Thursday, October 30, 2008

Savouring the mountains of Lao

Map courtesy of Lonely Planet

Two Battleship Blue + One Khaki Green SURLY LHT reporting for duty!
Pic - Chris Wee CGOAB

Pic taken fm Crazyguyonabike - jan houtermans

Laos, sandwiched between China, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand is the poorest country in IndoChina. Yet, it is the richest in terms of amazing scenery and beautiful people. 3 of us all on Surly Long Haul Truckers will be attempting to cycle the mountainous route from Luang Prabuang to Vientiane for 2 glorious weeks in Nov. Its a 500km ride reaching up 1600m from sea level and offers plenty of climbs. It's also the start of the cool season, so days should be about 22c and nights 15c. Delicious!

I have learnt that riding through mountains mean lots of pain but the spectacular scenery promises to be worth every excruciating pedal, I'm told. We shall be flying to Bangkok first, then connect via a domestic flight to *Udon Thani, taxi 50km to the border town of Nong Khai. Then ride 30km across the Mekong to Vientiane where we will fly to Luang Prabuang on a twin propellor plane. Quite a hassle to get there which makes this trip very exciting indeed.

Stay tune as I savour the mountains of Lao, on the saddle. Will try to update when able.

*I did a brief trip to Vientiane in early 07 and promised a return trip so ...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Essentially essential...

Carry the essentials and enjoy your ride more!

I know many riders in their quest for speed adopt the minimalist approach when it comes to cycling. Carry as little as possible, or better still, nothing at all. This unencumbered style of riding is the result of a flawed formula:

Less stuff = More speed = More fun!

Sounds good on paper or when you are doing the Tour de France with full support vehicles and outriders. But when you are doing your rides out in the country, away from the maddening crowds all alone, and your zillion dollar bike decides to act up, it may very well be "game over" for you. A simple thing like a puncture, or a loose seat mounting, dragging brakes, scrapped knees or when the skies open, speed will not be on your agenda I can assure you.

So here is a list of things that is essential for a worry free ride...

1. Hand pump
2. Spare tube
3. Rim levers
4. Multi-tool
5. First aid kit
6. Rain coat
7. Plastic bag (for your mobile, wallet, keys)

In one of our recent rides, there was this big guy on a fancy Cannondale racer who came alongside us pleading pitifully, "Do you have a pump?" His rear tire was really soft and was giving him a hard time. So much for Speedy Gonzales! Yes, we helped him.

Once, my seat got loose and it was a pain trying to cycle while standing 5km! Serves me right for not bringing the multi-tool.

So don't forget the essentials on your next ride. Sure, it will weigh you down by that 1kg but it is a small price to pay for a worry free and fun ride. I suspect the many fuss free rides you enjoy will result in you shedding more that 1kg in personal weight.

More rides = Less body weight = More speed ..... think about it!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Off roading with foldies - its possible!

Anyone who knows Singapore will agree that the pace of development here is fast and furious. Constructions everywhere, the old make way for the new and familiar landmarks disappear forever.

Disconcerting as it may be, its nice to know that places like Pulau Ubin have largely escaped the reach of modernisation. An island just 10 mins boat ride from Changi Ferry Point, 6 of us all on foldies, decided to check it out. It seemed like a great idea as I have not been to this idyllic island for over ten years, and a perfect respite from the turbulent global financial markets. The boatman was impressed that the bikes could fold and took half the space in his tight cabin. I asked him if he would consider halfing the bicycle fee of $2, and he laughed not quite sure how to respond!

Apart from the new jetty (that is welcome), paved roads and a brand new excellent world class mountain bike trail called the Ketam Trail, I'm glad to report Ubin still has enough familiarity for me. An easy pace of life, almost zero traffic and being a weekday, not many visitors made for a very pleasant day of riding. The quiet roads were wonderfully shaded by tall mature trees only to be broken by the sounds of a million crickets and cicadas. We knew instantly we were out of the concrete jungle and smack into God's glorious nature.

