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 :))

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ups and downs

Dec distance: 631 km

21-28 Dec, Medan to Singapore, 575 km

Red truck, red bicycle. The former has tyres even fatter than the latter!
This expedition involves land (the cycling), air (flying) and sea! Fly one-way to Medan, cycle south-east, then take two boat rides (eight hours in total) to get home. The world is 41,000 in circumference, I've cycled 1.5x that distance. Yet, on this ride, new things happen to me ...

Bye, beloved bicycle box,
veteran of six flights with me
Heavy metal
Day 1: 19 Dec, Medan to Tebing Tinggi, 65 km. As we unpack our bicycles at the airport, some guys watch, then ask for Rp100,000 to throw away the bicycle boxes as the dump is "far away". A few of us walk a few minutes to the dump. A friendly worker smiles and heaves our boxes into a lorry.

The road out of the airport is two lanes, but sometimes becomes four as vehicles overtake slower ones in front. R later says: "Good thing you don't have a rear view mirror to see how close traffic comes. I reply: "I don't need a mirror to see how close they come from the front!" We are run off the road once. 

The incessant roar of passing traffic, honking, smoke and grit that gets into my eyes and lungs is a noxious blend. We pass a crowd gathered by the roadside. Accident scene. A while later, an ambulance - a van - overtakes us.

Nightstop: Hotel Malibou. We pull into the first hotel we see. It is huge, we can park ten bicycles into each room if we wish. But it is crappy. Our showers, as R puts it, is like a little boy pissing.

Say hello, wave goodbye
The most expensive bicycle
in our group: a Moulton
Day 2: 20 Dec, to Kisaran, 87 km. I am run off the road trice, twice while I draft a guy with a kid in a motorcycle sidecar. The former is nonchalant about it as he swerves into the dusty road shoulder.

As I wait under a tree for the rest, a man motions me to shelter in a big shed. Sometimes, as I cycle past, kids and adults call out "hello mister". Sometimes, passengers in overtaking vehicles smile and wave, especially those in vans with sliding doors open.

We lunch at one of the most cyclist-friendly restaurants ever. Ample parking in a car shed with clear line of sight, ample seating in the cool shade, drinks with factory ice. And the music, an eclectic mix of rock, pop and Malay and Mandopop.

For dinner, I sit in a "beytor" - beytor motor or motorised trishaw - for the first time. It is like a roller coaster ride as we bump along broken roads to the Chinese restaurant. And for bedtime, I feed mosquitoes.

Nighstop: Hotel Bumi Asahan. We are surprised by breakfast brought to our rooms in the morning. If we'd left as scheduled - ride into the sunrise at 6 am - we'd have missed it by minutes. Hot sweet tea, bread with chocolate rice. Mmmm

Chain reaction
Day 3: 21 Dec, Labura, 69 km. It is drizzling at 6 am. Just before we set off, we have a surprise breakfast of butter and chocolate rice sandwiches and tea served to us by the hotel. By the time we finish, the rain has stopped.

As today is (supposed to be) a long day, I spend the first hour pulling people along. At our first stop, no one wants to eat; there is only one dish, lontong, to choose from anyway.

Among the six of us, one has an upset stomach and the other is recovering from a cold. Another has a brush with death, as a lorry slowly cuts in front of him. He slows but not enough, as he didn't think the lorry is that long. I too am run off the road once.

After lunch, I speed off. There is some weirdness in my chain after a chainsuck. I stop to check and find that a chainplate has come off at one end. For the first time ever, I use my chain breaker in the field. No more practice, this is for real. After some struggle, I get the plate back on. When my friends pass, the RSM (road side mechanic) tells me to remove the link as it is not safe. A few of them help; in his enthusiasm, one of them removes a pin entirely. Now my chain is even shorter than it should be. Use of the big chainring is banned.

They stop to eat and hold a "grand council" meeting. We're supposed to cover 119 km today but some want to stop here. I say I'm the rubber stamp. And so we put up in this big town that's not on the map.

The hotel is so grand, we're not allowed to sun our laundry outside the rooms. There are brownouts. The toilet has neither shower nor sink (at least, yesterday's hotel has a shower). And neither hotel has toilet paper.

The broken chain shakes me up. But then, I've never had a broken wheel before either.

Nightstop: Grans (sic, probably a typo since "d" is next to "s" on the keyboard) Hotel Labura

Riding the waves
Day 4: 24 Dec, Kota Pinang, 128 km. It is overcast, with tiny raindrops falling. It is cool cycling, pun intended. Cool, despite heavy traffic and bad air. We cycle 26 km before we stop for breakfast.

My shortened chain works ok but I don't dare use the big chainring. With the middle chainring, the fastest i can go on my own steam, without gravity's help, is 44 km/h.

R rides on the traffic side of the "waves"
Part of the road is deformed, like waves frozen before they crash onto the sandy road shoulder. With heavy traffic on the right, this is like single track, in an urban setting. Bumping along the "waves" might throw me into passing traffic if I misjudge the terrain.

There are two near misses. I don't mean I got run off the road. On these occasions, traffic comes at right angles to me. I have no where to run.

Lunch is at Rantauprapat, where we were supposed to be last night. The restaurant is clean, the food is good - and the toilet even has a sink!

The sun comes out, sighs, then cowers under a blanket of clouds. In the cool weather, everyone is good form and cycle the last 40 km without break.

We stop at a hotel that is so high class, we have to park our bicycles in the carpark. We splurge, since this is Christmas eve, and dine in the hotel restaurant.

Nightstop: Royal Permata Hotel. There is wifi - but still no sink and no toilet paper. The room is clean but small, no room even for a cupboard.

A fridge, with cold drinks? And places to sit? Stop!
Christmas lights
Day 5: 25 Dec, Balam, 96 km. As it is Christmas, bike leader D gives us an hour more to sleep. Wake up at 7
am! We breakfast at the hotel - a buffet, good for hungry cyclists.

