Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sheldon supports!

The late Sheldon Brown

I took my Speed Pro for a 12km ride through the busy streets of Singapore, in the remaining hours of 2008. Initial experience was very positive. The Big Apple up front allowed for climbing and going off kerbs (short cuts) with full confidence, and as expected, it provided for a very plush ride. It helped too that the SP had the Pantour suspension hub. Speed wise, I felt that it was not compromised and somehow felt livier than the Marathon Racer set up I had. I maxed 45.9kmh on a slight downhill. Perhaps all the hype about the Marathon Supreme had some merit after all.

I was very pleased to discover that the late Emeritus Professor of Pedalgogy, Sheldon Brown, actually prefers this "unequally yoke" set up. His reasons as follows:

Wider Front, Narrower Rear - A wider front tire makes sense in many applications, however, when handling and ride comfort are considered. A wider tire will generally provide better cornering traction than a narrower one, assuming appropriate inflation pressure.
A wider tire also provides superior shock absorbency. I personally prefer a slightly wider tire in front, since I suffer from some wrist discomfort on occasion.
Off-Road Issues - Bikes that are used some of the time on loose surfaces often benefit from a wider front tire, with a fairly agressive tread, coupled with a somewhat narrower, smoother rear tire. The wide, knobby front tire will provide the all-important front wheel traction. If your front tire skids, it almost always leads to a crash. For riding in soft conditions, such as sand or mud, a wide front tire is essential. If the front tire sinks in and gets bogged down, you're stuck. If the front tire rolls through a soft patch OK, you can generally power the rear through to follow it.
The narrower, smoother rear tire will have lower rolling resistance. Since most of the weight is carried by the rear tire, rolling resistance is more important on the rear than the front. If the rear tire slips, in most cases the worst that will happen is that you'll have to get off and walk.

This is a great idea that developed out of BMX racing.
What a brilliant discovery for 2009! Try it, you may very well like it. Wishing you many happy times on your saddle for the New Year. Ride safe all.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The case for being unequally yoked

BA in front, Supreme behind

During my epic Lao ride in Nov, I noticed that some touring bikes wore different sized tires. The front being a bit fatter than the rear. In my former life as a car enthusiast, economy rally driver and a half-baked auto mechanic, I fully understand the need for the driving wheel to have better traction especially high powered RWD cars. Many of these hi performance cars wear fatter rear than the front like a dragster.

In the latest Lexus IS-F, the wheel size is - 225/40YR19 front – 255/35YR19 rear.

BMW's M3 share a similar story - 245/40 ZR18 - 265/40 ZR18

But for the case of bicycles, its interesting to note the reverse. I did not understand the rationale for this until I was flying down the mountains of Laos at 50km/h and suddenly, the road disintegrated into stones and pebbles. Any motorcyclist or mountain biker will tell you that if you loose your rear end, there is still hope. But once your front wheel slips, it is next to impossible to recover. And hi-speed crashes fully loaded can be a very painful experience.

Thus, I have just fitted a Schwalbe Big Apple in the front of my yellow Speed Pro and the latest Marathon Supreme on the rear. They look rather odd but the reason for my little experiment is to enjoy the cushy, grippy character that the 2.0 BAs are famous for.
The narrower rear 1.6 Supreme should transfer the power better and its touted to be "touring tire that can do everything". The Chief Designer claims it is impossible to incorporate any more innovative features into the Supreme - thus the US$69 retail price for one rubber donut.
Stay tune to see if the case for being unequally yoked turns out to be a happy one...
*My buddy Chris Wee usually sets up his bike this way for serious touring.

3 Schwalbes
Big Apples 2.0 vs stock Marathon (tikit) 35-349 vs Marathon Supreme 1.6

Update 8 Dec 2010 - I have posted my latest thoughts on this set-up here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Blackie @ COSI

Its always a great joy to be at COSI Orphanage! I enjoyed my 5 days renewing friendships with so many beautiful children. For many of my young team members (5 the youngest), it was a precious lesson of seeing and experiencing life without its material trappings. Yet, life there is so rich and meaningful. Our young friends embraced us warmly with their pure and simple hearts. Their laughter, humility, sincerity, kindness, joy and helpfulness were daily reminders of God's care and goodness to His children.

It was a busy time for us all with full on schedules and I had only just a small window of time to shop for a bike in Phnom Penh 35km away. I decided on a foldie as our 15 seater chartered bus was stuffed to the gills with 18 folks & tonnes of shopping. Yes, the shopping Phds were there. A quick visit to 3 bike shops revealed that it was nearly impossible to find new bicycles.

Most were used imports and I spotted a one speed Bridgestone foldie from Shinjuku Japan. It was black, had full mudguards and a useful rack. Asking price was a mere US$55 which sounded very reasonable. After some air in the tires and pedals fitted, I took it for a quick test ride and though it was a bit heavy (14-15kg I reckon), it rode surprisingly well. I offered US$40 but US$45 sealed the deal. "Blackie" was no longer an orphan and was whisked happily into our overloaded bus.

