Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taiwan, here we come!

I'm in the midst of packing for my flight tonight. Destination - Taiwan, the Mecca for bicycles and for good reasons. Beautiful country and super bike friendly. Not to mention cheap bikes (majority of the famous bike brands are made here) and great food. The Taiwanese are also known to be very friendly folks.

I'll be stopping over in Singapore for 2 nights to pack my BFs and then, meeting the rest of the 22 strong group at 5am Saturday. Its nice to tag along for a change instead of organising and most of the folks are from Love Singapore Cycling Group. Which means great people! I look forward to spending time with my ride buddies like Taiwoon, Mike, Chris, Joshua, Roland, Kimi and getting to know new friends. What makes this trip special is our better halves are coming along as well.

George Lim, the organiser has planned some spectacular climbs - 60km in first 2 days to ascend 400m to 3100m. Fortunately, we have a chartered bus so that takes the fear away. I'll be using the Bike Friday Expedition while Celia will use the Pocket Sport (now with triple chain rings fitted). With climbs, means the reward of downhills so that should be some speedy sections!

Also, we plan to attend the International Bike Show as well in Taipei so some major drooling and wallet lightening will occur.

Stay tune for reports. Goodbye Perth, hello Taiwan. Hope my High School Mandarin ain't too rusty, "Ni how ma?"

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Benefits of a Bicycle!

So true!

We didn't make it to York

It was a grand plan today to cycle 90km to York. 6 brave men signed up and we met at Midland Station at 7am. I have driven there before and the first 10km up the Great Eastern Highway is uphill. Though it is not too steep, it does require a measure of fitness.

Unfortunately just 6km up the climb, Uncle Ken developed chest pains. Things like this happen and must be taken seriously. He is a spritely 70year old and has cycled long distance before. However, prudence demands that Uncle Ken stop and rest. I rode back to town to get the car and it was an easy long downhill ride. However, there is no cycle lane along the GE Highway and cars were whizzing uncomfortably close to me even though I was flying at 50kmh on my Speed Pro. It was harrowing!

When I finally got to Ken, he was smiling again and it was nice of Patrick to wait with him. We carried on with our trip, this time with vehicle support.

Turning off the highway into the small roads made all the difference. The downhills saw the foldies fly and Rod remarked how stable the Tikit was.

At Parkerville, we found an old railway track which is converted for bicycles and horses. Not paved but gravelly. This was not suited for the small wheels of our foldies but being in the bush was most pleasant. We carried on until Rod on the the Tikit had a puncture. This time, Kenneth accompanied Rod to push his bike. Uncle Ken's Ventura also suffered one earlier on.

Somehow, Kojaks and off road are not happy bedfellows. A quick tube change and we decided to switch back to cycling on the road. This was a pity as the trails were very nice to ride on and for once, I was jealous of Tony on his MTB who cruise through the roads without any fanfare.

We arrived at The Lakes, which is 50km from York and decided to head home. A quick lunch of greasy chips and we called it a day. It was amazing that Ken's Hyundai Terracan could fit all 4 foldies behind and 5 adults inside. Tony's MTB was carried outside.

Though we didn't make it to York, none of us were disappointed because we still had fun. Just grateful that Uncle Ken made a full recovery and a stark reminder that our lives are in His good hands. I'm also very glad to have such good buddies who look after each other so well!

$2.50 for a bottle of Orange/Mango drink that all of us shared. Cheap!

Ps:  Dr Joshua Hii, a Gerontologist from Singapore, came to know about U Ken's condition and advised him to get checked up. The friendships we make through cycling are amazing!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How a bicycle improves the lives of people - inspiring!

The Bicycle City. Trailer from Greg Sucharew on Vimeo.

Best Job in the World?

I saw this while doing a morning ride around the provincial town of Kampot, Cambodia recently and it brought a smile upon my face. The hotel manager who knows this Grandpa said he does this every day, sending the kids to school in his sports bicycle (notice his drop moustach handlebars) fitted with trailer.

Don't you think that is the best job in the world? Bet he will live till 100!

Northern Thailand Winter Ride - Day 6. Time to say Goodbye

We gathered for the final breakfast at Na Inn, fueling up on simple coffee and toast with the intent of getting our usual round 2 fill. CW meanwhile cycled to Tapae Gate to enquire about Sun's ride route with the Chiang Mai Sunday Riders. He flew back all excited telling us to hurry scurry as the ride to the CM Flower Show was about to start at 8am. Time check - 745am! So those who were ready went with him.

