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 22, 2011

Hello 2012

Fellow cyclists and adventurers, wishing you an adventure-filled 2012 ahead :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Road hazard

Dec distance: 1,070 (includes Taiwan trip, see Jan entry)

Old Upper Thomson Road, 31 km. I use my new cleats with my road pedals and find them rather tight - though I manage to unclip as a van turns and cuts me off at the kerb. I haven't even left the carpark yet! I also test a long-sleeved cycling jersey - the first time I'm wearing one. It is warm now, but up in the mountains up north, I wonder if I'll be snug like a bug in a rug or chattering monkey-like in the cold.

The monkeys are out in force today. A car stops and the troop scampers towards it. What would've happened if I was between the car and the troop? Drivers and their passengers, comfortable in their cars, ignore the "do not feed the monkey signs". Why do people keep feeding the monkeys, blocking the road with their cars and littering the road with food? Perhaps they imagine they are on a DIY safari.

While monkeys are all over the road, they are less of a road hazard - they do keep an eye and ear out for what's coming, calculate speed, distance and direction and get out of the way. Unlike some pedestrians.

To fix the pedals, a little kitchen cleaner, some lube for the pivots and some grease where cleats interface with the pedal should do the trick. I hope. I'll know if hope become reality if I do another road test. But first, there are other things to check and service: rims, brake pads, rear derailleur cables, the all important transmission ... and all that packing!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oral exercise

Pasir Ris, 78 km. For them, it's a round island ride today. For me, it's a training ride where I do some interval training before I meet them, and during too. I stay behind at junctions to wait for the last cyclist, then sprint to the front till the next junction. The peloton, with its blinking white lights, look like a constellation of stars. After a few hours, I have enough. Time for me to streak off like a comet and reach home before midnight.

This is exercise for my cardiovascular system and legs. And my vocal cords.

At the start of the ride, lady crosses the road, lost in her own thoughts, looking straight ahead as if I was wind in her ear. I shout, then shriek as I near collision. Fortunately there was a bus bay for me to swerve into. As I pass her, she clutches her chest in horror while I clutch my handlebars. At the end of the ride, a driver slips out from a slip road. He sees me and stops just so the metal body of his car and my body can conduct heat exchange.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jam session

30 km, Old Upper Thomson Road. With the prospect of cycling 2,700m up a mountain soon, it's time to spin the wheels a little more. A 30 km training ride isn't going to do much, but some training is better than nothing, especially if there's some sprint training thrown in to jazz things up, get more of of a short distance and break the monotony.

The monkeys are out in force, grooming themselves, nit picking and ignoring me as I whizz by. Which is a good thing. If one or more of them jumps on me and clean their teeth on my skin, I'd get a bad case of road rash and perhaps some dents too :o

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Round on the ground

Paya Lebar, 49 km. Email announces we meet at 1100. As I'm not familiar with the place, I allow buffer time but find the place at 1030. I wait till the minute hand yawns clear past 1100 then call my friends.

After waiting outside a piano shop to kill time softly, I start doing some laps and loops. On the grass, through the grass, under the overhead train tracks I go. My knobby tyres slip and slide in the gooey mud; slowing down and keeping up the traction keeps me upright. Globs of cool mud fling up too, onto my handlebar and my cool orange sunglasses.

People in the area must've thought I've gone mad. Or maybe they thought they were going mad, as in "didn't I just see that guy a few minutes ago?" Round and round I go, as the minute hand goes full circle.

My new cleats, on their first outing, get their first taste of mud. It is amazing how efficient new cleats feel. All that energy and efficiency lost during Bike n Blade, all that time lost!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Get on with it

Woodlands, 56 km. The phrase "weather pattern" exists for a reason. For the past few Sundays, the sun burns in the morning and afternoon. By mid afternoon, the sun pulls over a dark quilt of clouds and snores like thunder. Then rain pours down for hours, so a night ride would be way after dinner and close to bed time. So I don't cycle yesterday, because I didn't get on with it and chose to do (or not do) other things. Can you beat the weather? Well yes, but you'll get soaking wet. No fun. But no cycling is also no fun. And cycling on Monday, a working day, means more traffic dodging. Trade-offs.

Over the weekend, I saw someone who got on with it. A skateboarder with a full-face helmet. Perched on steep slope. With a cape. When he scoots off in full flight, he crouches down. When traffic nears, he stands up, stretches out his arms to unfurl his cape like a drag chute. Then he goes back up for more. He takes care to pack his chute around his ankles before he sets off. He also scans the road for cars. His neck depends on it.

As for me, my "achievements" are:
a) adjusting my saddle using a spirit level. I've been sliding down; what I'd thought was level wasn't, due to parallax error. Errors get us down. Is your spirit level?
b) changing the worn-out cleats on my shoes later in the day, and getting them just so by using a marker (redundant) and matching (precision) the old indentations with the new cleats before tightening them. For greater pedaling efficiency. So I can go at breakneck speed at breathe-taking distances. Soon :p

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Two cups of tea

Nov distance: 318 km

Changi, 58 km. To see how much (or little) I can take, I drink two cups of tea for breakfast and head east to meet some fellow cyclo-tourists and discuss our coming big ride. Things to find out include:
Weather:  temperature is one thing, wind chill is another.  Being out in the cold is no joke
Accommodation: is there room for our bicycles or will they be left to the elements and thieves? Is there running water? A place to handwash laundry? Toilet paper and towels? How many persons to a room? Or would it be snore-fest in a dorm?
Road: the roads may be tarred, but if there's monsoon and landslides, expect off-road conditions on the road. There may be slime and moss in dark tunnels. Which means, road trip with fat tyres?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday blues ... not!

Punggol, 45 km

Sunday morning was sunny
Then it turned rainy
I thought I'd cycle at night
But that was not to be

Today I'm on leave
So I don't come to grief
I explore the sea shore
And meander as I please.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Creature comforts

Old Upper Thomson Road, 30 km. Hour after hour, the rain buckets down. The sky stays cloudy and grey. The rain stops, only to start again. Only after night falls does the rainfall stop. If I didn't have a trip up the mountains in winter coming up, I'd stay indoors.

I hustle out the door to cycle after dinner, only to feel hungry a few km later. Round and round the circuit I go, along the road that winds among the trees, cutting a swathe through the moist, post-rain air.

Raindrops glisten on the leaves. I wonder about the monkeys - how do they sleep in the jungle? What do they do when it rains? How do the little furry creatures cope without houses and other creature comforts?

Perhaps they cope because they don't think they can't.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A study in contrasts

File photo
Tuas, 130 km. Once in a long while, my alarm clock works on a weekend morning so I can play. I want to stay in bed but roll out before dawn and cycle north to head south. Though I usually cycle alone, there are 8x that number today.

There are new bicycles (a Wheeler), old bicycles (an Alpinestar), road bikes, mountain bikes and a foldie. The foldie rider, on her third journey with it, folds before the first rest stop. I cycle with her to the nearest train station so she can board the train with her bicycle. Meanwhile, the main body moves on and it takes some doing to find them.

