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 31, 2016

Adventure, not adversity

Dec distance: 193 km

Woodlands, The last morning and last ride in the last month of 2016. This month’s mileage is decent. Today, I cover about 1/3 of the dreaded 175 km distance I’d be covering in Myanmar. But I shouldn’t dread it. I’ll frame this as a challenge, not a chore. Adventure, not adversity.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Planning vs worrying

Admiralty, 43 km. On the way: 175 km fully loaded on fat tyres in a foreign land. Longer, if I get lost. I know from experience that 160 km (a “century” of miles} is the upper limit of tolerance. 140 km or less is leisurely, and that’s what cyclotouring should be about. But 175 km? A painful ride.

I’d a boss who said I’m stoic. Perhaps stoic on the outside, but not on the inside. Eric Barker writes: “A key part of Stoicism is just asking yourself, ‘Can I do anything
about this?’ … Next time you're worrying, pause and ask yourself, ‘Do I have control
over this?’ If you do, stop worrying and get to work. If you don't have control, worrying won't make it better.”

So, what can I control?

  • Ride time: I’ll need lights so I don’t have to win the race against the sun(set)
  • Weight: improve power-to-weight ratio. It’s weight weenie time, eg, I fuss with lights and spares: high power yet low weight (especially “button” batteries, lighter than AA). I don’t know how “barren” Myanmar is, but I’ll pack light yet calorie dense food
  • Route: don’t get lost! I pour over maps, mark out distances and plot routes. With the “terrain” feature on Google Maps (click the three horizontal lines at top left corner of Chrome browser), I drastically change my route.

Will the plan work? I don’t know. I worry it won’t. I ask myself: “Is there more I can do? I should’ve trained more. I add km, but time is running out and it’s been raining. Can’t do more? Stay home, pack and check equipment.”

As Eric writes, there’s no point cursing the rain. “You accept the rain. It's here. Denial and shoulds won't change anything... but that doesn't mean you can't grab an umbrella.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Working holiday

Sembawang, 35 km. I've a cycling holiday coming up. Not a holiday from cycling, but a holiday for cycling.

Trip preparation involves:
  • Route planning. This includes looking at distances, terrain, sights and sites (for food and sleep). Sitting at a table, looking down, pouring over data: sounds like work but doesn't feel like it.
  • Cycling to keep in shape for the big ride, That sounds like fun but it feels like work. 
Weird. Why does sitting on a bicycle, slicing through the air feel like work? Perhaps it's the traffic. Dodging traffic is no fun. But that's only a partial explanation. Perhaps cycling to be in shape, rather than solely for fun, makes it no fun.

Tech note: at several bike shops, I was told the solution to wailing brake pads was to replace them. So, new brake pads each time I ride in the rain? Twice, I remove the pads, wash them with soap and soaked them overnight. It works, until the next downpour; a cheap but tedious solution. Next, I tried "flossing" the brake pads: soak cloth in water (without soap). Slip the cloth between the pads (remove wheel first) and floss. It works: a cheap and easy solution.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Training for holiday

Time to explore!
Pasir Ris, 39 km. Another year is coming to an end. Another holiday is coming. It's easy for an office worker to leave for a walkabout vacation. While I don't sit on my behind all day, would I be able to be on the saddle all day for multiple days? So I train for my holiday.

Someone said that the first few days of a long trip is the training ride. After that, the body adapts to the new regime. While that seems to be true for long rides in my experience, I wish that applies to ultramarathons. Surely the first few days of a multi-day run would be detrimental for the untrained?

I wonder if I should find out. Time to look for a multi-day ultra run?

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Stick to the schedule

Lentor, 20 km. I’ve been fiddling with my derailleurs as shifting seems to be deteriorating. Fiddling to no avail. Then, as penance for neglecting my ride (while training for an ultra marathon), I lube the chain.

Presto, shifting improves like new.

Now, if only I’d stuck to the schedule of tender loving care for drive train after a specified distance or a messy ride, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why running is hazardous for cyclists

Nov distance: 38 km

Upper Thomson, 21 km.

She: So, who is she? You’re seeing someone else, right?
Me: Huh?
She: Don’t pretend. You come home from work, change, then go out. We don’t go out anymore.
Me: Oh, that. I’ve been out running, training for an ultra.
She: Sure. It takes three months to train for a marathon. And you are training for an ultra in two? 
Me: Really! See! [Shows finisher medal]
She: I knew it! There is someone else!
Me: No, no. Your wheels are rounder and stronger than the medal. When I was running on the trails and saw mountain bikes, I missed you so much.
She: Now that your race is over, let’s go for a spin.
Me: Uhhh, my legs hurt.
She: Do your hands hurt?
Me: No, why?
She: You haven’t lubed my drivetrain. Get to work, boy. After that, let’s go shopping for bling bling!
Me: You know what? What I need is "active rest". Let's go ride :)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

I wish, I wonder

Sri Lanka (file photo)
Buangkok, 17 km. I wish I was cycling beside the clear green sea beneath the clear blue sky, with the sun shining (not scorching) and a breeze blowing (gently, not giving a headwind headache).

