Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A custom built "Papachari" for Christmas!

       Waiting for the borders to open when CV19 restrictions are lifted! When? When? When?

It was 7 years ago that I brought back a beautiful Christmas present from my trip to Japan - a Bridgestone Jobno Mamachari bicycle! This was full of very innovative and thoughtful features that only the Japanese would think off such as auto steering lock, skirt guard (for the ladies who used this), 5 speed Nexus hub gear, dynamo lighting with auto on/off and more. It would be perfect for family use in Japan to run errands, pick up the groceries, send the kids to school as what a family work-horse should be. 

However, it was heavy and not exactly nimble as it was built to withstand daily abuse. It soon found itself rather neglected and gathering dust, in need of a new owner. I am very glad it is now in the good hands of my buddy George Kee. I swapped this in exchange for an air ticket to Chiang Mai! 

Prior to buying this, I wanted a Papachari, a Bridgestone Wedge Rock - a male version not a unisex version of the family mule and I saw this in the Bridgestone Catalog but alas, when I checked, production had stopped. Hence, the opportunity to own a Papachari went into cold storage since 2013 until 2 months ago when over lunch,  I learn that a Spore famed tourer came out with a most interesting frame - a mixte/step through design and manufactured in conjuction with LKLM, a Chinese bicycle builder. 

Being trained in Marketing, I have learned not to pay too much attention to the hype and fluff but to focus on the core strengths of the product. Even then, my bias for a China made bicycle was very strong until I learn that this particular frame - the LKLM 318 Step Thru was designed by one of the best brains of touring bicycles - Mr SK Lah. He is a seasoned world traveller and knows exactly what works and what doesn't and not only is he respected and an expert (in my books), SK is a really nice, helpful and humble gentleman.

A quick visit to him in Oct saw SK explain in detail all the clever and innovative features he incorporated into the unique frame. The traditional bicycle diamond frame, which for decades, remain unchanged, needs to be challenged and improved as its major disadvantage is the top tube. Being a folding bicycle connoisseur and a young Senior, I appreciate bikes that are easy to jump on and get off and many a time, I have seen how the absence of the top tube has saved many cyclists from crashing badly. The challenge then is to come up with a design that is top tube free and yet rigid and strong, even strong enough for full laden touring. Sk reckons he has found the answer!

I called upon the usual LTF friends that afternoon if they would like to hear about this new innovative frame and was pleasantly surprised quite a few of my best mates showed up  - Papa, George, Gary, Siew Wan & Chris Wee. SK pointed out to us how he overcame the problem of flexing with an additional short tubing and this was tested satisfactorily by the LKLM engineers. Looking at how strong and sturdy this frame was designed, I was smitten and gladly made an order after consulting with Siew Yung, my Malaysian touring friend who actually tested the ST and was impressed! Papa too was poisoned so I had esteem company. SK also showed off a Titanium handlebar that also won 2 orders. 

Why did I order this bike? I saw the potential of this LKLM 318 ST to not only meet my unfulfilled need for a Papachari (7 years of waiting) to do erranding and fun rides in Spore but also an opportunity to build a quality 650B touring/gravel bicycle for my wife so that she can ride with me on our China to Spore dream tour one day soon. I already have a Surly Disk Trucker which was built by Triple Cats Chiang Mai but no  thanks to CV19, it sits dormant now in my garage in Perth. I reckon the LKLM would be the perfect touring partner to the Surly when our dream tour come true.

It is always a great thrill to build a bike from scratch and together with SK, it was great fun. As tourers, climbing gears are a must and we gunned for a low range of under 18" with a 36/26t chain ring and a 11-42t cassette. The temptation to go sexy with XT presented itself but common sense prevailed and the reliable and robust Deore group set won. 

                                                           Huge 42T to flatten them hills!

If I were to use this bike just for Singapore commuting, I would consider a single chain ring with 10 speed and that would be more than sufficient esp with the new technology offered. But touring requires less strain on the chain so a double ring is the better choice, at least for my purposes.