This ride is touted as an 85km+ ride. Some cyclists turn up with backpacks and hydration bladders. One looks at my two water bottles and no bag.

Where we start from to join the ride is different. But it's the same 85 km journey. What we carry with us is so different. And what we make of the ride, what we have in our heads affects where we finish.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


Woodlands, 55 km. I've done this loop so many times, but never at night. The scent of Frangipani flowers fills the night air as I cycle in a car-sparse area. Even the main roads seem bare of cars. It's dinner time, I guess. As I pass the shipyard workmen quarters, the smell of curry wafts through the air. The sun has set, the roads and air have cooled. Same route, different time of day, different experience.

Doing the same thing at a different time can lead to a different result.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Something is better than nothing

Oct distance: 254 km

Mandai, 41 km. I don't feel like cycling today. Instead, I pay off the sleep deficit that built up over the work week. Morning turns to noon turns to dusk. The tension between slacking and cycling reaches tipping point; I push my bicycle out. It's only when I'm on the road that I realise, in the fuss to light up like a Christmas tree, I've left my water bottle behind.

There's a water cooler in a park, so I head there. A mom is scolding her kid. "No dinner for you!" she barks. The kid whines, says she'll never do it (whatever that was) again and mom, her voice melting, says "I forgive you".

Traffic is heavy, it's dinner time. A few other cyclists are out too, their lights blinking like twinkling stars. A roadie is behind me. I pedal hard. I hear creaking. "He's behind me," so I pedal harder. When I look back, no one's there. It's just my saddle creaking and my imagination. Time for some attitude adjustment.

At the start of the ride, all I had in mind was perhaps 25 km instead of the usual 50. Unless I'm leaping across a gorge and fall short, something is better than nothing and a short ride is better than no ride. And once the wheels get rolling, it's easier to keep going. It starts by getting the bicycle out the door :p

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dead end

Changi, 59 km. Far north, it's rained so hard in the Land of Smiles, no one is smiling. It rains here too, but there's no flood. When the rain stops, the cycling starts. As it's late in the day, I intend to cycle just 40 km and be home before sunset. On a whim, I turn where I've not turned before and keep going until I don't know where I am.

The only guide is my compass, a tiny thumbnail-sized thing that guides my Little Red Tank and me. Heading east takes me to a familiar road. A dog trots behind a pedestrian, spots me and locks on, barking. I yell at it. It's not alone. Another mutt keeps pace to my left, barking. I wouldn't be able to move my legs and bark like it does.

Again, I turn where I've not turned before and end up in a dead end - a gate that leads to the biggest airport here. A girl in a dress is there. Why? As I u-turn and pass her, I tell her she's headed for a dead end. "I know," she smiles. She's carrying a big camera. So, I'm dressed up, she wears a dress. I sit on my toy, she swings it in her hand. I get accosted by dogs, she might meet wolves in men's clothing. I explore more dead ends. She seems to be doing the same. But since she's now in a residential area, I reckon she's safe and I head home - getting somewhat lost in this unfamiliar place. Again, my little compass, velcroed onto my handlebar points me home.

A little magnetism goes a long way.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Keep things fresh

File photo
Seletar, 42 km. Instead of cycling the usual northern loop (which I claim solely for myself since I've never seen any cyclist do the entire loop), I head to the northeast corner of this little island.

The little town I cycle in, with its own Picadilly Circus, has changed a lot. Some winding roads have become dead-ends, all boarded up. New, wide roads have been built. But still, it's a place for planes, as it has been since last century. Amidst change, there is continuity, amidst continuity, there is change.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Escape velocity

Woodlands, 56 km. Last weekend, rather than fight traffic outside, I fought a bug inside me - it seems to take more energy to fight something inside than outside. It would be terrible if the enemy is me. I save energy and spend time on the couch.

Today, I cycle. Hard. Or perhaps it feels hard because of the hiatus. I dart into a road I've avoided for a long time (a year? more?). There used to be dogs there; perhaps they're gone now. Wishful thinking. They're so glad to see me, a couple of them even leave their food to meet me. I crank up my revolutions per minute as they cheer me on, barking. The lady feeding them shouts; she's either calling them back or asking me to go faster.

The closest cur is on my left. Ahead is a curve in the road. If a car appears on the right and cuts the corner, I'd be intercepted on either side. Worst case scenario is to be bitten on the left then careen to the right and carom off a car. No thanks to the fangs, I veer right. As if on cue, accursed cur stops. I pass into safety without passing out.

Couch is safe, but I'm glad I go out today.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

What to do?

Woodlands, 56 km. If "what to do" is said with a scratch of the head, it means "what shall we do?" As in, "shall I cycle today, or run?" In the end, I cycle. As an incentive, I pack a camera for fun and cycle to places where fun takes place: where the waters flow.

If "what to do" is said with a shrug, it means "what can we do?" - in other words, suck it up, there's nothing we can do about it.

If the current situation is the latter, go have fun, why let life pass by?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The sky is falling

Sep distance: 449 km

Woodlands, 64 km. Last week, as I was taking part in a mass run, I heard a cracking sound and a tree fell barely 50m ahead of me. Ok, it wasn't a tree, it was a branch as big as a tree (it blocked the entire lane).

Today, I hear a crack above my head. It's not thunder, it's a branch. I'm not going to look up to see whether it's a piece of US space junk falling on me. I sprint to get out of the way. A branch falls one bicycle length ahead of me. Some dry twigs smack into me; it's like being caned. Did it make sense, to sprint away without knowing where the branch is? Is getting hit on the helmet or my neck (I stick it out like a tortoise when I lean forward to sprint) better than getting smashed in the face? All I know is, I'm unfortunate enough to be there when the branch falls, but fortunate enough just to get a whipping.

Two weeks ago was the 10th anniversary of September 11. There were people who were there for just one day (for a meeting) or for the last day (of work after resignation). There were people who missed death by seconds, because they were delayed by something or other. There were people who died in an instant. There were others who fell from the sky.

Clearly, life is unfair. Stuff happens. Things fall out of the sky. I read about the cancer survivor who dies when someone jumps off a building and lands on the one who beat cancer. I also read the sign on the door of someone in a documentary who has an artificial heart (he carries his life support system around in a backpack). The sign says: "There's always, always something to be thankful for."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Windswept, rainswept and wet

Pulau Punggol, 39 km. Yesterday was a cloudy day. All day. I didn't cycle as I thought that would precipitate precipitation. But there was no rain. Today looks like yesterday, so out I go. The wind blows, and I huff and puff as I ride against the wind. Big drops of rain pelt down, taking their time to hit the ground. That's the warm up. Then sheets of rain fall. I spy a little hut, park my bicycle beside it and hurl open the door. A man inside jumps out of his seat as if I'm lightning. I mumble "sorry" and stand outside to chill out in the wind and rain. No point cursing. No point worrying. Think about what to do and if the time to do it hasn't come, just chill out.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Against the wind

Sat 3 Sep - Sun 4 Sep
Singapore to Desaru (Johore, Malaysia) to Singapore, 346 km.