But I’m not. I’m cycling in a high population density city-state, surrounded by death metal (refers to traffic, not music).

To find some peace and quiet, I head into a park. An industrial park. Ah, peace and quiet. On a Sunday night, many factories are silent and dark. Peace and quiet in unexpected places.

And I wonder why:
- when I can ride, I don;t
- when I can’t ride, I want to

Friday, October 21, 2016

Weekend rush

Oct distance: 104 km

Woodlands, 34 km. A five day week offers 2.5 days of weekend (it starts in the evening of Day 5). Having been deprived if that for six months, I 'fold" time to make the most of it.

I could've taken a train to pick up some gifts from M. It'd be faster than taking a bike ride. But I choose to cycle. A train ride would save me about 30 minutes in travel time. But if I cycle 90 minutes after that, I need an additional 1 hour. So cycling there actually saves me time.

Back home, I look at M's stuff. They are years old, but look as good as new!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Like the wind

Sembawang, 38 km. Like a bird bolting from a cage, I ride like the wind towards freedom.

Free, beneath the blue sky. Free, no need to pay money: for petrol, tap water or race fees. A roadie passes, I crank up the pace and hang on until he fades into the distance.

Down by the water, I soak in the sights and breeze.

It’s great to be free.

PS: today's ride is double my "usual" distance per ride in the past half year!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Ride and run

Upper Thomson, 15 km. Reduced working hours has increased my energy. Today I run, then I ride. A cyclist in fluorescent yellow overtakes me and we ride like the wind.

Winded, I slow to a crawl up a slope.

A girl jogs past, going faster than me :0 Increased energy my foot?!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Version 3.1

Kelulut Hill, 17 km. My new life, version 3.1, has begun. Instead of working 60-hour weeks ("full time"), I now work part time, which is pretty much some other people's full time. Back to a five day week, something which I used to take for granted.

I realise I've taken many things for granted, even simple things such as being able to drink coffee whenever I want.

I don't know if I'll be back in the saddle as much as I used to before 60-hour weeks, but I find myself exploring again. When I see a sign point to Kelulut Hill, I check it out. Not much of a hill, the name is more picturesque than the place is.

Still, I've not been here before
This is what it's like to explore
Sometimes, there isn't much
Sometimes, there's much more

PS: version 1 started when I left school. Version 2 started when I changed sector. Version 3 is when I changed sector again.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Sep distance: 81 km

Upper Thomson, 22 km. Cyclists are out in force. Not in pelotons (which seems to be a weekend phenomenon) but singly. A guy in running shoes on an old bike overtakes me. I don't mean he's running with his bike; he's riding his bike while wearing running shoes, long tights and shorts.

Going uphill, I ride past him. He sits on my tail and the impromptu race begins. I slow down near traffic lights, then stop. He asks if I train everyday. Every day? No way. I didn't even intend to train today. I'm just riding my bicycle.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Danger girl

Upper Thomson, 23 km. She’s cycling on the pavement along a busy road, one hand on handlebar, the other holding her mobile phone. She’s looking at the phone, its glow lights up her face. Otherwise, no lights. And no protection: no helmet on her head, no gloves on her hands, slippers on her feet.

“So dangerous”, I thought. When accidents happen, there’s sometimes no time to scream. And the “landing gear” tends to be head, hands, feet.

I stop at a red light. “Where are you going?” she yelled. Turns out she's lost, having cycled from Sengkang. Her friend is lost too. They agree where to meet and I lead her there to wait for him. When we stop, she asks why. “Red light,” I reply.

As we wait, we chat. Jessica wants to be an UAV pilot for the military. She seems to think cycling in Cambodia is more dangerous. Having cycled in all three places, I think the risk of accidents is higher at Orchard Road and East Coast Park.

Danger is relative.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Short time, short route

Upper Thomson, 20 km. I used to find this route boring. It's scenic, with the winding road surrounded by trees on either side and occasional non-dangerous wildlife such as monkeys. While there are dangerous drivers, they are few.

I found it boring because the route was short and to stay on it meant loop after loop. Now, as time is short, I take this short route and it is great.

It's marred only by the memory of bumbling bureaucrats who didn't admit they bumbled, much less apologise or make amends.

I sometimes wish I live in another country, where roads, nay, trails, wind through the countryside. Where the only high rises are trees, hills and waterfalls.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Cool night

Upper Thomson, 16 km. Last week, haze fell from the sky. No way I'm going to clog up my lungs. This week, it rains. No matter; I'm not getting fluid in my lungs. Though the road is wet, I head out to listen for silence. Yes, the mysterious click is still gone. I’m glad the mystery is solved.

It is cool after the rain. Though it is Sunday night and Monday morning is hours away, I see three other cyclists on the road. And a wild boar.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Elementary, my dear Watson"

Aug distance: 57 kn

Upper Thomson, 16 km.  After weeks of suffering and wondering what caused my bike to click on pedal downstrokes, I finally found out.

What it wasn't:

  • seatpost or seat; 
  • fork
  • headset.

If it was so, there'd be clicking even as I coasted over bumps.

