there's a goal in mind, that's a goal in sight. When my speed drops by 30%, I stop to rest a few minutes. Headwinds blast against me, the sun beats down on me, but weather forecast says it'll rain here. I think it's another wrong forecast. Little do I know, the clouds are waiting till it's dark and I'm tired. I see mist ahead. I hope against hope that it's not pouring rain, but it is. I cycle the other way and promptly get lost. Mostly by compass bearing and some dead reckoning, I pass a cross on a distinctive steeple silhouetted against the sky. I follow it as if it's the star of Bethlehem and soon enough, I'm on the road home.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Can't think of everything

Apr distance: 383 km

Woodlands, 53 km. When I get up this morning, I don’t feel like cycling. But when the sun is shining, I go riding, as sure as the sun rises from the east. Today’s ride is not just for the cycling. What if regular readers visit the blog and find nothing new? Also, I might as well do an equipment test. I can think of some things but not everything and that’s where road tests come in.

My water bottles (veteran of thousands of km around the region) have tasted of plastic. Yes, they are made of plastic but when you taste plastic, you ingest plastic. Sigg bottles are reputedly safe. But they don’t fit conventional water bottle cages. Or so I think until I force a 1 litre bottle into the cage with usually carries up to 0.75 litre. Though slightly bigger and heavier (250g of extra water), the bottle is ok to drink from on the move. It does not squirt, so suck from the nozzle. This means lip balm accumulation, the balm being needed to prevent wind chapped / sunburnt lips. Squirts would be helpful when cleaning road rash. Also, hitting bottle against frame may damage paintwork. Recommendation: Sigg bottles are good for bicycle tours if they fit in the bottle cage. They can carry more water (1 litre), don't leak plastic and can contain hot water. But carry a squirt bottle if you need to squirt, like when the Sigg bottle nozzle is dirty and you don't have a nozzle cover.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Almost empty handed

Changi, 71 km. I go shopping today at a shop that doesn't sell bicycles but rents them. They have a wide range of "cheap and good" accessories which regular bicycle shops don't have. When I reach the shop, what I came for is out of stock. "Come back in June", I'm told. I look also for a light light but the one with velcro comes only with red beam; the white one is - you guessed it, out of stock. I wonder if having more lights would save my life on the road, weeks after Ben Mok was wiped out from this world on a night ride. I visit bikeshop man and ask him if I need to change my chain. He measures it and says "no need". I see if there's something else I can buy. Not really. Just as I'm about to leave empty handed, my headset creaks. Badly. He removes it with some difficulty; it is rusted. He tells me it's a sealed bearing and replaces it. As he works, I point out the stem and tyres to him: "I got these from you seven years ago". So thus endeth shopping day.

Incidentally, bikeshop man is the sponsor of Singapore's first "ghostbike".

Saturday, April 03, 2010

North and south

Tanjung Piai, Johor, Malaysia
Day 1, Good Fri, 137 km. Usually, I pass up the chance to get up before the crack of dawn to cycle. Usually, lying in bed is means more to me than sitting on a little saddle. But I need to "decompress" from my Borneo ride (since I'd headed to work hours after touching down). So I'm up before 5 am, meeting some Bike-Aid friends up north. There are dozens of roadies on the road and I chase after them on my fat tyres just for fun. After crossing the Malaysian border, we head south. As far south one can go on mainland Asia. Complacency hits me. So what that I'm a veteran of solo rides in Cambodia and Borneo. I forget how much water is left in my bottles and I almost run dry. Later on, I get too wet. After laundry wash and a cold shower, we cycle out for a seafood dinner. On the way back, it pours. We wait till it stops, then ride on. The rain ambushes us. Cold, wet but not hungry. 1 out of 3 isn't bad? In over 45,000 km of riding, this is just about my most miserable night. Up till now, I've aimed to be off the road by nightfall.

Day 2, Sat, 122 km. After a heavy breakfast (nasi lemak + nasi goreng for me), we cycle for an hour before stopping for lime juice. We then lunch in the same shop we'd lunched yesterday: the one with the future "Asean scholar",  a little girl who was glued to a computer yesterday. Today, she and her younger sister are helping in the kitchen and serving customers. If they were in Singapore, they'd be learning ballet or bossing the maid around. It rains again. We wait till it lightens then ride, but get "ambushed" again. What a mess, even mud guards on the bicycle in front don't stop the "free flow" of water spraying up at me. We cycle at our own pace, with me leading the sole roadie (the others have touring bikes complete with panniers). Like the story of the tortoise and the hare, we are overtaken when we stop to wait. We go our separate ways; the tourers head inland, we go by the coast. Yet, we meet as if by design. Nice. And custom officers wave us through. Nice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Solo in Borneo

Mar distance: 726 km

Thu 18 - Wed 24 Mar 10
Brunei and Sarawak, 611 km

Lost among the familiar
Day 1: Thu 18 Mar, Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) to Muara to BSB, 71 km. As I get off the aircraft, a big white man looks at my hand-carry and asks if I'm cycling. "Will there be headwinds," he asks. I know the answer is "yes" - the wind knocks at least 5 km/h off my speed. It doesn't help that I get lost a bit getting out of town, using a tourist map where some roads are unnamed.

