Monday, December 23, 2013

A Mamachari Christmas!

I have just returned from 11 days in beautiful Japan - the land of super polite people, bullet trains, tiny kei-cars, Sushi, Wasabe, Mt Fuji, Onsens (hot public baths), Samurais and Mamacharis.  There is a strong bicycle culture instilled among its people and almost every Japanese student ride a bicycle to school.

These commuter bicycles are known as Mamachari or Mom's Chariot as they are also used by many housewives to ferry their toddlers to school and run errands. They are also ridden by everyone to get around through the congested and narrow streets - rain, shine or snow. It was fun just to see salary man dressed up in business suits as well as fashionable ladies riding around on their Mamacharis in the freezing cold, umbrellas on one hand.

Tokyo by bike sums the Mamachari very aptly here:

So, despite the perceived un-coolness of the mamachari, it is by far the best bicycle for day to day use all over Japan and deserves a little more respect. The mamachari truly is the family station wagon of Japan, I don't know where we would be without it.

While I was exploring the streets of beautiful Matsumoto in the Japanese Alps, I stumbled upon a very nice bike shop, Cycle Plaza and enjoyed a good chat with Hiroshi Fukai, the owner. As I missed buying a Tokyobike while in Yanaka, I was looking to take home something uniquely Japanese. Hiroshi san recommended that I looked at the top of the line Mamacharis made by Bridgestone and Panasonic.

I settled on a Bridgestone Jobno - a tough work bike that featured a 5 speed Nexus Internal Gear Hub (introduced just last year) spec-ed with 26" MTB sized wheels (most Japanese bikes uses 27"), auto LED lighting, auto steering and rear wheel lock and full fenders, rear racks, rear stand and the signature front basket.

It was not too difficult transporting the huge 26kg bike box to Haneda Airport 200km away as we chartered an airport taxi and Singapore Airlines obliged as expected. So I am delighted to celebrate Christmas 2013 with a lovely present, a true Japanese icon - the Bridgestone Mamachari. I have enlisted the services of Rebound Centre to put it together and look forward to enjoying this set of Japanese wheels on the streets of Singapore.

May I wish you and your family a very blessed Christmas and an exciting 2014 New Year.


Why give presents at Christmas?

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the best gift that God has given to mankind 2000 years ago. When he was born, he received special gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from Kings, who came to pay their respect to him. They have great meaning because gold represents Jesus' royalty and kingship, frankincense alludes to his divinity and holiness and lastly myrrh, which is a sweet oil used for embalming. It's a strange gift to present to a newly born King but it represents his mission - that  is to ultimately die on the cross for the sins of men so that we can be forgiven, and reconnected with God. Such is God's great love for us.

So when we give presents to each other at Christmas, we remember the best gift of all, the gift of Jesus Christ to us so that we can have true joy, peace and love not just for this season, but for everyday of our life.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Matthew 2:11

Monday, December 16, 2013

A visit to Tokyo Bike, Yanaka

To understand the philosophy behind Tokyo Bikes' "take it easy with style" approach to cycling, one must first experience cycling around the capital city of Japan. With 16 million people living here, space is a premium. Though trains here are excellent, the best way to get through crowded and congested traffic is none other than the humble bicycle. It helps that the bike infrastructure here is first class and I really had fun cruising around Yanaka, the old town district of Tokyo.

30% of commuters here use a bike to get around and I was heartened to see Moms ferrying their kids on bikes, sometimes 2 of them. This is truly the best way to zip around and some even have special windscreens and covers to keep the princes and princesses dry and comfy.

It helps that bike paths are separated from the main traffic and shared with pedestrians, who seem to be happy with the arrangement. Of course one can zip onto the road too if that gets clogged up.

Bicycle parking is ample and very sophisticated - some multi-story and some are fully automated that goes underground. Many cyclists are switching to e-bikes too and for good reason. Prices for an e-bike has come down to under $1000 USD and range is fairly good 50-60km, which means a recharge once every 3- 5 days for the average city commuter.

So all in all, cycling in Tokyo is about riding slowly, having good maneuverability, an upright riding position for maximum view and of course, some style thrown in for good measure.

I arrived at Tokyo Bike's showroom in Yanaka with Sol after getting a bit lost. But 2 kind cyclists pointed me in the right direction and it was only 2km from Annex Katsuturo, my ryokan.

The welcome, as with most Japanese shops, was polite and friendly. The display was warm and enticing, and felt more like an upmarket fashion/art gallery than a bike shop. Clearly, Tokyo Bike is a lifestyle bike shop rather one where its all about the lightest and fastest. It is catered for the fashionable Tokyo-nites who don't mind paying more for a personal set of stylish colour-coordinated wheels than the usual deary Mamachari. Mind you, the good news is its not a lot of money as they range from US$600 - 800 only.

