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, June 11, 2017

Swept away

Moving off in the morning mist
9-11 Jun, Pahang, Malaysia, 283 km

Background
Charity Bike n Blade #11, a charity ride in aid of Beyond Social Service and Peacehaven (The Salvation Army). Over 80 cyclists raised close to SGD300,000, which, with government matching grants, amount in total to about SGD500,000.

Route: Day 1 by bus to Kuantan (non-cycling day), Day 2 to Lanjut 142 km, Day 3 to Tanjung Leman 141 km.

Ride details
Day 2. At “wheels up”, I take care to hang back so I don't cycle with the fastest. After a great two hours, I drop off. My lack of training (just over 40 km per week for a month) shows.

Another breath taking sight
M comes up behind me and says “Hi, I think I'll stick behind you." Then she offers to pull me along. "I might not be able to keep up," I confess. "I'll pull you at 20 km/h,” she says. That doesn’t last long. When I see a support car by the roadside, I and stop to top up on Gatorade (sponsored) and bananas. She pedals on.

The crew take good care of me. When they drive past, they ask if I need anything and stop when I do.

The broom wagon comes along at 1pm. I ask for permision to carry on and it is granted. Two other cyclists get off to join me, including intrepid sweeper S. It’s so early in the afternoon, why be swept up? The reason is lunch, or rather the lack of it. There is no food along the way other than Gatorade, bread and bananas from support vehicles.

I arrive at 2 pm, 2 hours later than the faster cyclists. At least, I make it on my own steam, in the steaming heat.

Day 3 is like Day 2: a great 1-2 hours speeding through the cool morning air, then the first stop at a water point. I linger and watch the roadies ride off. I'm solo most of the time now. While people overtake me, I don't see the recumbent cyclist. It seems some other cyclists don't ride today, not just the casualties from yesterday who lost skin and blood when wheels touched and when someone went into a pot hole and took others down.

Whole lot of calories. Thanks, crew
for keeping me going
To save time, I don't have a hot lunch today when I could’ve, just bread and bananas. I pass a roadie who stopped upslope. "I am done," he says, and claps to cheer me on.

Sweeper S and my room mate KC debus. S says he'll ride with me. He punctures and changes two
tubes before his tyre is fixed. Time ticks away. A support car comes along and the crew ask me to go on. I speed to avoid being swept up. Barely 12 km from the end point, the broom wagon catches up with me, sweeping me up. We see KC, there is no room on board for him. S is apologetic as I don't get to finish the ride but I’m glad we get to ride together; in past years, he’s the sweeper while I’m ahead.  We arrive just after 2 pm. What's the rush this time? To catch the bus home.

Why am I slow this year? Besides my lack of training, Day 2 offers high heat and headwinds while Day 3 has high heat and rolling hills. And fat tyres don’t help!

Nightstops
Zenith Hotel, Kuantan: this big hotel feels new and things work. The hotel sets aside an empty hall to lock up our bikes.
Lanjut Golden Beach and Golf Resort: I've been here before. It's more dismal this time. The ceiling pours when the shower is turned on. The toilet doesn't flush well. For another cyclist, the aircon in his room doesn't work, but he got a room change.
Tanjung Leman: Felda Residence Tanjung Leman. We don’t spend the night here, but I wish I did as it has big and luxurious grounds. The hotel lets us stop here to shower and ready our bikes for the bus ride back to Singapore.

Tech note
After struggling with a stock saddle that came with my then new bicycle in Sep 2014, I'm back to my Brooks saddle, owned since 2011. After several adjustments, I've gotten to the bottom of it and found the sweet spot. Sweet! The only pain isn't at my rear end, just heart ache that I got swept up and didn't ride all the way to the end.

Oh! This is my 800th post on this blog :)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Going around in circles

Seletar, 42 km. I’m fed up after going around in circles at work these past weeks. But today, I don’t mind going in circles, furiously cycling along a 2.3 km loop I discovered. Traffic is light and there is only one traffic light along the entire route.

