Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A crash can happen to anyone! Legends too....






One of the joys of cycling is the feeling of freedom and almost flying on wheels. Perhaps that is why I love cycling so much. The independence, the wind in your face, the satisfaction of conquering steep hills etc and the last thing we have in mind is crashing.

But that happens to every cyclist from time to time, and often when we least expect it. I have a lot of respect for my cycling buddy Chris whom I've know for over 20 years as he is liken by many as The Father of Touring especially in Thailand, Bali and Indonesia. He is also a bike mechanic (engineer is more appropriate) second to none and has put together very kindly many of my bicycles. After his touch, my bikes become Lexus smooth.

                                 
Highway 2 outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

It was thus a big shock when I got a call from his wife one weekday afternoon to say that Chris was at the A & E of Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He had a crash! I immediately dropped everything and went to see him.

Poor Chris was very badly injured with head and facial injuries. His cable lock had somehow got loose and managed to get entangled with his front wheel causing an instantaneous jam that even bent the fork of his Bike Friday Tikit!

I thank the good Lord for sending the right people to help Chris recover and at the most opportune moments that only God can orchestrate. In times like this, we realise how fragile our lives are and we should be grateful for each day that is given to us.

       
                                   
Route 13 near Vang Vieng, Laos

It has been 3 weeks and Chris is making a strong and remarkable recovery. He has even started cycling again and I am grateful to God for His amazing healing upon this dear brother. May he continue to recover fully and quickly with God's help.

So do enjoy cycling, but at the same time, please ride safely.

More here on his excellent blog - Chriscycles.


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I shared this beautiful promise in the Bible about God's protection as we put our trust in Him to Chris. I hope you will find comfort and assurance that our Creator loves us deeply and is with us all the way.


Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

The painless way of entering into Johor Bahru from Singapore.




The Causeway in the early years








Pic KC

Pic KC



The crossing from Singapore into Malaysia via the Causeway (opened in 1923), is often a source of nightmares for many motorists travelling between the 2 countries. Huge snarling jams are the order of the day and during public and school holidays, this is compounded three fold. I have been stuck for almost 4 hours before! Factor in the locust-like swarm of small, smoky and buzzy motorcycles into Singapore (transporting many migrant workers) in the early morning and this ritual is repeated again from 4-9pm in the reverse direction, the Causeway certainly is to be avoided at all costs by most people. Tolls too have been increased recently and there is talk about compulsory registration for Spore vehicles that cross into Malaysia. All these obstacles really negate going into JB to enjoy the cheaper food and shopping despite the very favorable 1 to 3 exchange rate. Unless of course you are a cyclist!

                        


Choosing the proper time, it is possible to cycle into the heart of JB from Kranji MRT station, clearing 2 customs and all these done in under 30 minutes comfortably. It is a 2.5 km ride from Kranji MRT to Singapore Immigration, another 2.5 km across the Causeway to arrive into Malaysian Immigration, and another 2 km into JB proper. YC, KC and I had the chance to test this crossing today (a Tuesday)  as we planned to lunch with our dear friend and cycle buddy, Claudine who resides there.

We met at 1045am at Kranji MRT station like we always do. This serves as our usual meeting point as it is only 10 mins ride away from the Causeway.  Do not attempt to cross after 3pm or you will find yourself swarmed with a hundred thousand motorcyclists and you will get suffocated from fumes! You have been warned.

Here's how we did it. I hope this article helps our local and overseas cycling friends to cross into Malaysia smoothly.

Riding along Woodlands Ave 3, we made a left into Woodlands Road just after 100m and continued pass the Esso Station until we reached the flyovers.







At this traffic light junction, make an immediate left turn up the flyover. This is actually strictly for cars as motorcycles have to enter via BKE. But for cycling, this is the best way as this car lane will merge with the motorcycle lane after about 200m. The tricky bit is where we have to carry our bikes across the road divider to the motorcycle lane and we needed to be very careful here as motorcycles really zoom by at high speeds.




