Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just another Friday

Packing materials galore... safe and sound

The epitome of thoughtfulness

I was so impressed with how Green Gear Company handled the slight crack on my old tikit that it gave me the much needed nudge to order another of their great foldies.

My needs are simple - I want a foldie that I can ride around the world. It must be reliable and uses standard parts (easy to repair/replace), have triple chain rings for those steep climbs, wider tires to handle the off beaten path, mudguards and have front and rear racks to hold 4 panniers. It must also offer a comfortable riding position that can be adjusted from time to time as I have a bad back, gives me a precise ride and firm handling, thus no broken/split frame for me and must fit into a suitcase for easy travelling. I hate paying airline surcharges!

My research for that illusive foldie ended up here - The Bike Friday Pocket Expedition. It boasts a higher BB for better ground clearance and has everything I want, plus more. It comes standard with a Thudbuster seat suspension and is offered in stealthy Black. My dearest wife lugged it back for me from Washington DC last week (I owe her big time) and it arrived safe and sound in Singapore. It was a pleasure too to deal with Walter at BF who was a great help and a joy to deal with (my 2nd time).

I can't wait to go to Singapore in Dec to ride the Expedition. A trip to Langkawi, West Malaysia is already in the pipeline. Meanwhile, time seems to drag and its just another Friday here in Perth...

My heartfelt thanks to Buddy Chris for these great pics and for babysitting my new child.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More business travellers with bicycles

Lurking through Bike Forums, I came across an article dated 19 Oct 09 from NY Times. It reported that recently, more business travellers bring along their full size bikes or rent bikes when they go overseas for their meetings. Cycling is claimed to be the quickest cure for jet lag and a bit of cycling sharpens and freshens a person for that high power demands of work.

However, those bringing full size bikes are facing huge air travel charges and its not easy to get a good rental bike from the hotel one stays in. We already know this is the forte of foldies and I was very glad to read this in the article...

For a business trip to Hawaii in March, it would have cost $450 to fly his bicycle from Virginia. He said he recently bought a folding bike that fits into a regular suitcase. “It’s really the only thing that allows me to keep riding,” he said.

I'm not sure what foldie he bought but I do this all the time with my different foldies when I travel. Good to know that more people are discovering the joy of travelling with foldies!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tech Talk - Valves

One of the drawbacks of a non-standardised global bicycle system is different standards applied across bike manufacturers. This is especially seen in the tyre valve stems where there are at least 3 types - Schrader, Dunlop and Presta.

If you own several bicycles and thus possibly have to live with different valves, this can be a pain as you either have to keep switching the pump adaptor or carry an adaptor permanently in your wallet (I do this!).

So lets start with the most common valve first - the Schrader also known as the automobile type valve. It was invented in 1891 (yes, that long ago) by an American called August Schrader. It is the most widely used valve even outside the bicycle industry where it is common in aircon and refrigeration applications. It is usually found on thicker rim bicycles as it is 21/64" in size. By far the easiest valve to live with for me, as any petrol station air pump will do the job. Also because it is very common, its easy to buy tubes with Schrader valves especially in third world countries and is my choice for touring. It is also arguably more robust.

That said, the Dunlop or Woods valve (patented 1888) is reported as still popular among third world countries especially in China or some parts of Europe. Its was invented by a Scotsman C.H. Woods. Its a very rare valve where I come from and I've seen them only on Flying Pigeon Chinese bikes in Singapore but surprisingly, Schwalbe website claims its the most common worldwide!

I don't know why but when it comes to Presta valves, they seem to be sexy and held in high esteem. This is probably because they are used strictly in racing bikes or roadies and more expensive bikes, as their narrow rims demand the smaller sized Presta. They are also easier to pump as there is no spring pressure valve unlike the Schrader type. They usually also have a lock nut to prevent the tube from slipping/shifting in the rim. Purists would claim they are more aerodynamic.

