Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chickening out...

I was supposed to meet Rod and Ken for our weekly Wed ride this morning. Today, the plan was to meet at 0603 at the train station for a 55km ride in Mandurah.

But it got really cold and I chickened out. It was 4c in the wee hours of this morning and that is not ideal for me... but kudos to my 2 friends who are truly the all weather riders. Hope you guys had fun!

The secret to staying awake for a long afternoon lecture

I do not like attending 3 hr lectures at 2pm in the afternoon. The Spanish have a good reason for their siesta and I wish I could do likewise... If words like Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, Minuscules, Lectionaries turn you on, then you will be "all eyes" for the lecture. For me, I was thinking how to get a bit of fun and stay awake, and decided that a 10km foldie ride was in order, given the rare sunny 17c day it was.

I have forgotten how beautiful Perth is, having been in Asia recently. Cruising leisurely on the excellent and scenic bike paths invigorated me. With the cool winter's breeze in my face, quiet rolling of my Schwalbes and the unique clicking of a SRAM hub in top gear, I was in paradise.

It was magical to soak in the beauty of the riverside, to smell fresh unpolluted air, see ducks swim happily, be fascinated by the tapestry of tree barks and marvel at the visual floral spectacle all around me. Being so close to nature on the saddle is truly good for one's soul.

Having arrived at my destination, I folded the Speed Pro and locked it at the bike rack when I heard someone yelled, "Heh Al, nice bike!".

It took me 40 mins to do a leisurely 10km with plenty of photo stops and I felt really alive.

Unlike last week when I inadvertently dozed off, the 3 hrs just whizzed by. The wonders of a bike ride! Now I know the secret to tackling a long afternoon. Try it, it may very well work for you too...

A WW2 RAF fighter plane (Spitfire or Hurricane?) near my home - thats how I felt when I got on my Speed Pro today.

ps: I had the option of catching a car ride home from my friend (with foldie in boot) after lecture, but why waste another chance to be on the saddle?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Many moons ago at Uni, Psy 101 taught me about people who are ego-centric. The world revolves around 3 persons - I, me and myself. The centre of the universe is Planet Me.

This unfortunate malaise does express itself in various ways too and surfaces in ethnocentrism where wiki does a very nice definition:

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's own race or ethnic group is the most important and that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups.

You may ask what has this got to do with foldies? Well, I was in Bike Forum recently and came across a particular forummer who was obsessed with his Brompton bicycle. He would attack anyone literally through sarcasm, cynicism and inneundos, those who had a different opinion that the Brompton is NOT the best foldie in the world.

I do understand that we all have our favourites as can be seen by the strong and passionate opinions shared in Swift bikes but my objection is why must we insist that if it is the best for me, it must be the best for everyone else? Having such an attitude and world view smacks of incredible immaturity, zero consideration and respect for others, and just a general spoilt child syndrome.

I call this Foldicentric behaviour and I really hope that we all will be more open and appreciative of the wonderful and different engineering capabilities each foldie offers, in its own unique ways. Yes, a Brompton has the smallest and compact fold but if you need upright-ish storing exclusively, say in a packed bus or a train even, its not going to work, mate! One of the stick folders will be more suited and so on.

The late Michael Jackson is right, we need to heal the world and make it a better place, especially the wonderful world of foldies. Don't you think?

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Romans 12:16

Friday, July 17, 2009

Swift and Sure

Xootr makes arguably the best kick scooter in the world! I had a chance to scoot on one some years back and came away very impressed with its super stable performance and high quality. They have taken their engineering reputation one step further and introduced what they believe is the ultimate performance folding bike called the Swift, designed by Peter Reich. From Bike Forum, the Swift garners lots of discussions and is one of the longest post in the forum, which shows how passionate and popular it is with its owners.

It was just my day when Mike informed me that he had one Swift sitting idly in his clinic, awaiting a test ride. BC, the local distributor, was happy for me to test it and I took the Swift for a 30km, "no holds barred" ride to Changi.

First order of the day was unfolding the Swift and putting it in the car. After the likes of Brompton, Tikit and Dahons, this is probably the weakest link of the Swift as a foldy.

It folds "stick-like" ala Strida and Carry Me but its parts are not secure and were dangling all over the place. But it managed to fit into the tiny boot of my Yaris hatch. I'm not fussy here - so long as it goes in, it passes the folding test. Period. Yes, it didn't get a distinction in this area, but it passed!