On the road, I see a lorry come into my lane, overtaking a stream of vehicles. I don't see the driver veer back into lane nor slow down. I go offroad onto the road shoulder. Later, when the same thing happens, I simply stop and wait by the side of the road as a train of overtaking vehicles going against traffic flow roar past me.

We lunch at Bagan Batu, where we were supposed to be last night. I don't eat much now, to the extent I feel hungry. And weary. I can see the road stretch ahead, a strip of grey that rolls up and down as far as I can see. But I pedal on; this is what I came for.

What goes down, must go up
Nightstop: Hotel Arkeno Bangko. My room has rubbish left behind from previous occupants and a smell. A tells me to lie on a towel but as it is too small, she lends me her shawl. Around midnight, the poer goes out and doesn't come back. Only a few rooms are affected, mine included. Hotel gives me another room and asks me to pay more.

Cold fried bananas
Day 6: 26 Dec, Dumai, 108 km. It's another day of good riding, with 26 km done before we stop for breakfast. We leave the heavy metal of the Medan-Pekanbaru road and head north, where tarred road turns to concrete with some patches of dirt and gravel. The sand flying about reminds me of a John Travolta song that goes: "Sandy, can't you see".

It is lunch time. We stop for coconut and cold fried bananas. I don't know if it's safe to eat but I know that if I ride on empty I'm going to slow to a halt. A girl in tudung walks up to me to practice English. "What is your name? My name is (sounds like) Risky (she extends a handshake). Where are you from? Are they your friends? Have you had lunch? I talk to her in a mix of English and Malay: "Do you live here?" She's from Medan.

Hi! I'm glad to see you too!
At the end of the ride, we pick the best-looking hotel and splurge on a hotel lunch.

Nightstop: "the first international hotel hotel in Dumai" - Comfort Hotel. It has secure wifi, keycards, gym ... and toilets with sink, toilet paper and soap dispensers with soap! The toilet is cleaner than my room yesterday. Around midnight, my room mate wakes me up. Bed bugs. I have lost blood; the bugs he squishes are blood free. For the second night in a row, I am sleep deprived and have to lug my stuff to another room.

Non-touring days
Day 7: 27 Dec, 4 km, cycling to and from ferry jetties: Dumai to Tanjong Balai, Karimun. During the six hour boat ride, three movies are screened. One has to do with piracy at seas - Captain Phillips - and the other a shipwrecked boy - Life of Pi.

Nightstop: Hotel Himalaya. I get nine hours of sleep to make up for the two consecutive nights of interrupted sleep.

Day 8: 28 Dec, 18 km. A two-hour boat ride (we speculate what movie will be shown; Titanic? But none are shown. Without lunch we cycle home from Harbourfront home.

When the traffic is on your side, it's safe.
But when they overtake from the other side, watch out!
I've cycled over 60,000 km over the years, but there's a first time for everything. My firsts on this ride:

  • Javanese traditional massage
  • Bitten by bed bugs. Now I literally know what "don't bug me" means
  • Broken chain
  • Sit in a "beytor" (motorcycle trishaw)
  • Got toasted with drinks, not just once, but twice

My chain broke, the repair job was less than ideal, but I don't miss a beat. I'm run off the road three times but have no brushes with death. It is supposed to rain 50% of the time but if it rains, it is when we are off the road at night. Our ride is cut short, we cycle less than initially planned, but I am glad to be home early. And good cycling companions including a new friend.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sea change

Upper Thomson, 22 km. I was at sea the past few days literally. Fitting, given the sea change in my life. Bad news keeps coming, like the pouring rain. The sun is scorching hot, then it pours. Hard. What used to work, doesn't anymore. What works for others, doesn't work for me.

And my poor bicycle, what's happening to you? Strange behaviour, things I've not seen in over 61,000 km of cycling. First the freehub body unit and now, something strange with the rear derailleur - or so it seems. Could be the chainrings. Talk about breakdown!

Time for a new bicycle? And a new life!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Shell shocked

34 km, Toa Payoh. I've never ever taken this route before. After the bombshell, it's time to get lost. To think all the weekends burnt for nothing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Barrier to entry

Nov distance: 94 km

Woodlands, 53 km. I'm in such a rush, I forget to fill my water bottle. I never thought I'd look forward to a ride when I've halved my ride frequency this year, from weekly to fortnightly. It doesn't help that I need to work all of this weekend, so I squeeze some time to cycle.

The road that leads to the highest point on the route is now barred. An insect buzzes and crashes into my cheek. Another, fortunately much smaller, ends up in my throat.

A 2.5 hour ride now seems long, though I used to cycle thrice that duration, nay, even all night.

I finish the ride anyway. When there's no choice, there's but one thing to do: endure.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Opposing thoughts

Seletar, 41 km. Lately, I know I should cycle but I don't. Instead, I veg out. Today, I feel I should veg out, but I don't. Instead, I head out. As my wheels roll, my face spontaneously crinkles into a smile. Seeing a muti-storey carpark, I go up all the little ramps I can find.

I also proceed along a dimly-lit road. It looks interesting, but I have a sense of foreboding instead of exploring. This feels like dastardly doggy country, so I turn back to the bright lights.

As I cycle here and there on a whim, I find that I've found a new loop. It's not a long loop, but it's something. And if I do the loop, it'll keep the mould away from my Brooks saddle.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Home delivery

Kranji, 62 km. When the alarm clock goes off, I'm in two minds whether to get on my two wheels. It's the weekend after all. My alarm needs rest, so do I. But today, it's time to deliver rations, part of what we'd raised funds for during Ride for Rations.

First stop: Sunlove Home, the "head office", to deliver a big cheque. The chief there offers us water. We politely decline, but he delivers anyway. He thanks us several times.
Rations belong to the hungry, kid belongs to a volunteer

Second stop: Marsiling, one of the "branch offices". There are bags of dry rations, all nicely packed in colour-coded plastic bags by the food supplier. Cooking oil, sugar, noodles, canned food, 30 eggs … a month's supply of food. There's milk powder too. High calcium type for the elderly and milk for different children's age groups. Some beneficiaries come the the centre to collect their food. For others, it's home delivery.