All the displays were meticulously arranged and color co-ordinated and truly, it was a real pleasure to just be in that shop feasting visually on the best way to lighten the wallet. The bait was too enticing and I wanted to order the limited edition Mini-Velo which I believe is not available in Spore.  What a lovely souvenir this would have been for my Japan trip, Kenda Kwest tires notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, business was too good and the earliest they could deliver one to my hotel was 2 weeks time! The 2 young sharp looking guys running the shop were extremely apologetic but when the stars are not aligned, its best just to say as the Japanese would - "Shikata ga nai" or it can't be help.

Perhaps I should pay a visit to the Spore showroom when I get back. We shall see...


My 300Y per day Mamachari...  rides surprisingly well. Comes with dynamo hub and centre stand with lock + basket to chuck anything and everything. Quite a hoot to ride!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

R2R (ride to respect) our Pioneers @ Bukit Brown

Pic KC

Pic Cecilia Chung

So honoured Sulaiman of Rebound Centre came... in his World Tour ready Surly LHT.

Cemeteries used to give me the creeps but I see them differently now as they serve as peaceful reminders of people who once worked, played and loved on this land that we now live on.  One cemetery that everyone has been talking about recently in Singapore is the 200 year old Bukit Brown Cemetery off Sime Road. Ever since the news 2 years ago that a highway is going to be built through it, there has been great interest coming from different groups in Singapore.

Pic URA website

All Things Bukit Brown is one such group that has been documenting, promoting and lobbying for BBC to be preserved and for good reasons. Their members are nicknamed Brownies and are truly a lovely bunch of people.

It has recently been given World Monument Watch status, which means it is one step towards getting the prized UNESCO World Heritage award. A group of 21 of us from Love Cycling Singapore Group came together to discover why this is just not a piece of useless, unproductive land for the dead, standing stubbornly in the way of "progress & development" for the living in Singapore.

Pic ChuaSL

Arriving at the century old iconic gates of BBC, we were immediately transported into an oasis of lush greenery, rich nature and fresh morning air. It was great to see many familiar and friendly faces on small wheels. I had with me Claire Leow, co-founder of All Things Bukit Brown, who kindly volunteered her precious time to take us through this living museum.

Pic KC

Claire gave us an insightful overview of the history and heritage of Bukit Brown. We learned that it is the biggest overseas Chinese cemetery outside of China occupying 173 acres and has over 100,000 tombs of ordinary citizens to founding pioneers of early Singapore during the Straits Settlement days. Many of the who's who today have ancestors buried here including former PM Lee Kuan Yew, his late wife, President Tony Tan etc.

Pic Straits Times

Though it is a "Chinese" cemetery, it reflected the multi-culturalness of colonial Singapore in so many ways. Truly, BBC is the bedrock of our Singaporean identity. Elaborate Chinese tombs with hints of Western influences and even inscriptions in English for tombs in the early 1900s, point to a time where "God save the Queen" was our National Anthem. Fierce looking Sikh guards at some tombs were evidence of the sterling reputation of these trusted warriors, whose descendants were my classmates in primary school.

We cycled to our first stop - Tay Koh Yat's tomb. He was a very successful businessman who ran a bus company among many other businesses. He also loved his country and was a war hero who mobilized the 10,000 strong Chinese Civil Defence Force when the Japanese arrived on bicycles during WW2. Many of his men were killed in the Sook Ching massacre.

As we stood for a minute's silence as a sign of respect for those tombs that will soon have to make way for the new highway, Uncle Roland remarked how beautiful and clear were the sounds of birds singing away happily. Perhaps they did not know what is to become of their green sanctuary, which is an important base for their migratory path. 13 nationally endangered bird species live here and are put at risk once "development" begins. The words of Mahatma Gandhi are worth reflecting on...

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” 

Our merry group continued cycling on along the quiet shaded road in absolute bliss, connecting strongly with the fullness of nature. Claire stopped briefly to point out a tombstone with a small golden cross - where the grandmother of the present President rested. Our 3rd stop was interesting as it had the most elaborate of tomb design. What fascinates with Teo Chin Chay's tomb is the hybrid mix of Chinese lions, Western angels (naked) & Sikh guards and intricate carvings on the tomb mount.

Pic Straits Times

But for me, it was the best of co-incidences that my Great Grand Uncle Chia Keng Beng's tomb laid nearby. He was the eldest son of Chia Ann Siang, a wealthy land owner in Chinatown who hailed from Malacca and is buried in his own private land at Malcolm Road. The discovery of Chia Ann Siang's forgotten tomb last year by the Brownies brought immense joy to my family.

