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 :))

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tampines, for the last time

From the outside, looking in. Destruction awaits, trash as fate
Tampines, 34 km. Once again, dark clouds scud overhead. Rolling thunder portends pouring rain.

Once again, the east is clear. I head east, to Tampines trail. I've raced here three times, so I visit it three times to say goodbye. Outside the main gate, I take a photo as a keepsake.

To me, you're the best place in this country to cycle. You had everything, from Monster Mud Madness to Moonscape to Upper and Lower Hamburger, and Wooded Wonder. Gravel, sand, earth, water, trees, ascends, descends and plains.

14 good years.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tampines, revisited

Tampines, 40 km. Dark clouds roll overhead. Thunder rolls. The east has bright blue skies and small, puffy white clouds. I go east. To where I used to race. It is boarded up. Closed since 1 Dec, states a sign that asks for understanding. Yeah, right.

Well, as least the sign writer, and whoever approved it, has empathy.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Goodbye. Again

Tampines, 32 km. I heard it's gone, but I want to see it for myself. When the rain stops, I head out.
The road is still slick from rain and water sprays up. And down. It pours again. I haven't cycled in the rain for so long. I'm resigned to it.

When I reach the Tampines trail, I see it is indeed gone. I was here while it was being upgraded for the inaugural Youth Olympics. The place where I've explored and races several times is flat. It'll become yet another housing estate.

This is the place where I had fun and fear. My worse crash. Bicycle races, joy rides and a cross country race on foot.

Now it is gone. Flattened for flats. Goodbye.

This is a year of goodbyes. Some good, as in good riddance. Some bad, as in sad.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking back

Nov distance: 125 km

Sembawang, 38 km. I use my Matt Black beauty for a short commute today. And my Little Red Tank for a joy ride. I used to look forward to cycling. Then I had to almost force myself to ride. Today is the former. I just have to cycle, and cycle I did, to the coast, to gaze at the water and the other, big country across the straits.

As I cycle there, I have flash backs of the wonderful times on my travels.

That other country is in dire straits, with two aircraft downed inexplicably.

I'm in dire straits too. Again. As I look back at my life, wow, I've gone through a lot. I'm no strawberry. I can take this.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Surprise, surprise

Around my home, 25 km. Surprise surprise. Rainfall is unusually high this month, but it doesn't rain
this evening. And I feel inclined to cycle, to explore.

I see an old lady along a deserted trail. I ask her for directions. She goes up, I go the opposite way. I didn't know the path will lead me past six dogs.

I quickly get off to walk and push my bicycle, hoping the mutts would mistake me for an old lady.

Surprise, surprise.

They leave me alone.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

See the light

Around my home, 19 km. It's drizzling, but I head out to cycle. I've been cooped up all day, and getting out would be good for me.

While drops fall and the sky above is dark, I see light surround the dark clouds. I head east and tool about.

I don't have to let the rain, nor darkness, get to me.

PS: this is my 700th post. But who's counting? In 2003, each month's post could comprise several rides!

Saturday, November 08, 2014


Around my home, 20 km. I see a house in its original condition, dwarfed by two bigger buildings on either side. One set of facts, two different interpretations.
Standing true to one's roots, or standing in the way of progress?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Chicken and egg

Around my home, 23 km.

Should I ride? Depends on where I want to go.

Where do I want to go? Depends on whether I want to ride.

Shall I decide where to go while riding? ok.

There, that wasn't so difficult, was it?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lingering problems

Oct distance: 123 km

Mandai, 38 km. I head back to dog territory, to ride up that hill I'd run up five weeks ago. I ask a jogger stretching at the entrance of the park connector. He says there are no dogs, just monkeys.

On that narrow road, with jungle on either side, I'd have nowhere to go if dog shoots out from the undergrowth; I won't be able to, uh, side step it.

No dogs, just monkeys. One of them monkeys about with a big yellow plastic bag.

Up the hill I go, which I ran up a month ago for my ultramarathon. I survey the scene below me, which includes a cat-shaped kite which flies itself (it is tethered to the ground, with no kite-flyer in sight) and people flying real life parakeets.

I thought my legs were ok after a month of rest, but no. They acted up when i did an easy hour-long run. And they hurt today on my ride. Time to get my legs repaired!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dodging dog

Seeing red in the grey sky
Mandai, 33 km. After the rain stops, I start. Up the slopes where I ran weeks ago, to where the black dog lurks. My feet on my pedals, my heart in my mouth, I charge down the road, eyes peeled for black death lunging at me. It is neither seen nor heard.

The evening sky brightens with a flash. Lighting. I cycle up the highest point of a hill, as lighting flashes in the distance while dark clouds hang over my head. I survey the scene below me, then hurtle down, past black dog's turf. Well, I hope you're gone for good.

I headed out when the rain stopped, but feathery drops brush my face now. The road is wet on the return leg. So it rained while I was away. Great. I'm coming down with a cold, so please don't drench me. I'm not in the mood for it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Long haul

Around my home, 20 km. Things have been falling from the sky. First, dust particles aka haze. And the sky is rumbling today, which means rain is on the way. I head out anyway. Not on my new toy, but my nine-year old bicycle.