When I cycle loops, I tend to get bored and frustrated: all that effort but going no where really. Ironically, cycling round in circles this time, I feel better. Perhaps going at speed with just one stop per loop gives the illusion of progress?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Micro adjustments, major pain

A dead end is a pain; a poorly adjusted saddle is a rear end pain
May distance: 156 km

Seletar, 39 km. Millimetre by millimetre, I adjust my saddle, because I know the pain that comes from thousands of kilometres of pain that comes from a “maladjusted” saddle. Too high or too low? Too far forward or too far aft? Nose tilted too high or too low? Trail and error is a pain, and only time will tell.

I got my current beau, Matt Black, in Sep 2014. Why adjust the saddle again after taking a year dialling in the stock Selle saddle that came with Matt Black? Because I decided to replace the stock saddle with my Brooks saddle, which I bought in 2011 for my now-retired Little Red Bike.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Fast and furious

Seletar, 45 km. This residential area, with names like Picadilly Circus, used to be a quiet, idyllic place to cycle. It also has an airport.

Besides the airport, the area is increasingly more and more an aerospace hub, with Airbus and other giants here. The aircraft traffic is still light, but road traffic is heavy: fast and furious.

Cycling here would be hair raising, but for the helmet I am wearing.

Cycling here used to have the thrill of speed without traffic lights.
It's a good place to train. Now, the thrill is filtering without being killed by speeding traffic.

Photos:
Top right, 2011: it used to be a path, leading to wooden houses with zinc roofs. The only things buzzing around were mosquitoes.
Bottom left, 2014: construction for buzzing traffic.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Excuses and reasons

Add some colour to grey
Seletar, 41 km. I knew I should ride yesterday. The sky was clear, I’d eaten too. But instead of burning fuel, I stayed home. My excuse: I stabbed my hand last week. It still hurt and hurting hands don’t go with handlebars. Wait till Sunday.

Today is Sunday. Dark clouds are overhead, so I shouldn’t ride. But I need to train for my charity ride. Otherwise, I’ll suffer and worse, get a “DNF” (ok I exaggerate, such status is given only during races and this isn’t a race).

Well, since I have a reason to ride, that beats any excuse. I look at the weather app, see where the clouds have been going with the wind, and ride.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Life happened

Pasir Ris, 31 km. It looked like it was going to be a dark and stormy night: dark clouds hang overhead, thunder rumbles. I even see lightning flash in front of me. What a great reason to stay home. But I ride.

I'd signed up for a charity ride. That leaves me four weeks to train.

How things have changed. In the past, I'd have trained for months. Now, barely a month. In the past I'd grab every opportunity to ride. Now, I grab every excuse not to ride. I even thought of doubling running and stop riding.

How big would've the change been? In the past, I blog only after cycling. Now, I was going to blog without cycling.

What's happening? Life happened: there are physiological, psychological and preferences changes.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Days gone by, place gone by


Apr distance: 64 km

Woodlands, 45 km. The rain has stopped. Dark clouds are still overhead. In the past months, that’s a good reason to stay home. But today, I want to ride. I’m off to see a place before it gets torn down: Woodlands Point.

To be here used to mark the start of adventures across the border, into the great beyond. We'd wait here, outside McDonald's, till everyone was here, then we'd ride over there.

Malaysia was the great big yonder. I've spent many happy hours there years ago, cycling with new friends, exploring, eating and talking.

Those days are pretty much gone.

And this place will be gone too.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Then and now

19 km, Upper Thomson. Over 71,500 km on the road. Assuming an average speed of 20 km/h, that's over 3,500 hours on the road. Only 19 km today. Still, it’s been 15 years since I started serious riding. So much has changed, when I look back at how I started, and now. A newbie then, riding some km for a lark, with inferior equipment. Jaded now, riding some km with superior equipment.

But still riding :p

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Due process

Mar distance: 51 km

Buangkok, 18 km. My bicycle has been squeaking. As usual, I wondered at the multitude of things that could be loose. This time, I didn’t quite bother to troubleshoot what the problem was. I lubricated the chain though, because it was on schedule (in terms of km since the last lubrication). And presto, silent service from my bicycle.