We have a trolley and slips of paper with names and addresses. Some cheery people are waiting at the void deck of their apartments, but their unit numbers aren't on our list. Walking along narrow and fusty corridors, we knock on doors. People are waiting for us by the door, some in wheelchairs. Some are amputees. Most are elderly, they move with difficulty. Hands fumble with locks. We hand them the bags and they sign for it, then thank us softly.

One lady, on elbow crutches, tells us to go in. We hesitate, she tells us we don't have take off our cycling shoes. We place the food neatly where she tells us to. "Would you like me to untie the bags?" I ask. She says she can handle it. I'd earlier struggled to untie them to photograph the contents of some bags! 

But some don't answer the door.

Back at the branch office, the pile of bags has shrunk. Some people aren't in, or haven't come to collect.

The homes are tiny. From the door, I see the bedroom, living room and kitchen. Some are dim, dank and cluttered. The home of the lady on crutches is bright and airy, neat and tidy. She's going out. She hangs a cloth bag on her crutch, since she can't clutch it.

To clear my head, I cycle to where I'd spent some tough months in my army days, to see my old camp being flattened by earthmoving machines.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blowing cold and hot

Lim Chu Kang, 70 km. The wind blows, the rain pours down. It's so heavy, it floods. I stay snug in my warm bed, away from the cold. In the afternoon, the sun pours down with full force. After a two week break from cycling, I head out.

A roadie with braided hair overtakes me. At a traffic light, she does a track stand. Well, sort of. Not wanting to unclip her pedals, she circles the stop light slowly until it turns green, then she's off. The angry housefly sound of my fat tyres turn into an angry whine. My pedals, with the new free hub, are so light, I surge upslope at 47 km/h. But I can't keep up with her. Her thighs are like pistons of an V8 engine, compared to my puny two stroke engine. 

I throttle back. Until two guys overtake me. They say hello and I draft them. "He's done nothing for weeks, just stick to his wheel and he'll pull you along," says one to me about the other. I stick as best I can, like a leaf trailing along a container truck. When I stop for traffic, the duo slow for me. 

It's not my legs that give up, it's my air intake. I wave the chatty roadie to overtake me, but he declines. These guys are killing me with their kindness. I say "thanks", he says "no worries" and I and drop back to a more sedate, lung-friendly speed. At a petrol kiosk, I give myself a treat of refrigerated, cold coffee.

And my thoughts at the start of the ride, which stopped when the adrenalin started, come back to me. Going at the same speed when the world moves at a faster rate of change isn't even keeping up. It's regression. What's great for Gen X, might not be good enough for Gen Y.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Broken? Fix it

Sep distance: 575 km

Woodlands, 53 km. The new freehub body unit makes my bicycle feel like new. A light touch and it works like a breeze, even surging upslope at 37 km/h somehow.

The creaks and clanks, which I'd blamed on the chainrings and crank arms, are gone. Poor things, I'm sorry I've wronged you.

The gritty sound from my headset is gone too, after I removed, cleaned, greased and put it back.

The ride is marred somewhat with near collisions: two "door gifts" (good thing I kept a safe distance from vehicles by the side of the road), two buses, two pedestrians.

On a secluded road, a traffic cop asks me to cycle on the pavement. There's a transporter; I count the tyres: 154.

My two tyres get me home. I've thought of getting a new bicycle as so much has failed: rims, free hub, chainrings. A shifter is going too. But, when something has gone through so much that it's worn out, fixing it and giving it a new lease of life is just like life. Some things are worth saving.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bling bling and a dirty job

Kovan, 12 km.


My rear wheel and I take the train to bikeshop#2. That is after bikeshopman#1 says my hub is dead. He wants to sell me a new wheel set, saying my rims are concave - notwithstanding that the wear line is visible and I put the rims on little over 2,000 km ago.

I tell bikeshopman#2 I'm glad he's around. No one wants to do his dirty job; they'd rather sell me bling bling, whereas he brings things back to life. For $50, including a new freehub body unit, he brings my rear wheel back to life. In fact, he brought the old unit back to life too, by bashing it on the ground after removing it. I tell him "no, I don't want it". He agrees not to reinstall it; like he said, it might fail again in the middle of nowhere. He removes the seal and tuts tuts. It is crud-encrusted. I tell him, it's the dirt of different countries.


Back to bikeshop#2, by bicycle. The rear wheel has the jitters so bad, the rear derailleur does not shift well. I cycle gingerly. Otherwise, the chain will skip like a schoolgirl skipping school.

Bikeshop man doesn't understand why this happens; he says the freehub body unit is the same dimensions as my old one. He moves a washer from one side to the other. Well, seems to work now. Oh, listen to the hub click and spin like a windmill in a breeze. How hard I've been labouring, without knowing it.

Today is the first time I'm using "new" pedals; they are old, but hardly used, from a relative. They're so new, they glow. I thought my old cleats were worn out. But no, it's the pedals - I know so as new cleats slosh about in them too.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Running into trouble

Pretty, but no taxis here

Punggol, 75 km. As a volunteer on bicycle patrol at Craze Ultramarathon, I look out for runners in trouble. Their distances range from 43 km to 160 km (100 miles). My patrol is a loop from checkpoints 4 to 5, then reverse. I bring along a water pistol but only one rider wants it to cool off. Most others appreciate a thumbs up; they wave, smile or return the gesture. Others thank me (or groan) when I tell them how far away is the next checkpoint; I don't say so when it's more than 5 km away.

There are two other cyclist on patrol at our route; we ride separately but sometimes meet at checkpoints. One of them has lost his bottle top after dousing heads with water to cool runners. I find it and return it to him.

Five hours into my nine hour shift, I run into trouble. My hub fails. I'm like a cartoon character now; I move my legs as much as I like, but I don't move an inch. Like when my wheel exploded last year, when I see what's happened, I know it is game over.

Crestfallen, I report my situation to the organizer then walk and walk my bicycle to where I can catch a taxi. The driver is reluctant when he sees my bicycle.