Journey before the journey
Day 1: Sat 3 Sep, Singapore - Desaru, 165 km
My 10th charity ride is Charity Bike n Blade #6. Today is not work so I break a cardinal rule: don't try anything new on a big ride. I break this rule six times.
1. Use a new route to the start point, past filter lanes to expressways and a series of wheel-eating drain covers.
2. No valve caps, to reduce rotational mass.
3. Fill up with a never-tasted-before energy powdered drink.
4. Use only one squeeze bottle; the other has a screw top and needs two hands to get at the contents inside.
5. Use thin instead of thick expedition gloves.
6. No sit-down lunch break. Instead, nibble every hour on dry rations and energy gel, just like Tour de Timor.

This year, there are two foldies, one MTB (mine), a hybrid and the rest are road / tri bikes. That's a whole lot of bicycle and bling; if each machine is conservatively valued at $1,000, there's $100,000 of bicycle on the road. Someone shows me his carbon bicycle; even the spokes, crank and caliper brakes are carbon. The only thing carbon on my bicycle is me, carbon-based life form.

In the past, I tend to surge ahead with the first wave then blow up. This time, I rein myself back and find myself at the end of the peloton. Great, just what I planned. Until a second wave passes me and I realise I was at the end - of the first wave! Still too fast eh?

My first rest break is almost three hours later. The infrequent and short stops take their toll. Both foldies overtake me when I stop and stand to eat some snacks. As I'm going too slowly to draft anyone now, I go solo and look at road kill to break the monotony of going uphill. Besides the usual cats, monkeys, snakes, monitor lizards and birds, I see, for the first time, a porcupine.

My bicycle purrs with pleasure. The chain whirrs effortlessly through the drive train. The slick tyres give silent service. The only thing that isn't working is me. Lack of training, sleep and proper food, plus a rumbly in my tummy from the strange powdered drink are my ball and chain. I want to give up and take the short, 100 km route, but somehow press on. The energy comes from tradition: never give up, keep going.

By the time I get to the hotel, it's as if I'm the last man in. People clap. Members of the search party I guess. I hear half the cyclists had taken the 100 km route. While I get bonus mileage from the ride to the start point this morning.

Hot and windy
Day 2: Sun 4 Sep, Desaru - Singapore, 181 km.

As if I'm still and asleep, waves pass over me. Actually, they pass beside me, these lighter-than-mine bicycles. When another peloton passes by, I feel like a stray dog and latch on. One cyclist goes over a pothole and his tyre is holed. Air hisses like an angry snake. Everything stops except the air.

I wonder about some of these triathletes; some cycle with neither saddle bag nor tyre pump. Who needs inner tube or pump?! Whip out mobile phone, speak and a car appears with tools and spares.

It is hotter today than yesterday. Those guys who have crew cuts or even shaved heads are now the coolest dudes in the pelotons. I wonder how long-haired girls do it. Well, it's a fact, women live longer than men; they are made of sterner stuff.

Salt pours through my pores and stains my arm warmers like mould. I am thankful for the ice cold, sponsored 100Plus isotonic drink. I meet the legendary founder of Joyriders. She cycles six days a week. Her sole rest day is my sole cycling day ...

The song "Against the wind" plays in my head. The speedy cyclists are way ahead, and many others have taken the short route. Heat didn't quite bother me in the last Bike n Blade but then, my solar-powered, air- and liquid-cooled body wasn't getting older by the day. I pull up beside a stationary support car. The crew helpfully suggest I pour cold water on myself besides drinking it. "See the steam rise?" I ask. I protest in shame as someone holds an umbrella over me.

Why should the safety vehicle be behind me and draft me? We turn the tables and put some zing into things. We pass a sole roadie. "Come on!" I yell. He pulls beside me then sanity takes over him and he drops back. The car and I move as if there's an invisible bungee cord between us and we move like this until I'm on the outskirts of town. We pack, wrap our bicycles in cling wrap for the bus ride back to Singapore. We debus, and I cycle home.

Will I be back here next year? Will I be on a mountain bike or, as M asks, will I "downgrade to a road bike"?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dark clouds, bright outlook

Aug distance: 359 km

Changi, 55 km. I'm off to meet a friend who is collecting his new toy (a two-wheeler named what else but Wheeler) and his friends.

I go west past the airport and fly through the air effortlessly at over 30 km/h on my fat tyres. Fly, in a nice sort of way, ie behind, not in front of my handlebars. Dark clouds hover in the sky but it doesn't rain for a while. When it rains, it is a reluctant drizzle; so light, the white of my jersey doesn't get stained with the dirt from the road.

Speeding without incessant clicking from the crank is such joy. Instead of the sound of irritation, there is the joyful hum of fat tyres and the cheerful banter of the wind as it flutters past my ears.

There are dark clouds on the horizon, but it doesn't mean it'll always storm. And some preparation can be made in advance for rain.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Don't fix it till it breaks

Woodlands, 67 km. The clicks are too much. Not 'clicks' as in km but as in 'high pitched sounds that grate on the ears'. They (the clicks, not the ears) started in mid Jul, after I wiped the crank arms clean. Perhaps some water/dirt got in? Greasing, tightening, loosening the crank arm bolts and cursing haven't stopped the clicks. A wild goose chase to fix one thing (dirt), eventually led to wild tightening and breaking of steel.

Not the saddle nor seat post, not the chain rings nor chain. I'm now convinced it's the crank arm that clicks. I rue the day I cleaned it. Now, the squeaky clean drives me nuts. Instead of stripping the threads off the crank arm and ruining the entire crank, I put up with the noise. Sometimes, the clicks go away. Then they come back. "Just checking to see you're still around and irritated," they chirp. I ignore them. And, then, they go away!? I can't believe my ears.

Elsewhere, in the south, north, east and west, leadership change is through people power in the streets, or gun powder. Or those in power seem powerless, with revolving doors (6 prime ministers in 5 years?!), gridlock or bailed out governments. This weekend, here, change is relatively quiet, through the ballot box. The rancour is mostly online and some offline (booing).

I wouldn't say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Things can be better, but don't fix till it breaks; it's like cooking food till it burns ...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The right choice, the right line

Pasir Ris, 52 km. Let's see, ride with roadies today at 5 am, or hit the trails at 9 am? The latter sounds more fun, so I go for it. I end up being a sweeper, offering to look for some lost people then getting lost as the main group moves ahead.

I cycle down memory lane (Tampines trail), where when I last crashed and tore a strip of skin off my leg. The place looks so different now, with a lot more grass and some double black diamonds. I  choose to go offroad, I choose the right line but veer off as my front wheel on a rigid front fork catches onto some gremlin buried in the ground and I crash for auld lang syne. No damage to bicycle nor to skin, just crushed my my pride a little.