That’s the wonderful thing about processes. Follow them, and things tend to work out without undue fuss.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Chore and bore

Buangkok, 33 km. Cycling is starting to feel like a chore all over again. If the roads were long and the scenery nice, I could happily head out and ride long. Instead, I stop ever so often at traffic lights and shake my head now at then at dangerous and oblivious drivers. Dangerously boring?

So why do I still ride? Because of "use it or lose it": health is important (provided I don't get maimed or killed on the road), and i want to maintain my base for a charity ride coming up.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

5,000 km

Feb distance: 62 km
Buangkok, 25 km. Matt Black has covered 5,000 km. Is that a lot? That depends. Compared to what and to whom? Yesterday, I met some people I used to cycle with. All but one have stopped riding. So 5,000 would be a long distance, especially when compared to the 62 km I cycled the entire month. That’s like an average of 2 km per day!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Same route, different life

Life has twists and turns, unlike this road
Sembawang, 37 km. My life used to be predictable. While daily stresses vary, they’d be from a
defined range and the overall pattern of my life would be identical. For instance, I’d work in the same company year in, year out. And I’d ride (and run) the same range of routes year in, year out.

In 2016, I changed career and industry. Through sheer exhaustion, I barely rode or run, until I changed employment terms.

In 2017, the first working day, 3 Jan, was also my last working day. A few weeks later, I start work in a new industry (again), and a new level of stress. The hours are long and so is the commute. I barely ride or run.

Until today, one month after my last ride. What hasn’t changed is the same range of routes: this country is just sooo small.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

No traffic, no traffic lights

Jan distance: 716 km

Punggol, 35 km. I’m supposed to go for a walk with friends today. But it became a solo ride when one of them calls in sick at 4 am.

The weather is cool, the roads almost empty. Rather than let the time go to waste, I go ride. At one point, there are more cyclists on the road than cars. I’m overtaken by a mini velo. I want one of them for travelling. It should be able to fit into a standard suitcase and taxi.

At Seletar, I reminisce about riding abroad: cool weather, cool sights, no traffic and no traffic lights.

This ride serves another purpose: if my bicycle was damaged during the trip from Myanmar, I'll know and will claim insurance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mingalaba, so very far

12-17 Jan, Myanmar, 641 km

Prologue
This ride is the most memorable in more ways than one:
  • My 20th expedition
  • 10th and final country I cycle in Asean
  • Get in trouble not once, but twice. The marvellous people of Myanmar offer help even before I ask them for it
  • Longest fully-loaded distance cycled on this trip: 203 km, on fat tyres
  • More than a year in the making. I’d planned to go in end 2015; my friends requested I postpone it to 2016, which came and went. So I go solo instead.
Nightmare
Day 1, 12 Jan 56 km, Mandalay. A nightmare would be to ride into a horse at night. Or is it a cow? Dogs, pedestrians, cyclists, even some trucks, are on the road without lights. Did I say "road"? Sometimes I can't tell where the road ends and roadside begins. I emergency brake twice, once to avoid two people walking side by side with one of them pushing a bicycle).

It's supposed to be a simple recce. Things get complicated when motorcyclists go against traffic flow. In the dark, I must have taken a slip road instead of the main road and end up on backroads. "Mandalay?" I point and repeat at every junction to get back on track. 

How did I end up cycling at night? Partly because I was umable to arrange a van to the hotel. First I buy a bus ticket but the driver refuses to move until more people board. One passemger refuses to wait any longer. I leave too, get a refund and the bus crew carry my bike box to a taxi: a hatchback. Yay! 

Nightstop: Win Star Hotel. Not bicycle friendly: no bike allowed in room. But I have a bike box, so that's fine.

Blinded by the light
Day 2, 13 Jan 163 km, to Nyaung U. Last night's night ride was useful. Having gotten lost on backroads in the dark last night, I'd be confident to ride in the dark today, right? Wrong.
I end up riding at night not just because the road is long.
There are climbs too.
Note absence of reflective white line beside the road,

Last night, I never got blinded by lights from oncoming traffic as the roads I was on were wide enough (dual carriageway) or were narrow with little traffic (backroads). Tonight, on a narrow road, lights from oncoming traffic are so blinding, I can't see where I'm going.  I can’t see the roadside; there might be debris, holes, pedestrians and/or animals there. But traffic behind me wants to pass so I've to go near the edge.