I place it tenderly in front of the rear seat, pad it with rags and wipe the floor mat before I disembark.

A bicycle that cannot be cycled is a dead weight that comes with a feeling of helplessness.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chain change

Kovan, 11 km. I get my chain changed, after perhaps 2,500 km and rear derailleur fixed (bikeshop man washes it in petrol, then oils it) so it doesn't get stuck whenever I remove my wheel.  Brakes adjusted too, though I was going to do it myself.

Odometer reading: 61,306 km

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bad things happen so that good will follow?

13-15 Sep, Malaysia (Malacca - Batu Pahat) - Singapore, 311 km

Where the rubber meets the road
Day 1: 13 Sep, Singapore to Malacca. This is my 14th charity ride. Or is that 15th? There are two rides this weekend: one in Malaysia, one in Indonesia. When I signed up for both, they were in separate months, but because of the haze, the earlier Malaysia one got postponed to the same weekend as the Indonesia one.

I apologise to the second organiser, hand over the cash and join the first organiser. Just over 90 cyclists take part (over a hundred signed up, but the postponement led to 10% attrition); there's support crew and cars too.

I cycle 19 km to the start point. I'm so early, i cycle to a McDonald drive-in for food. I help load up the bus to Malacca with bicycles then settle down for shuteye.

At the hotel, my wheel feels squishy. Puncture. A two-cm long piece of wire. When I feel the inside of the tyre, there's another 5 mm sticking out on the inside of the tyre. What's the point of knobby tyres if they go flat? But I guess the knobs are somewhat flat too!

Nightstop: Hatten Hotel

Solar powered
Peace and quiet
Day 2: 14 Sep, Malacca to Batu Pahat, 106 km. Overnight, my rear derailleur missed the rear wheel so much, it seizes up. I manhandle it to get it to work after gentle coaxing fails; no time for niceties now. At the start line, someone can't get her cyclocomputer to work. I give away my sole spare CR2032 battery and swap the battery for her. So, now my bicycle is lighter. Another cyclist loses his sole, which he fixes with duct tape.

Along the way, I see what is possibly the fastest man on this ride off his bike. A broken carbon spoke. Ok, I won't complain about by staight gauge steel spokes anymore. My inner tube holds up; first time I'm riding Presta valve in a rim made for Schrader.

On my fat tyres, I drop further behind. Yes, the world prefers thin people and thin tyres. I draft a roadie till she says her stomach hurt. So I pull her along. "Look at the houses, look for flowers, see that house, it's got three cars," I say, my feeble attempt to take her mind off things-

At the lunch point, I don't feel like eating much. I have four bananas, till the medic gives me her noodles. I do a good deed too; I return a guy's skullcap which  I found in the toilet. I say it wasn't in the cistern but he washes it anyway.

About 10 km out, I see a sign. Rest stop. Petrol kiosk. With Milo ice cream. Must stop.

Back on the road, I pass loads of roadies who've pulled over the roadside for cooling shade. It's a hot hot day. I trundle past them, pretending that I'm solar powered. I get to the hotel after 1 pm. And wait for my bag which is somewhere back there in a support vehicle.

Nightstop: Pinetree Hotel

Roadies ahead, MTBs sweep

Day 2, Batu Pahat-Singapore, 186 km. It rains, with thunder and lightning. We wait. Some support cars are ahead for an onsite weather report. It's still raining but without lightning. We get the all clear to cycle in the rain.

When the road is flooded. I plough through with my fat tyres. This is like a river crossing, without the gravel on the riverbed, just firm tarmac. When traffic passes on the other side, spray hits me full in the face. Hard. Just as well I'd managed to pop my sunglasses lens back; it'd popped out earlier.

M, the guy with the broken spoke, is back in the ride. Yesterday, he'd borrowed a car, gone home to another country to pick up a spare wheel. Today, he pulls a peloton of about ten along. W and I, on our mountain bikes, fall behind. My fat tyres sound like a flight of angry flies. But the buzz stops. Puncture.

Support crew, thank you
I find the hole and match it to the tyre. A 2 cm nail sticks out. My second puncture of the ride. I fix it with my spare tube and we press on. Separated from the rest, we decide to skip rest and lunch. W passes me an energy bar.

My speed falls and I'm losing steering control. I look down. Puncture, my third. I have no more spare tubes with me. I settle down for a long walk. Moments later, a support car appears beside me, driven by M, founder of this charity ride. Thanks to W, we're on the right route after all!

M drives me to town, where there are two bicycle shops. Both are closed. P, the tech support crew, manages to find a fat tube for me, amidst the stock of roadie tubes. He shines a torch but I can't find what caused the puncture. M tells me to wait for another group to finish lunch, so I eat too. "You may ride with us, but we cycle slow," V says.

We set off together. Whenever the support cars leave us, I lead. At a rest point, a roadie tyre bursts. Just like that. P replaces the tube, inflates it and it bursts again. He checks the tyre and finds a cut. I suggest he boots the tyre and he does with a tyre patch. It works and we go on.

Support car leaves us to wait for another group. "Just go straight," were the oral directions. We come to a fork in the road. After discussion, we decide to go straight. But it doesn't feel right. I ask everyone to U-turn. We see M again, who points out where to go. And so I lead, past immigration and customs. Where to next? The written instructions are congratulatory in nature.

"Do you trust me?" I ask V. "Would you cuss me?" The answers to both are "Yes". So I lead again, and we reach the end point - the charity we are raising funds for - to applause. Some people ask me: "Why are you so late?" I should've reached hours ago.

But what adventures I've had. Three punctures on knobby tyres, when I've cycled a thousand km on slicks without mishap. But if I wasn't here, would this group have had a harder time with a cut tyre and navigating?

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Hungry to ride

Seletar, 40 km. It's dinner time. If I have dinner then ride, my ride will end late. So, I ingest sugar (Ribena and Dextro tablets), then train for next week's charity ride. Whenever I reach traffic lights, I detour, to keep up my pace instead of stopping.