Note the bicycle lane sign appearing finally!

Continue on, the immigration counters are just around the corner and be careful to take the left lanes as the right ones are for the automated counters. A quick check with 2 immigration officers confirm that these lanes are NOT to be used by cyclists as of now. Cyclists can only officially go through the manual ones. Once you get your passport stamped out, do ask for an immigration red form if you plan to return to Singapore should you need it. It is a relatively easy exit out of the huge ICA complex and onto the Causeway. I tried taking a photo of this but was stopped and politely told to delete my photo by a kind lady officer. Rules are rules and we must respect them however, I wonder about the many cars and motorcyclists who have video cams filming every minute of their crossing.



Once on the Causeway, it's pretty much a no man's land and is quite a pleasant flat 1 km ride. This Causeway was blown up during WW2 by the British to prevent the Japanese from crossing and I found out recently that my friend Rod Wither's late father in law was part of the British Army demo team responsible for this in 1942.

Continue cycling till the end of the Causeway and you will find the extreme left lane that is dedicated to motorcycles or Motosikal. Cycle up this way and it is a fairly gradual long climb. Once again, stick to the left and be careful for speeding motosikals. It will then start to descend and do be careful of the metal graters on the road especially if you have thin tires as they may get caught. Crossing them at an angle is highly recommended. This will eventually lead to the Malaysian immigration counters.


There are no forms to fill entering Malaysia and getting your passport stamped is quite straightforward. There is a bit of a climb once again getting out of the complex and passing through the custom inspections. They seem to be quite relax here and that is a breath of fresh air. 

When we cleared, we took a wefie and nobody minded. Welcome to Malaysia and indeed, Malaysia boleh!


Upon exiting the customs, we took the extreme left that led to JB Sentral (railway station) and Pusat Bandaraya (Centre of Town) and before we knew it, we were in the heart of JB.


We arrived exactly at 1130 am, taking just 30 mins from point to point, at the famous Kin Wah Kopitiam at Jalan Tan Hiok Neo in Chinatown where we saw Claudine waiting for us, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.



It was kind of her to treat us to an amazing lunch of roast meats and I felt really bad as Claudine ALWAYS pays when we are there. We also enjoyed toast, coffee and ice cream.There are so many great places to eat in JB at much cheaper prices and arguably more flavorful too. The Johore Kaki Blog is a wealth of information here. No wonder many hard core JB lovers are willing to brave the long jams to go over there and stretch their dollar.

However for us cyclists, crossing at the right time, we can truly enjoy all the delights of beautiful JB smoothly and painlessly. At least for now! Sweet dreams sometimes are made of these...






Monday, June 20, 2016

Air travel with a bicycle - To box or not to box.


                                                        








   











                   
Loading bikes at Málaga Airport
Pic - We are Cycling UK

                       

                           


If Shakesphere was riding a foldy, his words may very well be, "To box or not to box, that is the question"...

I have been asked many times what is the "best" way of travelling with a bicycle or foldy on a flight. Do we box it, put it in suitcase (if it fits) or just use a stuffed soft bag and hope for the best? It really isn't that simple to answer as we have to balance many factors such as bike protection, investment cost in a hard case, flight check in limit, whether your start and end point is the same and even what type of bike you are transporting.



Let us start with what type of bicycle you are seeking to transport. A full size bicycle is usually best transported in a box. It offers very good protection and that is why factories deliver their un-assembled bicycles this way. Very easy to box - remove pedals, front wheel and loosen the handlebar stem so that it can fit nicely in.  The plastic fork protector that keeps the fork from being crushed in is also highly recommended. Make sure too that the Rear Derailleur is shifted to the biggest cog and thus away from the frame. For best way of avoiding a bent RD, remove it and bubble wrap it, then tape it inside of frame. Foldies can of course also travel like this and can usually be put straight into the box unfolded. Pedals, handlebar and maybe front wheel needs to be removed/adjusted. Being a foldy, there will be lots of room in the box for panniers, helmet etc.