It wasn't:

  • chainrings, bolts seemed tight
  • bearings; there was no "play" in the crank
  • crankarms; bolts were tight
  • chain. This was a major suspect, as I'd botched up installation. But it wasn't, as I'd lubed it, and the links weren't stiff. 

What ut was ... the right pedal. There are reasons why it couldn't have been, so it was the last thing I checked. As Sherlock Holmes said, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth".

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Double click

Upper Thomson, 25 km. First, it was one click. Now, with each pedal downstroke, there are two clicks. A properly functioning computer mouse must double click. A smoothly functioning bicycle does not single click, much less double click.

The sound, while small, is ominous. There is no play in my cranks. So what is malfunctioning, such that single click has become double?

Sunday, August 07, 2016

By the numbers

Upper Thomson, 16 km. In the past, as I cycle, I’d think about km, km/h, hours, minutes, even calories. This evening, I’m preoccupied by ROI, PE ratio, payout ratio, yield.

If I make the numbers, I can do more km and think about the other numbers!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Small is big, big is small

Jul distance: 100 km

A firefly is tiny, the size of a fingernail. Yet, seeing it creates a big sense of wonder. Fireflies have been sighted on this island, so what I saw might not have been a figment of my imagination. I saw a wild boar piglet too, rooting about in the ground.

Another big deal for me is the tiny clicking sound when I downstroke at the 11 o’clock position. Having failed to isolate its location, it is driving me round the bend.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Making the best of a mess

Upper Thomson, 16 km. I've sprayed and lubed. Tightened and hoped. But my bike still clicks when I downstroke.

When I improve my pedal form and pull up with my left foot, the click disappears. So, the click reminds me to pedal properly.

Alone with my thoughts on a quiet road (but for the clicks), I think I see a light float in the cool night air. Am I seeing things? No, it's a firefly!

Then I think I'm seeing things - a large blob of neon, then it's gone. Must be my imagination ... until, round the bend, I see a runner with lights. I'd say he's an ultramarathoner type, rather than a marathoner.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Upper Thomson, 16 km. I'm alone on the dim and winding road. Then, I'm alone no longer. One dark shape crosses the road, followed by half a dozen smaller shapes. Wild boar! Good to eat but not good to be run into.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Making noise

Sembawang, 32 km. There's an irritating click when I pedal. I'd cleaned my chain, for the first time without degreaser but with lube, then lubed it. It's clean, but something still clicks.

I also hear a strange noise, a "toink" that could be from my inner tube (or is that from air fork?). In all my years of riding, I've not heard anything like this.

Baffling, and anxiety inducing. Dreadful even, if this is related to my front wheel, as that would mean immediate loss of steering control and up to 80% of braking power.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

So close, yet so far

Upper Thomson, 20 km. The child sits on his bike by the roadside and cries, while mom persuades him to go on. She says he's near home. But the road slopes up, which makes the going hard.

So near and yet so far. Sometimes, something feels that way. At other times, like when you can see the finish line in an ultra, it is exhilarating.

I've waited three long months to find out how things work out. Will I find out, or the wait be extended? Time will tell. Well, since I've waited so long, I can't wait some more. It helps I have a choice.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Jun distance: 84 km

Upper Thomson, 21 km. My Little Red Tank has a top pull front derailleur. My current ride, Black Matt, is bottom pull. Both have an irritating creak. The difference is, the former is 10 years old, and so creaks are understandable. The latter is so new. Where is the sound coming from? Sounds like the drivetrain, but it’s intermittent.

I adjust the front derailleur out of desperation, by trail and error, as my notes on derailleur adjustment for Little Red Tank might be the wrong way round. Or am I wrong?

I mess the adjustment up so bad that I notice, but manage to reverse the damage till it's the way it was, with intermittent creak.

No matter how bad the mess, for this one, I can try again.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Something is better than nothing

Upper Thomson, 24 km. I could ride a short distance, or decide that it’s not worth the effort. In the end, I ride a bit, because something is better than nothing*. It boils down to purpose, i.e., why I do this. Not to build mileage per se, but to preserve a modicum of base fitness. Surely, I’ll be doing long rides again. Overseas :)

*Of course, context matters. For a thirsty man, some water is better than none. But there is such a thing as falling short too, like jumping across a stream but not covering enough distance and ending up in the water.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


Seletar, 21 km. The taxi driver drew beside me and honked loudly. Not a short, soft beep that signals, “stay your course, I’m passing through”, but a long sharp honk that says “get out of my way”. My lights were on, I was wearing reflective material and riding by the side of the road. So why blast me?

Perhaps I’m imagining things. Sure, there was that honk, but it might not have been directed at me. Perhaps the driver wanted to give warning and nothing more.

If I don’t know what the intention was, why think the worse of this stranger ad feel worse? It's better to give the benefit of doubt - and feel better.

Sunday, June 05, 2016


Seletar, 18 km. How shameless, to cycle for 18 km only and blog about it. Then I realise, it's not just about the distance. I started my ride today to clock mileage, then decide it's more about fun and as I have other things I want to do, I'll go do them.