I eat humble pie and ask the organiser how to do a proper bunny hop. Guess I'll have to eat carrots too :p

Saturday, August 13, 2011

By the numbers

Changi, 127 km. 4 hours of sleep. 5 am rendezvous with 30 cyclists, all roadies but one (me, with the fattest tyres and biggest saddle bag).  Pace picks up, heart races, drive trains whirr in the dark.

Half the cyclists break off in ones and twos as we head from east to west. The remaining half end up in hospital. Well, not as emergency cases but as visitors, as we're training for a charity ride. We see and hear first hand what we're raising funds for. At the dementia ward, our guide says: "If you think you've got problems, wait till you come here ...".

As for the squeaks that have been plaguing my bicycle, they're gone, all gone. Or perhaps I can't hear them over my tired panting.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Will over steel

Serangoon, 11km. Now I've done it. Or rather, overdone it. Dot the i's, cross the t's, tighten every bolt to stop every squeak and rattle ... too much torque and the nut (that would be me) tears off the bolt ...

So I'm off for help; some bikeshops are closed, but not the one I already visited yesterday. And yes, the man does have a spare bolt; if it was any other shop, would I have ended up with a bolt plus entire crankset? He dismantles the crankset, cleans the chainrings, checks the other bolts, adds some grease, puts it all back. $5.

Amazing, yes. More amazing is, how an short allen key and some arm twisting can shear off a steel bolt. Morals of the story: mind over matter (or is it mind your force). And know your bikeshops :p

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Road rage

Sembawang, 47 km. It's late afternoon when my wheels hit the road, on account of rain since morning. Perhaps I should've stayed home to stay sane and a better chance to stay alive. Thrice, drivers hurtle their metal into my right of way. I'm on a major road, they're on a side road but might makes right, according to the unofficial highway code. Having taken evasive action through defensive cycling, I'm tested again by a pedestrian crossing a narrow road; she sees me coming and keeps walking, stopping only when collision is imminent. My odometer reads 12 km so far. And people tell me, it's dangerous to cycle overseas. Yeah, right.

I drop by to see bikeshop man, whose 12-year old dog has died. He was there when she breathed her last breath. He lubes my headset like I tell him to, though it isn't really necessary. And it isn't the headset that's creaking, it's the cranky crank. Again. I should've left well enough alone. So much for the relentless pursuit of excellence ...

Saving me the best for last, as I cycle home, a driver shoots out from a side road, goes against the flow of traffic (draining the blood flow from my face) and stops only when another metal monster behind me is too big to squeeze past like I did and blares a protest.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hearing is believing

Jul distance: 354 km

Lim Chu Kang, 75 km
As I cycle through the concrete jungle, The Cure's "A Forest" plays in my head (or is it a song in my heart?). Concrete still surrounds me but the music I imagine makes me feel better until I'm near the coast.

My creaky crank behaves itself but just for while. A tiny creak returns. I stop to turn the crank bolt and that's like turning up the volume. For an hour I put up with the irritating, infernal, incessant noise. Time to head for the bikeshop but that's hours away.

Surely I can't fix it so I've to put up with noise? Haven't I tried enough? Well, what do I have to lose but a few minutes to try again, then say with grim satisfaction, "I knew it, waste of time"? So I stop, I fiddle and presto, the noise disappears. Well, almost but for sure, it's the bolts. I'm glad I didn't take it for granted that the problem is beyond me. And if it wasn't for the incessant noise driving me insane, I wouldn't have tried again.

After I get home, my cyclocomputer dies, wiping out, yet again, the total distance accumulated over time. I replace the battery. The day before, my solar-powered watch gave up too. Time to reset the watch. Some things can be reset but don't be deaf, listen ...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Creepy creak

Lim Chu Kang, 72 km. I've been plagued by creaks. Whether loud or soft, they grate and irritate. There are so many parts, some moving (like drivetrain components) and non-moving (like seatpost). First it was the headset (grease it or replace it if worn out), then the front wheel quick release (grit from mud?), then chain ring bolts (loose). And now, the crank arm bolts?

Each time something creaks, it's a wild goose (or is it wild creak) chase. The process of elimination begins, to isolate and fix the trouble spots. While on the move. While enjoying the sights.

I see a blue Conalgo and give chase. I sprint and crest a hill. I'm breathless and so it is the creak, it's gone silent.

Sometimes, a problem goes away, only to return later. Does it make sense to fix one thing at a time, or go for an overhaul? Scheduled maintenance, whether for bicycle or life, might make more sense, to prevent rather than to cure.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sometimes this, sometimes that

Lim Chu Kang, 69 km. How nice it would be, if I could (a) step out my door and cycle on dirt or gravel; a single track that winds through green trees and hills, past a babbling brook and fields of yellow flowers beneath the clear blue sky. Instead, I (b) cycle on grey asphalt past beige or white boxes of apartments, past silent, sullen crowds and streams of metallic monsters called cars. It's hard work to get away from civilisation to wide open spaces.

But then, if the situation was (b), most days of the week I would be hard-pressed to get to work or groceries. And I work most days of the week instead of play.

Sometimes this is better than that. Can one have a cake and eat it? Yes, one residence (b) for work and another (a) for play, which is the life of a very select few. But then, I've met so many people who are happy with the little in their lot in life (dirt roads, wooden huts and wide smiles).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The start, the end or not yet?

Former Malaysian territory in Singapore, 76 km. After 79 years, the gate is shut, the train is gone and the station is quiet. It's the end. Or, it is the start to something else?

Some things are historical (Singapore was part of Malaya). Some things are illogical (after independence, board train in Singapore, clear Malaysian immigration in the south of Singapore then clear Singapore immigration in the north). Some things are inevitable. Some things, well, don't get hysterical.

Is what is to come better than what has come? The past has its ups and downs. The future, we plan and pray. When there's a setback in life, it's not the end. Not yet. One chapter ends, another begins. One book ends, pick up another. Keep reading :)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Bleached bones, glittering glass

Former Malaysian territory in Singapore, 62 km. Yesterday is the first day a multi-million dollar project which I'd brought to life and nursed for two years is no longer my baby after I hand it over. And the day where Malaysian territory in Singapore, on which Keretapi Tanah Melayu trains run, is handed over to Singapore.

Today, I check it out the former foreign land. There are fist-sized rocks along many parts of the railway track, sometimes level with the sleepers, sometimes on the sleepers. The ground between the sleepers isn't always even either.

Besides rocks, I see bleached bones of small animals. Some are almost intact, perhaps a dog crouched by the rails to die. Sometimes, the bones are scattered, a skull here, a jaw bone there, bleached white in the sun. There's a snake, decomposed, with its skull showing and the rest of the body in slimy black. In some places, broken glass is strewn all over the track.