I end up near an airport. Wide, empty roads where I race up and down. No wasteful ambling, just training, just below lactate threshold. With few traffic lights, there is little rest but much workout. Better use of time, which I'm running out of. Come to think of it, I'm not even running, other than running out of time :o

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Six surprises

Choa Chu Kang, 73 km
1. I get up early Sunday morning when it's still dark to cycle, instead of my usual dusk ride. This is training for this month's charity ride.
2. Some roadies pass me, I tail them one at 45 km/h. I think that's fast, until another peloton hurtles past.
3. W, the usual sweeper who said he isn't coming, shows up.
4. Minutes after we start the ride, we stop for breakfast. For almost an hour.
5. There is a 25% no show rate. We don't need me to sweep. I'm the sweeper with a sweeper! So, I break off and go home.
6. A monster passes me by. It is a dragon on wheels, perhaps over 30 tyres. Its speed limit decal declares 20 km/h. 35, 41, 48 … at 54 km/h, it still pulls ahead of me. I've never cycled so fast on fat tyres before, have I?

On the way home, I see two "pelotons" of grey warbirds roar low in the sky. I later find out it's the airforce's 45th anniversary.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Clearly wrong

Aug distance: 470 km

Woodlands, 63 km. The heat pounds down, the kind that gives a pounding headache. At the traffic lights, a transporter is ahead of me. As it pulls away, I cycle close to it. In seconds, I'm going uphill at 45 km/h.

I'm heading for a charity ride briefing. I was there last year. I recall the carpark, the staircase. But I can't find it! I circle around. I could keep looking, but almost an hour has gone by.

I head home. Trucks pass by so close, a passenger could reach out and touch me. Or, if smoking, flick ash on me. Or spit on me. At home, I look at the map. The briefing venue. I was so close and yet so far!

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Woodlands, 49 km. How should I tag this ride? I want to run instead so this isn't "cycletherapy". But I should train for next month's charity ride so should this be "training"?

It'd rained so hard, water was coming through my windows. At journey's  start, there's a string of red lights at every junction. Hours after the rain stopped, the roads are still wet. I cycle through a cloud - of insects. I feel them on my face and wonder how many I inhale.

On a whim, I try a different route. Initially quiet, it filled with roaring, speeding traffic within seconds. I turn into a quiet residential estate and almost crash head-on with a Mercedes SLK; the driver had behaved inappropriately with a four-letter word: "stop".

This kind of missing, I can cope with.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Older, crazier

8-10 Aug, Johore, Malaysia, 317 km

Day 1, Batu Pahat, 164 km. Alarm clock sounds. As if on cue, strong winds buffet trees and rain

pours. I feel like going back to bed, instead of cycling. But out I go anyway.

Like one of them said (there are six of us), nothing tastes good on this trip: the roti canai is like inner tube, even the ice does not feel cold. Only the durians are good: sweet, creamy, fragrant. Even the houseflies are in a feeding frenzy. They are more energetic than I am.
Nice long roads: light traffic, nice drivers, no traffic lights

By lunch time, I'd covered the equivalent of half a month's work of cycling. Only half the day has gone by. Dragon Brother (on a classic Bridgestone MB3 and fat tyres rolling lazily at 30 km/h) drops back so I can draft him to rejoin the rest. "Welcome back", says the Treasurer. "Are you sick?" asks D. "Sick of cycling," I reply.

The last time I was at this hotel was in 2005. It was a slow, easy ride then. Why is it so hard now? Then I realise I'm older now, fully loaded and with fat tyres on downhill rims and straight gauge spokes. Instead of 1.25" slick tyres on Made in France Mavic rims and double butted spokes, and support vehicles. So now, I'm older and crazier. My performance today is still sucky, but I feel better than when I started, wondering why I left a warm dry bed for a long wet ride.

Better to ride slow and be in good spirits, than to ride at high speed in low spirits. And at least it stopped raining up north, cool and overcast is good.

Nightstop: Pelican Hotel

Day 2, Kulai, 97 km. So, should I head home the way I came, or follow M to Rengas then break off from the rest as they go to Mersing? Pointless chatter in my head. D decides we shouldn't be heroes. We will cut short our trip by a day.

As it turns out, I'm frisky today. The wonder of a good night's sleep. Along the way, we stop for pineapples, drinks, breakfast part 2, then lunch.

The hills roll along this route. It is so hot, Zambuk melts, then solidifies at room temperature when temperature falls as the sun goes down.

Nightstop: B-link Hotel. This hotel is RM65 per room. It is small, we're told to leave our bicycles locked outside the hotel, then bring it into the reception for the night. The sink leaks, the water cistern is without cover (to flush, pull the lever inside). There's room for us here (and good food a few minutes' walk away), unlike at Batu Pahat, where we found room at the third hotel we checked with.

Add colour to your life. Wear colourful jerseys :)
Day 3, Singapore, 56 km. Treasurer has a neckache. Last night, Dragon Brother used his steely fingers. Today, I chop with the edges of my hands like knives on mincemeat. This is called massaging the numbers?

It's good cycling in Malaysia. The people are friendly, some drivers toot to say hello rather than "get out of the way". Almost all gives us our right of way. Some pedestrians cheer us.

With new roads, there are fewer slip roads to filter past. It's almost as safe as going back via Sultan Aminah Hospital (the coastal route). The onky thing that bugged me is a crank that creaks. I imaginedbit might explode in a shower of parts but it didn't, of course.

I'm glad I came after all.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Two good to be true?

Yio Chu Kang, 41 km. It's evening. I'm so tired, I have three cups of tea before I head out. I discover two loops today, each about two km long. Two loops, two km. I like.

Loop 1 is secluded, with broken road at one end and a tarred road sprinkled with fine gravel at the other. Zero traffic in between. All I have for company is a lone sentry. He stands silently, not moving. Even the fan in the guard house is still.

Loop 2 is in an industrial area. There are occasional heavy vehicles ahead, but the road is wide.

It is only when I head home that there is a near miss. Or rather, a near hit. The taxi driver didn't even slow down as he shot out from the slip road, nor did he spare a glance when I yelled. Life of a cyclist is like a bug's life, it may end on a windscreen.