It was fun, then I let a "door gift" get to me. At a traffic light, a car driver lets off passengers. A door opens. A second is all that it would've taken for the door edge to hit me. The passenger says "sorry", then argues: "The light is red. I should've looked, but you should look too." If the door opens right in front of my face or into my side, I wouldn't have known what hit me till, lady. You're sorry? Not as sorry as I'd have been.


Saturday, May 28, 2016


May distance: 77 km

Seletar, 28 km. My long working hours have been getting to me. Then I met a chef today, who works
seven days a week to “keep the place afloat”. He cooks, cleans and chats with customers. He even showed me, when I asked, what pasta he used.

I’m glad he’s there to feed me, and I’m glad that after work, I get to ride, and to see a sight like this (photo).

I realise that when something is gone, I appreciate what I had but no longer have (like being able to sit down and drink coffee while working). And when I appreciate what I no longer have, that which I once had, though gone, still brings a warm afterglow. After all, I'm fortunate to have been able to enjoy it.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

What’s wrong with that?

Seletar, 25 km. This is how it is nowadays. No more running, limited riding, limited to the distance I

used for road tests.

Still, the piddling distance is not to be pitied. I can still enjoy the peddling, short though it is. It doesn’t have to be long to have fun. Just make the most of the little available, whether it’s km or other scarce things. Including time.

I pass an old building. In its heyday, it must’ve been bustling, given it’s size. Now, it stands silent, abandoned. “Useless”, some might say. It was something, now it’s nothing. It’s served it’s purpose, now it rests. What’s wrong with that? And who knows, it might be repurposed.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Taken for granted

Seletar, 25 km. I used to be able to cycle every weekend, but sometimes didn't want to. Now, it's hard to ride even if I want to.

When time is short, distance is short.

Cranking out the short, laughable distance today is an achievement, given the time and energy I've left after working 10 to 11 hours a day, six days a week for the past three weeks (inclusive of less-than-an-hour lunch hour). And more of that to come.

Since my discretionary time has drastically fallen, I’ve to make choices. Some things I drop totally (like running), some things I reduce, some things I maintain. To choose, I’ve to value things. Which means, some things which I’d taken for granted, I now appreciate more.

When there’s less time, there’s less time to waste, which means making a choice to do things I value more.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Many memories, many thanks

This wasn't there the last time I was here
April distance: 139 km

Johore, Malaysia, 139 km. It was in 2003 when I started making day rides across the border. I like
riding abroad as it beats riding from traffic light to traffic light in this garden city or, some say, a city in a garden. A garden is cultivated by man, but wide open spaces is made by nature i.e. it’s natural, not artificial.

The place looks familiar, yet different. It's like meeting someone after years of absence. New roads, bridges and directions pass familiar buildings. To get to where I'd breakfast with my friends, I clamber up a slope: a heap of dirt one storey high.

Another side of Johor Bahru
Riding to Pekan Nanas, reality bites. The distant past has "dimmed" the distance and climbs. Memory is past, reality is present. Time has passed. I'm older, fatter. Well, my tyres are fatter, from 1.25" slicks to 2.1" knobbies.

In the little town of Pekan Nanas, there are two bicycle shops. The biggest one is closed. Besides me, there's another mountain biker standing there forlornly. At the other shop, I'm told, unsolicited, that I can upgrade my 26" wheels to 27.5". Interesting!

On the huge roads leading to the border, traffic automatically hold back to let me filter lanes, just because I glance back. That's one reason why I like cycling here. Instead of small places and minds, there are open spaces and hearts.

Thanks to my bike buddies who introduced me to this life. I marvelled at AF, who cycled in 2003 as if he has a GPS in his head: no map, no compass and gets to the destination without getting lost. As for me, I get to where I want to go after getting lost. Well, yeah, there are new roads and bridges :p

Monday, March 28, 2016

Right and wrong

Mar distance: 696 km

Woodlands, 46 km. Bikehop man is annoyed. He glares at me and says he knows what he’s doing. But it’s not by the book. Shimano manual categorically states “the chain’s level of strength [in A] is enhanced compared to the method in Fig. B”. He doesn’t even look at the instructions in my hand.

I've told this to two mechanics in two other shops before. Each time, they are surprised as they don't think there's a difference, but they do as Shimano says. But not this guy.

This will not do. I remove the chain and redo it under his supervision: I need to learn how to install a chain anyway. I’m amazed how a brand new gleaming chain can leave so much black oil on my hands. The pamphlet in the box says nothing about Fig. A and B.

It’s only when I download the full manual that I’m filled with horror. Besides the position of the outer and inner links, chains have a forward and reverse side. I’d a 50-50 chance of getting it right, but I got it wrong.

I break the chain and put it the right way round. It’s the first time I break a chain. Did I get it right?

Afternoon: to answer the above question, I go to another bakeshop and I’m told, there’s no way to tell. And I should’ve used a Missing Link anyway to join the chain. Well, what did people do before Missing Link was invented. Time will tell if I did the right thing.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

North, south, east, west

Forget about Fraser's Hill, Cameron and Genting Highlands.
The most serious climbs are in the land of Gunong Kinabalu
21-26 Mar, Sabah, Malaysia, 517 km

I've cycled in every Malaysian state, from Johor in the south to the East-West Highway in the north of West Malaysia), and Sarawak in East Malaysia. But I've never been to Sabah, much less cycled there. Until now.