Bleached bones, glittering glass and hopeless hope. Despite the picturesque way, this is way harder than I thought. I almost derail several times. It's taken longer too. Time for water rationing. My rest stops become too frequent for my liking. Time to give up. I look for a way out and am on my way out when I stop. I'm near the end of myself, but maybe I'm near the end. If I tough it out a bit more ... and look for signs that the way will become easier.

Some metres ahead, the way does look easier. No more fist-sized rocks. And the journey ends soon enough.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The hand you're dealt with

Jun distance: 150 km

Lorong Halus, 49 km. This morning, I play cards. Life is reduced to what's on paper and throws of the dice. The economy tanks, stock market falls, I lose my job and go heavily into debt to pay my medical bills. For a moment, I want to fold and walk away. Hope less or hope none? Regardless, I play on. If I walk away, I lose. If I play on, I can hope. For most of the game, I play to pay off my debts at 100% interest while the others amass cash, property and stocks. I pay off everything I owe. The thought of getting rich through leverage doesn't occur to me, then I give away what's left, making me the biggest debtor and donor at the table.

This afternoon, I cycle with a newbie. It's as if everything is under control. The sun shines, drivers behave  and we don't get lost. Not a drop of blood is shed, not a scratch. And no dice.

Play the hand you're dealt with.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ups and downs, good and bad

Woodlands, 60 km. While cycling in Timor Leste, a fellow sufferer said to me, "I hate downhills, because I know there'll be an uphill". A glass that's half full is half empty is the same volume of water. Given that same volume, do you label it "half empty" or "half full"? Depends on what you want to feel; to feel bad, call it half empty. To feel good, call it half full. In other words, let what you want to feel determine what meaning to assign to a fact. The volume of water is fact, half full/empty is opinion.

Recently, I was stabbed and shoved (metaphorically). I pushed back. Dominos fell. I was aghast, as if someone had gashed my bicycle frame. I also felt betrayed by the one I'd saved years ago; if I hadn't saved the person, that person wouldn't have been around to savage me, cost money and set off a chain reaction.

"How do you feel?" some ask. "It depends," I reply, "on what happens next." Now, I feel some relief as the future unfolds slowly. More bad things happen, as the chips fall. I lie awake - knowing it shouldn't be my problem anymore. And I make peace - in my heart - with the one who stabbed me

Today, I chase a truck on my fat tyres. 46.3 km/h. Some people would call it dangerous. I call it fun.

Blog counter crossed the 25,000 mark today. Thank you readers :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mr Blue Sky

Lorong Halus, 41 km. Grey is lifeless, dull, foreboding. Grey has dominated the sky, pouring misery and rain down. It's been so bad, the premier shopping district flooded again last week. Video footage shows rain pouring indoors, from upper to lower floors.

This week, I'm on the road after a two week break. 41 km is a short, fun ride. 42 km is a long hard run, especially when it is run at night without sleep.

The sun is out today, burning bright in a clear blue sky, with nary a cloud in the sky. I cycle gingerly, testing my ligaments, tendons and muscles. No pain is gain. I cycle sedately until a lorry is ahead of me. I draft on my fat tyres and hit 38 km/h. Nice, that left my woes behind for a while.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Epochal change

May distance: 471

Punggol, 35 km. There used to be a village here. I know someone who saw the sun rise while brushing her teeth. There were seafood restaurants too. Then, they were all cleared, and the land lay fallow for perhaps two decades. Wide open space, with nothing but beige sand, blue sky and green vegetation. Then, it got boarded up, no entry except for orange bulldozers and other big construction machines. Now, it's a park.

Why were the villagers chased away and the restaurants cleared? Pollution control, progress? Why did the land lie fallow for decades? Now it is going to be a scenic park, to be enjoyed by many. Somehow, I prefer it the way it was, rustic and scenic.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where do we go from here?

Lorong Halus, 38 km. Public holiday. "Shake legs" at home, then pedal. Ah, a river without concrete banks, a trail without asphalt. My fat tyres roll with little effort. Then, the trail narrows. Tall grass, soggy ground, pools of black water that swallow my rims and dirt that goes "scrape scrape" between brake pads and rims. Vegetation blocks what's left of the path. But people have been here before me. I walk around the obstacle, the undergrowth wrapping itself around pedals.

Can I tell where the river begins and where the bank ends when I'm off the path? I reach what seems to be a dead end, underneath a bridge. There are two fishermen there, dressed in business casual. I guess they're workers from China. I ask one of them for directions. He certainly didn't cycle to this spot! I backtrack, and meet another mountain biker. He's going past the "dead end" and claims it's passable. He's heading towards storm clouds. Well, I've had enough of water beneath my feet, no thanks to more water from the sky.

As I backtrack, I come across a make-shift bridge and wonder if I should cross to the other bank. I decide to stick to the tried and tested. Good thing I did. Though the grass looked greener on the other bank, it turns out, from a proper vantage point, that there's no trail over there.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Lorong Halus, 51 km. This new decade of this century is so eventful. The Jasmine Revolution takes place in the Middle East. Osama is killed a decade after 9/11. Japan is hit by a triple whammy. In Singapore, the ruling party gets its lowest share of the popular vote ever, which reflects voter disatisfaction.

Things happen to me too, at work and outside work. The year isn't even half-way through. I desperately start looking for the bright side. And go on a bicycle ride. When drowning, light means air. And cycling makes heart light.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Paler shade of white

Tampines, 65 km. Outside, things look the same except for election posters. But there are invisible changes. My bicycle and I are in red and blue, which is the colour of the political landscape, either on party logos or shirt colour. Yesterday's general election is a watershed: the most number of seats contested since independence in 1965.

I cycle through Hougang, which hammered the incumbent in more ways than one. When the results were announced that it remains in the opposition hands of the Worker's Party, the neighbourhood erupted in cheers - this was past 2am.

My outfit has some black too, for the (ex) general who took the bullet for political reform. Collateral damage; many wish it didn't happen, but it did. "It's not personal, it's just politics," they say. When it was announced that the Workers' Party had taken the ex general's district, the neighbourhood roared and tooted car horns.

According to the BBC, "the opposition wins represent their best performance since Singapore became independent from the Malaysian federation in 1965".

I cycle along park connectors which I never knew existed; good roads wind alongside rivers. I recall the votes pulled by the various ministers. The better ones seem to have higher portion of the votes, the Prime Minister has done particularly well. The opposition party that Won Plenty is the most credible. Let's work together now, at least, better than cyclist vs driver, biker vs hiker!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Peak performance vs crestfallen

Thu 28 Apr -  Sun 1 May
Cameron Highlands, 282 km.

I've cycled up Cameron Highlands before but this is the first time I'm: taking a train with my bicycle to Malaysia; cycling from Gua Musang to Cameron ie going up Cameron from the hard side; and sitting on my Brooks saddle abroad.