A secluded road beside an industrial park. An industrial park safe for cycling. This country isn't Marin County, but there's some cycling to be had. Don't accept the status quo, keep looking, elsewhere if need be. And a bug can have fun.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Still searching

Jul distance: 157 km

File photo, 2005.
Scene is gone, photo remains
Seletar, 34 km. I seek another route today. A simple loop that doesn't take as long, yet gives me a good workout. Lots of slopes, little traffic would be ideal. Parked cars on narrow roads are bad for the health.

I check out a few locations. I'll be back. Hopefully, the haze won't.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Piddling pedaling

Buangkok, 33 km. It's such a nice sunny day. I wait till it is dusk, then head out. I pack my camera to shoot the sights. Someday, all these open spaces will be gone. Watch this space!

While it was easy access last week, this week is different. I survey the terrain, carry and walk my bicycle, then double back. It's a balancing act, clambering past a fallen tree in tall grass.

I spy a trail beside a road and head up. A jogger looks at me. I pass a tree: someone has placed a pot of water in front of it (does a tree have a front?) and white cloth around it. Then, I hear furious barking. OK, I hear you, I'm out of here!

Then, to the medical park. It's so quiet, the road sweeper leaves her chest-high, four-wheeled outdoor garbage container half-blocking the road as she sits by the kerb to rest.

Barely two hours later, I'm back home. Such a short distance! But I did push myself hard sometimes. I can feel the burn in my legs somewhat. There are, after all, no traffic lights at all on this stretch and some (short) slopes.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

All dressed up. Where to go?

Buangkok 36 km. I dress in my cycling gear. I know I don't want to cycle my usual circuit. But I don't know where to go.

I wander into an industrial park, where car workshops sprout. I pass through flatland with a single track, with tall apartments within holler distance. Then I end up in a medical park. Not in an ambulance, but on my bicycle. I do laps there; during this time, only four vehicles pass me, and several joggers - there's a fitness park here too.

Overhead, a couple of F15s roar past. Below, a man sits by the roadside. I don't know if he's talking to me whenever I pass, or  just muttering to himself. I doubt he's a patient from the mental institution here.

This is a nice place to cycle. It's quiet, no traffic lights. If something bad happens, there's Accident & Emergency on the grounds. Somewhat disconcerting are the bars, some barbed wire and rows of beds.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Clear the air

Woodland 54 km. Choking, hazardous haze above 400 PSI had made cycling too bad for health and kept me off the road. Today is different. Air quality is in the "good" range, below 20 even. I revel in the freedom. I draft a truck laden with metal rods as thick as thumbs. It's an easy pace of 38 km/h. I also cycle "hands free" uphill.

I'm glad to ride but then I think I should be running instead, even if it takes as long (2.5 hours) as cycling. Have things changed that much? 2.5 hours feels longer on foot than on wheels, though the distance is way shorter. Now that I've been alive so long, do I look for different things? This is beyond hedonic adaptation.

May be this has to do with being "poisoned"?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Survival of the adaptable

Jun distance: 150 km

Old Upper Thomson Road, 42 km. It's been  long time (21 Dec 2011, to be precise) since I last did "circuit training". Instead of braving the traffic on the busy roads, I take the old, lonely road. No traffic, just a couple of joggers, the occasional cyclist, a lone monkey. And eight wild boars; four adults,four kids. I tap my brake levers to give them early warning that I'm passing into their personal space. I'm glad they don't bowl me over as they cross at right angles to my direction and crash into the undergrowth ahead of me.

I used to cycle with a headband, as dripping sweat would sting my eyes otherwise. It's been a sultry hot day but since I cycle at night, I skip the band. No sweat. I don't need it.

At work, I've got a key position unfilled, for the first time. The workload is split among the team. I'm the point man now. And the rainmaker too. All firsts. I hope it works out. Still, I've been through worst. And it's a good ride today.

Oh, what am I training for? A charity ride next month. My first one with downhill rims. No more wussy slick tyres.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Peace and quiet - not

Woodlands 55 km. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Nearby, a party blasts away. It is such a party, a Red Rhino and its civil defence crew is on standby nearby. The noise gets to me, so I roll out. It is drizzling.

I've not cycled at night for a long time. It is cool and quiet. I like cycling. A well-tuned bicycle is quiet efficiency. I explore a road I've never been on, and add 10% to my usual distance.

I'm 30 minutes away from home when there's a flurry of frenzy. Dogs. A pack by the road. They bark. A black one lunges out. I yell at it and take evasive action. Good thing there's no traffic behind me and no traffic lights in front. Otherwise, I might have become minced meat.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Flexibility and opportunity

Woodands, 53 km. It's a routine now. Rest and relax first part of the day, then cycle. But when it's about time to cycle, it rains. Ok then, I'm flexibe, I can chill more. A short while later, the rain stops.

Today, I read about a businessman. Actually, a businessyouth. He sold roasted chestnuts in supermarkets till the latter got acquired by a western chain. "What's with the smell and smoke?" the new owners ask. He gets cooking hobs installed and ceiling painted each night. Then he roasts the nuts elsewhere and sells them in the supermarkets. Business falls. What's roasted chestnuts without roasting? To cut a long story short, he sells roasted seaweed now, nicely wrapped in resealable bags. In several countries.

If his family wasn't in debt, he wouldn't have gone into business. If the supermarkets hadn't been acquired, he wouldn't have diversified.  He says his succcess came from problems.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

You get what you pay for

May distance: 99 km

Woodlands 49 km. I struggle with my first tablet. It's a lesser-known brand, cheaper than the usual Taiwan brands. I should've paid more. Still, it's usable, just imprecise for precision typing and drag and drop.

Similarly, I "saved" some money on bicycle shorts. But it was false economy. The more expensive ones aren't worse for wear, but the cheaper one is a let down: I wear it less often, but it's worn out compared to the other, expedition-proven one.