Some parts of town look like home: the colour and design of road signs and pedestrian crossing buttons look the same. It's as if Brunei and Singapore bought things in bulk. After all, the currencies are interchangeable and the time zone are identical. But out of town, the scene looks Malaysian. Narrow, quiet roads wind up and down short, sharp slopes. By the time I get to Muara, I barely have time to snap a few photos, pump up my too-soft tyres and harness to beat sun down hands down.

It's harrowing to go back the same narrow roads into town, I try something else. Triangulation of road signs, compass bearing and map put me on the scenic route back into town. I'm shaken out of my reverie when I realise I'm lost in town. I stop at the sultan's palace (which has 1,788 rooms) to ask for directions (bigger than Vatican Palace, presumably those who work there need a good sense of place). As it turns out, I missed a little turn; just 300m more and I would've been there. Nightstop: Le Gallery Suites Hotel

Day 2: Fri 19 Mar, Bandar Seri Begawan to Kuala Belait, 112 km. My recce on foot last evening ensured there's no fumbling this morning as I "go west, young man'. Only that I'm not as young as I was. Or is it that hard work means no training except on weekends - piddling 50 km rides. Or is it a double whammy - no youth and no training?

A shadow flits past me. It's a bird with seemingly metre-long wingspan. It glides ahead, perhaps at 30 km/h effortlessly, wings barely moving while my legs and heart pump away. Some guys on heavy bikes roar past. They toot and flash their thumbs up as they pass. The Brunei army is out too, building sand-bagged positions at various points along the road. At one point, some attempt to put out brush fire by beating the flames with branches. That's a firefight. I too have my fires to fight. If I'd a Blackberry, I'd have stopped to fire off some emails I composed in my head. And my ass feels aflame too, which affects how many hours I can ride before taking a break. 

This is a weird road, a highway that narrows into brushes with death. The air brakes of trucks behind me sound like wings of angels of mercy. The drivers are humane. If these were Singapore drivers, I may need the lives of nine cats. There's just one close call: roadworks that take up half the road. To pass, cycle facing on-coming traffic. To avoid being caught among a truck just behind me, the huge hole in front of me and turning right into on-coming traffic, I make a split second decision to avoid them all by going off road to my left.

When I reach town, I ask a local where the bus station is. She points one direction. I ask another the same question, she points the same direction. Somehow, I go the opposite way and somehow, I find the bus station and the hotel I'm looking for. I gotta figure out how i figured that one out. 

At the hotel, I get some work done. Not just the usual bicycle inspection/maintenance like digging glass out of tyres (so much for kevlar) but office work - a first on any of my expeditions. Nightstop: Hotel Sentosa

Mired in Miri - not
Day 3: Sat 20 Mar, Kuala Belait to Miri, Sarawak, 55 km. Getting to Miri has been challenging, according to Leon Whiteley who's gone before me. Sign posting is not to Sarawak but to an "obscure" town. That would be Sungei Tujoh (thanks to advice from Hj Sofian). There's no need to take the ferry to Sungai Teraban. Cars thunder past me on the narrow road. Alongside, lilies float placidly in a monsoon drain.

In my ride across the length of western Brunei, I've seen a handful of "commuter" cyclists. As I cross the border and the Asean Bridge (which ferry boatmen might've rued), no one bothers to question me or make me pay toll. The Malaysian road past immigration is twice the width of the Brunei road, but narrows until Miri, the second largest city in Sarawak. It is a maze of flyovers and traffic circuses. I stop several times to check my map and find myself in a cheap hotel with a decent review in a travel guide. Things have changed since then. The walls have patches of grey and paint peels off the ceiling. But the sheets are sort of white and the smell is tolerable. Nightstop: Palace Inn

Caved in
Day 4: Sun 21 Mar, Miri-Bekenu-Miri, Sarawak, 114 km. Today is 'no alarm clock' day. I awake at 0730 after 9.5 hours' sleep. That's what holidays are for. It's nice to make up for work-related sleep deficit.