21 Mar: Kota Kinabalu to Tuaran vv, 75 km

My flight arrives around noon. Where is my hotel transport? A tour guide offers to call the hotel for me. A car* shows up. In my hotel booking, I'd specifically asked for a vehicle that can transport my 140 cm bicycle box. Can you fit a box that size into the boot of a car? Yes! If the car seats fold down. I assemble the bike and am off for an orientation ride and tour.

Rumah Terbalik
Rumah Terbalik, the "upside down" house, isn't really in Tuaran, but the outskirts. Photography
inside the house is prohibited. Most things are upside down: the floor is the ceiling and even the bed is upside down. Some details are off: fans to cool visitors aren't upside down, and typewriter paper hangs ue wrong way. Money on the floor sticks to the floor though.

I run out of daylight, no thanks to the late pickup from the airport. The sun sets around 1830. Roads within Kota Kinabalu are lit and wider than the main routes leading to towns outside it.

*If you're travelling by taxi, buy a coupon at the taxi kiosk in the airport. Ask for Avanza or Inova taxis; according to my sources, bike boxes fit into these models.

22 Mar: Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud, 100 km

As Kota Belud is "only" 78 km away, I take a longer, scenic route to avoid the heavy metal mayhem that is morning rush hour. I swing by Universiti Sabah Malaysia, where some roads are signposted "10%" gradient. I guess that's why universities are called institutions of higher learning.

The road from Tuaran to Kota Belud is barren. Traffic is abundant and roars like an angry sea, but water and cooked food is hard to come by. I lunch on bananas from a roadside stall. For protein, there's a roach from the vendor's knife that crawled into my food, but I pass. When I see a shop named "Melody" it's music to my ears. It turns out to be in the outskirts of town. Town is so near, yet so far. My ears pop with the effort, or does that reflect the altitude?

To cope with the climbs, I max out my gears and wish I had more.  There's no place to sit in the shade, so I get off at one point and push to rest. If the gradient at  USM is undergraduate, then the climbs to Kota Belud are post graduate, and Laotian climbs are post doctoral fellows.

At one downhill, I ride my brakes down, slowing from 61 km/h to 52 km/h. I overtake a lorry, as I think that's safer than overheating my brakes.

It's hot, so hot in Sabah that I pass grass fires, some smoking when I pass by. When I check in, I find the heat has warmed up the contents of containers in my bag.

"Ki" + "Nabalu" = "Kinabalu", as in Gunung Kinabalu
23 Mar: Kota Belud to Nabalu vv, 99 km

Serious climbing starts about 20 km from Kota Belud. The route is barren. Happiness, or at least contentment, is when a food stall suddenly appears at the point of desperation. There's shade, music from the radio and friendly banter from the locals - not that I understand most of what they're saying.

The ride is a real grind. Traffic is sparse (but picks up after the junction to Tuaran), the climbs interminable. When my speed drops to around 4 km/h, I get off to walk, then climb back to ride as walking and pushing the bike sucks more.  I stop at a shop perched by the hillside. It has lukewarm "cold" drinks in an ice box; all the ice has melted. Stuff costs more up here. Trucks labour uphill, grinding gears and belching smoke as if panting.

There are some downhills but my heart sinks as I know I have to ride up on the way back. I think about turning back. After all, I don't have to do this. One thought stops me from stopping: if I turn back, it'll be temporary relief. How will I feel later, knowing I gave up? So I ride on, drenched in sweat. Where's the cool mountain air? I also break out my last resort: energy gel.

I'm also troubled by a knocking sound. Pedal? Cleat? At Nabalu, as I stop for lunch, I see that my sole is coming off. It's been flapping whenever I pedal below 6 km/h. This is the first time my cycling shoe sole has detached. Usually, they just disintegrate. They don't make them like they used to? I tie it with raffia and hope.

25 Mar: Kota Belud to Kota Kinabalu and its environs, 125 km

Traffic is relatively light. The sky, cloudy. Some moisture falls even, and it's not my sweat. Is this because it's Good Friday?

After Nabalu, I thought the last day of my ride woukd be a breeze. I forgot. There still are serious climbs, as a "10%" sign helpfully reminds. Someone has dropped small silver fish on the road. By now, most are dried fish that make interesting light brown fish imprints on the road. I was tempted to stop to photograph this accidental art, but the smell dissuaded me. As does the climb. If I stop amidst the toxic mess, I'd be hard pressed to roll uphill.

Some traffic passes me. A car overtakes and comes headlong towards me. Other drivers follow. It was close. I'd rather have traffic tail me; when they do so, they're my impromptu safety vehicles: they block traffic overtaking from behind and deter oncoming traffic. They then give me a wide berth when overtaking from behind. It nice not to be scattered over the road like fish.

After two hours of riding, I am hungry. So it's true: glycogen depletion kicks in at the two hour mark.

I take some Horlicks Malties: one pack if nine tablets has 56 kcal. I'm glad to roll into Kota Kinabalu. I drop my bag off, then ride about town, looking for bikeshops and the coast.