                        

The disadvantages of boxing are of course, acquiring the bike box which is easy in big cities but not so easy in a remote city/town overseas. Transporting the huge box can also be a challenge as not all cars/taxis can fit them in and transporting the box in MRT/subways is a near impossibility. Then there is the weight of the box (3-4kg) which can cut significantly into your 20kg weight allowance.



I believe this is the most popular option of air travel with bicycles and my guess is 90% of people travel this way.  Best to opt for 25kg check in allowance to be safe here as they usually sneak past 20kg with bits thrown in.

For foldies, travelling in a hard case is my preferred option. They travel like regular luggage, no questions asked, easy to fit into the boot of cars, wheeled into trains/MRT etc. They won't ask if your tires have been deflated! They also offer excellent protection and I have had zero damage to my bikes in over 10 years of travel this way. Bike Fridays for example are made to be fit into regular 29" Samsonites and they fly stealth.



This is an advantage especially when flying airlines like Air Asia who still charge the silly "Sports Equipment" fee. Bromptons too have their own unique travel case (or Lojel used to make one that fits the Brompton) and I use this as well. Not all but some Dahons/Terns can fit into Samsonites - their challenge is the headset fold which is quite complicated to remove.

                     


For full size bikes and especially roadies, they have full size hard case available but this is also not cheap. The professional competitors seem to travel like this.

The disadvantages for using a hard case are firstly the cost. A Samsonite 29" can cost close to US$300 and the original Brompton made in England hardcase is priced around there too. Then, they are also quite heavy - weighing from 5-8kg! So unless you have a generous check in allowance, this can be a non-starter. Fortunately full service airlines like SQ etc now offer 30kg. Some foldies like Bike Fridays and Dahons/Terns require more work dis-assembling and that can put some less technical people off. A Brompton on the other hand is dead easy, just remove seat post and chuck it in. Lastly, travelling with a hard case is only ideal if your starting and ending destination is the same. For most of my tours when I start at one place and fly off at another, we usually box them.

Another way of transporting foldies is to use soft zipper foldy bags that hide the folded package. They are fantastic in shielding the foldie from unwelcome questions from train conductors etc and keep the interiors of cars/vans clean. They also weigh next to nothing! They are also cheap to buy, ranging from $30-80 only. However to fly with them, they need to be extensively strengthen with cardboard inside for protection. Even then, care must be made to make sure all bits are properly protected with bubble wrap and packing materials. When unused, these bags can be packed into a small package too, able to carry it along on tour with the bicycle. When flying off, cardboard can be found easily anywhere for the "necessary stuffing".  The main disadvantage I have experienced is that the protection it offers is good but not excellent. I have had bent and damage bits happened travelling this way unlike a hard case or even a proper box so proper and precise packing is key.

                        
Vicinti semi soft bike bag - Pic Berenda

The last option is something that is relatively new and introduced to me by Mike Khor of Wheelosopher and a method that my buddy George Kee normally uses. This is to cling wrap the whole bike like how you would wrap a piece of roast beef.

                       

The theory is because they see it is a bicycle, those handling it will hopefully not throw it around and extend to it some carrying courtesy. Those who use it seem to be have positive feedback. "We are Cycling" UK quotes...


When bikes fly naked, they paradoxically seem to suffer no more damage than when they go covered – usually less. We guess that’s because baggage handlers really are human, and don’t deliberately kick in the wheels etc! But a bike in a bag or box is just a package: that can be dropped, thrown, shoved and kicked into place just like any other bag or box. 

The cost advantage of this is of course its cheap, it adds no additional weight to your bike when transporting and truly, when people know its a bicycle, they actually do handle it with more caution. But the risk is always there if your precious bike meet with some crazy handler who had a bad day. Cling wrap protects your bike like a Christmas wrapper against a hacksaw! So if you are one of those who don't mind a scratch or two and willing to take a calculated risk, this could be a great option worth considering.