Its main disadvantage is because the hole in the rim is so small, only a Presta valve tube can be used making it extremely challenging when it comes to fixing a puncture while cycling in Angkor Wat, Cambodia and running out of tubes! Of course, you can always travel with a file like my buddy Chris when he tours.

And yes, both Presta and Schrader valves are capable of managing high pressures... don't let anyone tell you different though Presta seem to hold air for a longer period of time.

I reckon the world would be an easier place if there is only one valve, be it Schrader or Presta!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Borneo on Video

As per the tradition of Dr Kevin Soh, our multi-talented videographer cum surgeon, here are two colourful video accounts of our Borneo trip he produced. Its really great to have people with different skills all chipping in to make a trip so amazingly fun!

Video 1

Video 2

Hope you enjoy watching them!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gastronomical delights of Borneo

Kadazan bamboo shoot

Here in Perth, the one thing I do miss is the incredible variety of great, exotic and cheap food of Asia. In our recent Borneo trip, we were confident that all of us would lose some weight from all the exertion on the saddle but sadly, we all ate too well most times and came away with very little weight lost!

Anyway, here are some of the food we ate. Yes, I know this is a foldy cycling blog but being able to sample these incredible and exotic dishes thanks to our foldies make it deserving of a posting.

So here they go, starting with healthy fruits first...

On the road, we usually eat pretty simply like fried noodles with coffee and tea laced thickly with condensed milk (or I like to call it condemned milk).

We had a chance not surprisingly to enjoy an English Tea complete with scones which was a very reasonable US$5 only! I had to order vanilla ice cream somehow as the weather was too hot...

It is interesting to note that the Indians have made their mark too in Sabah and we enjoyed a fiery curry lunch with Bryani rice. This was really good value as it ended up only US$3 a person with drinks.

But by far the most memorable meal we had was at Great Ocean King Restaurant in Sandakan that I mentioned briefly earlier. This place is a seafood paradise and here are some of the dishes we had. The whole 6 course meal was only US$12 per person total plus drinks.

Great food certainly compliments great cycling, doesn't it? And it helps when we have some foodies who ride foldies in the team! So thankful too for the joy and privilege to enjoy good food because of His generous provision to all of us...
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? Ecclesiates 2:24,25 Wise words from King Solomon indeed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Tikit in Borneo

It is well known that the tikit is an excellent commuter bike, perhaps one of the best in its class. But I brought it along as I wanted to see if it could handle the rigours of hard core, no holds barred bicycle touring in headhunter land.

Lets start with the downsides first. Luggage carrying capacity is not its forte especially with the one sided commuter rack. With a heavy 7 kg touring pannier, it affected steering feel. This issue is easily solved with the twin touring rack so I guess to be fair, I was using the wrong rack for the wrong purpose. I ended up carrying the tikit's pannier on the other folder. With the rear rack (which my tikit did not have yet), this would greatly enhance its carrying capacity.

Secondly, my tikit has limited gearing and this applies to all folders with single chain ring. To tour, a twin or triple chain ring or a dual-drive system is absolutely essential (tikits can be custom ordered with this set up) especially for long climbs and fast descents. However if the terrain is relatively flat unlike Borneo, then this is not an issue.

Those 2 matters aside, the tikit impressed me no end with its comfort (despite 16" wheels), sharp handling and extreme stability at high speed descents. Even through broken roads, it felt surprisingly stable. I give credit to the rigid, unbroken frame design for these sterling qualities. The adjustable handlebar height also helped to get that perfect riding position, and being able to change it from time to time did ergonomic wonders to ease sore shoulders, back and palms.

The tikit was also was the best climber among the 4 folders as it felt very agile. Celia who rode the tikit most times commented that she liked the tikit because it was "light and fast". Even when it came to pushing the tikit up unmanageable hills, she was surprised that it was very "balanced" and could be done by just holding only the seat! When I asked if the tikit was comfortable over such a long ride, Celia (a Phd Spine Physiotherapist) remarked, "I won't survive the tough ride if it wasn't good!"