Day 1 and 2, Thu 28 Apr-Fri 29 Apr, Singapore-Gua Musang-Cameron Highlands (Kelantan), 137 km. I cycle to Tanjong Pagar Station to board the overnight sleeper train. I spend the night half asleep, but there's no half fare. Bicycle stands in the aisle, strapped in the hope that it will not sidle down or be molested. We arrive at Gua Musang before dawn, where I breakfast on cold rice and chicken. And carry as much water as there is space for: 2.5 litres. There's no food or water for about 90 km before we reach the outskirts of Cameron Highlands; streams and road kill don't count.

Dry rations don't serve me well. I cycle so slowly, houseflies fly circles around me like I'm a carcass. I wave them away when they land; carry your own weight! Google Maps shows the terrain to be like crumpled paper initially, then the road keeps going up and up. The long climbs are tough, as I cycle only 50 km per week, plus training for a marathon in four weeks' time.

VC surges ahead on his Surly, complete with racks, fenders, fat tyres and a 10-litre water bag.  I bake in the sun, sweat drips like rain. Then it rains. At that altitude, the rain is piercing cold. Cold, wet and hungry. What more can a cyclo-tourist ask for? A fly-infested shack, where I eat nine fried bananas.

At the hotel, we're told to put the bicycles outside, and to bring it in at night. It is already evening. I say aloud, let's go somewhere else, and the proprietress allows us to put them indoors. Our last climb of the day is up steep steps, four stories high.

Day 3 and 4, Sat 30 Apr-Sun 1 May, Cameron Highlands-Gua Musang-Singapore, 145 km. It's downhill all the way and I like it. I don't realise until today how long the climbs really are. At one point, I hit 64.9 km/h. We reach the outskirts of Gua Musang in early afternoon, where I quaff a litre of Coke. At Gua Musang itself, we check into Fully Inn, the biggest hotel in town, where we'd last stayed in 2005. Today, we're here to shower, chill and wait for our midnight train. It is Kiddy Express, with tots crying and a university undergrad who protests that my bicycle is at the ladder to his bunk. He'd rather I move the bicycle elsewhere so that two bicycles side-by-side will clog up the passageway. I tell him to wake me if he needs help to take down his luggage from his bunk. When teenagers chatter and announce their departure at 5am, I park my bicycle beside an empty bunk.

Epilogue: when I near the crest of hill, my spirit may rise, until I see another long climb beyond the crest, and I know there's more to come, just out of sight. What keeps me going? A "no quit" policy, no ignominy of going up a broom wagon or hitching a ride. VC says we climbed 3,250m (Cameron Highlands itself is 1,500m). I'm glad I didn't know this earlier. If I'd known the future, I wouldn't have started and I wouldn't have lasted till the end. A heavy heart is a heavy load. The other thing that kept me going: songs in my head, specifically Puffy Ami Yumi. I don't know what the Japanese duo sing, but I've not heard a sad melody from them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Take stock, take heart

Apr distance: 204 km

Woodlands, 48 km. Yesterday, I scratch my leather saddle badly while tightening my chain rings (yes they are far apart but it's a long story). I fuss over the saddle and apply Proofide gingerly by hand to waterproof it. But cosmetically, the shiny leather finish is finished. Today: while tweaking my brake pads, another accident happens; the bolt is beyond tightening. Would I ever be able to loosen it? I daren't try. Woe is me?

I take stock. My chain rings are tight and the performance is just revolutionary today - and no more creaking noise. The shifting feels better too. My saddle feels better today after I tweak its angle by the roadside; as it gets softer, its performance characteristic and required saddle position changes. And though my brake pad component is ruined (I hope I don't have to loosen it ever!), it seems to work.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Seat of the problem, my foot

Woodlands, 53 km. Friday night, pound pavement for 2.5 hours at night. Saturday, stand 3 hours to raise funds for Japan (thanks, those who stopped to drop $10, $5, $2 notes, or empty their pockets of loose change. Thanks, moms, who encourage their kids to give. Thanks to the Japanese mom who walked past, then stopped when she heard "Japan" and doubles back to give).
Sunday, feel enervated. I cycle anyway, but it's a struggle. My back hurts, is it because of a maladjusted saddle? Or just overuse on Friday and Saturday? When I reach home, I realise I hadn't buckled my shoes properly. All that loss of power transmission. I took for granted I was tired but i could've done better. Equipment check, regardless of how many times I've done it before - like wearing cycling shoes!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bad from good?

Pasir Ris, 36 km. Another training ride today, called for by the newbies last week. Unlike last week, there no volunteer are scheduled for today. I make it home in time to snatch 20 minutes of shut-eye, and roll my bicycle out the door. It's good to be able to help, especially when doing a little can do a lot.

The three of them are late, by 30 minutes. It starts to rain. Under the shelter, I tell them how to wear their helmets safely. The bicycle rental kiosk lady probably never had such customers before; she looks at how serious we are and offers better helmets without being asked to. The rain keeps falling. The lesson continues when I find a "runway" behind the kiosk that's sheltered where they can practise their "take off and landing". One of them, who last cycled 10 years ago and stopped after a downhill crash, takes off just after a few false starts. She veers off the "runway" onto the grass. "I'm already wet," she says. "Keep pedaling," I cheer and she keeps going. Another adult, who'd attended last week, seems to have regressed. She keeps pedaling backwards.

As I cycle home, in the rain, my Brooks saddle has its baptism of rain. Jerk drivers try to cut me off. I cringe as I cycle, half expecting metal against bone. Bad things come in threes? I guess when you do good things and expect good things to automatically come, that's bad.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Take off and landing

Pasir Ris, 67 km. Someone arranges a cycling session for those who can't cycle. I turn up to help. Most of the thirty who show up have cycled before, a long time ago, or just a handful of times. And some had bad experiences. Perhaps it's coincidence, but cycling is a little like flying. After all, the Wright Brothers had their start in bicycling before flying. Take off and landing are important, cruising is the easier part. With pedal in position, push off and keep pedaling. Keep above stalling speed to cruise, power through turbulence such as uneven ground, keep on the "flight path" to steer clear of other traffic. Slow down and brake to a stop before jumping out of the cockpit. It takes more guts to jump off a moving bike! One "student" starts by scooting on the ground, by the end of two hours, she's cycled on grass, up a small kerb (by accident) and powers her way back on track. She even navigates through a mixed crowd of kids and other cyclists :o

Meanwhile, I have a crick in my neck. But my crank is silent. After a certain bikeshop had wanted to charge me $55 to locate and silence the creak, I went to DIY. After some km of experiments (eg creak when I push down with the right foot, but not with the left, nor when I coast), it turns out a chainring bolt is loose.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Black and white

Mar distance: 218 km

Woodlands, 58 km. There's right, there's wrong. What if, in the absence of information, a decision is made and progress is made in a certain direction because it seemed right? Then, information that was previously withheld is made available. The direction, while wrong in the light of "new" information, seems to make sense anyway, at least without the benefit of hindsight. We don't know what the future holds, what we have are educated guesses about what could happen. But can anything good come out of something wrong? Can something perfect happen amidst imperfect information?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Inside, outside