However, it is relatively easy to fold and unfold and the Swift starts scoring major brownie points big time once you start riding it. Because the frame has no break (same as the tikit) unlike other folders, the rigidity of the Swift is simply amazingly sure.

This is one foldy that you can take off-road, jump kerbs and even go down stairs with full confidence.

The other feature I love about the Swift is zero handlebar flex. Absolutely zilch. That really inspires sharp handling and it truly is very BMX like in its feel. Agile, firm, solid and you feel like popping a wheelie every time you on it! The geometry is also perfect and I could ride hands free confidently after some practise.

Because of the aggresive low stem, short handlebar set up of the test bike, it felt really sporty perhaps a little too sporty for me as after 15km, my palms started to hurt. But this can easily be changed to whatever position you like as the Swift is very accomodating and can be mod to whatever specs you wish - drop bars, riser bars and I think even a butterfly touring bar if you wish.

The standard parts given are pretty basic (Tekro brakes, Sram SX4 RD, Kenda tires, unknown crank etc) but at just a whisker under S$1k, the excellent frame is where the bulk of your money goes to.

The proof of the pudding is how it rides against other folders and that morning, my ride group consisted of one Dahon Vitesse and two Roadies.

The performance of the Swift is legendary and it did not disappoint. It was shod with cheapo Kenda 1.5 tires and I pumped it to 55/65 psi as I'm not a fan of bone jarring rides. The Swift exceeded my expectations with its very full size bike feel. It eclipses the Vitesse easily and I did a friendly race with Rich on a Giant TCR as well as Keong on his Vitesse.

The Swift managed a very impressive 40km/h on the flat at spin out and that put a big grin on my face! This is truly a very fast foldy and properly set up with the right gearing and drop bars, the Swift is right up there among the Pocket Pros, Moultons, Animals and I dare say the Speed Pros at less than half the price.

But for the adventure tourer, its carrying capacity is a bit limited as the only rack available from Xootr is a single pannier crossrack fitted behind the seat post. There are also no eyelets for water-bottle cages which is a glaring omission. Also, there are other foldies that are more pliant over rough surfaces but I guess I'm nit picking as the Swift is more fighter jet than Hercules C130.
If you can live with a slightly bigger folded package, the Swift is a Sure bet for its value for money pricing and outstanding performance. Now I fully understand the reason for the long thread at Bike Forum!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bintan on video!

Thanks to the amazing video skills of Dr Kevin Soh, an ENT specialist, he brilliantly captured our ride so excellently! Do enjoy and many thanks Kevin for all the hard work and sharing it with us...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reflections of Bintan Ride

All together, we rode a total of about 200km in 3 days which is a very nice distance, not too long nor too short. Words cannot adequately described the sheer enjoyment and pleasure of new and old friends coming together to discover exotic places and fresh experiences on the saddle. As I reflect on the trip, 3 things come to my mind:

1. Its not so much the type of bike than the company that is important. Touring purists would shudder at the thought of riding their 700c touring bikes together with foldies of small 16" wheels like the tikit. Yet, this was not only possible but a lot of fun for KG and I.

We must also be careful not to be badge snobs and our mortley crew consisting of 2 entry level "Aeon" foldies could tackle the terrain with determine aplomb, and had a blast of a time!

2. Riding with music can be fun! I do not like wearing ear phones as that hampers my sense of traffic and can be dangerous. However the Otomo MP3 player is a must have for long rides. Its a mini-boom box that sounds really impressive. Beautiful scenery with great music is like good wine and good food.

3. While the ideal is for everyone in the team to be of similiar fitness level, this often is not the case. Thus, the need to be considerate, gracious, helpful and sporting is of paramount importance. This is not the Tour de France, its a Tour de Fellowship. Fastest rider should always stop at major turn off or intersections and always allow the last guy to catch up during the breaks. The balance is to allow freedom of individual pace, yet keep the group together.

Some useful info for those keen to do Bintan:

1. Bintan return ferry from Singapore is about $60. Do check out their website for exact fare details and ferry timings. Also, there is a $10 surcharge for bikes (& golf bags) each way unless you have your foldie stealthly hidden in a bag.

2. Plenty of shops selling water and drinks along the way. Perhaps every 10km though some may not have cold drinks. No need to carry too much water and food. Load up on fresh fruits like bananas, mangosteens, rambutans etc. Absolutely delicious!