Poor Roland discovered disappointingly that his front handlebar stem clam broke and his Birdy was permanently grounded. So while the others went off with CW, I helped look for a rental bike for Roland. It was a tad early and many shops were still closed. However, he managed to get one for $1 day. Cheap as chips but seat post couldn't be adjusted and it rode terribly. Anyhow, to quote CW, "Bad bike is better than no bike!"

When I arrived at the meeting point, there was an air of electricity. About 70-80 cyclists were there mostly don in their distinct Orange jerseys. When we locusts saw the jerseys for sale at $20, we went into action and the vendor was overjoyed. Soon, we had the right "uniform". Prof Naradon who leads the group, gave us a formal welcome on the portable PA mounted on a Japanese Postie bicycle and we appreciated his warmth.

There were all sorts of bicycles and people from all over the world too. Being a BF owner, I spotted 2 other BFs parked discretely in the corner belonging to a couple from Colorado, USA and we got chatting. They live in CM to sit out the cold Colorado winter and remarked that their monthly hotel room charge is the same as their utility bill back home!

It was amazing to ride with the CMSC group as there were road marshals that stopped traffic for us and our big group literally caused the biggest traffic jam in Chiang Mai, for 5 mins at least. Everyone was so friendly and I cannot describe the sheer camaraderie that morning.

Just 10 mins into the ride, we pulled into a petrol station to empty out in the toilets, and to fill up in the food kiosks. In our haste, we forgot breakfast #2 so buns and canned coffee had to be it. But we didn't mind it one bit.

The ride to the CM Flower Show was exciting enough, travelling through quieter parts of town and even an off-road section. This was where I took notice of a white Louis Garreau mini-velo which handled the dirt roads most competently on skinny and baldy Kojak tires. Amy used to MTB and that explained her confidence and speed. Those on road bikes took a longer detour but we all ended up at the back entrance of the flower show and could not go in. So it was a big 3km loop to the front gate and certainly, this was the biggest flower shop I've seen with flags, pomp and even a huge balloon ship in the sky.

Our next stop was to see a temple that was a few hundred years old, another 5km away. The unique feature is that it used no nails to hold it together. It was interesting to see how everyone knew where the toilets were automatically and there was so much courtesy and order shown amidst the rush.  Even music was provided courtesy of the Japanese postie bike. Trust the Thais!

We soon had to bid adios to our new friends but not without Prof Noradon extending his usual courtesy to say a few words of thanks and safe travel, and Mary and I reciprocated on behalf of our team.  But how were we going back to Na Inn,  I wondered as we were out in the boondocks of Chiang Mai? We were so touched when Amy volunteered to graciously cycle us back to our hotel via the shortcuts.

On the ride back, I noticed poor Roland struggling to keep up with us on his $1 rental bike and we made sure we stopped lots. This is one sporting chap! He thought that we were just going for congee and ended up riding over 30km on the highways of Chiang Mai.

We had our last lunch at the same Blue Cafe where we ate on our first day, almost like a good storybook ending. It was really nice that Amy could join us and that was the least we could do for her in extending outstanding hospitality and kindness to us. She was amazed at how much we ate as part 2 to the beef noodles came in various delectable forms of Vietnamese dishes.

After lunch it was a mayhem trying to pack the bikes for the 4pm flight and Na Inn's lobby got all messed up again.

But Ms Maew didn't mind one bit, looking amusingly at these crazy cyclists from Singapore. When all was done, it was then a rush to get 2 Songthaews to ferry everyone to the airport. But not before goodbye pictures!

CW and I were very humbled to receive so many expressions of gratitude and we were just glad that our friends had a great time touring with us. We really had barrels of fun and we never laughed and ate so much. We wondered if this was indeed a bike trip!

When the flock finally stepped into the departure lounge, CW and I breathe a sign of relief as our role as Shepherds was officially over. As they flew home to Singapore, it seemed unreal that our last few days had passed so quickly. For them, it was over but for CW, Mike and I, we've only just begun. We had planned for a few more days to chill out and do a ride down to Lampang but that is another story altogether.

A song for all those who went with us, and our new friends - thank you so much for an unforgettable time on our bikes! We will ride again soon.


ps:  We held a post trip briefing on 28 Jan and there has been numerous requests to join us for another ride soon. Stay in touch... drop me a line here or on Facebook Ped Al if you like to be updated on the next tour.

Pic credits: CW, Amy, Roland

Northern Thailand Winter Ride - Day 5, Back to Chiang Mai

We got up to a rainy morning. It poured the whole night and it was just as well that this was to be a no riding day. Our short hike for a congee breakfast was a cold and wet one. However, the piping hot bowl with raw egg inside was worth the trouble and we literally emptied the big pot with our numerous orders.