It's funny how having a gleaming new toy has made me more interested in cycling. And not with my new toy, but with you. I suppose most people would've cast you aside after putting down good money on something new. But I wouldn't have sought out something new, if I was sure you weren't going to break down and leave me stranded thousands of miles away from home. Or worse, break and get me maimed or killed.

Because old is gold. And silver? Fortunate babies are born with silver spoons. And those who live long enough, get silver-haired.

Nine years, almost 43,000 km. What a journey! Few things (or relationships) last that long.

Back home, I unscrew you and lube your shifters after the grease in you got gummy. The way I've been doing for sometime, to restore you, so that we can click together.

I've looked after you, and you've looked after me. But I know you're weary. While I can fix some things, like lube and replace an exploding rim, what can I do about your very soul, your frame?

Sunday, October 05, 2014

In the long run

Explore new places with an old bicycle
Mandai, 32 km. I've cycled over 64,000 km and my weekly distances are falling with a big thump like big durians from tall trees. Just 20-30 km per week?! I used to cycle that distance for road tests of new equipment.

Today, I don't have to psycho myself to head out.

Two reasons:
a. to cycle down memory lane, part of the route of my longest run ever. 101 km. Did I really do it? Yeah!
b. rekindled the joy of cycling. I have a new (spare) bike. Little Red Tank,  meet Matt Black.

Matt Black
It's just a couple of weeks old. I navigated it safely home through harrowing traffic then scratched it; gouged the crank arm through urban offroad.

Today, I cycle Tank. Soon, my dear machine, your wheels will no longer spin safely and your shifters, already failing, will no longer click.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Up and oval

Sep distance: 273 km

11-14 Sep, Malaysia (Cameron Highlands, Ipoh), 252 km

This is my eighth Bike n Blade. This charity ride is the longest in terms of days (two days to travel to and fro, by bus on 11 and 14 Sep respectively, and two days to ride) and the highest we climb: 1,500m. Everyone's a roadie (including triathletes) except a guy on a recumbent and me on my MTB.

I've a migraine on arrival. I try to sleep it off but fail. I eat a few mouthfuls of dinner, telling myself "three more mouthfuls". I want to keep my food down so I can ride up tomorrow. I want to complete my ride but leave my dinner uncompleted.

This has never happened to me on a charity ride but given this is my x ride. It is reasonable to expect that someday it would happen, just a matter of time. Rather than being unfortunate, I've been fortunate to escape it for so long.

12 Sep "Up". Cameron Highlands, 63 km
We ease out of morning rush hour to the base of the hill. Various roadies talk to me as they overtake.
"Mountain bike?" Well, this is the highlands, which means mountains, which goes with mountain bike. "Are you going to change bike tomorrow (160 km ride)?" "No, same bike, different rider," I quip.

They leave me trailing behind. It's a long climb. I think about strawberries, which grow in these hills. Being a couch potato, I like potatoes. You can slice them, dice them. Stack, drop, fry, bake, mash and freeze them. And strawberries? They go bad so fast. Squeeze them and they leave a sticky mess. Expensive and unsuited for carbo loading. Potatoes are a staple! Strawberries are delicacies, which need delicate handling.

I should stop thinking about these things. The journey doesn't get easier with these thoughts; they get harder. Enjoy the ride instead, ok?

I ask myself, "why am I doing this?" My heavy heart weighs me down. At a water point, I ask the crew if they are from The Salvation Army. "Thank you so much for your support," one says. And that's why I'm doing this. 70 cyclists, 30 crew, $320,000 funds raised for charity and an estimated $0.5m worth of bicycles. My bicycle would be the cheapest. When I unload other people's bikes, I can carry each with two fingers: one to lift, the other finger is just to balance the bike.

Lunch is served at the end of the ride. Buffet of pasta. No water. Strawberry juice is served instead!

13 Sep "Oval" 170 km around Ipoh
Blending in with the peloton and road colour
When the alarm rings at 0530, my first thought is: "I want to sleep, not ride." But I get up; call it habit or discipline. I breakfast on potato wedges.

I stick to the second peloton at the start but get dropped. As I cycle solo, the only rider with me is a motorcyclist who draws alongside and says my jersey is the colour of the road and not visible. I agree.

At a traffic light, the ambulance crew asks if I need anything. I ask if the ambulance is air=conditioned. Of course it is. "Massage?" I ask. "Well there's a bed but you need to get your own masseuse," comes the reply.

As the day draws on, various cyclists pass by, look at my fat tyres and make passing comments such as "strong determination" and "hard core". The ambulance passes by and the crew asks "are you ok?"

I am, until I miss a water point at the 140 km mark. The support vehicle isn't there. When I stop at a coffee shop, a couple of cyclists are there. One insists on buying me a Coke. By now, lunch time has passed. I'd bananas, 100Plus, a packet of energy gel and two cereal bars.

170 km is a long way to go on rolling hills. With fat tyres. Good thing there were some nice, quiet, scenic routes to pass the time.

14 Sep Epilogue
This is the toughest Bike n Blade to date and my toughest charity ride. Cycling up Cameron is cool (pun intended) but 170 km, hot sun and rolling hills is something else.

At breakfast, J says: "I look at his tyres and I feel tired already." S: "He has downhill rims." A: "So the part you enjoy is downhill? What was your max speed?" It was 61 km/h compared to her 58.