Traffic can be heavy on the road R1 that links Kota Kinabalu to Tuaran. The road is dual carriageway,

At times, traffic is hazardous.

Black Death, a black sedan, hurtles towards me. The driver either doesn't see me, or doesn't care. He neither swerves not slows. So, even if the road appears empty, the situation may change in a moment, as traffic can appear suddenly.

There's nothing to draft. Everything, except the rare pedestrian, goes faster. Even petrol tankers and trucks go fast.

Leana Niemand writes about looking into her rear view mirror as she rides in Sabah. Eyes at the back of the head would help too; otherwise, keeping one's  ears open would have to do. A container truck thunders past me. The road shoulder is barely a foot wide. It's a close shave, the kind without shaving cream!
but mostly without a road shoulder. Drivers are generally patient. A blue behemoth lumbers behind me, then overtakes only when it's safe. At first I thought it's going slowly and I try to draft it when it passes, but the driver really was waiting for a safe time to pass, then it thunders out of sight.

Other hazards
Besides traffic, there is, at times, broken glass by the roadside. There are occasional dogs, but the ones I see are almost always no bark, no bite. The mutts between Kota Kinabalu and Kota Belud are mute. But there are some mean mutts, between Kota Belud and Nabulan. One dog crosses the road to chase me half-heartedly. Further on, more mutts menace me. It's not funny, being chased uphill.

Like in Peninsula Malaysia, people are helpful, such as with directions. They ask the usual questions: ”Where are you from, where are you going?"

Aston Boutec, Kota Kinabalu. Before my trip, I'd asked three hotels for help with
my 140 cm bike box. One never replied me. Another suggested taxi, including models (Avanza, Inova). The third offered complimentary transfer, and this is the one I booked. The hotel mixed up my arrival time, but a tour guide at the airport called the hotel for me (two thumbs up!) and a car showed up. How does a big box go into the car? Into the boot, with seats folded down. I've never seen this before.

Aston Boutec is cycling friendly, except for the absence of a lift. Air con, WiFi, sink and stopper (good for laundry) all work. My room was big enough for my conveyance. Food and convenience stores are a stroll away, and the hotel is relatively easy to find even at night.

Tang Dynasty Lodge Kota Belud is a "big" hotel in a small town. The room I have, Deluxe King, can fit five bicycles and still leave room to walk. Rack rate: MYR89 per night. It's not that hard to fimd, as its a small town but it helps to know first that the hotel sign is "TDL". But the aircon goes "piak" in the night and it's not cool anymore. The repairman washes the filter, then says he'll be back to top up coolant. I never see him again (well, it past 6 pm). I ask for a room change. I get a smaller room, but hotel receptionist says I pay the same price. I'd pay less if I'd walked in, but I used In my new room, I kill six mosquitoes (and three the next day). Changing room at night eats into my bedtime.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

One bird, two stones, one bike, two rides

Woodlands, 73 km. I didn't ride last week. And riding this weekend is best avoided. At least, it would be prudent not to ride, with so many other things happening.

Some things, like household chores or reading a book, don't take hours. But riding a bike, like watching a movie, does.

Today, I combine two rides into one, doubling my usual paltry distance. I cycle within sniffing distance of coastal sea air until it gets dark.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Changing times

Woodlands, 60 km. Shimano used to be ubiquitous. Not anymore. Even neighbourhood bike shops carry KMC chains. The shops that deal with Shimano have no stock. The fifth shop I go to has SRAM, then directs me to the nearest Shimano dealer, which has the chain for almost half the price of a KMC chain. And that's why it's far easier to find KMC chains: it costs more and so has a higher margin?

How times have changed: Shimano chains used to be ubiquitous.

As Bob Dylan put it, "the times they are a-changin'".

Saturday, March 05, 2016


Feb distance: 520 km

Sembawang, 46 km. I used to think freedom was about space. For instance, prisoners have no freedom of movement; they are stuck in one place. But a prison sentence is not just about space; it's also about time, hence the expression "doing time".

At work, timelines and deadlines mean lack of freedom. Digital nomads might not be chained to a desk, but they might not have freedom of time, hence the expression "no time".

People who wander the world or, as Aussies say, go walkabout, have freedom. They might be constrained by weather and seasons which affect time and place of travel, but within those constraints, they have more freedom than a salaryman.

Today, I enjoy freedom. I stand by the water, feel the refreshing wind, smell the salt in the air, gaze on the water. I leave because I am hungry, and I know I have decent food to eat.

This is a simple life. I feel alive, and I have freedom of time and space.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sight, sound and feel

February distance: 520 km

Choa Chu Kang, 60 km. Cycling back home after cycling overseas is an adjustment. The traffic,
traffic lights and humidity get to me.

Ive flash backs to the places I've been: the cool mountain air in sunny Timor Leste, the winding road in Sumatra, even the star-studded night sky in Darwin, Australia.

Last year, I was sick of cycling, even of expedition planning. I felt I should cycle, didn't want to, but felt compelled to. But now. I'm glad to be back in the saddle, travelling. I don't tire of beautiful scenery, or perhaps I haven't seen enough of it. Moreover, seeing beauty on bicycle tires feels different from seeing it in a motor vehicle or photo.