                       

This is by no means the complete story of the end all and be all to bicycle packing and I would certainly welcome you to share your stories and experiences with us. We are after all, a learning community. I would love to hear your answer to the question, "To box or not to box?" How do you pack your bike?




Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Giant Momentum Mocha - The most fun coffee mug carrier ever!

       
     



                           

                                                                 

                             

 

                           

It is dangerous to drop into a bike shop. Doubly dangerous especially those in Taiwan. In my last trip there in April, I made the huge "mistake" of following my friend Ying Chang into a neighbourhood bike shop in Da'an. My eyes spotted a beautifully unusual bicycle where instead of the usual top tube, it featured two thin rod like tubes almost like a mixte European frame of old. And more than that, near the stem, it had of all things, a built in coffee mug holder!



I have always been a great connossuer of good design and this really resonated with me. That plus the fact that it was in a highly polished dark blue turquoise with golden brown fenders, with smart matching tan brown handlebar grips and spring "Brooks style" saddle, really got me deep into temptation. I told Ying Chang that this bike is so beautiful and the price would probably be about US$700 or so. When we were told of its price tag, which was less than half of my expectation, it would be a great sin if I missed out on taking this souvenir home. O yes, and that included the original Giant side panniers, a side stand as well as a bell!

Problem was that it is a bit of a hassle bringing a huge bike box into the High Speed Train 300km from Taipei to Kaoshiung where I was to fly home. However, YC managed to arrange for a bike dealer there in Kaoshiung to deliver the box to me when I arrived at the airport for US$12!. True to Taiwanese efficiency, the package came exactly 8 min after I rang them. Scoot Air took the box in with no hassle to Singapore, and later on to Perth.



You can always count on good friends to share your joy, especially with new toys. Pete Roscoe was only too eager to help me put this beauty together and we had fun seeing this baby being assembled. Jan too was excited and sharing each other's joy truly is what makes friendships alive.



 It was quite straight forward except that we had some problem tightening the headset. This was easily solved with the careful use of Pete's trusty grinder on the fork stem which was surprisingly 2mm too long.



When the bike was finally assembled, I gave Jan the privilege to be the first person to ride it and away she went. Next was Pete. Now, the Mocha is by no means a high end bicycle but the first impressions were very good for a lifestyle urban commuter bicycle. Easy to ride, smooth rolling 700cwheels, comfortable seating position, 7 speed gears that changed adequately and we all had fun whizzing the Mocha around.

                       

The Momentum has boosted my momentum to cycle and I find every opportunity to ride it. Love to take it to my meetings, cafes, to the shops where its roomy panniers swallow all the groceries as well as go for my round the river rides. It was amazing fun when my friend from KL came to visit in May and I took the Momentum for a longish 60km ride all the way from Burns Beach in the Northern suburbs back home through the beautiful Sunset Coast. Yes, this is not a tourer like the Surly LHT but it did the job reasonably well.



The integrated rear rack that is part of the frame also offers a very strong advantage that I truly appreciate. It can take a pillion if the need arise! One day as I was cycling back from the shops, I spotted Mike walking home and offered him a lift. We had pots of fun like school boys doing that, something that I could not do with any of my bikes.

                         
Pic Berenda

Here is a video about the Momentum features especially the passenger carrying capability rack. Yes, the warning is for a 25kg limit but so long as your pillion is not too heavy, I think its ok but don't sue me if anything happens.


My friends have all teased me about the fact that they have not seen one pic of the Momentum with a mug of coffee and the truth is I don't really drink coffee that much. But watch out for this space, that may happen real soon! 

                           

Meanwhile, the Momentum is truly one of my favourite bikes now and I can't wait to ride it again. This lively and chirpy advertisement claims that this bicycle will move you happy. I can tell you this is genuinely true! Yippee...