Our bus is 90 minutes late. I go back to my room to sit in bed. I'm a couch potato :)

To round it all off, I cycle home, about 9 km away, the same way I came. I seem to be the only one using my own muscle power to get home.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Lap it up

Around my home, 21 km. The ominous black clouds hover above, see? Will the sky open up and the rain pour down? As I'm short of time and don't want to get drenched and fall ill, I do something I've never ever done before in over 60,000 km of cycling.

I cycle around my home, a 2 km loop. There's a little slope, two pedestrian crossings, two traffic lights and some lousy drivers. And if it rains, I don't have to wait it out at some bus stop. I can go home in a jiffy and do other things.

Round and round I go. Easy. Well, it's meant to be a recovery ride since I ran yesterday. It's kinda like a training ride too.

Let's see: one charity ride last week. A 5-hour run yesterday. Another charity ride in a this weekend. And the longest run (so far) of my life the week after that. Whew! Tough?

Not as tough as the puzzling things at work ...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sugar, ice and everything nice

Aug distance: 349 km

22-24 Aug, Malaysia (Malacca - Batu Pahat) - Singapore, 281 km

This is my third ride to raise funds to buy food for the poor. It's good to meet some old cycling pals, some of whom I met in 2010 for a charity ride in Sarawak. We catch up during lunch as we bus up to Malacca on 22 Aug. In the hotel, I catch up on some work.

Nightstop: Hatten Hotel

Proper concentration
23 Aug Malacca to Batu Pahat, 111 km.

One of my bidons is filled with Gatorade, mixed in what I hope is close to the recommended dose. I've read about running nutrition and apply it to cycling. It's not so good to drink plain water after all, I read. When my stomach feels odd after some bananas, only then do I drink water to dilute my stomach contents. Placebo or not, it works. I don't need to take long breaks; at a rest stop, I'm off after a few minutes.

When I run out, I refill with 100Plus. It's 6% concentration: within the recommended range. The escaping carbonation pops my bidon top. Twice. Tip:  don't top up to the brim.

Lunch is a half hour break, then I'm off. When I pass support car #1, I know I should stop at some point. I do when I see a 7-Eleven. I get a slurpee: sugar, slush, artificial colour and flavour, real nice. "Brain freeze!" I sit on the cool tiled floor then the shop staff passes me a stool. I need the break; with the headwind, I've laboured along at 20 km/h at some parts. I enjoy the aircon and move off when I see the first group pass by, then another.

I lead some cyclists to the hotel, abou 20 of us are there by 1.30 pm. I wait two hours for my bag. Well, at least we beat the rain that poured down later.

Nightstop: Katerina Hotel

Exclusion order
24 Aug Batu Pahat to Singapore, 170 km.
I draft a couple of roadies. It's a long straight road to boredom, and against the wind. One of them, with a BMX helmet, asks: "Why  am I doing this?" I wonder aloud: "Why am I doing this three times?" then talk him. He's a mountain biker who's on a road bike. He tells me that when he grows up, he wants go be like me, because I keep up with roadies while on fat tyres. He asks me why I'm not using slick tyres. I tell him about my downhill rims. He tells me he once bought 2.3" tyres and found it tough going.

And this is getting old. My third Ride for Rations. And, this year, my eighth Bike n Blade.

After lunch, we're grouped together. We're to stick to assigned groups as we near the border. The slower group I prefer to be with stop. They've had enough. I'm told to join the faster group. By this time, after 150 km, I'm knackered. I cycle and struggle hard to keep up. The sweeper slows to keep me company. I know some of the rest resent the slowdown. One yells at a man old enough to be her dad. It's not that he's unable to keep up.

What is this ride about anyway? I thought it's to raise funds for those who've been left behind in society. And if some cyclists fail to keep up, that's out of place (pun intended)? This is the first time on a charity ride where I struggle.

At the traffic lights, I catch up, then wait. One of them has a broken handlebar. Carbon. And yesterday, two cyclists break bones.

At the end of the ride, I thank an organiser for taking on this challenge of organising a charity ride, then put myself on a "exclusion" order: if I forget what I feel now and sign up for another Ride for Rations as a cyclist, exclude my participation.

I might sign up as a crew member though. It's no longer fun to cycle, but it's still a good cause. We'll see.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Take it easy

Thomson Road, 24 km. After four hours on foot on the road yesterday, I take it easy today. Not that it's easy to take things easy.

What's easy is, for things that are worked on painstakingly over the years, to unravel suddenly, it seems. But in truth, damage is happening, just that it's not necessarily visible. Then, catastrophic failure.

But then, what's destroyed can be rebuilt, yes?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Amazing grace?

Thomson Road, 24 km. How do I tag this ride? It is training, for a charity ride. It's also a recovery ride, to recover from yesterday's three hour run. And I need to clear my head, forget my woe, for a while anyway.

Amazing but true: what I thought was worse was merely bad. Now, things have got from bad to worse.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Easy rider

Thomson Road, 20 km. After running hard for two hours yesterday, I take it easy today. I want to keep the ride so short that I don't even bring a water bottle.

Part of the route is my Inner Mongolia training route, but I go slowly so I don't get drenched in sweat. And that's the way it is, the same route, but easier than before.

And so, I can see hardship in a different way. The same terrain, just approach it differently.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mountain biking

Jul distance: 327 km

Sembawang, 42 km. Road biking suggests cycling on a road. Mountain biking, taken literally, means cycling up and down mountains. Which may or may not have roads. Trails perhaps, definitely off road. Gravel, dirt, grass, river crossings … rough, certainly.