                                                                 Pic fm Green Basikal

Wheels were easy and I wanted 650B because they provided the best compromise between the strength of the 26" and the rolling ease of the 700 wheel. My Surly also runs on 650B and that makes for ease when we tour together. Brakes are160mm mechanical disk although I do prefer the feel of hydraulic. But once again, the chance of getting a leak during a long tour in a remote area tipped me for the more durable option. Levers are my fav Avid Speed Dial 7. Tire choice is also impt because it can make or break the performance of the bike. SK recommended the new highly acclaimed road/gravel WTB Byway 47 Gumwall tires (click for review) that suited me to a tee and matches the Ranger Green paintwork so perfectly. The tire thread is bald in the centre for high performance road riding with off road edges. 

Handlebar choice was difficult as there are so many choices. It so happened that SK had a sale on a very special Titanium one that instantly caught the eye of SW and Papa! It was truly a work of art and a sight to behold.

I however did not think it would fit me and I personally wanted a riser style bar as I was after maximum comfort. It is always easy to follow the trend but what makes building that special bicycle so interesting is knowing what you want and to resist the trends. I was very fortunate that few weeks after placing my order, LKLM came out with a Jones Bar equivalent that I knew is the one for me! The boomerang shape complemented the bike beautifully and the riding position is something that I am very at home with. 

One of the hallmarks of a Mama/Papachari is the front basket - ever so practical and functional. Great for chucking stuff from shopping, takeaways from the food centres and more and more tourers are finding it very useful. I recalled my Thai touring friend Mallika Charoenwong whom I met at Hway 1095 on my Mae Hong Song trip a few years back spotting a ratten one on her rig. In it, she kept all her energy goodies, bananas, sweet potato etc and it is so simple and yet so practical. I knew too that Celia will love this and it really added to the character of the bike. 

                                                             Pic borrowed fm Mallika - FB

It seems that Ikea offered a perfect wire basket that augments the LKLM ST and many of SK's customers have fitted it on. For only $19.90, I reckon it is a real steal. It weighs less than 1kg and sized just nice!

                                                                       Pic fm Green Bisikal

My idea of a front rack that supported the basket must be one that can also hold my Ortlieb Gravel Pack Panniers. I have a Blackburn rack sitting in my cave for awhile and it was wonderful that it came in very handy and did the job well. 

One thing I have learned that make or break the feel of a good bicycle are the touch points. SK recommended Selle Royal saddle which offered value for money. To be honest, I just love the unique brown color of it and it will do for our easy rides.  For serious and longer rides, I still prefer my 12yo Brooks B17 while Celia swears by Selle Anatomica X which she uses on her Bike Friday Pocket Sport. I have place an order for a tan/brown Selle Anatomica reluctantly as it cost a pretty penny but some things in life are worth paying for esp marital bliss! 

As for handle bar grips, I was just happy with brandless brown ones but SK at the last minute surprised me with leather ones that had beautiful strips of brown and green. These Propalm grips just added to the classic look I was after and my joy was made full. Riding it, the feel was just right. I could not be happier. Opted for my fav pedals - MKS Japanese made removable ones for ease of packing and the added security when parked if needed. Harder to steal a pedal-less bike!

It is 3 days to Christmas and December in Singapore is wet wet wet. The need for fenders is a given but many choose not to fit them for it really spoils the look of the bicycle. Have you seen an expensive carbon road bike with fenders? Looks are important but try riding on a wet road with the constant spray for fast spinning wheels on your back and bottom. Is there a way to fit fenders that actually add aesthetic value to your bike? I thought hard and long about this one and decided on wooden fenders. The natural grain and colour of wood on a Ranger Green bicycle in my mind is so pleasing and soothing to the eye. Problem is - wooden fenders are very hard to source. Kudos to SK for entertaining my rather unusual request with aplomb and his resourcefulness is truly second to none. Few days later, success! He had like magic, got hold of the last available ones locally at Bamboo Bee!

I have had Bamboo handlebar grips on my Brompton and they look fabulous and when I saw these beautiful Bamboo Bee fenders on my LKLM ST, my heart sang for joy! My artistic friend Siew Ling commented, "Those wooden fenders match the tires and very nice colour! I want to try your bike!" However, someone commented they look like Dim Sum steam baskets and I couldn't help laughing. You can't please everyone!

I love to carry a flask filled with ice water when I ride and the basket made it possible to attach a very useful pouch I bought from Green Basikal that could fit the flask. To ensure a generous supply of water for the flask, I installed my 10 year old Minoura AB1600 cage that can hold a PET 1.5 litre bottle of water. I found out that it also fits a nice bottle of wine and what a way to tour in the future!