If you're in some kind of funk, may it pass to.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Long winded

1-5 Feb, Sri Lanka, 414 km

This isn't a particularly long ride, but it was harder than I'd expected. While the coast is flat, I didn't figure the headwinds would be so strong. Or so long winded. They blow all day, perhaps 10 km/h. No need to calculate the vector; I head north, the wind blows south. Most of the time, I go below 20 km/h, at its worse, 14 km/h. The weather is hot but not humid; a good thing about the wind is, the wind blows sweat and heat away.

Headwinds aren't new to me; I've faced them in the Outback. So I've learned to grit my teeth and grind on. While I've cycled over 68,000 km, Sri Lanka brought new experiences. I've:
  • been chased by dogs, but not a three-legged one.
  • raced before, but not while touring
  • gone hungry, but not had a liquid lunch of ginger beer
  • wondered how to keep my bicycle safe while I sleep, but not used two bedrooms before.
Beach Road: I like it a lot, because there's a lot of it
1 Feb fly there, nightstop Negombo Village Guesthouse
2 Feb Negombo to Kalpitiya, 129 km, nightstop Randam Hotel fka Windy Lanka
3 Feb Kalpitiya and its environs, 141 km
4 Feb Kalpitiya to Negombo, 144 km
5 Feb fly back

I do some off road, single track, double track, dirt roads and roads. I know I'm lost when the trail peters out. To get back on track, I track like a hunter, looking not for footprints but tyre tracks.

Night riding: to clock more miles, I do some riding at night. It's not really safe. Cows, dogs and pedestrians don't have blinking lights at night. And the glare of oncoming headlights is blinding. Once, the timing of the passing vehicle was such that I saw pedestrians walking abreast by the roadside: just enough time to see them but too little time to avoid collision if they were near enough. A near miss.

Over 400 km, I see three other cyclo tourists. One of them was solo like me. We wave to each other / exchange thumbs up.

Roads, traffic and other hazards

I like watch dogs ie dogs who sit there and watch
Traffic is heavy along the A3, which refers not to paper size but the road connecting Colombo to Negombo and much else. I ride along the road shoulder, because, as one guidebook put it, bus and truck drivers "consider cyclists a waste of valuable tarmac ... get out of the way quickly". You're "at risk not only from traffic coming from behind, but also from oncoming vehicles overtaking another vehicle". The good news is, traffic thins out north of Negombo.

I never really felt menaced; I've felt more menaced cycling in a carpark back home.

Roads are generally ok, though a guidebook mentions cycling is "eyes down", to negotiate potholes and chickens. There are poor road surfaces sometimes, but that's off road; in my experience, the main roads are ok.

I get frazzled on my last day of cycling, when I go to the beach at Negombo. It was harrowing as the road to the beach is narrow: it's jammed with traffic and a wedding procession. To win the race against the sun, I squeeze past whatever gap I see, including on the pavement, to get there and back to my hotel to box up my bike and wash up.

Dogs are are all over the place, usually sleeping by the roadside, sometimes trotting about, almost always in packs. Almost all the time, they ignore passersby, but I am chased twice, once by a three legged dog.

Locals are friendly (at least, I've not met any unfriendly ones). It's not just kids who're pleased to see a cyclist. Even adults go "hello", "hi", "good morning". One waiter in an eatery asks personal questions, not just "what is your name, where are you from" but also age and family status. And I got one question about how much my bicycle costs.

Once in a while, there are lycra-clad roadies.
Most of the time, locals are on steel, singlespeed bikes.

A worker sitting by a hut offers me food as I cycle past. A student going for night class chats with me as he cycles alongside. A guy with crutches rides his motorcycle alongside me, his sweepstake tickets riffling in the wind. He offers a hand. I realise later he wants to pull me along, when I see the student's father do just that.

Most of the time, I cycle below 20 km/h, because of headwinds and my load. One afternoon, two guys on a singlespeed bicycle pull alongside me. The passenger is sitting on the top tube. " Race", the  cyclist says, and he pulls away. The race is over in seconds, when one of them drops his phone onto the road. The cyclist catches up after he ditched his passenger then zooms off at 35 km/h. Instead of racing him, I draft him instead, to his disappointment.

Fried roots? 

Refueling aka food and beverage
Short eats are aplenty, in "hotels" (even small shops call themselves that).  Meals that fill are less available. Except in tourist areas, most people dine at home, so there's little demand for filling food. I eat what I bring: cereal bars.

One night I have rice and curry. Another time, I have what seems like fried roots. There are also scattered bakeries. Most of the time, it's short eats and provision shops.

At a "hotel" (eating place).
The ad above, EGB, is for ginger beer
Food stalls usually serve drinking water. If you're squeamish about hygiene, well ... No tongs or gloves are used when handling food - more likely, the food handler handles grubby money then food. Customers may eat with their hands; if you do, use the pitcher of water available for that purpose: don't drink from that!

An alternative to short eats is ginger beer; I quaff the 1 litre version. It's refreshing, calorie rich and not sickly sweet unlike some short eats.