Work's been rough too. Just as off road can be tough, it can also be fun. What's happened is unprecedented, but there are good possibilities too.

My knee hurts. Perhaps it's the ultra marathon training. But there could be a simpler reason - the dirt in my pedals from the Inner Mongolia ride that makes clipping out harder and more painful.

Well, there's a simple solution to work problems; it just takes effort and time. And a certain way of thinking. When I was cycling in Inner Mongolia, the route was long, the hills interminable. But I didn't rue the hills, they're literally part of the territory.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Strange feeling

Admiralty Road West, 46 km. I'm using a different stem, a gift from H. It is longer and lower. And gives me a twinge in my lower back. So I shift my saddle forward by 2 mm.

Without meaning to, I cycle over 40 km. It's where I've been training.

I'm amazed how these short rides somehow prepared me for a three-day stage race in Inner Mongolia, with short sharp climbs and long gruelling ones too.

Last week, I was in another time, another place. What a strange feeling.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Mishaps and miracles

Cow to cyclist: "Please don't ride on my food.
Welcome to cycle on my poop,  I left lots for you".
2-7 Jul, Xiwuqi, Xilingol, Inner Mongolia, China, 240 km

When my room mate W asks me if I race a lot, I told him I used to but have "retired" from it. I'm here because it is a tour for me. As the race instructions state, "there is cattle (sheep, cows, horses ...) in the grasslands and they occasionally run over our course signs. We count on your sense of adventure and good spirits". What I didn't know was, the adventure begins before my Genghis Khan MTB Adventure.

Days 1-2: 2-3 Jul. SIN-PEK. Non-cycling day.
Surprise 1: my flight is delayed by 1 hour! This means I get three hours of sleep instead of four. Surprise 2: at PEK, there are no holes in my bicycle box. Surprise 3: no taxi driver wants me, because of my bicycle box. A guy shows up and offers to help, for a fee. At the Holiday Inn Express Minzuyuan , I get surprise 4: a free room upgrade. I lie down, half asleep and check out hours later. The hotel staff thinks it's impossible to use the subway. As I push my box along the streets on my makeshift contraption of a foldable trolley, a passerby thinks it is a table.

The "penguin" meat, middle.
Click photo to enlarge
At the charter bus pickup point, I see two guys carry their boxes on their shoulders. "How did you get here?" I ask. "Subway," they say. Surprise 5.

I settle down for a 10.5 hour bus ride, and catch up on sleep. Surprise 6: we don't stop for lunch; the bread, milk and "penguin sausage" we're given in the morning is lunch. I soon realise why there is no lunch; the place is barren. There is food for the buses though: petrol stations.

Surprise 7 awaits at the destination Xiwuqi: when I enter my room at Electricity Hotel, part of the door frame comes off with the security chain. My room mate W is inside. Surprise 8: the meal coupons I've paid for are useless at my hotel. The meals are served only at the race hotel. Without prompting, one of the organizer's staff offers a refund.

And so, for the rest of my stay, it's a race to find food and groceries.

Day 3: 4 Jul. Stage 1: 75 km.
Misadventure #1 My pump is kaput. I'd tested it at home but here, it fails under pressure. W lends me

his. His race prep includes leg shaving! He doesn't need to race for food; he drove from PEK and his car is a grocery store, with milk and whey powder for milk shake, bread, apples, electrolyte and carbohydrate powders. He doesn't eat out. His race strategy is to eat little and race light. He comments on my two big water bottles. He doesn't even intend to carry water for tomorow's  43 km race. A German, he works for Volkswagen. I've a food guzzling "engine".

Ceremonial start to the race
At the start point, I seem to be the only one with a rigid bicycle. Though I suppose anyone on a hardtail with a failed suspension would be on a rigid too.

Misadventure #2: a competitor with platform pedals catches my rear tyre valve as we both push our bicycles. He jerks his pedal free. As the race starts, I steer from one trail to another. #3 My wheel catches on a ridge and i crash. I get up to see a competitor's wheel stopped where my frame starts. Whew. "Ride slow," are his parting words.

I find my rear tyre losing traction. I look down, its not wobbling and seems ok. I think it is the loose sand. I ease off on my pedals to reduce the spin out. At the 17 km mark, a passing cyclist says I've a flat. I stop to feel the rear wheel. A slow leak from a broken valve from the freak accident. No wonder the traction loss and slow speed. I wonder whether to inflate it and ride on to the first checkpoint but decide against it. Too much effort, too little assurance it will hold.

As I fix my flat, the sweeper van and ambulance pull up. I ask if I'm last. When the last man overtakes me, I am last. A DNF cyclist lends me his pump, which works far better than mine. I cut my hand somehow. The drop of blood on my spoke glistens in the sun like dew on a spider web. I am unfortunate, but the poor DNF guy who pulled out so early in the race helps me. I also wonder if the guy on KUL-PEK who arrived without his bike got it back in time.

I'm just 17 km into the race. Time to make up for lost time. I overtake someone on slick tyres. As I close the distance from another cyclist, I tap my brake levers to indicate I'm coming. She veers towards the sound. Our shoulders bump but we don't fall. She gasps "ahh". As I pull away, I see she's wearing slippers.