Mike commented on how rough the road became after a nice long descend, and exclaimed as he whizzed by, "My gosh, I lost my dentures! Ha, ha... "

The tikit also somehow drew more attention than the other folders, which can be a liability at times. But that is the price to pay for being such an attractive bike, at least in my eyes.

The ease of folding and packing the tikit also bode well for it compared with the other folders. It was always the first to go into the bag, and the first to be ready to ride. It is also very helpful that the deraileur folded inside, thus preventing damage during transportation.

All things considered, I would certainly choose a NWT or an Expedition for a Borneo tour over the tikit. However, touring on a tikit is possible and I dare say that this could very well be the best 16" touring folder, if properly set up. Don't underestimate this commuter bike as it could be a joy to use on tours where the terrain is more "civilised". I came away respecting its incredible versatility.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sandakan at last

Sandakan, some 220km from Ranau, along the Sulu Sea, was a very significant trading post for the British Chartered Company in the first half of the 1900s. It is also sad that in Australia, Sandakan is well known for the WW2 Death March. With such a rich history, it was only fitting that it had to be visited and explored.

We had originally planned to cycle there but the lack of time made jumping on a bus a necessity. Uncle Lai, our new found friend, had kindly made 4 bookings for us last night and we rode 1 min to the non-descript bus stop along the trunk road. After a magic show where we made our foldies disappear into bags, we waited for our transport to arrive, hoping that our foldies could fit into the luggage without much fanfare.

5 mins before 0900, a big orange bus pulled up and its friendly conductor stored away our bags easily in the cargo hold. This is indeed one of the many key advantages of travelling with foldies, where multi-mode transportating is its forte.

The 4 hr bus ride started off smoothly but when vomit bags were handed out, it gave us a clue to what the roads ahead were like. Borneo has a past reputation for head hunters and this thirst for blood was amply displayed by the choice of onboard movies where utmost violence was the order of the trip. It was entertaining for a while but trying to listen to tranquil music of water and streams on the MP3, but seeing swords, guns and blood sputtering everywhere left me feeling somewhat schizophrenic.

Nevertheless, the windy and narrow roads and the relentless heat esp near sea level made us glad that we were in airconditioned comfort and not on the blazing saddle. Mike, ever the fatherly figure, went around the bus like a First Class Steward sharing his delicious rambutans with fellow travellers, asking nothing but a kiss for payment. Such is his jovial and generous persona and that really made the long trip most bearable.

Upon reaching the Sandakan Bus Terminal, the lazy part of us wanted to take a taxi to the backpackers. But when the taxi vultures wanted a princely ransom for an easy 4km drive to town, we robbed them of their moment by unfurling our foldies, much to the amusement of the bus crew. They could not believe that bicycles could come out of small bags, just like white rabbits out of black hats.

Of all things, our last ride into town in Borneo had to be another steep climb through the cemetary area, a choice made no thanks to the "brilliance" of GPS technology. Its priority was the shortest route but failed to consider elevation and altitude, something that we cyclist do!

After a much needed cold shower and the obligatory laundry, we wasted no time to have a nice aircon lunch and explored colonial Sandakan.

Although ravaged by the war and now overgrown with the bustle of modern development, there was still enough historical evidence of its grand past. We climbed the 100 steps to reach the Istana and the home of Sandakan's most famous authoress, American Agnes Newton Keith. Her house Newlands is now a tourist attraction.

You can always count on the colonial masters to choose the best location and with its commanding view of Sandakan Harbour high on the hill. I can only imagine the regal and splendour the Orang Putehs enjoyed then.

We enjoyed a lavish English tea there with scones, butter and jam plus a blueberry crumble and played a game of croquet for the first time, along the well manicured green lawns.

A stroll through the many pre-war shops in the town centre ended up in more feasting, this time sampling exotic Indian curries and picking up some Malay sarongs as gifts.

Sandakan is also famous for great and cheap seafood and it did not disappoint. We were recommended to go 5km out of town to Ocean King Seafood Restaurant which is pleasantly perched out on the sea. A banquet of steamed fish, shark fin soup (we ordered the sharkless fin version where crab is used instead), stewed prawns, braised tofu and stir-fried greens for the 4 of us costs only US$48 with drinks.

