Friday, January 1, 2021
Video done by the talented Leon Tan!
A very happy and blessed New Year! Welcome to a brand new chapter of time and what a challenging year 2020 has been for us all...
No thanks to CV19 restrictions implemented in the 2nd quarter of 2020, we were confined to staying at home and allowed to exercise only within a 2km radius of our homes. That immediately put a stop to our regular gym sessions and our usual cycling came to a grinding halt. I have no argument about the reason for this - to curb and stop infections. After 8 months, measures are working and Spore has entered Phase 3 and life has improved tremendously thanks to the cooperation and discipline of her people.
In Apr, we were looking at the very limited opportunities to enjoy our cycling and exactly 1.7km away from my home is Bukit Batok Nature Reserve. There is a very steep and quiet road called Lorong Sesuai which is 400m up and a 12" incline. It's near the former Ford Factory along Upp Bukit Timah, a WW2 place of significance where the British signed the surrender papers to the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942. Up here at Sesuai also was the place a war shrine built to commemorate the dead from both armies but that has since disappeared before the war ended.
We remember coming here to train for our Mae Hong Son mountain climbs in N Thailand a few years ago and if you ever want to kill people's interest in cycling, do bring them up this road. Hence, we were not too thrilled about the idea of getting our exercise up this hill of torture but given CV19 conditions, this proved unexpectedly ideal.
Its near, its steep and you get the workout of your life. Not many people can climb up on a bicycle without pushing and we set a target of 5 and we are done. The intensity of the climb beats any gym equipment for your legs and heartbeat will average 150 or more.
Also, you have to ensure that your bicycle has climbing ability and a granny gear is almost a must unless you are a very strong cyclist. Usual 8 speed bikes need not apply! Road bikes, despite its lightness, struggle to go up the hill unless the rider has above average fitness. The ideal gearing would be under 24" in my opinion. The lighter the better, the skinner the tire the better!
So when we first started, it was sheer pain and torture. Our initial goal was 5 climbs and that itself felt like running a half marathon. As we got fitter, we started "enjoying" the pain in a strange way - somewhat like a sweet and sour experience. We were surprised that after several weeks, we got stronger and fitter. 10 was the new target! The sequence would be 3 climbs, then rest. Repeat. Then 2 climbs, rest. Repeat.
We also started inviting our friends to join us. Veasna from Cambodia and his friend Suto from Nagaland live nearby as they are students at Trinity Theological College. On the first go, both of them rode 1/4 way and pushed all the way up even though they had MTBs. Veasna came because he wanted my help to vet his theological essays and to discuss topics but he didnt expect to pay such a painful price.
When restrictions lifted, more people from outside the neighbourhood could join us. We had 2 young physios, York Fuan and Angel who are very experienced cyclists. YF rides a Brompton everyday and toured Malaysia with it while Angel is a roadie and toured Europe solo. She just gotten a Flamingo 16" foldy. Being Physios, pain and muscle strength are their forte and they took this Thursday appointment with aplomb. I was shocked that YF can actually climb this on her 6 speed std geared Brompton! Then Wayne, the late Ying Chang's son started to come along on his roadie as well and he is a Mae Hong Son graduate who was missing the long climbs of N Thailand. So he too is a regular. Then we have Oreo, who is an avid MTB and a roadie who cycles every Thurs and decided to incorporate Sesuai as part of his 30+ km ride routine and to drop in for the fellowship. Recently, my neighbours Chris and Constance also joined us and a few other friends as well come every now and then though many come only, once!
These rides start at about 10pm and finish about 1130 or so and hence, the name Sesuai Owls and it has become a beautiful time of friendship and bonding. Most Thursdays, they would come to my home for a simple dinner, have some fellowship, study and discuss on life's issues and then attack the hill.
It has been 8 months since we started and now we are averaging 12 climbs each session. Celia and I have done just under 500 climbs in total since we started. Veasna who began and could hardly do one has now finished 20 and is our champion! 20 thus is our goal for 2021! Technique is a slow and steady approach and when you get the hang of it, it is possible to have pleasant conversations with a buddy as I found out.
What goes up must come down and if you are like me, love high speeds, the steep incline rewards you with a steep decline. It is possible to hit 60km/h .You dont have much of a runway as at the end, the road turns sharply to the left and can get slippery. Hence, many go down cautiously and good brakes are very important. When it rains, we abort the ride due to safety issues.
For Christmas, I added an LKLM 318 Step-Thru to my fleet which I named the Green Hornet and this is a specially built bike that has meaty disk brakes and a 17" climbing gear. Though it weighs 15kg, it climbs beautifully with "gears" to spare and descends extremely confidently with its secure handling and powerful stopping power. For me at least, Sesuai climbs are even more of a joy now.
So if you are keen for some torture-fest, try the Lor Sesuai challenge! And if you are a night bird, you may see fellow owls there on Thursdays, having fun in a painful but pleasurable way.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
It was 7 years ago that I brought back a beautiful Christmas present from my trip to Japan - a Bridgestone Jobno Mamachari bicycle! This was full of very innovative and thoughtful features that only the Japanese would think off such as auto steering lock, skirt guard (for the ladies who used this), 5 speed Nexus hub gear, dynamo lighting with auto on/off and more. It would be perfect for family use in Japan to run errands, pick up the groceries, send the kids to school as what a family work-horse should be.
However, it was heavy and not exactly nimble as it was built to withstand daily abuse. It soon found itself rather neglected and gathering dust, in need of a new owner. I am very glad it is now in the good hands of my buddy George Kee. I swapped this in exchange for an air ticket to Chiang Mai!
Prior to buying this, I wanted a Papachari, a Bridgestone Wedge Rock - a male version not a unisex version of the family mule and I saw this in the Bridgestone Catalog but alas, when I checked, production had stopped. Hence, the opportunity to own a Papachari went into cold storage since 2013 until 2 months ago when over lunch, I learn that a Spore famed tourer came out with a most interesting frame - a mixte/step through design and manufactured in conjuction with LKLM, a Chinese bicycle builder.
Being trained in Marketing, I have learned not to pay too much attention to the hype and fluff but to focus on the core strengths of the product. Even then, my bias for a China made bicycle was very strong until I learn that this particular frame - the LKLM 318 Step Thru was designed by one of the best brains of touring bicycles - Mr SK Lah. He is a seasoned world traveller and knows exactly what works and what doesn't and not only is he respected and an expert (in my books), SK is a really nice, helpful and humble gentleman.
A quick visit to him in Oct saw SK explain in detail all the clever and innovative features he incorporated into the unique frame. The traditional bicycle diamond frame, which for decades, remain unchanged, needs to be challenged and improved as its major disadvantage is the top tube. Being a folding bicycle connoisseur and a young Senior, I appreciate bikes that are easy to jump on and get off and many a time, I have seen how the absence of the top tube has saved many cyclists from crashing badly. The challenge then is to come up with a design that is top tube free and yet rigid and strong, even strong enough for full laden touring. Sk reckons he has found the answer!