Despite the persistent rain, we tracked to our fav Chiang Rai bike shop, Fat Free Bikes. It was a quiet 9am and they were just opened. With the rain and all, the lone salesperson thought it was going to be another quiet morning.

But with 12 of us locusts arriving with an insatiable appetite for bike parts, he had to call for re-enforcements. A rough estimate was the 12 of us spent a total of US$1000 and Christmas came early for them. I was amused to see everyone like kids in a candy shop, all excited and so awed by the prices of stuff. Compared to Spore, some parts were 50% cheaper, thanks to the high S$ and low rental in Chiang Rai compared to Orchard Rd!

At precisely 11am, 2 huge Toyota LWB Hiace vans came. The drivers were skeptical that we could fit 12 bikes (10 foldies) and 12 pax, plus 24 panniers into their vehicles.

However, I've done this before and slowly but surely, we fitted everything inside, much to their amazement. Our team also were equally astounded but this is where our foldies come to its fullest element.

It was mandatory for us to stop at the famous white temple of Wat Rong Kun, about 20km away. This is truly an architectural beauty with its intricate design and graphic depictions of morality or the lack off.

There were 2 that caught my attention - the perils of smoking and drinking. When CW showed me the gold plated toilets, that was pristine to an operating theatre standard, I couldn't believe my eyes.

The eating feast continued at a nearby Thai Chicken Rice restaurant and I felt a bit embarrassed when they started counting the number of plates we have ordered. But truth be told, the portions were rather small, even for me.

The drive back to Na Inn put all of us into an uncomfortable trance. This was because the road back was hilly and some parts were full of curves. It was a good thing we didn't cycle back, and the wet weather made us so glad we were in the aircon comfort of the spacious Hiace.

It was great to be back at Na Inn and we wasted no time unloading our bikes and gear. Unfortunately, Uncle Teo's expensive Bell helmet with a Go Pro mount was left behind and that was a shame. Fortunately, it was found by the driver and duly returned to Na Inn a few days later 200km all the way from Chiang Rai. A great testament to the honesty and integrity of VIP Travel Service Company. We cannot recommended them enough!

Although I sense a tinge of sadness that our fabulous trip was coming to a close, there were still a few surprises in store for the flock. We had dinner at a lovely Cafe de Siam Thai restaurant and Roland, Uncle Teo and Bro Mike sat outside to keep watch on the bikes.

That was such a kind deed. We then proceeded for the Chiang Mai Night Market cum Zoo (judging from the crazy crowds). I'm not sure being jostled to and fro from all directions was fun but I enjoyed picking up wonderful bargains. There was certainly a carnival like air among the vendors and this was not just about cold commerce, but a real night out of people having a good time.

We ended the night with supper at Mike's Burgers, whose mission is unashamedly to convert vegetarians. This American owned joint has several outlets in Chiang Mai and their food is to die for, with a slew of witty signs everywhere. All of us who went felt truly satisfied with our greasy but tasty burgers, topped with bacon and cheese plus crispy fries, washed down with leaded Coke. Not the most healthy of diets but heh, we earned it after all those miles looping Northern Thailand.

While the team slowly fell into dream land, CW and I were wondering whether to climb Doi Suthep or join the Chiang Mai Sunday riders on the last day's morning. We couldn't go wrong with either choice and were happy to see how things panned out when we got up.

Pic credits:  CW & Roland

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Northern Thailand Winter Ride - Day 4 Chiang Rai

Care for some low calorie protein?

We started the day early with an extreme climb up the famous Wat Thaton temple, but not before a quick cup of coffee just to get things going. The apostle Paul's words, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," proved true here when the flock saw what was being served at the coffee shop. Pots of delightful Thai curries and food, including piping hot deep fried chicken. I too succumbed.

Oblivious to the steep climb before us, it was "lets stuff ourselves silly time" and that made it impossible for many to make it up the mother of all hills. This speaks for itself...

I didn't noticed this at first as I was too busy panting away but there are 8 levels to get to the peak. Barely at the foot of the hill someone developed chain trouble, an example of how much we all strained our gears to its limit. My Pocket Sport with its minimal climbing gears surprised again with its ability to make respectable progress. I had fun going up with Matt, Andre and a few others as we encouraged one another to cycle instead of push. This little experiment proved the old saying true, that its the rider not the bike. Uncle Teo who had a custom built NWT with impressive 21" climbing gear also ended up pushing. I asked him why. His candid reply, "Bike very good. Engine not so good la!"