At the orphanage, I was giving rides to a queue of small kids like in a fun fair. Their squealing and laughter were priceless. That itself more than "paid" for the bike! There was also a baptism for 50 after lunch by the river 1.5km away and I rode Blackie there through meandering sandy and dusty paths.

On my way there, a menancing bullock cart blocked my path and I passed by it cautiously. Now, that is one green transport! It was hard work riding a one speeder but it sure beat walking in the hot afternoon sun. Given their challenging road conditions, I will concede that a mountain bike would be a better bet, preferably with a Nexus 8 hub gear.

I appointed one of the more responsible boys to look after Blackie. A practical lesson on good stewardship to be practised. Somehow, I know that Blackie will provide many kids plenty of good times and joy on its 2 small wheels.

Wishing all of you a very blessed Christmas, especially the gregarious kids at COSI Orphanage!

Today your Saviour was born in David's town. He is Christ the Lord -
Luke 2:11

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bike shopping for Cambodian kids - Dec 17 to 21

The grand Royal Palace at Sisowath Quay

Once again, I'm leading a team today heading for Phnom Penh, Cambodia where we will be bringing 35 boxes of donated goodies for the kids at COSI Orphanage. We shall also be teaching sports, offering kindergarden and design consultation for Methodist School of Cambodia and bringing lessons in English, Chinese, Art, Leadership as well as doing some renovation works at the orphanage.

But one of the things I look forward to is to buy some bicycles for the kids. The challenge is to get something sturdy enough as their roads are pretty dusty and unpaved. These bikes will be used for going to school (some 10km away) and for errands.

I have no experience shopping for bikes in Cambodia as they will all be the chinese made types so its going to be an interesting shopping experience. I hear they range from US$35 to US$120.

Hoping to bring some Christmas cheer to the wonderful Cambodian kids!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Happy belated birthday, Lovethefold!

Its just like me to forget birthdays and anniversaries, and I do get into trouble sometimes for these "senior moments". That is why when I just realised that this blog went online on Nov 26 2007, I sighed, "O no, I missed another birthday!".

I started this blog to capture my passion for folding bicycles and my cycling adventures, with the hope that it will serve as a catalyst for more folks to enjoy cycling and reduce their carbon footprint. In these dark economic challenges we face today, it helps too that time spend on the saddle = money saved in terms of transportation and huge gains in your well being and health.

Looking back over the year, I cannot believe that I have made over 110 postings. It has been my joy that this blog has been read not just by my friends, but have attracted readers and new friends from all over the world.
Here's what someone from Bike Forum generously wrote recently:
What a FANTASTIC website you have there OldiesONfoldies. I remember reading your account once of a trip for some lobsters, but this site of yours is a revelation. I probably missed it from being stupid, because you must have mentioned such an extensive site somewhere on the forum before. I have bookmarked it because it is too big for me to read all at once. You have certainly had some marvellous travels on your bikes. Also, the site leads into all kinds of blogs and adventures of other two wheeled explorers.
I'm extremely humbled that it has been picked up and linked to the blogs of the international cycling community. Do check out these fascinating links:

I'm also very pleased that Lynette Chiang, Customer Evangelist of Bike Friday, USA has kindly included my tikit travel adventures in the Bike Friday company website as well.

And featured another one in the Summer 08 edition of the Foldable Flyer.
2008 is coming to a close and what a great year it has been in terms of cycling adventures. I had the privilege to ride in Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Malaysia.

Sunset in Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia

Travel has also helped develop my amateur photography skills and I was delighted when an Australian Phd Anthropology Researcher wanted to use one of my Indonesian photos. I've also been a very good boy and restrained from getting more bikes (I have 8 if you must know), save for my Surly LHT. But I'm in the midst of revamping my portfolio of foldies towards a more touring type with great climbing gears. Preferably as low as 22". Two bikes come to mind - the Dahon TR or the Bike Friday Llama.

This passion for cycling has helped open my eyes to new experiences, sights, food, culture, history, technology and most of all, connecting with all sorts of remarkable people from all around the world and at home.

My birthday wish for Lovethefold is that it will continue to bring people together to enjoy the simple pleasure of being on a saddle. In such a complicated and complex world we live in today, we all need to ride more to discover our wonderful world, and rediscover ourselves. Perhaps that will ignite fresh ideas and unleash creativity that we never know were given to us.

I thought of that while riding my bicycle -
Albert Einstein (on the theory of relativity)

Thank you for reading Lovethefold and I hope you will continue to share the wonderful experience of gliding on 2 small wheels with me. May the true love, joy and peace of Christmas be yours.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Monday, December 1, 2008

Folks on spokes

One of the joys of bicycle touring is the many interesting people we get to meet. Those on bicycles particularly become instant friends. I guess we share the same passion and values in exploring and experiencing a new land on our own power.