Woodlands, 53 km. In deep sorrow, people seem to reach deep down inside to look for strength. They may say little, perhaps even stay indoors. It's as if, to avoid going out of their minds, they keep it all in. Or maybe it takes a lot to take in what has happened, when the world outside is shaken down and washed away, leaving only the detritus of what was, and a mucky brown smelly world. In the physical world, the hurt lie still, saving energy to rebuild within. I guess it's the same in the emotional world.
In my little world where I can do something, I've washed away the dirt that has encrusted my bicycle for ... wow, I can't recall when was the last time I washed and waxed it. But there's a crank-side squeak that's driving me round the bend. Still, contrary to the weather report, it didn't rain on me today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Win some, lose some

Woodlands, 53 km. Getting out to cycle felt like a chore and as I head out I am already looking forward to coming home. I plod along uphill, feeling lethargic after the late morning rain, when a cyclist on a folding bicycle blasts past me. I start up and keep up. There is a slight downhill and he clocks 38 km/h. Big guy on tiny wheels, with a weight advantage when going downhill. I think to myself, he'll be disadvantaged when there's an uphill because of his weight, but then, he's the one who pulled ahead of me uphill. I'm not sure how long more I could've kept up the pace on my fat tyres, and I'll never know as I peel away eastwards at a junction then throttle back while he keeps heading south. Not that it matters. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. What matters is how the "portfolio" does as a whole.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Making up for lost time

Woodlands, 54 km.I've been up past 1am the past few nights, going online for information on what gizmo to buy. Then I'm up earlier than I like yesterday, not to cycle, but for some housework and family obligations. This morning, like yesterday, I skip breakfast but for some tea. And ride on an empty stomach and a deficit of sleep, surging up slopes like I'm half my age just to see how far I can push myself. As the saying goes, "mind over matter, if you don't mind, it doesn't matter". I suppose the corollary of that is, "If it doesn't matter but you mind, it matters"- which could result in a coronary :o

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Monkey business

Feb distance: 294km.

Woodlands, 58 km. It’s a winding single carriageway. One lane goes this way, the other lane goes the opposite direction. A driver stops his car, takes up an entire lane and opens a window. The monkeys troop out from the forest and open their mouths (to be fed by the driver’s kids) while standing in the other lane for oncoming traffic (and overtaking traffic) to run over them. Or for oncoming and overtaking traffic to crash into each other. So much for the “do not feed the monkeys” signs and fines. I guess some drivers won’t read or even drive properly ...

After I cycle out of the death trap, I come across a bike rally organised by a university. Road marshals, mostly female, some in pairs, some alone, dot the route which includes skirting through a nature reserve. Some marshals stand in the sun while others sit in the shade away from their posts. I marvel at how there is such variation among the marshalls and how safe this place is.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Distance travelled

Woodlands, 51 km. For centuries, the fastest (and furthest) a person could travel was by horse. Then came sail, ocean-going ships, the steam engine and railroads. It was the humble bicycle that led to winged flight, thanks to the Wright Brothers. I still marvel how one can board a plane and, for the price of a decent bicycle and less than 24 hours later, be on the other side of the world - a journey that used to take months. They didn’t have jet lag then, but they’d scurvy.

As I cycle today, trying to catch the sun to recover from jetting across 17 time zones, I see flashing light on a traffic police motorbike, a car by the side of the road at a Y junction, a mangled road bike on the kerbside grass. No sign of the cyclist. A sheepish-looking man, presumably the driver, stands there. Presumably, the cyclist was going straight but the driver wanted to turn into the slip road. If only he’d driven like a sheep instead of a rampaging bull that sent a cyclist to hospital. Good thing pilots don’t usually fly like that.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

From one extreme to another

Mandai, 47 km. First, the saddle seems to close to the stem, which marks the start of a backache. The further I shift the saddle away, the better I feel, until it’s a shift too far. Time to shift back a little, tilt a little, trial and error. Time will tell. With patience comes perseverance, or is it the other way round? Whatever, millimetre by millimetre, we’ll get there. The saddle rails are only so long.

I cut short the adjustment process by comparing Made in England with Made in Italy. Both saddles are similar in length and shape, even though the rails are of different length and angle. What counts is where the saddle is positioned in relation to the sit bones; it would be folly to look first at the bottom of the saddle (the rails) rather than the top. Once the top is roughly in place, then the bottom will be in place. I lower the seat post height too, since Mr Brooks has ‘higher’ rails.

However, if replacing an old saddle with a new one (same brand and model), mark the new saddle’s rails based on the old saddle’s position: put the saddles facing each other (like mirror image) then use a marker to mark the new rails according to the markings on the old rails.

Patience, perseverence and contextual knowledge. All of these take time. Sometimes, a lilttle means a lot. Sometimes, a lot of things mean little. Today, I cross the 50,000 km mark ...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Riding on empty

Kranji, 82 km. A cup of tea and a glass of glucose for good measure. And a cereal bar in my back pocket, just in case, which remains untouched at the end of the day. I've never cycled on such an empty stomach before. With an eye on the sky, I cycle. I hear voices. Turns out to be passengers in a passing car. I hear voices again. I pedal faster. The voices keep up. Turns out to be two roadies asking for directions, not my hallucinations on an empty stomach. The roadies are going totally the wrong way but they keep going. I tell them how they can get back the long way, then I break away. I forget there’re many twists and turns ahead so I give chase and point out the right lane to be in to avoid some scary filtering on a 4-lane road that goes downhill.

The sun still shines so I detour again. I reward myself with a Coke. Now and again, I stop to adjust my saddle. My back hurts, but it’s not the saddle per se, just the adjustment. Trial and error works but first, it’s got to be generally in the right place; major adjustments come first then fine adjustments. Major adjustments, without fine adjustments, don't help. Minor adjustments would take too long. Either way, one might give up too soon.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Italy vs England

Woodlands, 56 km. Leather boots, leather ball. But this age-old battle that involves me doesn’t have to do with football. It’s with saddles. I’ve worn out two Italian saddles - the classic Selle Italia (estd 1897) Flite (official website states the saddle is due for retirement past 15,000 km). It’s been hard looking for a non-gel version of Flite here. And I’m tired of replacing my saddle every few years. Tour de France cyclists ride thousands of km on handmade in Italy saddles, but legend has it that tourers cycle tens of thousands of km on the venerable handmade in England Brooks (estd 1886).

I get out of bed and rush, not to get to work, but to cycle while the sun shines. It’d been raining for 40 hours (whew, not 40 days). This is my first ride with Brooks. It’s like sitting on a plank if one wears padded shorts. Tap the seat, it sounds like knock on wood. Without padded shorts, it’d be like sitting on concrete. The inaugural ride is uncomfortable, but not painful.

Brooks started when the founder’s horse died and he couldn’t quite afford another one. Someone lent him a bicycle, which left him with a pain in the butt. So he made a leather saddle and the rest is history. The company almost rolled into oblivion but about a decade ago, a rescuer rode in and saved the company. The investor? An Italilan company, Selle Royal (estd 1956) ...