Pic KT

As we made our way serendipitously further around the beautiful grounds, we chanced upon 3 riders on horses looking so distinguished. Here was the rare meeting of 2 pollution free forms of transportation, that were much used at the time of our forefathers. It happened that one of the riders had a physique that look like a Superhero, and that got some of the ladies very excited.

Perhaps the most photographed tomb in BBC must be Chew Geok Leong's, the one with the 2 standing Sikh guards with cute puppies. He was a Chinese Physician in Geylang, who designed his own tomb while still alive. Claire pointed out that this is called a "live" tomb and I admire him for his forward planning. No wonder he was such an accomplished person.

It once again was co-incidental that the late grandparents of one of the more prominent LCSG member and bicycle guru, Chris Wee, laid just nearby! That discovery was also very recent.

Pic KC

We ended our tour with a group photo at this renown tomb, flanked by the famous Sikh guards with mixed feelings. Happy that it was an enriching morning where we connected with our past. Sad because of its bleak future. Our ride to respect all these pioneers who built Singapore could very well be our last as construction work has begun despite all the objections and considerations that have been offered by the public.

Pic KC

As someone put it very bluntly - how can the destruction of such a priceless Singaporean heirloom, so that the few privilege rich of Singapore can drive to their destination quicker, make any sense? I cannot concur more. The main issue seems to be too many cars on our roads. Instead of feeding this bottomless demand for more and more roads, why not get more people to ride bicycles instead of drive? Crazy as it sounds but they have done it in Holland and many countries are following suit. Doing so, Bukit Brown could very well still be around for all of us to enjoy, and yes, even for our generations to come.

We owe that much to our pioneers who have laid the cornerstone for our country's progress and development with their blood and toil.


May I encourage you to give your feedback on the future of Bukit Brown Cemetery here.  Every voice counts!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A bashful six!

Lovethefold's sixth birthday has crept up quietly and it has been a rather neglected child this year unfortunately, if attention is measured by the number of postings. A paltry 46 against 102 in 2012. Blame it on me holding 2 jobs the first half of the year, one in Singapore and the other in Australia. That said, blogging is still a hard slog as it takes discipline and is time consuming. I really take my hat off to those who can do so consistently week after week. One very prominent Singaporean blogger I know has sort of given up as he prefers to spend more time on the saddle than on his bottom working the keyboard, and I fully understand. Another iconic bicycle blogger Vik of The Lazy Randonneur too has thrown in the towel.

The good news however is that I still enjoy sharing my adventures, lessons and experiences on and off the saddle and I take encouragement that there are people out there who follow the ramblings of LTF.  Just last weekend at a book launch of a bicycle adventurette in Singapore, someone came up to me and ask if I read LTF! There has also been requests for me to compile a book on my folding adventures next year, so that will certainly be on the cards among the many things I look forward to in 2014. 

Reflecting back, one of the best products I have gotten must be the Da Brim visor for bike helmets. Its effectiveness and popularity has spread like an Australian bush fire among the cycling community especially in Singapore and in my bike club in Perth. This is truly a must have as it provides wonderful protective shade in the sun, and gives clear visibility in the rain (with a shower cap attached to the helmet - a tip from Uncle KC). 

Additions to my already crowded stable is strictly limited to one per year, ok maybe two. Hence, my acquisition for 2013 is an interesting one - as it has 3 wheels and yes, it folds to a certain extend. It was a rather unexpected purchase as a friend needed to sell it off as his new recumbent trike was coming in, and kindly made me an offer I could not refuse. I have looked at getting a Greenspeed some years back but was put off at its $3k entry price so this "fastest wheelchair in the park" is truly God sent. It has an Alfine 8 internal gear hub, disk brakes, Big Apple Schwalbe tires and is bags of fun to ride. I learned very quickly and achingly that recumbents require a different set of muscles so I'm still on my L-plates when it comes to them.

I also resurrected my 20 year old Bridgestone MB3 with a a complete paint and frame job at the Rebound Centre under the hands of master craftsman Sulaiman and his team. New parts were carefully selected and ordered from the UK and put together in preparation for an epic mountain bike adventure to Bromo Volcano in Aug.

I have also serendipitously upgraded my Prodeco e-bike's battery from 9amp to 12amp. For some unexplained reason, the original battery could not hold its charge. A detailed diagnosis by my good cycling buddy Pete, a Master Electrician with 40 years experience, revealed that the circuit board was burnt and I am ever so grateful to Randy of Go Bikes, Prodeco's dealer in Nashville who went out of his way to get me a warranty replacement. The good news was that for a small fee, I could extend the range with a bigger battery and now, I have an e-bike that can run 100km. This lesson has taught me that when things go wrong, there are surprising endings when we have good friends and a great God who watches over us all, even our batteries. So if you are going through a rough patch, have faith.