The Grasshopper Tour gang - There were 11 Dutch cyclists who stayed at our Oudumaxi Guesthouse in Luang Prabang when we arrived. Many of them were in their 50s and it was encouraging to know that they too were going down from LP to Vientiane - though with support vehicles and guides. At US$1850 per pax, they better! The standard issue was a Trek hybrid bike but some brought their own hi-end machines like a Koga Miyata and a Burley tandem with all the nice bits. They did not look like hard core cyclists but more like on a packaged tour. But then again, they are Dutch so cycling is in their DNA.

Do those climbs regularly and develop these awesome legs + tight butt!

3 Melbournites - The trio of 2 guys and a lady cruised in with their custom bikes while we were having breakfast in Vien Vang. What caught my attention is that they were following a CGOAB journal (Jan Hountermans - ) to the tee and had printed all his entries neatly in a folder. Again, they were mid-lifers and the lady did not seemed too pleased in having to tag along with the 2 blokes. Wonder why?

Melbournites having an organic breakfast

Mr Brisbane Busted Knee - We got all excited when we saw a fully loaded Sora tourer with 4 panniers unloaded from a Tuk Tuk in VV. Shaun, a young 20ish man, rode all the way from Bangkok with a buddy and was doing 150kms daily - until he suffered knee problems. I felt sorry for him and hope he recovers. Lesson learn - pace and know yourself.

Team Belgium - Meerteen and Katrien cycled with us from KKC to Vientiane. We "suffered" together at Dung Rabbit Guesthouse. Truly enjoyed their company. They are in their 20s and newbies when it comes to bicycle touring but that did not stop them from buying new mountain bikes in LP and cycling to Vietnam. With just a helmet, bamboo improvised rack to carry their humongous backpack, no gloves, no cycling clothes, no map and no spare tube, they just went with the wind. They always managed to catch up with us eventually. Chris joked with them, "Ignorance is bliss" but there is something to be said about their fantastic sense of adventure. I lend them my LP Cycling book, hope it helps them. Hope you guys are having fun!

Monsieur Michel - I had the privilege to have breakfast with this French 62yo retired electrical engineer in Vientiane. He has been riding for 7 years on a hi-tech trike with a trailer and has been touring around the world, in his elegant long sleeve shirt and trousers. The Silk road, Turkey, China, South America - you name it, he has been there. Every 6 months though, he flies home to France to see his family and 4 grandkids. Bet they get all sorts of exotic presents.

On a normal bicycle, he covers 15km in an hour but on his trike, he does 12km in supreme arm chair comfort. He usually does 70km daily but has covered 150km. His trike + trailer + gear weighs 78kg and I asked how he tackled hills? Michel produced a tow rope and chuckled confidently, "Someone either on a motorbike or tuk tuk ALWAYS offers me a ride up!" This gentleman is my inspiration and he has got me looking into recumbents/trikes.

His blog:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Figuring out figures

Highlight must surely be the wonderful, ever smiling kids who welcome you with a thousand Sabai-dees

Here are some figures that may be useful for anyone wanting to do this epic Luang Prabang to Vientiane bike trip:

Luang Prabang to Nong Kiau 140km (some climbs nearing Pakmong)
LP to Kiou Ka Cham 77km (35km hard climbing)
KKC to Muang Phu Khon 50km (moderate climbing with nice descents)
MPC to Bor Nam Oon 27km (incredible downhills - best scenery)
BNO to Kasi 20km (still going downhill)
Kasi to Vang Vien (58km easy ride)
VV to Thalat (110km easy but dusty ride)
Thalat to Vientiane via Route 10 (93km easy ride)

Total distance cycled plus a bit of side trips within the cities and countryside
630km (inclusive of 90km for Nong Kiau excursion)
Most days we set off at about 8 - 830am and finish the ride by 4 - 5pm, taking plenty of rest and photo stops. A comfortable target seems to be 50km in 4 hours ride time with some climbs, or for flats, 50km in 3 hours.
Dollars and Cents

Laos is not the cheapest place in Asia but its quite good value. We spend a daily average of US$25 for accommodation (US$130 for 15 nights, shared room), food, drinks, occassional massage, entrance fees + misc. We took 4 Air Asia flights from Singapore to Bangkok, Bangkok to Udon Thani, Vientiane to KL & KL to Singapore for a total of US$230 and our internal flight from Vientiane to Luang Prabang via Lao Air was US$81.
I spent a total of US$800 for 15 days all inclusive (plus some gifts for the wifey & a cheapo winter made in China jacket & pants as it was freezing up in the mountains ).
1 US$ = 8500 kips as at 20 Nov 2008

Flying bikes on Air Asia
Though they do have a "sports equipment" charge, their website does not mention bikes as such and we could get away with it. But we were slapped on for excess baggage, even if we were 1kg overweight! Thankfully, it didn't amount to much, a total of US$20 each for the total trip. All our panniers were brought in as cabin luggage without any issue.