Mosquitoes (Anopheles type, 1 cm long), are everywhere in the hotels. Mosquito nets are standard issue in the places I stayed.

In all my travels (over 68,000 km by bicycle, I've never encountered the desperate situation of being unable to find my hotel despite repeated attempts. Until this trip, at Kalpitiya. 

Randam Hotel. On the second night, I use the upstairs room
while my bicycle is in the ground floor, courtesy of housekeeper
It's getting dark. I ask some bystanders but they don't know. At a random hotel by the road called Randam Hotel, the staff say it's the hotel I'm looking for, though the name is different. Even the phone number is different. I have dinner instead and as I'm eating, a guy shows up and says he's from the hotel I'm looking for ie Windy Lanka. He leads me to ... Randam Hotel. Ok, whatever.

The room is dingy and kind of dirty. The lights flicker too, so I ask for a room change the next day. But different people give me different prices for the room. I end up paying a higher price after some bargaining. It's clean and bright but when I get up in the night, I have a feeling. Spooky. 

The next morning, I get up early to ride. It turns out I'm alone in the hotel, locked in. Exit via window, then the housekeeper comes, unlocks the door and makes nice Ceylon tea for me.

The other hotel I stay in, at Negombo, is hard to find as it's in a residential estate that twists and turns 3 km from the main road. The housekeeper there is fascinated by my bike packing. He lets me take a shower and serves me a drink as I wait for my night flight. 


It's been said once you learn to ride a bicycle, you don't forget how to do it. That's procedural memory I guess. As for other details, that's declarative memory. What does 50 psi feel like without a tyre pressure gauge? How do you remove this rack?  I needed to refresh my memory. Which means, I haven't been touring enough.

I didn't expect this ride to be tough. It's flat, as expected but I didn't expect incessant headwinds that cut my speed by 30%, which means I work 30% harder. Of course, I should've realised that when a hotel is called Windy Lanka, that's what it means. But then, the hotel changed name too so it wasn't windy!? As if this ride isn't hard enough, there isn't much food to be had. My "lunch" comprises "short eats", ie, sweet snacks and became a race against the sun. I did enjoy the ginger beer though :)

When I came home from Indochina, bread became part of my diet, because of the magnificent French bread. And now, I take ginger with my tea.


Visas may be required, may be on arrival. See
Weather varies, depending on which part of the island you're on and when. See

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Jan distance: 210 km

Seletar, 40 km. A few days ago, I took a test which was administered immediately after a course. I've not sat for a test since last century. Somehow, I passed the written test (multiple choice) with full marks, followed by a practical then oral tests.

Today, instead of being tested, I do the testing. On equipment: a Revelate bag, on loan from V (she even delivered it!) In my tours, I've always used a seat post rack. This bag doesn't need a rack at all.

Test over, now to do the "scoring" of bag with rack vs Revelate bike packing bag.

PS: it's not quite true I'm testing the equipment. It's also true my equipment test me, to see if I know how to use them.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hope for the best

Changi 71 km. It's been raining on and off. I leave my camera at home; in a downpour, I've seen how the rain seeps in. Even when I ride towards blue skies, rain clouds just appear overhead in ambush. So why bother with the extra weight and add one more thing (wet camera) to worry about?

But it doesn't rain. Not a drop. I miss some great shots. I should've taken my camera and if it rains, just add more water proofing. Instead of thinking "it'll rain", I could've thought "it might not rain, and I might get some great shots".

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Lighting and thunder

Upper Thomson Road, 57 km. Weather girl says it'll rain. I think, maybe they'll get it wrong today as they have on some other days.

As I head out, I see dark clouds. So I ride towards the light. Perhaps I was in the eye of the storm; suddenly the sky turns dark and rain pours. The storm is directly above me; I can tell from the split second between lightning and thunder. That's close!

The trees arch overhead, like a tunnel. In between is a light grey of heavy rain, undergirded by the dark grey of asphalt. The rain stings as it hits my bare arms and face. Yes, the weatherman is wrong: this is not a "shower" (a shower is like what you feel in the bathroom); this is a thunderstorm.

My disc brakes squeal in protest as I brake downhill. But I've figured out how to fix the noise without removing the pads and lathering them up. Squeeze the brakes, the manual equivalent of anti-braking system. Perhaps that gets rid of oily film. Or perhaps the storm is so heavy, it flushed oil off the road.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New year, new thinking

Upper Thomson,  42 km. There's only a minute (pun intended) difference between 2359 on 31 Dec to midnight. But when the minute ticks over, a new year begins: a small change that leads to a big one.

In my first ride of 2016, I decide to ride at night, on a Monday. I was going to go somewhere but decide to do loops instead. I've disliked cycling loops as I go in circles, but I realise that even if I go some where and come home, that's a loop too.

The road I loop is quiet and empty, with the occasional car - and wild boar. It used to bore me, but what's not to like? Instead of journeying to a destination,  my destination today is the journey itself.

What used to feel like a chore is now fun.

Also new is my cyclocomputer, replacing my 20 year old one that seemed erratic after being beside a blinker.