The road is narrow, winding and hilly. How hilly? At one point, I go downhill at 55.3 km/h without pedaling. I run low on water. The road goes downhill so why am I going at 20 km/h? Headwinds plus calorie depletion. I stop, eat a muesli bar, ride. Then come across a rest stop with only one cooked food stall. And a petrol station where there's a big fridge full of cold air but no drinks to sell. I want to ride to Niah Caves but cave in; it's just too far away. The road signs indicate I might not make it there and back before nightfall. So I head for a town not on my map called Bekenu. I intend to ride there then U-turn but see a strange sight: signboards pointing to Miri in opposite directions.

At Bekenu (how I like these nice little towns - they have character) I have an ice-cold drink and don't U-turn. Turns out I'm on the scenic route. The headwind is still there but the hills are fewer. If only I found this route earlier; the tailwind might've carried me to Niah. It's been tough: a twinge of pain shoots up above my right knee now and then. Cycling isn't just about leg power. It needs mental strength and butts of steel. I start the day with Boney M playing in my brain (because I pass a bakery "Ma Baker"). For the return leg, it's Led Zepplin and Journey.

Headstrong headwind
Day 5: Mon 22 Mar, Miri to Kuala Belait, 69 km. I like cycling on shoulder-width road shoulders compared to the palm-sized ones. On the two-lane road, metal monsters hurtle against the traffic flow and into my safety zone as they overtake slower traffic. When they see me plodding along, they may veer away from me, or just plunge headlong without wavering to whip past me. Might is right. I tire fast as I head north, first contending with the Miri Monday morning masses on the road. When I am clear of town, the north wind knocks 8 to 10 km/h off my speed. But the distance is short and I make it to KB with more than enough time to recce the next day's route out of town. I sure don't want to head back to Bandar Seri Begawan on palm-width road shoulders.

I'm glad I don't know the future. Tomorrow will be burning hot, with a headwind. When I know the future, I don't look forward to it. But at least, there'll be another hotel at the end of the ride. Preparing for the future is different. This morning, I notice my cyclocomputer shows 0 km/h. Flat battery. Yesterday, it was the transmitter, today it's the receiver. I'm prepared not scared, I've two spare batteries.

The hotel is the most expensive on this trip; at B$98, it is about 2x as expensive as Le Gallery Suites. But it is super clean, has free internet, Singapore newspaper, kettle and tea. And Grohe / American Standard sanitary ware. Round the corner is a Thai restaurant with aircon and all-you-can-eat for B$5. Enjoy the little things in life, including curling up with Sunday newspapers on a Monday. Nightstop: Hotel Sentosa

Contrarian approach
Day 6: Tue 23 Mar, Kuala Belait to BSB, 138 km. I'm off at 8am after an extra serving of toast. I know I'm going to get toasted by the sun on the narrow, high-traffic roads. I take the side roads to oil town Seria. There's a procession of traffic as people head to work but they don't speed through the residential area.

After three hours in the saddle with only photo breaks, I stop. Because I miss a turn. Where's the sign that points to Tutong? When this town disappears from the milestones I'm in trouble. I back track on the grass verge against the flow of traffic - and there's the town. I lunch at a chicken rice restaurant. There's no sign of the proprietor but lunch is chopped and served by the waitress. Unlike past expeditions where I sit out the noonday sun, I top up my gut and head for the road. What's the rush, I don't know. I'm on holiday. I also don't know why there's a missing sign at the junction I'd passed, because further on there's a huge sign. I stick to the Muara-Tutong Highway, with truck-wide shoulder and two lanes heading my way. Who would've thought it's safer on this major road than little Jalan Tutong. Nightstop: Le Gallery Suites Hotel

Bonus ride
Day 7: Wed 24 Mar, BSB, 52 km.
I usually don’t cycle on the last day of a trip. Today I do, because my flight is at 6 pm and I’d arranged (after asking another hotel staff) for extended, late checkout. At 3 pm instead of 1. I sprint as fast as I can in the rush hour, which is worse than it sounds since this is a country of less than 400,000 people. Each household has an average of, if I recall correctly, three cars. When there’s no personal income tax, and education and health are free, there’s more disposable income. I ride to the playground of the super rich: Jerudong Polo Club and then Empire Hotel & Country Club. The latter cost USD1.1b (as a comparison, Petronas Towers cost USD1.9b). Then, I go where fun is free by the sea: Pantai Jerudong and Pantai Tungku.