Singapore - no surcharge
Bangkok - token surcharge of 3kg excess
Vientiane to LP on Lao Air - no surcharge, excellent care of our bikes
Vientiane to KL (Air Asia) - Full surcharge of 7kg and nearly got Sports Equipment charge. Thankfully, 30 mins of negotiation did the trick. It helped too that we had a lawyer in our midst.
KL to Singapore - Full surcharge
(Tony Fernandez, the CEO of AA was in our flight!)

Our precious bike boxes being loaded - no worries here! Pics by CW

Do check out my buddy Chris' witty, colourful and entertaining account of this trip here in CGOAB:

Update 2 Dec 08 - I just discovered that Laos was voted the top cycling destination in the world. No wonder we had such a great time!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vientiane at last

Almost there and in high spirits! Pic CW

Thalat is very much a typical country small town in Laos and our hotel had complementary (and compulsory) natural wake up call through over-enthusiastic cockerals. We were glad to leave this morning after a very basic breakfast. Route 10 is the longer but more scenic way than Route 13 and with its good roads, light traffic and better scenery as it runs alongside the Na Lik River, is the recommended choice for cyclists. It was a 92km run to the capital city and we were excited about this final day of riding.

The first 10km proved to be a tad hilly but after that, it was a breezy and easy ride through very quiet villages and small towns. While coasting down a hill, a butterfly got caught at my chin strap and thankfully managed to free itself. Talk about getting close to nature. At our first rest stop, we spotted our 2 Belgian friends just cycling out and celebrated another re-union. We had thought that after yesterday's hard ride, they would stay for another night to enjoy the lakeside so this was a surprise. Their can-do spirit impressed me no end as they were carrying 12kg huge backpacks on bamboo and were newbies.

For some reason, this ride seemed the hottest. Riding quickly or slowly, it made no difference and it was just a question of bearing with the heat and drinking lots of fluids. The game plan was to stop every 20km to cool off with ice cold energy drinks and we were once again lavished with fabulous Lao hospitality. One lunch spot we stopped served only Pho - the MSG laced type with suspect meats like tongue, curdled blood and pieces of meat I could not recognised. The kind seller obliged my request to make my own lunch and allowed me to use her cooking facilities. My basic culinary skills enabled me to whipped out a lunch of sticky rice with garlic, shallot and chilly omelete. My hungry cyclists all tucked in ravenously and voted this to be the best on the road lunch ever! Guess when its that or suspicious meat noodles, its not much of a compliment.

Chef me at work - Pic CW
While resting at our last stop 13km from Vientiane, another very friendly shopkeeper took out the chairs for us and even put a big stone in front of my rested bike to prevent it from moving. This amazing warmness truly is something I will never forget about this trip to Lao. Suddenly, a white pick-up zoomed past us with 2 farangs screaming at us. We recognised them immediately. Our Belgian friends, Meerten and Katerin, managed to get a free ride as the heat was too unbearable for them. It was a good thing too as Meerten's LA Gear bike broke 2 rear spokes.

We wasted no time and gave chase. It was the fastest 13km in our trip. Zooming into Vientiane at 30kmh, weaving through traffic, we reached the iconic Patuxai, (Lao's Arc de Triumpe) in less than 30 mins.

There, our friends were surprised that we arrived so quickly and they only waited 3 mins for us! There was a great sense of celebration, just like the end of the Tour de France, only instead of champagne popping, we had humble water in our well worn plastic bottles.

5 dirty bikes with panniers and 5 most unpresentable and smelly riders attracted curious onlookers. The obligatory group photo in front of the famous monument marked the official end of our long journey.

Proof that we made it! Pic CW

People could not believe we rode all the way down from Luang Prabang. What took 50 mins by twin propellors took us 5 days of hard riding to complete. A sense of accomplishment and amazement filled my heart. Its incredible that we covered all that 450km distance through the mountains on two wheels and a chain, powered just by our legs. Indeed, it goes to prove how marvellous and efficient the humble bicycle is.

We checked in the Heritage B&B and enjoyed all that Vientiane had to offer. It was with deep sadness that we cleaned our mud scarred bikes and packed them into bike boxes purchased from a French bike shop. The celebration dinner with the Belgians was at the fabulous non-profit NGO run restaurant called the Makphet. The decor of this place is lined with bright and colourful childrens' paintings, adding to its cheerful ambience. Food was fusion Lao and served on a low table with us sitting on cushions.

What a great 2 week bike trip it has been and we cannot believe we had made it to Vientiane at last!