I stop to eat sweets for dinner so I can keep going. A local comes to talk to me.

This is the first time in my life I quit a ride because I'm scared. I figure I'd 60 mins or 17 km more to go. It is dark, so I can't go fast. In any case, it’s too risky, too scary. All tragedy needs is split second, and there are countless split seconds in 60 minutes.

A loser's prize: sunset on the road
I blurt out "taxi". The local calls one. While waiting, he offers me chair, coffee and cigarette. I accept
the chair. He helps me dismantle my bike, even holding it up so the fork drop outs don’t touch the dirt. When the taxi comes, he helps me load it onboard. He isn't the only kind soul today.

Earlier today, at a petrol kiosk, I buy a lukewarm Coke then a cold bottle of water. The cashier waves it away, and waives payment for the water.

Nightstop: Royal Diamond Motel for three nights. It’s not cycling friendly: no bikes allowed in my room. At first, I'm told to put my bike outside the lobby. I ask a hotel official to let me put it indoors below the stairs. He smiles and agrees. 

Low battery, high mountain
Day 3, 14 Jan, 102 km. Old and New Bagan, Mount Popa. If my bicycle was in my room, I might have noticed it and fixed it sooner rather than in the morning when I went to my bike outside the room.

Old Bagan
When I push my bike into the morning light, I see a low battery indicator on my cyclometer. I replace the battery. The gadget resets. I lose my data and settings. After fiddling unsuccessfully, I decide to ride. Daylight is precious.

Old and New Bagan are fairly straightforward. The challenge is approaching Mount Popa, all 1,500m of it. The slopes around it wear out visitors before the final assault. I draft a man and kid on an e-bike. It is quiet and the rider friendly. He tells me the way to Popa.

Along part of the hot dusty road, some people, young and, male and female, squat in the shade. Why? As I climb past, some say hello. With perhaps 10 km to go, I turn back so as to leave ample daylight hours to return to base. When I speed downhill, I see and understand what's going on. Sometimes, passengers at rear of passing pickup trucks throw money at them. Paper money scatters over the road and people run to gather them, oblivious to a certain cyclist who might have rolled downhill in another sense.

I take time to rest. At a petrol kiosk, the attendant offers water, then pulls out a stool for me. The journey has one more surprise. A motorcyclist ahead stops, then U turns in my direction to go against the flow of traffic ie against me. We almost crash into each other.

At the hotel, a girl is alarmed when I attempt to use tissue paper to clean my drivetrain. She produces an old towel and asks me to use it instead.

Honourable surrender
Day 4, 15 Jan, 93 km, Pakokku. The best roads I've cycled on so far are here. Smooth asphalt is balm for the butt, as jolts from rough roads are a literal pain in tbe ass.

I marvel at the bridge over 4 km long across the Irrawaddy River.

On the way back to base, I pass where I bailed out on Fri the 13th. I couldn't have chosen a better place to quit, not that this crossed my mind when I stopped. A kind soul and a bamboo platform to keep the fork dropouts off the dirt when I removed my front wheel to fit into a taxi coming to my rescue. Looking at the route in daylight, it’s a honourable surrender. There are climbs, and the road twists and turns. This is not confirmation bias, it's confirmation. Physically and mentally tired, I’m likely to have become hopelessly lost.
Cyclist loves calories. All
this for less than USD1

Dogs are everywhere but they are a benign presence. Most don't even bark, much less chase hapless cyclists.

More chilling than dogs is wearing damp clothes in the 15-degree morning. I wash my clothes in a pail and soap from the hotel, then hang them in the sun on the hotel clothesline. Will tomorrow give me the Monday blues? I've so much on my mind, I forget to pay for dinner until I'm called back.

To help the hotel staff, I suggest I "check out" tonight instead of at 6 am tomorrow. The hotel staff are nice enough to pass me breakfast in advance.