3. Riding in light rain is nice and cooling but mudguards are truly a necessity for wet weather touring. Also, make sure all your valuables are waterproof in a zip lock plastic bag. We did not get any punctures but a spare tube and basic tools are always a good idea.

Do write me if you have any questions that I can help you with. Bintan is truly a very worthwhile island to explore if you are ever in this region. Highly recommended! You will love Bintan.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Durian Hunters

We came to Bintan at the height of the Durian season, and for lovers of this King of all Fruits, it means paradise. For those not familiar with this green and spiky fruit, it is extremely pungent such that its not allowed into trains, planes, cars etc as the smell lingers on for days. One either thinks its a gift from heaven or a curse from hell.

According to Wiki, the 19th-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace famously described its yellow or orangey flesh as "a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds", and I tend to agree.

Thus, we began our hunt for the best durians in Bintan on our bikes immediately after breakfast. It was very thoughtful of Mike to bring along some surgical gloves for me as I love to eat it, but hate the stuff under my nails.

After about 15km, we came across Durian sellers along a quiet road and began the process of negotiating the prices. Here, a fruit costs only US$1.50 compared to US$5 in Singapore. We sat down on the benches and sampled the first round which was above average but not the best. Somehow as we started to get to know the man and his 2 daughters, we found out with great joy that we were fellow believers in the Lord.

That magically melted down all barriers and he started bringing out all the best durians and we ate till we were totally satisfied. The words of the Psalmist, "Come taste and see that the Lord is good" apply aptly even to durian hunting! Indeed, another clear example of His care and love for us.

Fully energized and immensely fulfilled, we decided to take the long way home and what was supposed to be a 40km ride ended up 62km. It was a tough scenic ride with beautiful lakes and small towns.

We also feasted on Otak Otak (spicy fish baked in banana leaves) and that was delicious! It went for an unbelievable US60 cents for 10 pieces with great aromatic coffee to boot and we devoured 40 of those.

Feeling a bit tired and accomplished, we were delighted that our hunt for the best durians in Bintan was bountiful and absolutely fruitful.

ps: The Durian is said to be the architectural inspiration for the new Esplanade Theatre for Singapore... Looking at the design, I can understand why.

Tikiting thru Bintan, Indonesia

Note Australian Penfold Merlot wine in front pannier pocket for a more spirited ride!

Bintan is the largest of the Riau Islands in Indonesia and is about 3 times the size of Singapore. The northern portion has been developed as an upmarket playground for the well heed, boasting of Club Med, Banyan Tree and other hotel chains. However for the adventure cyclist, this is our nearest Disneyland with long, quiet, good roads and enough hills to call upon Granny (the gear ie). Throw in superb coastal views especially along Trikora Beach, its no wonder cartographer cyclist Jan Boonstra ranks this the best Riau Island to explore.

My good friend Dr Mike Khaw mustered a team of 4 foldies and a Surly LHT to celebrate my short return to Asia. Mike is a foodie and a foldist, passions that I share deeply. We landed north at the Bintan Ferry Terminal and made our way 68km to Ocean Bay Resort at Trikora. The super smooth Catamaran Ferry made the 45 min sea journey painless and this ultra modern ferry terminal is very unlike sleeze central of Tg Pinang.

OBR kindly send us a van with driver to meet us and carried all our luggage. This was the first time for me, and I did not mind one bit.

The weather was cloudy with intermittent rain and that meant a relatively cool and breezy ride. 4, 12, 33 were the magic numbers we needed to note as these represented turn-off km points, courtesy of Jan's sharing. Ian, who first saw my 16" Bike Friday tikit wondered if this small wheel commuter could handle the challenging terrain. However, from the word GO, the tikit earned his respect and he called it "The Rabbit".

I myself was pleasantly surprised at how well the tikit toured, how it climbed and how absolutely rock steady it was at 40-50kmh downhills. Some of the roads were pretty bad but the tikit cruised through them with no drama.

Our largely small wheeled posse attracted a lot of attention from the locals including the security personnel, fishermen and durian sellers. We arrived at Ocean Bay Resort and was given a 5 star reception and treated to a huge seafood lunch of crabs, prawns, fish and soup. This more than made up for the simple rooms on stilts over the sea.

What a glorious start to a great cycling holiday in Bintan!