I shouldn't let these things get to me. This time last year, an era ended. It was (and still is) painful but, somewhere along 1,441 km of cycetherapy, I figured that things could get better. With hindsight, the end of an era wasn't the end of the world.

So I count my blessings on this ride:
Zero creaks
One smooth transmission
Two drivers yield to my right of way instead of cutting across as they are wont to do
Trees (by the roadside)
Forlorn, begone
Five lanes, I filter safely across

You get what you pay for.
You feel what you think.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Woodlands, 50 km. It's been rough, dealing with the impetuous, ill-judged and so in-your-face. Hobson's choice: even if I don't choose, I'm making a choice. As it turned out, things didn't work out. But I'll never know if I did the right thing, because I don't know what would've happened if I didn't choose. I guess, in such situations, heuristics would've helped. But then, even proverbs conflict: "great minds think alike" vs "fools seldom differ".

To get away from it all for a while, I cycle more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. But I'm glad I did. It's not raining, it is cool.

Two cyclists, one of them a roadie, ride against traffic flow and head towards me. A taxi sees me and pulls out anyway. A roadie dressed in black overtakes me and waves. In the night, he can barely be seen. I crank it up and draw beside him and yell: "Your tail light is out!" He replies: "Must be the battery. Flat." He pulls away. I catch up with him at a traffic light. When the light turns green, he waves to me and vanishes into the dark. All he has are tiny, tiny reflectors.

For my insurance, I have a big tail light, two (small) reflectors on my bicycle (and two strips on my helmet) and a gleaming shoulder sash. If only I have such a safety margin elsewhere.

Wishbone Ash's Persephone plays in my head. I realise that when there's a song in my head, I can't think of anything else. It's a kind of meditation, a kind of hush to trouble and fuss.

Oh, the world is 41,000 km round. Today I cross the 60,000 km mark.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Caught in between vs best of both worlds

Apr distance: 182 km

Seletar, 31 km. I'm sandwiched. Rain before the ride and dinner appointment after. I debate whether to ride at all. I know I should; I've already eaten a cyclists' diet. All those calories need to go somewhere. That, plus habit.

Habit is a good thing so off I go, but not on my habitual route. I take a shorter route, and create it on impulse.

Look forward to my next ride; will be crossing the 60,000 km mark, which is 1.5 times the girth of the earth.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ride or run?

Woodlands, 49 km. It's been a sucky week, as if a vampire has been sucking my blood. Today, I'm so drained, I just want to vegetate. But that's not going to help.

Shall I run or shall I ride? I choose the latter. I'm pleased yet not surprised that once I roll, I smile. It is simple to run but to roll is better.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sweet start, wet finish

Woodlands, 57 km. I've never had pancakes, honey, peanut butter, bananas, ice cream and conversation before a ride. The sun goes down, it is pleasant, till the rain comes down. It's not heavy, but lightning arcs repeatedly across the night sky.

"Is it safe to ride?" C asks. I guess so. Lightning flashes, but the crash of thunder is absent. In any case, while cyclists hit by cars have been in the news, I not read about cyclists being hit by lightning while on the road.

The ride started dry, with tea in the tummy and ended this way, but at least we're safe though wet.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

In the long run

Sembawang, 45 km. The last time I cycled was a month ago. Why the hiatus? Partly the rain, partly the train. No, I didn't get run over by a train. I stopped to train. For a long run. In the end, I covered 75 km last week. That's no big deal on wheels. But on foot, it's a big deal. It's my first ultramarathon.

Today, it's good to be back in the saddle. When the wheels started rolling, my face started smiling. Just like that. My face doesn't behave that way when I run. Let's face it, cycling needs way more equipment than a pair of shoes. But, cycling is more fun.

I'm a little embarrassed that today, I cycle less than I ran last week. But still, today is more fun and less pain than last week.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Sign of the times

Mar distance: 45 km (what? this is the only ride in Mar?!)

Sengkang, 45 km. I'm stewing in my juice. "Sky juice" isn't raining from the sky. Instead, sunshine is pouring down. So, to the outdoors I escape.

My chain is clean. Really clean. Instead of using a toothbrush and solvent, I'd dug out my Park Tools "Chain Gang", which had laid abandoned and forlorn for so, so long. It's done its job so well, my drive train feels so, so different.

I thought that cycling would cleanse me, just as the Chain Gang had cleaned my chain good as new. But that's not to be.

Troubled thoughts keep pace with me, though I've got to keep my wits up and eyes open on the traffic.

On a whim, I turn into a road with a "dead end" sign. It used to be a dead end, but no longer. Yes, the sign is still there, but things have changed, permanently. Sometimes, it makes sense to ignore the signs? On the other hand, if the sign turned out to be right and the road was a dead end, it's no big deal.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Seeing red

Feb distance: 410 km

Changi, 122 km. On this group ride, I am the marker at major junctions: when the sweeper passes, I chase down main body to mark the next junction.

There are 28 cyclists. The Bromptom Brigade is in the swing of things: blaring Abba, even a box of durian puffs.

As the night rolls on, some cyclists roll slower. Only distant red blinkers sheds light on which way the lead cyclist has gone. In a park, even that little ray of hope is gone. It doesn't help there are other groups of cyclists about, and the tail gets dropped like a lizard.

I tell the tail to wait while I scout for the rest, and eventually find them. It's clear, on this night ride, there are too many junctions and not enough markers. A few of us reorganise ourselves so there's one more marker. That works better.

At the end of the ride, only 2/3 of the pack is left; the rest have gone home along the way. By the time I get home, it is 3.30 am. At this time, the roads are peaceful, quiet and safe.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Crazy water snake?

Punggol 36 km. This is the Year of the Snake, according to the lunar calendar. The weather has been wet this year so far, with flash floods even. Is this the year of the water snake? Or just a snake year gone crazy? When the rain stops, I cycle to a campus but am denied entry.

The security guard admits that motorcycle entry is ok but not bicycle entry. He explains there's no parking for bicycles. It makes no sense to him that I'm there to cycle, not park. Nuts.