Monday blues
Day 5, 16 Jan, to Mandalay, 203 km. The morning is cold. So cold, people bundle up in layers of clothing and light fires by the roadside to keep warm. Me, I’m in tropical cycling gear. The cold drives me to ride hard not just to keep warm but to cover distance. In the dark, I make the correct turns, thanks to my recce yesterday. I even avoid the unlighted barrier at a toll road (about 10 km out, past the petrol station uphill).

Sometimes, the road is straight like an arrow but not here
But then things go south (metaphorically and literally). I miss a turn. Possible reasons: the turn looks like a dirt road not a main road, and I’m happy to draft a truck for 18 km (10% of the supposed distance). A few km after I’m supposed to have passed a certain major junction, the road goes on and on, straight like an arrow. I play Status Quo in my head.

I stop at a shop in Myittha to refuel. The shopkeeper shows me Google map to show me where I am. I slap my head: the place I’m headed for, Tada U, has an identical twin. When I stop to check directions and people nod, I’m going to the wrong Tada U about 45 km in the south.

Rather than backtrack, I head for the road that takes me to Mandalay. The road is long. I stop to eat. Kids gather. I pull out my phone to confirm where I am, then keep riding. By now, it is dark. The road is wide, so I’m not blinded by the lights from oncoming traffic. When traffic overtakes me, I pedal faster to take advantage of their wide beams. At a petrol kiosk, I stop to check my bearings. There’s still a long way to go: perhaps another 1.5 hours. I ask for a taxi. To my dismay, the lady in charge says no taxi will come from Mandalay (is it that far?). But a motorbike taxi is available. Ok, I say. Motorbike lights the way, I’ll draft behind it. It’s quite a wait. The lady pulls out a chair for me, then another chair to serve as a table for bananas and “zee” (a fruit), and a bottle of cold water. She refuses to take payment. “A present,” she says.

Two guys walk over: Emmanuel and John Paul from World Vision. They assure me and keep me company till the motorbike taxi arrives. It has a side car! My bike is tied onto it and off we go. The night air is cold. After what feels like an hour, in which the locals get a little lost, we arrive at my hotel.

Morning mayhem
U Bein Bridge, world's longest teak wood bridge
Day 6, 17 Jan, Mandalay, 25 km. Let's go sightseeing during morning rush hour before departure. I figure the rule of the road is: give way to whoever isn't looking your way. Sometimes that happens as things move from multiple directions. This is, after all, a right hand drive society in a left hand drive place.

I find my way to U Bein Bridge, then gingerly ride back to the hotel. My butt is on its last legs. Saddle sore? Haw haw haw. The real deal is to ride till raw.

At the hotel, I want a quick bite and ask the way to a convenience store. Someone from the hotel gets me there on a motorbike and back. Just like that, all for me. I've not experienced such hospitality before.

I box up my bike and ask for a hatchback taxi. The hotel gets me a van to myself for the same price as a taxi: MMK12,000. At the airport, after x-ray, the security officer grabs a trolley and loads my bike onto it. I've never experienced this in other airports.  

Observations
  • Traffic drives on the right hand side but road infrastructure is for left hand drive. So, bus doors may open onto traffic side (left) instead of curb side (right). To make a left turn at a X-junction, traffic cuts onto oncoming traffic twice.
  • Road signs are lacking even for major junctions. Where there are signs, they are mostly in local language. Sometimes, there are milestones on major roads
  • Tissue paper at dining tables is rough and stretches like crepe bandage. Often, there is free flow of tea, free.
Equipment failures
  • Compass points west
  • Cyclocomputer resets, most settings (including wheel size) lost. So distance readings are off
  • Bottle nozzle breaks. It no longer squirts. That really sucks

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Hot, tired, hungry but not unhappy

Pasir Ris, 40 km. I’m hot, tired and hungry. But I keep going, as I’m training for a long ride, as  one leg is 175 km long. I expect to be hot, tired and hungry on that ride, so I train for the feeling.

If this was my job, I’d be unhappy with my boss. How can one work when hot, tired and hungry? But this is not my job. Since I’m not working, this is supposed to be play. Same ride, same conditions, yet the feeling is different. Hot, tired and hungry, yet not unhappy.

And that’s what purpose is about. Make sense?