Head for the hills! Into the horizon
To make haste, I hardly slow down to drink from my bottles. Instead, I quaff a bottle of energy drink and gulp a Snickers bar or two at each drinking station. At one, I overhear someone ask for sunblock. I offer her mine. She asks if I like the ride. I shake my head. I don't tell her about my puncture or crash. She looks at me and says, "To encourage you, it's all downhill from here. The worst is behind us. There's just one more hill."

The hill climb is 150m or more. Not high, but steep though the longest climb is 7.5 km. I clock what is probably my downhill personal best: 38.3 km/h.

I also have another near crash. Hurtling and bouncing in the gully, the wheel could hit the ridge. If I cycle on the ridge, the wheel might slip into the gully. Wherever I am, hang on for dear life.

I've overtaken the laggards, including those at the drink stations. Where is everyone? I see a red jersey in the distance. Red Star, my guiding light. I keep an eye on it as he trail winds it's way up and down. When I overtake Red Star, it's just me.

#4 I get lost when the yellow signs that mark the route disappear. I stop at the race hotel, get directions and sprint. Tired, I fail to see the finish line is against traffic flow. I waste more time before I find the way.

W is already back in the room. He has a bad crash, with abrasions. He rested half hour before finishing the race, yet is ahead of me. Like me, he crashed outside of the danger areas, which include "corrugated" trails downhill. This trail is technical in parts. Need to pick a line, for speed and safety.

I'm a kite, fly me
Day 4, 5 Jul. Stage 2, 64 km. The sky brightens at 4 am to what sounds like firecrackers. When the wind blows, my room door shakes. I'm awake.

After yesterday's pounding, I decide to buy a tyre. Bikeshop man goes to the back of the shop and digs out a good tyre for me. "The ones in front are no good," he says. A lady, presumably his wife, says, "You're racing, right?" It is a good tyre, at a good price. I also drop by a shopping mall. The mannequins outnumber the staff who outnumber customers. A couple of staff lie down to sleep.

W decides to rest too after yesterday's crash. As I head out, I hear something loose. Yikes! I tighten headset and front skewer.

At the start line. Dude with aero helmet
At the start line, I'm fifth row from the front, away from newbies and platform pedals that knock into tyre valves. When the race starts, hordes overtake me. Bewildered, I stop to check my tyre. Seems ok.  I keep it on the soft side for offroad. It's the only suspension I have. Though I suppose a hardtail with faulty fork is a rigid bike too.

The ride is uneventful. There are danger signs. When I see them, I sometimes think "you call this dangerous?" Sometimes, danger is not immediately obvious. The most dangerous for today is downhill on rutted ground and a hard right turn after that.

I dismount to shoot this photo. If every shot takes 30 seconds,
what a big time penalty! I shoot about a hundred times
There are some steep climbs. I don't get off; I'm here to cycle not push my bike.

The wind blows across the plain. I feel like a kite, with a cord drawing me to the finish line. But where is it? There is no arch im the distance to shoot for. A policeman points the way.

After that, it's about 20 km back to my hotel. Others stay at the finish line for the official welcome dinner and bonfire.

W stays in the room while I dine on hotpot. I eat enough for two meals. Tomorrow is the longest day.

I also repair my watch strap with Elastoplast; a watch shop doesn't carry that model and won't even try to fix it.

The longest day
Day 5, 5 Jul, Stage 3, 100 km. W leaves at 5 am - in his car. He's going home. I eat poorly, get ready to checkout and get ready to race.

At the start line, I meet A, who had used my sunblock in Stage 1. I tell her about my crash and slow
Muddy Waters. The "Waffen SS" car is behind
leak. "It's your duty to encourage me," she quips. I tighten her seatpost for her  and say "One hour warranty". When the race starts, I see an unzipped saddle bag with energy gel in it and yell at the rider.

Ah, uphill and against the wind. It's so strong, it lifts the drinking station tent.  I am sunbaked like the trail and wind dried. I imagine things: that cyclist with his back to me turns out to be a flat rock, the cyclist holding his bike turns out to be a fence post and support strut, the yellow directional arrow turns out to be yellow flowers.

I also see a jeep in olive green with the words "Waffen SS" and, later, a vehicle on the trail. The people don't get out of the way as I head downhill. One says "be careful", then I see deep ruts in the ground. It could've been a bad crash at that speed. The guys move off. I'm grateful they warned me. I wonder about the other riders.

Sometimes it's like cycling on talcum powder. I know, as I fell while going uphill. "You should've gotten off earlier," said one cyclist. Everyone else there was pushing. This is the only time I push.

I'm grateful for the big knobs on my front tyre. On the "talcum" downhill, I slip and slide but the knobs bite somehow. I wonder what it would be like on semi-slicks.

My shifters don't shift well. I adjust the barrel adjusters. There's also chain suck. No more shifting on demand. I have to shift early and ease off when the chain clanks.

There's a stretch off downhill so fast I use the sides of the furrows as berms when I corner.

The numbers on the km markers go bigger and bigger, past the 60, past the 90 km mark. The last few km make a last ditch effort to drop us. The rider in front of me gets off to push up these last climbs. I keep going.