I cycle near an institute for mental health, then, on a whim, head into a park connector. It is crowded with cyclists, joggers, strollers, roller bladers and families with kids and prams. I get back on the road where I feel safer - with ample room to clear my head.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Lim Chu Kang, 69 km. It sounded like a car. I glance to my right, a bicycle whirrs past on aero wheels. Later, I hear another bicycle behind me, it sounds like a creaky "market bike". But I can't shake it off. How can such a noisy keep up? I veer off and look as it passes; it's a roadie tailing me.

This Lunar New Year is the Year of the Snake. Snake is commonly found as roadkill in Malaysia. Today, two drivers almost mistake me for a snake as they pretend to drive ...

I meet some friends on the road; they are going for lunch. I would join them, but the sunny sky is now grey and I dislike cycling in the rain. If I want to get wet, I'd swim - but I don't like to swim. I speed home, but the rain is speedier. I stop at a bus stop to get out of the drenching rain. But I get on the road again; it doesn't look like the rain is going to let up.

I realise it's not the rain's job to keep me dry, sometimes it rains and rain is wet. Since I live in the tropics, with tropical storms, I'll get wet sometimes. The rain isn't that bad anyway, it's cold and wet but I've been through worse, in Taiwan and Vietnam.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Always a first time

2-3 Feb, Telok Sengat, Johor, Malaysia, 183 km. It's a race against time. To be there at 7am, to be a little late so I don't have to wait like before. I lose the race again, they are late: someone had a tyre puncture but no tyre levers.

Traffic past the causeway is light at 0730. I've cycled thousands of km in Malaysia, but never have I been to Kong Kong and Telok Sengat until today. I like the quiet roads and picturesque villages; the kind of place where Mas Selamat would hide out. We even get to do some offroad!

Our hotel room at Telok Sengat is so big, I can cycle into it and in it. We wash up, wash clothes and dry it in the sun on a clothesline. They dry before sunset. We sit and shoot the breeze, and see the sun go down.

We compare our sunset photos. I realise I was so focused on the ball of fire, I failed to see the rest of the sky beautifully lit up. That's what happens when you don't see the big picture. The picture isn't complete without perspective.

Nightstop: Rumah Tumpangan Pang Ah Ngang

We're up before dawn. The town, which is so small, is still asleep. We cycle out of town for breakfast. There are some slopes on the way to Sungei Rengit. I surge up and down them. Bike leader tells me that since cycling on a mountain bike isn't enough a handicap, they'll chip in and buy me a trailer so I can haul all their stuff.

I catch up on sleep on the ferry. When we make landfall, it is pouring. The rain, combined with my speed, stings. Especially when it hits my lips. Public transport drivers bully me on the roads. Water streams down the roadside. The wind is so strong, the spray doesn't shoot vertically up from my tyres but curves to the side.

This is the maiden overseas trip for my downhill rims.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A little means a lot

Jan distance: 259 km

Woodlands, 50 km. I tighten the leather on my Brooks saddle, three 1/4 turns. And I can feel the difference in my bones, literally.

At a traffic junction, a guy darts across. Brakes squeal, skid marks stretch across the road. A near miss. If the driver was say, glancing at his passenger, there'd be more than skid marks on the road.

A few turns of a screw. A split second reaction on the road. A little, yet it means a lot.

Just like a smile, a text message, a kind word.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Zip up and keep going

Memories of Vietnam from last month
Sembawang, 50 km. The sky has been grey since yesterday. When I leave home this afternoon, it is drizzling. I'm not going to be cooped up. I'm going out.

Wet roads, wet rims and wet from the sky, this is so like last month, so like Vietnam.

When I am already dirty and wet, what can more rain do to me? I zip up my jersey and keep going.

I'm glad to get home out of the cold rain, grateful to have a dry place to go to, a warm shower and a hot drink.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Crash concretely

Sembawang, 45km. How ironic. I've toured with my bicycle overseas for tens of thousands of km. Climbed up mountains and rolled down so fast, my ears popped. Crossed rivers, dodged traffic. All without bloodshed.

Today, blood flows from three holes beside my knee, the result of grass which seems to be the same height as a concrete platform. But seeing is deceiving; feeling is not. It's not short grass and low concrete, but high grass (that flattens) and high concrete. Front wheel crashes to a halt. Part of me lands on grass, leg lands on broken concrete and opens up.

I squirt water on my wounds to wash it and brush off wet grass from my body. My bicycle seems ok. So I keep cycling. I look down on my leg. Blood is flowing. Go with the flow ...

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Courteously cemented

Woodlands, 51 km. Cycling on home ground takes getting used to. While cycling in Vietnam is seemingly crazy, where traffic goes on both sides of the road, the number of hair-raising moments (3 in 500 km) is disproportionately less than back home (1 in 50 km).

Today, bendy bus and a car pass so close to me, I could've flicked my sweat on them.

At a junction, a cement mixer truck slows. While I've the right of way, the truck's got the might of way. I wave thanks to the driver. After the driver lets me pass, he overtakes me. Not just an arm's length away, but an entire lane away. I wave another "thanks" to him. Thank you sir!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Half empty, half full

Woodlands, 63 km. Yesterday, it rained buckets. Curtains down on annus horribilis. A colleague died suddenly, another got diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, some people left. And a girl from India sustained horrible injuries and died in the dying days of the year.

Today, it's sunny. I wipe on leftover sunblock from my aborted Vietnam expedition and cycle.

I'm on top of them before I realise I'm on broken glass. I stop to check my tyres then realise a brake block is misaligned with my hardly-used, 2003 downhill rims. Which explains the "burn" I feel in my legs, which I'd attributed to the fat rims and straight-gauge spokes. If it wasn't for the broken glass, and the chance glance from a different perspective, I'd have continued with the drag.

This incident, plus the 40 cm tear in my rim wall, brings home the point: a glass can be half full, and half empty, at the same time. Sometimes (not all the time), something can be unfortunate, and fortunate, at the same time. It is a choice to see both, not just the bad side.

May 2013 be annus mirabilis, or, at least, a "dead cat bounce" ...