There is no end to accessorising one's bicycle. Many cyclists in Singapore neglect bringing the life saving tools, extra tube, levers and pump when they ride and find its game over once something goes wrong. If you carry some basic tools and a tube, 95% of such problems can be solved. I was looking for a neat and tidy way to carry these things and SK recommended me Monkii Wedge made by DOM, a very cool Taiwanese bicycle accessory manufacturer whose design language is "Back to Basic"...  

I was very impressed that everything I wanted to bring on a tour fitted in one small compact package. However, Im concern about the mounting position as it is under the frame and near the crank. It is not water proof but water-resistant and I can imagine how grimy and unsightly it will look after a day's ride on wet and muddy roads. I have since found a perfect space just between the basket and the frame to park it and that will do for now. 

Update - Jan 2021, got a waterpoof Tool Bottle fm Decathalon and Minoura cage - a gift fm C Wee. Perfect!

I have always resisted getting a stand and especially a centre stand because it is often heavy. But if this is to be a true blue Papachari, a stand is needed. SK's recommendation for one at Decathlon did the job and at $20, it was a no brainer.

So after nearly 2 months since I placed the order and planned with SK every detail of the 318 Steppie, I took delivery of it this morning on the 22nd of Dec, 2020. Uncle KC was more excited than I about receiving this beautiful Christmas present and came earlier than I for the delivery. The final touch was to put special name decals given to me by Michie - and I was careful that my name is on the left of the bike while the wife's on the right. After all, I have been told that women are always RIGHT!

KC was the first person to test ride it and came away grinning. We said a big thank you and goodbye to SK who was so patient and thorough in delivering the bike. It has been pure joy to deal with SK and to have him walk each step of the way to custom build this Green Steppie has been an experience I shall always remember. If you are reading this SK, I want to say a HUGE terima kasih! 

Our next destination was to ride to Papa's clinic to show this new baby and went through some beautiful park connectors that we both have not explored. Papa took the bike for a spin and took a long time to return! 

On my way home, I tested the gravel capability of the Green Steppie and was very impressed at how steady and surefooted she handled the off road tracks. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing the sum of everything specially selected worked together beautifully with so much synergy. The 25km long way home was completed with ease and the super low gearing flatten any semblance of hills and I hit a max of 38.9 km/h without much effort.  LKLM in Malay = Lagi kayuh lagi mau! The more you pedal, the more you want to do so!

I'm so grateful to SK for delivering this beautiful present on time for Christmas. Like a little boy who got to open his present before Christmas, I couldn't be happier. Christmas after all is about presents and I'm reminded about the best present given to us by our Heavenly Father 2000 years ago, the gift of Jesus Christ who came to bring lasting joy and peace to our world.

Wishing each of you my dear readers, a very blessed and merry Christmas! Joy to the World the Lord has come. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Friends make all the difference esp @ 58!


I have always enjoyed riding bicycles and touring but never could I imagine that the pursuit of this wonderful sport has brought me so many special friends.  My 58th birthday was supposed to pass like others before, without much fanfare and rightly so as I am just an ordinary guy.

Little did I expect it to be celebrated so many times with 7 cakes so far and tonight, a surprise party organised by Dr Mike, Angkana, Christoph, Gary and Siew Wan plus my dear wife caught me really good. It was to be a quiet dinner date with the wife but last minute, she was called upon to consult on a medical need as our friend Angkana had just fractured her foot and needed her help on something - which was true.

As she was being attended to in her home, 3 other "patients" showed up and behold, a surprise Thai dinner party evolved. Not only did we enjoy amazing Thai food, the Lovethefold gang pooled together to get me a very high quality camping stove together with special pots - all ready for my next cycle camping tour!

Gary and Siew Wan brought a lovely Blackforest Cake and what really took the cake was a special birthday video put together by Angkana from all the LTF friends here in Spore and overseas plus my dear family!

I'm deeply touched by the blessing of good friends and truly, they make all the difference to a rich, happy and meaningful life.  May I wish you the gift of friendship wherever you are. Value, cherish and enjoy your friends. 

So grateful to our Heavenly Father who gives us every good gift!