It may be foolhardy to attempt the Ketam Trail on 20" & 16" (Paul the hero) little wheels but surprisingly, it was quite manageable with some determination and grit. A big group of cyclists on rented MTBs took one look at the tough trail and decided to stick to the gravel road. The warning sign "Not for first time cyclists" may have scared them off and they were astonished to see us popping out of the bush on "clown" bikes further down the park.
Yes, the job would be much easier with the right tool but the thick, fat Big Apples on my Speed 8 soaked up the gravel roads easily and provided security on loose rocks and slippery grass. It helped too that I fitted a smaller 42t Biopace chain ring that allowed me to scale those hills easily. I think the others will be rushing off to fit this brilliant mod on their foldies after today. Even Keong, our newest rider, managed to complete the Blue Trail with a bit of pushing and we all felt extremely accomplished. Rich with a Helios on Marathon Runners road tires, expressed how amazed he was that foldies could tackle such rough terrain. The sturdiness of the frame joint was impressive.
Eager for more pain, we took the off beaten track to the north of the island. We had to traverse through big muddy puddles, soft, sandy paths and even some small rocks. The north of Ubin is all fenced up to prevent illegals swimming in from Johor. I did not appreciate that as it certainly spoilt the tranquility of the island with barb wire fences preventing us from going to the beach.

Lunch was at the First Stop Ubin Seafood restaurant. An ice cold fresh coconut with refreshing 100 Plus did the job of quenching our big thirst. Sambal kangkong, stewed chicken, ma po tofu, sweet & sour pork plus foo yong omelette with steam rice made for a delicious lunch at a reasonable S$55 for 6. Since it was my special day, my good buddies gave me a nice treat.

It rained just as were finishing our feast and what perfect timing it was. If we were stuck at the Ketam Mountain Bike Trail then, we would be in wet trouble. A glorious day indeed with a pleasant discovery of our foldie's extraordinary 4WD capabilities!

We will certainly be back soon to and enjoy more off road adventures in Ubin, where time thankfully stands a little more still.

Useful facts:
Nearest MRT Station - Pasir Ris. Its a 4km ride from there to Changi Ferry Point.
Bumboat ride is $2.50 for passengers, $2 for bicycles.
Bicycle rentals at Ubin village just by the jetty range from $6 to $12 for newer MTBs but bringing your own bike is still the best!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rainy days & Mondays DO NOT get me down...

Driest part of the bike - Topeak seat pouch. Thanks to waterproof cover

I rarely turn down invitations for a ride and this Monday morning is no exception. Keong of *Foldinities fame is getting serious about the weight game and wanted to do a 30km ride at ECP to Changi Village. As we were cycling with 2 roadies, my weapon of choice was my Speed Pro. Keong's car swallowed 2 Dahons easily in the boot, and it was a surprisingly traffic free drive.

Rich and his wife Jen own both foldies (Helios & Halfway) and roadies. Living in the East Coast, they are blessed with easy access to the superb coastal bike paths, and they ride 3 times a week there. On the Pro, keeping up with them was not an issue and a friendly sprint with Rich saw us hit close to 40km/h on the flats.

It proved to be a very pleasant uneventful ride until our return leg when the heavens suddenly opened. We were soaked to the skin and I enjoyed it thoroughly. There is something special about just riding in heavy showers. Good thing my camera, mobile and wallet was kept snugly in my Topeak seat pouch and its bright yellow rain cover proved very useful. Bad thing was the Pro had no mudguards so a wet bottom and back was inevitable, in addition to a very messy bike. Unsexy as they may be, mudguards are absolutely essential for wet weather riding. Period!

Mess than can be cleaned up

I had so much fun riding that I decided to ride all the way home to the West, much to Keong's amazement. Afterall, which guy would turn down a ride in a dry, comfortable car to brave the wet weather? 52.7km later, I was home sweet home. A little damp but I enjoyed myself immensely. My reward - a well earned Banana Split!

Rainy days & Mondays need not be deary when you are on a fast foldie!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Quickest mode of transport up to 5km?

Source: Ausroads

I have a Suzuki Burgman 400 maxi scooter that has been largely neglected lately. A full tank of petrol last me 1.5 months! Its coming to 10 years old and the total mileage done is a paltry 24000km. The reason for this is I tend to do almost all my errands on a bicycle.

I do so because a bicycle has no parking problems and can often go via the shortest route - routes that normal registered vehicles can't do. A trip to buy my favourite noodles is 2km away by driving or riding, I have to hit 3 traffic lights to get to there - and its a 3km long loop. On the bicycle, and with the help of a downhill, its done in a painless 5 mins flat.

Here is an excellent research article from Australia that explains the many benefits of cycling. Its worth a read. Anyone like to buy a very under used scooter?


Thursday, October 2, 2008

World's fastest foldie

Saw this posted on Vik's tikit blog and on Bike Forum. Everyone knows how fast the tikit is in terms of folding but this depicts its folding speed vis a vis Dahon and Brompton in real time.

Ready, get set, click!