Adventure wise, it was the year of Indonesia, particularly The Riaus where we went deep south across the equator to Sinkep/Lingga twice. This is a rather remote place to visit as it requires nearly the whole day of travel to reach there but it is well worth the effort.

The first one was a near death experience in our multi-Riau Island Indonesia ride in December. The Dream Team consisting of Matt, KC, Darren, Christoph and I decided at the very last minute to avoid Batam. Little did we know that there was a full blown Facliparum Malaria outbreak in the southern tip of Batam but a divine change of plans saw us bypass that and ended at neighboring Kundur/Karimun island instead. One of our bicycle club members nearly did not make it when he was infected and spent 3 weeks in ICU. Thank God he made a miraculous recovery and is back on his bike. A few were seriously ill too.

We kicked off 2013 with a bang in Cambodia with a short holiday in Siem Reap to explore the ruins of Angkor Wat and then starting our epic ride to Vietnam from Phnom Penh. 11 wonderful friends got together to ride through 400+km of roads, yes some very dusty and rough ones and enjoyed an incredible time of adventure and fellowship. It was a real test of our foldies and my Bike Friday Expedition proved its mettle once again.

Then in Apr, it was back to Kundur/Karimun again this time with Rich and Clarence. But this was the shortest tour ever (23km only) due to an "unexpected medical condition" from one of the guys but we had lots of fun too as always. I stumbled upon a new ferry from Ujung to Karimun and its great to always discover fresh routes. Just eating at the breakfast lane in Kundur is good enough reason for me to go so I didn't mind it at all.

Because one member of the Dream Team could not make the trip in Dec, we organized another one for Mike Khor of Wheelosopher fame in July. On this trip, we had 4 of us and we explored Lingga Island and went through some pretty bad roads.

One of the highlights was a meet up with the handsome Hardi and his princess Dewi, owners of the best (& only) bike shop in Dabo Singkep. They very kindly invited us to their wedding.

In Aug, I was asked to lead a team of 11 from LCSG to Kundur/Karimun and we had lots of fun doing it. This trip was planned much earlier but there was the yearly haze problem from a neighboring country that really choked up Singapore and grinded cycling and other outdoor activities to a grinding halt.

As though saving the best for last, our adventure ride to Bromo Volcano in Java organized by Chris Wee was one of those trips that we will tell our grandchildren years from now. This was the first MTB trip I've done in 20 years and I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the National Park. Although the tough terrain was truly physically demanding, it was worth every drop of sweat and some blood. I will always remember the long push through the sea of sand.

Of course, I continue to enjoy my weekly adventures in Perth with my ride buddies, Rod, Pat, Ken and Pete on Wednesdays and a new Friday newbie group has also started with beautiful friends, often ending with delightful coffees and cakes at the numerous cafes around Perth. 

What makes riding in Perth special is cruising along the world's best bike paths along the scenic rivers and coast overflowing with natural beauty. We see all sorts of flowers, birds, with the occasional dolphins popping out to say hello, in cool glorious weather.

3 trips have already been planned for the coming year. Next week I shall be off to Japan for a family holiday and I hope to pop into Tokyobike to check out their city bike offerings. There is the exciting Ride of 1000 hills in Northern Thailand in Jan from Mae Hong Son to Thaton, and I'm excited to lead a team of 8 folks through crazy climbs during the Thai winter. In Apr, a round island trip to Taiwan in Apr kindly led by Ying Chang has been planned and our tickets have already been booked.

If there is anything that has moved my heart this year, it is the destruction of Bukit Brown Cemetary  in Singapore where a highway will first cut through it. It will eventually be cleared for housing. What saddens is that it is the largest Chinese overseas cemetary outside of China and is the resting place of many early Singapore pioneers including my great great grandfather Chia Ann Siang.

So what better way to celebrate LTF's 6th anniversary then by riding through Bukit Brown Cemetary for perhaps the last time (if you are in Singapore)? We will do so to respect and honour our pioneers whose final resting place will soon be no more.

If you have been following LTF all these years, I hope that it has somehow ignited a passion in you. Not just a passion to ride bicycles (folding ones preferred) but a passion to explore new places, new food, meet new people and experience life as it unfolds before us. One great blessing I am always grateful for is all the wonderful friends, old and new, I have made through LTF. People are what makes life so meaningful.

Wherever you are, may you end this year well and may you begin the new year with God's love, protection and blessings for an exciting, fulfilling and fruitful 2014. Please write to me if you have any questions or simply want to say Hi. I welcome your comments and can be reach at lovethefold at gmail dot com too. 

Psalm 121:1-8 
I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you-the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm-he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.