I'm back in ample time to pack at leisure and make final repairs to my experienced cardboard bike box which I bought in Thailand, veteran of Cambodia, Timor Leste and now Borneo. My bicycle, when not ridden, is as ungainly as a turtle out of water, ungainly and slow. When ridden, my bike slices through the air, swift as a bird, agile as a fish, savouring the freedom of wide open spaces.

Back from Borneo

The score:
0 scratches on me, no bloodshed but bike seems to have been gouged by baggage gorrilas :o
0.5 dog chase; I met a few mutts one of which made a half-hearted attempt to chase me. I didn't hear it but I heard the owner shout and when I looked back the mutt was in mid-flight and grounded itself as if the owner yanked an invisible leash
1 close call between road works and a truck
2 tyres unpunctured
3 hotels / guest house
4 to 5 meals a day
6 hundred km cycled
7 days of cycling

Details to follow :)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Going at Litespeed

Woodlands, 49 km. Today is my last ride in Singapore before my ride in Borneo a few days' away. Intense time at work has affected play. I intend today’s ride to be intensive training, to save time. Out on its maiden ride is Ritchey rim tape, which feels lighter than my Zefal, which requires glue to stick onto the rim. As I cycle on, I overtake a Litespeed on slicks. The race begins. Whenever I stop at traffic lights, the lights turn green just as Litespeed pulls up and he blazes past me. I sprint uphill to overtake and this goes on until he turns into another road. It takes me two minutes to catch my breath and I’m pretty much spent 1/3 into the ride. Not long after I get home, the rain lashes down for hours. What a fortunate turn of events. Until I discover, while packing, that my camera is dead.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Overcast and sunny

Lim Chu Kang, 66 km. When I looked up at the sky last night, there were no twinkling stars. The sky was just gloomy and dark. This morning, it is overcast. Not cloudy, just a sheet of grey in the sky. I cycle anyway though I feel tired; I worked all day yesterday and get up at 5 am today, waiting for the sky to lighten up. It’s been a long week, I’m so tired I can’t sleep. My legs hurt, working long nights means my running is put off until Fri, which is apparently too close to riding day on Sun. Still I ride; past 50 km/h, my fat tyres roar with delight. While 9,000 cyclists ride in the south today, I head north. I see some pelotons of cyclists, which is usual. What’s unusual is a family of cyclists; papa, mama and three kids including one riding pillion. Further down the road, I see another family peloton. I wonder if they get bullied like I am, first by a motorcyclist then by a bus that tries so hard to bust me, I pull into the bus lane to avoid becoming a passenger in the bus.

Ahead, the grey hangs like a wet blanket in the sky. It may or may not rain, but where I am, the sun burns down. I'm glad to get home, to shower and fall into deep sleep.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Misinterpreted, missed adventure

Feb distance: 225 km

Changi, 72 km. I help a friend who’s organising a ride which is labelled “intermediate”. Over 30 people show up, including one who wobbles and swerves every few metres. I'm a sweeper. We barely cycle a few hundred metres when he crashes. Misadventure. By that time, everyone else is out of sight. He feels bad to hold us sweepers back and pulls out of the ride. I report this to the organiser, who replies that the ride is stated as “intermediate”. Perhaps, to that cyclist, "intermediate" meant being able to balance on a bike for a short distance. What a pity, spending time and money travelling all the way and renting a bike for a missed adventure. The rest of the ride has its excitement too, with people stopping to take photos and phone calls. It’s hard sweeping a ride like this, on winding park connectors. Several times we lose sight of the cyclists in front and don’t know which way to turn. Fortunately, no one gets lost or hurt. The two Hungarian kids who show up are real sports, no fuss from them. They cycle better than some of the adults.

Feb 2010 is the driest since Singapore's weather records started in 1869. It's hot, hardly any rain falls and one gets wet from sweat - but with a breeze as fast as one can ride, cycing is, well, a breeze :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hard work

Mandai, 56 km. I see a long train of cyclist across the road. Might as well do some sprint training. I cycle till the end of the road and U-turn to cross to the other side. My rule is simple: I overtake cyclists, cyclists don’t overtake me. The hard work begins. I overtake uphill and downhill. I keep up the pace and cycle just below my lactate threshold. There are volunteers by the roadside, almost all of them are alert. Standing in the sun shine, they point the way and some shout encouragement.

I pass MTBs, roadies, foldies and a single speed ridden by a guy in rolled up jeans and clips. A handful of them pull away from be because they beat the red lights while I didn’t, but I overtake them all. It doesn't matter I’m older than all of them or that some of them have fancier equipment (Pinarello, anyone?) than mine.

I cycle till I’m almost out of water then head home.