Eventually, by hook or crook, all made it up to level 8 of Nirvana, where the beautiful white temple is. This was completed only a few years back and is magnificent. Perched strategically, it can be seen for miles and offers spectacular views of the valley, the Kok River and surrounding mountains of the region.

With dark clouds and sunlight bursting out, it was a sight of heaven which our cameras hungrily captured. We savoured the time together and had plenty of laughs. Mary for some reason was fixated on rubbing a brass bell continously, and we thought she was starting a new religion.

If going up was hell, coming down was heaven. The steep gradient made my rims red hot as I braked continuously to control the speed of descend. Uber fun just flying without wings together with my fellow Tikiteer Kimi! A pre-ordered breakfast at Sunshine Cafe awaited us and even the biggest eaters had trouble finishing no thanks to unexpected Brekkie  #1.

Trust Matt to go up alone to Wat Thaton for round 2. We were stunned! Some people love their pain but he had a small crash coming down too exhuberantly. Good thing it was minor and he was still all cheery and jovial. One tough cookie Matt is.

CW and I left the group early to do some quick exploring around Thaton and to check out hotels and sights. Apple seems to be the best and brightest, for now. Things are always so fluid in Thailand. Part 2 of the day's adventure was to travel on 2 long tail boats and cruise down the Kok River to the Elephant Camp, 20+km from Chiang Rai. It was lovely to have Tui and her Dutch "mom" see us off.

We managed to fit all the bikes, gear and people snugly into the sleek boats. When the powerful engine fired up, I knew we were in for a treat. The boat could literally fly on water and there was never a dull moment as our driver skilfully dodged rocks and other obstacles. It was also very cold and we were shivering especially when we got splashed every now and then.

The 2 hour boat ride passed by quickly and it was very considerate of the boatman to plan a toilet stop and a break halfway. The journey ended too soon and what greeted us at our destination, Baan Ruammit, were several elephants walking downriver with orange safron monks. It was a real bonus. CW and I were asked if this was planned and the answer was, "Of course!" We hung around for a while to enjoy this spectacular spectacle, and for some reason, the girls went to squatting position - village mode, again.

It was hard to get back to cycling again after being in the boat for awhile, and the hills did not help. Hong asked me whether there were more hills and I said, "Look around us!" I don't think it encouraged her one bit.

To dampen things even more, it started to rain which got us scampering to water proof our stuff. While cycling, we met 2 elderly British gentlemen on fancy Bianchi road bikes. This route was part of their training and their presence lifted us up. If those guys in their 60s can do this, so can we. Peter and Don were nice enough to ride us into town. Peter was surprised that I could draft behind him on my little wheels, with panniers.

We said our goodbyes and then it started to pour. For some strange reason, CW's front wheel lifted off the road and he unceremoniously cleaned the muddy and slippery road with his yellow jersey.

This prompted Matt and Steven, who were behind him, to do likewise. Crash #2 for Matt. A case of monkey see, monkey do? Fortunately, KC managed to swerve and came out unscathed. Experience comes with age. Thank God all injuries were minor but Bro Mike, ever the caring doctor, went into action with glee. CW's beef was not so much the crash but losing his 10 year old cyclometer. Despite our best efforts to look for it in the verge, we were not successful.

Taking shelter from the storm in a coffee shop, we ordered hot coffee and Milo which were so welcome in the cold. Whiling away our time, we just waited and did a detailed prognosis of the respective crashes. Lessons learnt include don't follow so closely, be careful of disc brakes especially in the wet (Matt) and practise how to fall properly (CW being a seasoned MTB, has plenty of experience).

 KC avoided crashing because he was alert, cool and planned an escape route through the bush. We were also fortunate helmets were worn. So much for the case of freestyle riding, it could very well be game over without helmets for situations like these.

We couldn't resist stopping in a bike shop when we hit town where CW got another Cateye cyclometer. Afternoon tea was taken at the Swiss Bakery and it was delicious feasting on all sorts of Danish and cakes, with aromatic coffees.

Our abode for the night was at Baan Warabordee, a lovely hotel in a quiet back lane. What is most strategic about this hotel is its a stone's throw away from the Night Market as well as the best congee shop in Chiang Rai.

It was a good thing that Chiang Rai marked the official end of our ride as the rain clouds came and did its job with a vengeance. It was certainly an event filled day with lots of thrills and spills. Some blamed it on it being Friday the 13th but I was glad that we were being watched and cared for every step of the way by our Creator.

It was good to be back in the "big" city again and the night was busy spent eating, shopping malling and a well deserved massage. Our most important mission in Chiang Rai awaits us tomorrow morning, and it promises to be Fat Free.

Pic Credits: CW, Roland, KC & Steven