Back in town, I sprint past the finish line at 44 km/h. Sporadic applause breaks out. It is done. I do my "victory lap" round the town square to warm down and feel this one last time. I made it. Months ago, I'd emailed the organiser to ask what happens if I'm injured or bicycle is damaged; how do I get back in time to catch the bus? The reply was, you have to finish, or else it would be hard to find you.

My watch is on my wrist, I'm on time
My watch, which fortunately has more bandage on it than me, has held up. And I'm on time to get back to the hotel, dismantle my bicycle, have a quick wash in a toilet and in time to catch the overnight bus back to PEK.

I talk to the volunteer on the bus, who tries to contact the bus driver who'd seemed interested to drive me from the bus drop off point to the airport. Well, he doesn't seem interested anymore. B overhears me. "You want to go to the airport? We're going to the airport, we've hired a van. There's room for you." As simple as that, problem solved. I'm at the airport at 4am, in time for a long wait. Somehow, I'm not hungry, not sleepy. I'm just glad I made it, through the race and the mad rush to the airport.

So many things happened on this trip. I'm literally shaken up, racing off road on a rigid bicycle. While training for the race, I was clocking below 20 km/h on the grass, "training" just once a week, usually 2-3 hours per ride. It would be a tall order to cycle 100 km at this pace and still cross the finish line in time to catch my bus, but I went to the race anyway.

At the end of the road: a dark horse who made it
A freak accident and slow leak, being last at one point, then being among the 43% who finish, and somehow, without knowing in advance how, not getting stranded 2x in PEK.  I could've been left stranded with the deadweight of a bicycle box, but for an overheard conversation. Just as I overheard people asking for help and helped, someone overheard and solved a big problem for me, just like that.

Highlights of the internal journey of this trip: to be kind, to see things as neutral (hills are hills), to remember the purpose (I'm here to ride, so ride up all them hills rather than be dismayed at how they stretch into the distance).

Saturday, June 28, 2014

At last

Jun distance: 193 km

Admiralty Road West, 50 km. My new WTB tyre is on its maiden ride. It buzzes loudly compared to my Merida tyre; the latter is lighter, with lower rolling resistance.

I cycle loops, pushing myself hard. Traffic is heavy and I sprint a few times to get away from heavy metal, including a transporter big enough to carry a bulldozer.

Without intending to, I've found a new training route: it's quiet, with no cars even after several rounds. There's a dog which lunged at me, then charged alongside towards an open gate. Fortunately, that was its neighbour's gate, with a fence between it and me.

Back home, I check my bicycle, do some maintenance then box it up. It's only after I'm done that I realised I've not referred to my packing instructions. After several trips (this is the fifth time I've packed this bicycle box), getting a bicycle expedition ready is muscle memory.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What the blazes

The wispier the clouds, the less cloud cover there is and the hotter it gets
Woodlands, 61 km. It is hot. So hot, I sweat even when I'm sitting still. At 6 pm, it's still sweltering. But
I didn't cycle last week, so, I've got to train.

Regardless of: how hot it is, how my back hurts, and even though I ran yesterday.

I purposely cycle with soft tyres at 40 psi. The higher rolling resistance means more effort in less time but also less distance on dangerous roads where cars and buses come too close for comfort.

As the ride grinds on, I get that sleepy feeling.

Soon, the training will end. And the unknown will begin!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Goodbye again

Lim Chu Kang, 82 km. Time to train hard. Buzzed by a bus, I head into some grassland. But it's overgrown in places. Tall grass whips me and a thick strand of spider web dangles from my bar end.

I used to do this long route as a routine, in 2010, 2011. My last ride there was in Oct 2013. Now, I wonder if I've got what it takes. Well, yeah, though it's 2x what I've been doing in recent years.

Today, I say goodbye to my chain, prematurely discarded because it broke last year while on expedition in Sumatra. I replace it with an old model, HG73. I hear Shimano doesn't make it any more. I couldn't get it from two other shops today, so I go back to a really old shop. There, someone I know lets me jump queue while she goes for dinner.

Too bad the shop closes next month. Bikeshop man says he'll be back, someday, somewhere. Meanwhile, instead of being boss, he joined someone's staff.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday night fever

May distance: 267 km

Sembawang, 52 km. I'm so sick and tired, I sleep more than ten hours before I awake. I want to rest more to recover fully from my cold and intend to train tomorrow, but a loud party tonight puts paid to that. And so I cycle.

Again, what was meant to be a shorter ride ends up 2.5 hours long, including several rounds of an old road where I keep my eyes peeled for wild pigs darting across the road. Well, none tonight but on the big roads, a big bus buzzes me.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fear of fur

Mandai 51 km. Thunder rumbles in the distance. I cycle in search of grass and clear skies. In a park, I cycle on a slope so steep, my pedal hits the side as I cycle along the contour.

Along the road, I see that it has rained. It is misty. Rays from the setting sun filter through the trees. It is red. It is beautiful.

But pain and suffering is nearby. I have close calls with pedestrians crossing the road without looking, a motorcyclist who bullies me the way drivers bully him, and close call with a car and a bus.

Coming closer than people are dogs. As I turn into the road where they used to hangout, I hope they are gone. I peer under the parked lorries and in the distance. Even black rubbish bags could be dogs. Suddenly, I see them. I turn back. As I pass a parked lorry, a furry face peeks out. The chase begins. I speed to safety.