It’s just like at work. More and more stuff ends up with me, even huge stuff that had belonged elsewhere. It’s taken a heavy toll. To work “part time” is to work 9-hour days plus an hour for lunch. Against the odds, I beat ‘em.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cloudy and overcast

Woodlands, 49 km. The weather dithers. Sun beats down, hides behind a cloud, peaks out again, repeat. I check out the weather radar online. It'll be down for two months. The 3-hour nowcast has bad news (how there's a nowcast without weather radar escapes me). Half of the country is under thunder-and-lightning clouds, the other half is under clouds which may burst with rain. I cycle anyway, asking for trouble. Not because I want to, but because I desperately must ride today. An escape for a few hours. Escape with my life, I do.

A white car stops in its tracks at a blind corner; the monkey-brained driver looking at monkeys. I yell "blind corner" but the driver probably didn't catch the obvious. I pass a 3m long snake, which, despite its much smaller head, has enough sense to get off the road unlike aforesaid driver. Midway through the ride, rain drifts down. I see the edge of the black clouds. I sprint. The rain drops intensify into the "plop plop" type and I seek refuge at a bus stop. Of course, I'd cleaned and lubed my drive train. When the rain lightens up, I scurry off. A car, black as death, wanders about aimlessly ahead, then drifts to a stop. With wet rims, brakepads and road, my bike slews as I brake hard.

Gracefully, I come to a halt. I find my voice. "Hellooo! Dangerous!" I could've smacked into death's butt, bounce off and be run over by the car behind. A minor detail, of course, to the man at the wheel (I hesitate to use the word "driver" as I still believe drivers supposedly pass tests before they're allowed to operate their lethal weapons).

On the home stretch, I see a green twig, with most of it curly-wurly on the road and its head raised to see what's coming. It's a tiny snake. What does this portend of the future, or am I reading, thinking too much?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Tired of being tired

Woodlands, 48 km. It's been a hard and long week. I make a dent in my sleep deficit yesterday and try to reclaim more of my due today. I don't ride in the morning, don't have a proper lunch (too tired) and when it's too hot, I sleep. I get up, try to get more sleep and feel tired of being tired. Time to roll out the 1.95 inch tyres. The sun blazes. No excuses. On with the sun block, forget the contact lenses and sunglasses and cataract risks. Barely a km out, I feel hungry and I see dark clouds. Darn it, will I get drenched? Wretched fretting, I leave behind as I ride. That's all I can do. As it turns out, all's well that ends well. The hunger pangs pass. It's a cloudy day, I don't let the pedestrian and dangerous driver get to me, I draft a bust at 41 km/h and get home in one piece. Next week would be one of the most critical in my entire working life. Bring it on!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cross border

Jan distance: 238 km

Woodlands, 53 km. When Singapore drivers drive across the border to Malaysia, they still drive like Singapore drivers. Malaysia drivers are generally far better drivers - they signal and are patient when filtering and turning. However, the two cars with Malaysian licence plates in Singapore today are driven like Singapore cars - what right of way; might makes right. One driver was cross enough to mutter at me as he swerved across the junction. If there was a truck going the same way as me, the driver would've thought twice.

Cycling puts us at the mercy of the sun, the rain and horrible drivers. As we're not sheltered by metal, it also means we're exposed to human kindness. People around us who'd not spare a thought to drivers and their passengers who go by, shower us with smiles, waves, greetings and kindness.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Solo twogether

Woodlands, 56 km. I cycle alone, minding my business. To breach the piddling 50 km barrier, I make a little detour. As usual, the usual monkey business is going on. I don't mean the little monkeys that scurry across the road nonchalantly, I mean the big monkeys sitting in their cars which stop on the road without pulling over at the sight of monkeys. Deer freeze at the sight of headlights and it seems some motorists freeze at the sight of monkeys.

I cycle on, minding my own business a tad too much. Then I see a solo cyclist by the roadside. He doesn't seem like in trouble, his bike is ok. I stop anyway. Turns out to be a Frenchman who'd flown to Bangkok, cycled to Laos then Cambodia back to Thailand, to Malaysia and today is his first day in Singapore. He peers at his laptop; he has no maps, just some street names. I become his guide and lead him to a petrol kiosk where he gets a drink and a roadmap.

Along the way we pass foreign labour who sit on a pavement facing each other, eating with their hands under the shade of trees. When they finish eating, they will lie down and rest from their labours in the sun.

I lead the cyclotourist to the housing estate and then I'm lost but he finds the right little street. I leave him at the three-story home of his friend of a friend. He's so happy, he asks a resident to take a photo of us. His next stop: Australia and New Zealand. Bon voyage!