Our adventure to Borneo had come to an end too quickly. This is indeed a most beautiful part of the world that deserves to be discovered and savoured by more travellers, and especially bicycle tourers. I think about the words of Agnes Keith written in the 1940s. They aptly sum up our brief but memorable visit to Borneo and I share her fondness for this most fascinating place.

It was a good life, it was a life of joy to remember, it was my first four years in Borneo, it was the Land Below the Wind.

Heartfelt thanks too to Mike, Kevin and Cil for being the best ride buddies one can ever hope for. Your laughter, determination, helpfulness and concern are inspiring...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cooling off at Poring Hot Springs

Finishing Under Challenging Konditions... what were you thinking?

After the hard ride yesterday, we slept in a bit longer than usual. Ranau is a sleepy but pretty town that reminded me of Banff, Canada in the sense that it offers a bird's eye view of splendid mountains, in this case Mount Kinabalu. Right next to our Orchid Hotel was a Muslim Eatery that served decent Roti Chanai, Fried Noodles and Nasi Lemak. That washed down with Teh Tarik made for a very satisfying breakfast.

Our agenda today was an easy one. Ride 22km to Poring Hot Springs to soak those aching muscles in thermal waters and then cool off at the nearby waterfall.
Unfortunately, it was a scorcher with blazing sun and at 10km mark, we had to cool off at a roadside durian store. It was providence that we met Uncle Lai and his wife Joana. We had a great time eating juicy rambutans and chatting with him about his life story and his experiences of living in Borneo. Durians were going to be our reward on our return leg. Turned out, he and his wife are Christians.

Sufficiently rested and feasted, we turned off the main highway to a quiet road towards the Hot Springs. This proved most enjoyable as it was a nice gentle gradient that we could simply glide down for about 5km non-stop. Celia learned the art of making herself more aerodynamic and enjoyed flying without wings on the Le Cuppa foldie.

Shortly after our second break, a group of cyclists from Spiceroads appeared and we quickly gave chase. As they zoomed past us while we were taking shelter, I had to pedal very hard on my tikit to catch up with them. Soon, I caught them on the mother of all hills and I saw almost everyone getting off to push their Mountain Bikes. Their support Landrover honked to encourage us and I was determined to test if foldies, with smaller wheels, were indeed better climbers.

I'm not sure if the technical theory had any merit but it was great to overtake all these cyclists one by one as I huffed and puffed my way up that hill. The death march ride yesterday had somehow made me stronger and I had to fly the flag for Bike Friday!

It was nice of the restaurant owner at Poring to allow us to park our foldies there and we unfolded them and placed them at the back together with his junk. Somehow, the broken distorted bikes look like part of the unwanted "furntiture" literally. Now, who would want to steal these heap of scrap metal?

Soaking into the hot mineral waters of Poring was indeed a most rejuvenating experience. Being a Sunday, it was chockers with locals and tourists. Then, a short 10 min hike saw us sheltered under the cool rainforest canopy just by a small waterfall. The dip there in its cold, crystal clear waters gave our bodies a natural wake up inital shock that was most stimulating.

What intrigued was a fish massage that followed. Lots of small fishes would nibble at the dead skin of our feet which was a rather strange but pleasant experience.

We were feeling rather lazy to cycle back to Ranau after such a relaxing time but it was getting late. Halfway back it poured kittens and we took shelter at a roadside shed. When the monsoon persisted, we decided to ride in the heavy rain which was very different from being burnt earlier on.

Just at sunset, we made it to Uncle Lai's Durian stall and tired and soaked as we were, we had the energy and excitement to sample his delectable collection of Sabah Durians.

As it was pitched dark, Uncle Lai kindly agreed to take us back to our hotel in his 4WD pick-up but we managed to persuade him to join us for a nice Chinese dinner first. We made a friend that night.

Honda had an ad once that said, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda". I think that definitely applies on foldies too, don't you think?