Three hour's of training, longer than I'd intended.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The F word

Caldecott, 34 km. Yesterday, I dismantled my headset to remove the creak. Though it is stainless steel sealed bearing, somehow rust formed on the aluminium part of the system. Without a bicycle stand, it is hard to hold everything together, balance the bicycle and clean all at once. It's a sunny day but I do this instead of cycling as I wish to recover from my cold.

Today, it rains, so I wait till it stops. To avoid mud and mess (and muck in my headset), I stick to the road. There are 15 traffic lights on this route. Two drivers and a pedestrian come close to giving me grief. But I do not end up like the crushed mango I cycled past.

Mango that fell from a tree near a place full of long-dead people. There are more uncrushed mangoes on the road, for the picking, but I ride on by.

My knee hurts, so I ease off a bit from my Fartlek. When time is short, make the most of it. When the pain goes away, I put more back into the training. Back home, I prod myself. Tender tendon, not a meniscus mess. All I need to do is tend to my thigh. Whew.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Kranji, 51 km. My knee hurts when I go up and down stairs, and I feel a cold coming on. So, I will be
an easy rider today. I'll just do a short, scenic ride then head home. Yeah, right.

Instead of pedalling a piddling 40 km, I end up cycling over 50, including over grass. Just what I need to train for my race. And the views are nice too.

I didn't expect today to be even tougher than the past weeks; all that hard riding after a hiatus since Dec has taken its toll. But I made it back.

Similarly, I was hit by the unexpected at work. After six months, I seem to be making it back too.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Something is better than nothing

Caldecott, 39 km. By the time I'm on the road, it is almost dusk. It's dark but not just became it's late. Black clouds hover overhead. I look where it is light and head there.

When I get there, I realise the clouds are in a pincer movement: over where I start and where I head. Ah well, I train anyway. A nice loop, several km long, with no traffic lights at all.

Though I don't have much time to train, I put what I have into it, keeping my heart rate up. I keep my tyre pressure low for more rolling resistance. And it doesn't rain. Nice.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Loop de loop

Caldecott, 40 km. Traffic averse, I look for a more efficient way to train, one with less time and less traffic. So I go around in circles, with one loop six km long. As I head up one of the steepest hills in the country, someone shouts "100%!" then goes "oh!" A car comes up, I squeeze my brake, my rear tyre skids.

I go downhill safely. Nice, going round in circles can clock some distance.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Something of everything

Apr distance: 114 km

Caldecott, 31 km. Because of stress, I want to play. Because I want so much, it leads to stress. To finish a book, to train for a race (but look at the grey sky), and win a computer strategy game.  And to rest. How much of this matters?

Things turn out well. The sky is dark and rumbles but does not rain. I read some, ride some, play some. In moderation: something of everything but not all of everything.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Still missing

19 Apr Bukit Brown 25 km. The missing piece of plastic from my shaken-apart tail light remains missing. Is it somewhere in the cemetary? Did it get washed away in the rain? In any case, it's gone.

Just a missing piece of plastic, but it's ruined the entire light. There are many lights to be had, but that one was different. It was a gift. Just like there are billions of people in the world, but ...

This route I'm on is half the distance of my Woodlands route. But it takes more than half the time. It's got off-road and at least a dozen slopes. One of which is neck-breakingly steep.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


File photo
Bukit Brown,  22 km. I'm tired and I hear distant thunder. I drag myself out to cycle. The moment I'm on the road, I feel good. I travel back to where I was last week and I find what I seek: the missing cover from my tail light, which was shaken apart. How that happened, I don't know.

Back home, I fit the missing piece back but realise that another piece is missing.

I thought it was so easy to find the missing piece. Too easy.

When something is broken, it's hard to put everything back together. When you miss someone, it's hard too. To move on when the person is gone, especially when gone for good from this world, forgive yourself.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Small wonder

Bukit Brown, 36 km. I'm so bored today, I cycle in the mid afternoon sun - not literally of course, I
mean I ride under the sun. I have several options: go north? east? In the end, I head south, the way things seem to have gone.

What a journey. From roads with traffic whizzing past (this is Sunday, in the suburbs, but the traffic volume exceeds peak hour traffic in Auckland or Adelaide), to a trail with no one in sight, to a busy cemetery (busy with live people, I mean). And grassland, where I can train for my race.

Yes, living on a small island sucks, but it's so compact, there's variety to be had in a short ride.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mental toughness

Mar distance: 129 km

Buangkok, 26 km. As I do my loops, I see the road sweeper open drainage covers and sweep their undersides. Why does she do that? Who asked her to and what difference does it make? I wonder what she thinks as she sweeps in the deepening darkness of dusk.

Back home, I fiddle with my front shifter. When I press the lever, it moves but does not click and the derailleur does not shift. In other words, the shifter is merely going through the motion. I spray lube to dissolve the gummed up grease and shift it furiously. Until it stops shifting. Oops. My heart sinks. I probe the inside with a screwdriver from the outside and everything clicks.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Memory lane

Punggol, 46 km. It wasn't meant to be this way. It was meant to be a short ride, down memory lane.
Wherever the wheel turns, I'll go. Just an hour or so.

As I wandered, time and distance passed quietly by. Before I knew it, more than two hours passed.