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Jan distance: 266 km

Woodlands, 47 km. Another evening ride, along a road I’ve not cycled on for a long time. When I’m there, I remember why I’ve not been there for so long - the risk of having to say “so long, farewell”. The kerb side of the road, usually safe ends when a major road joins it in a Y junction which turns into a “merge lane”.  So, instead of just fast traffic whizzing by on one side, I’m cycling along a white line with traffic whizzing by on both sides. Hence the saying, “putting your life on the line”.

Nothing bad happens. I trust my bicycle and all its parts especially where the rubber meets the road. As I tear down the streets and go round corners at speed, I take it for granted that my wheels won’t wash out. My tyres are squishy. I let it be so - though the contact patch is bigger and hence I cycle more slowly, I’ve realised it’s worth the trade off of a more comfortable ride.

All alone at home is a stranger - an Orbea. A road bike, with unknown handling characteristics. It’s even got carbon parts! Thoughts of “torque wrench” and “5nm” keep buzzing in my head. My friend lent it to me yesterday, with no return date ...

Monday, January 17, 2011

And the click goes on

Serangoon, 11 km. Click, click, click. With every pedal stroke, the click drives me further round the bend. I grease the seat post. That usually works - but not this time. Then I remove the seat from the seatpost and grease all contact points. I bounce on the seat, no click. So it must be some rotating part. Not the pedal nor crank, since the click continues when I coast and rock from side to side. The wheels then? I squeeze where the spokes cross each other. There are no clicks when I place the bicycle upside down and spin the wheels. The click stops when I cycle uphill. I hold the handlebars down with my bodyweight and turn. Click, click, click.

I cycle to see bikeshop man. I wait about two hours, as he works on an "are they still in production?" Made in India Hercules bicycle. Then on a Lynskey. Finally, it’s my turn. Bikeshop man takes apart my headset, soaks part of it petrol and says “lots of sand”. Not to mention water that flows out. “Ride in heavy rain?” he asks. I pick up a rag and wipe the head tube. He puts everything back but before the job is done, another cyclist shows up. It’s now past 10 pm. Bikeshop man starts giving advice to him and I finish my own job before paying up and cycling off.

Troubleshooting? Use your head (and ears). Isolate and eliminate, what’s left is the problem. This method (use head and ears) works elsewhere in life too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Give it a rest

Mandai, 48 km. Mid-day comes and goes. My nose is running, my throat is burning. I don’t even feel like buying lunch so I microwave some noodles, which takes 1/4 the time to cook pasta. I’m torn between cycling and sleeping. The latter wins hands down and I head down to dreamland. By the time I’m on the road, it’s evening. I’m in such a rush, I forget my water bottle. But i know where to get water; I head to a secluded part of a reservoir where there’s a water cooler. As I tear down the dark grey ribbon of road, I strain my eyes for monkeys and other things that go “bump” in the night. Then I head for a vending machine (at a compressed natural gas pumping station for taxis) that sells drinks for almost 1/2 price.

Today, I log almost the same distance as a ‘usual’ Sunday ride. But without the sunglasses or sunblock. Nor stress of dragging myself out to cycle.

What a difference some sleep and some hours of “being good to yourself” makes.

PS: last week, I posted about how unpredictable life is. Some surprises are nasty. But surprises needn’t catch us by surprise. We may not know when they’ll come, but if they come we can be prepared. It’s like having a tyre pump and testing that it works before packing it, having spare tubes ... Being prepared applies to other parts of life too.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sprint training

 Lim Chu Kang, 75 km. Today is supposed to be a “cyclist artist” ride, where I take photos, not cycle above lactate threshold. But it wasn’t me. A roadie on a Fondriest overtakes me with a “good afternoon”. I just have to return the greeting. I couldn’t stay ahead of him but could sit snugly on his tail until I turn a different way. Down a road I mistake for another. Fangs for nothing. Four dogs, one leashed, the others not. The "friendliest" one lunges at me. I negotiate. More barking and jumping. As negotiations fail, I flee. I crank up my pace, which turns out to be the doggies’ volume and kinetic energy control. I wonder why jaws didn’t attack and attach to my ankles or calf. Perhaps they were admiring before biting.

At the correct junction, I turn again. More jaws but this time on a sign: “crocodile spotted”. Strange, crocs have scales not spots, right? I spend many minutes here, shooting (photos, not crocs).

As I ride on, I see a scarecrow beside a chicken farm and stop to shoot it. Two dogs are about. The one in front looks at me then looks away. I put away my camera, mount my bicycle and cycle away. Which activates furious barking. Here we go again but this time I’m caught off-guard - after all, Fido had let me go, why does it want me now? I crank up again - this time it’s zero to hero, but uphill. Fido drops away only when I’’m on my big chainring. He stops to scratch itself.

How unpredictable life is. it rains, but I’m camera ready. Dogs with many sharp teeth, but none sink in. Crocs, perhaps, beneath water still and placid.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Look for the bright spots

Seletar, 43 km. The weather forecast threatens rain. The sky certainly looks as grey as the roads. I wait for the rain to fall and for the sky to clear, but neither happens till hours later. Again, it’s late afternoon when I cycle. I’m off to the place which I want to shoot but minutes later, a drizzle starts.

I head the other way, where the sky is bright. Can’t have everything in life, like clear skies wherever I want, but i can have something - to be wet by sweat but not by rain. What I’d really want is a creak-free bicycle. I greased my seatpost and where the saddle connects to the seatpost, but the creaks aren’t gone.

Seletar has changed so much since I was last here. A little airport with a slice of colonial England, with places llike Picadilly Circus, is now being torn apart. Little country roads have become multiple lanes as befits an aerospace centre. Sure, there’s still some black-and-white bungalows that haven’t gone under the bulldozer, but I reckon the place will have a lot more buzz - the sound of business flying about.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

It’s about time

Sembawang, 42 km. At the stroke of midnight, an old year and an old decade make way for the new. Not as exciting as the turn of a new century but still ... I want to cycle today, but I dawdle. Doing something is one thing but doing it when I want it is another. A little luxury for a brand new day, not to be driven by the imperiousness of the analogue tick tock.

Rest and relax. By the time I head out, it is late afternoon. What I didn’t count on is rain. It rains on my ride and my camera. Oh well, let’s see how well I’ve waterproofed the latter. Not too bad. When the rain is a feathery drizzle, I start shooting. Whoever sang “I love a rainy night” sure wasn’t out cycling or shooting photos.

What can I make of the inaugural ride of the new decade? I could’ve cycled with some friends overseas, or with some roadies, but choose to take it easy. I could’ve cycled when the sun was out, but choose not to. When I'm on the road, a jerk cuts across my right of way and doesn't even look at how close he came to me. I could’ve let the driver ruin my day, but why bother with him. That would be a waste of my time, better to get over that fast.