Last Sunday, she passed away. Gone, light as the wings of a butterfly, leaving a heavily-burdened life behind, where luxuries were just simple pleasures. I wish I was there, just one more time, but I wasn't. I've said goodbye several times, I wish I was there to say it just one more time. Goodbye.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Systems thinking

I see the light!
Tampines, 31 km. The haze is back, in the moderate range. As I cycle the trail, my tyres are low pressure, suited for hard pack, grass, sand and gravel. Not quite suited for road in terms of speed, but good for comfort. I don't bother to pump the tyres up then let the air out. While there are variables (not to mention tyre tread), the constant is traction and balance.

The slope is so steep, I lean forward to shift the centre of gravity forward. Near the top, the front wheel lifts up and I fall. I go so slowly, I 'm not punctured but twist my ankle as I fall at an awkward angle.

At its core, cycling is about balance. You need gravity for traction; gravity is your friend and enemy. When it comes to people, the core is about care. Self-sacrifice vs self-preservation, friend vs enemy, thinking your enemy is your friend or vice versa, treating your enemy like a friend. There's a system there somewhere?

This post is dedicated to NY, has it been eight years since I last cycled with you?

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A sudden message, a sudden adventure

Tampines, 26 km. Yesterday was a crazy day. A sudden message, a sudden visit to hospice. I've seen
dead people, but never someone dying. There's nothing left to do but wait.

Today, I ride. At first, it's aimless. First, dog territory. I skirt them, along a single track, if you can call it that in the expanse. The wind blows and I wonder if my scent will draw them.

Look hard enough, and see the jungle in the concrete
Ahead, I see a shimmering. I hope it's the sun glinting off gravel, but it's not. It's water. Soon, I am more than rim deep in muck. Imagine the quagmire I'd be in if it wasn't for the regional drought. I hear grinding from below me. Yup, the brake pads are grinding down my rims.

I grab a fence to skirt the muck, while untangling vines from the handlebar with the other hand and balancing all this while. At one point, I see a leaf 30 cm long, covered with fiery red ants as big as my thumb nail. I'm glad I didn't grab it nor did it brush against me. They're just a face-length away.

The trail goes on. I see a group of people sitting on the grass. Soon, it's desolation again. Where am I? It's getting dark. I gotta get out of here!

I see a human figure in black. As I approach, I see he's got wild vegetables. I ask him where he's going. He speaks some English and points. I follow him through an obstacle course. Adrenalin flowing, I heave my bike like it's a pillow. It goes over railings, hedges, a drain, then I'm safe.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Things have changed

Feb distance: 129 km

Tampines, 28 km. I used to go north. Today, on a whim, I go east. Things have changed. There used to be jungle by the road. The jungle has been flattened. The road, which used to be "free flow", now hosts major junctions. I go past factories which are still being built.

Well, at least the dogs that used to hang out here and chase me are gone.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dying and dead

Jurong, 69 km. Yesterday, I visit an (ex) colleague spending her last days in a hospice. Today, I go to a wake - another colleague's grandpa is dead. He would've been 108 if he'd lived till his next birthday. H

The dead guy lived through five governments (including the Japanese Occupation) and the Great Depression. The dying lady is half his aged and didn't even get to retire. She's so responsible; when she was on extended leave (before going to the hospice), she'd help her replacement by phone.

This is the first time I've cycled to a wake and "meet" anyone a century old. I get lost on the way home, but make it back, taking the long way home. The route is the same, but a large part has been widened, with new asphalt.

I ponder about life, about what I'm doing with mine, and how a few seconds of adjusting the air conditioner for my dying friend made such a difference to her.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Scaring myself

Good life eh?
Seletar, 32 km. After cycling on grass, roadside debris and grass, I hear hissing. And my front tyre

looks flat! I dismount and squeeze my front tyre. It's hard like a rock. So what's hissing?

Ah, a gardener spraying water on parched grass. Sometimes, things aren't as bad as they sound?

It's Chinese New Year. Another year, the year of the ssssnake, has passed. Last year was the 10th anniversary of my first epic ride.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

New road

Jan distance: 116 km

Seletar, 36 km. I read the once-sleepy airbase that's Seletar is become even more expansive, with more new roads within and without being built, so much so that even the land on which a petrol station stands will be acquired.

I head out to take a look before the place is obliterated, only to stand in memory. I trundle around the area, wary of dogs. I cycle on roads where I'm the only wheeled vehicle; everyone else is a pedestrian. There's another road where there's no one in sight. Does this portend of a new road to take in life?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Going downhill

There used to be Bottle Trees here (trees have gone downhill)
Sembawang, 40 km. In cycling, going downhill is exhilarating. In life, the phrase "going downhill" has negative connotations. As in, a guy who charges his camera battery but leaves it at home, thus ruining a group photo in a restaurant. Or a pedestrian who launches himself into my path such that I brake and swerve. All of which I see this afternoon.

My gear is going downhill too. My frame is 8.5 years (or 40,000 km) old. I was warned (today too!) to change it, lest there is catastrophic failure (just like my wheel). My crankset is nine years old. It is cranky.

My Brooks saddle is exactly three years (or over 12,700 km) old. And yes, it is a pain in the butt.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New year, new start

Sembawang 40 km. First ride of the year.  This year will be different.  What it'll be, I don't know. I just know it will be very different.

For a start, if I don't want to cycle 50 km, I'll do 30 rather than do nothing. Because something is better than nothing.