Other wonderful meet ups (CV19 approved) include:

1. With Chris Coleen Christoph Angkana n Aty Ruth on Monday...

2. Lor Sesuai Owls on Thu where I was so touched that York Fuan bought a bday cake in AMK and rode all the way 18km to my home in her Brompton for us to enjoy!

3. Fri with Princess Hannah, celebrated with Oreo, Shuzhen and their super cute 19 month old baby Hannah at their home. 

4. Sat lunch with GBC Care group. So sweet to enjoy a Chicken Rice lunch at Boon Tong Kee with my beloved friends fm church.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Legends Never Die - Pt 2. Making 2018 really count for YC!

                                                   YC Leading LTF in Chishang Apr 2018

                   Beautiful pic taken by YC in Roelands, Australia on his morning walk.

Made this for YC in Perth!

                                                             Ban Jabo, N Thailand
"Things don’t always go the way we want it to be but we can always choose our attitude towards them. Remember you always have a choice and you must make the choice yourself – be it for better or for worse."  Chen Ying Chen 2019

These beautiful words were said by Ying Chang last year as he encouraged and guided our friend Alice from Taiwan who was going through a personal challenge. It best captured YC's spirit and drive as he battled Lung Cancer Stage 4 bravely just as he would tackle any adventure or steep climbs on his bicycle. To keep spinning and making the best of every opportunity to savour life. 

This YC did with great success and even joy from Jan 2018 to Mar 2020, a good 25.5 months. Not once did he complain about his difficult situation and YC really lived up to what he preached much to the admiration of all of us. YC has shown me what it means to live and to finish well, no matter what lies in front of us.

The day of bad news came on 29 Jan 2018, 544pm while YC, Chris and I were having afternoon tea at Thomson Plaza. We do this quite often and that meet was one of our usual hang out times where we discuss the world of bicycles and plans for the next adventure trip. YC is not usually late but for this meet he was as he had to go for a spine XRay at Mt Alvernia Hospital. After our last Mae Hong Son trip in Dec 2017, YC had complained about a backpain that refused to go away and hence, went for an investigation. He was not worried and was his usual self until he received a call from his wife. He looked normal but when Doreen WatsApp me this message:

Urgent prayers needed, YC has terminal lung cancer. Spread to spine. Bone collapsed. Pray for him or you may not get to see him next. No more cycling!

The news winded me and my mind was in shock. How can YC, the Legend, the epitome of health end up like this? The prognosis for someone with LC Stage 4 is a mere 7 months and we were all in disbelief as we struggled to make sense out of this. 48 years old is when life just begins to blossom. That night, our friends were informed and I prayed and seek solace from He who holds our lives in His good hands. Was there really a silver lining out of this? Can beauty really come out of ashes? 

We got into action to give YC the best medical care possible and next morning we whisked him to SGH. With the help of our medical friends, a string of consults and tests were lined up quickly. Scan showed tumours in the brain that was needed to be removed asap. 9 Feb was set. Like all brain surgery though, there is a risk that the patient will not come out the same cognitively. 

We harnessed all our friends to pray and a pre-surgery party was held for YC. Many came to see him too and his friends came from all walks of life. This lovely lady, Norliah wrote: "I want to see you cycling again!"

Claudine, Chief of Asian Cycling Network, one of YC's very good friends wrote:

13 August 2016 was a Day of Thanksgiving. Even the date itself 13 and the month, 8 is auspicious! We had escaped the bombs in Hua Hin by just a day and a total of 11 that rocked Thailand! This day was most memorable as we scaled the mountain range, rode through miles of road works and never had any accommodation booked. We trusted you and we trusted GOD and everything turned out well!

Tomorrow will be the same. Put your TRUST in HIM and all will be well!

All our prayers were heard and YC came out of a very successful surgery. If that was not enough, his recovery was amazing and he took less than a week to walk out of the hospital on his own 2 feet. I was in Australia then and getting this message from Doreen was the best news ever!

Nobody expected YC to make it back to his family for the traditional CNY Eve Dinner on 2018 but he did. Miracles do happen and we must always believe in them because God is a miracle God. YC enjoyed a very special celebration but that was not over as we also had an LTF celebration for him. The smiles tell it all!

As it was CNY celebrations, one of important things we did was to gather at Evangel Church for a time of thanksgiving and prayer. Very grateful to Ps Kevin Graves for praying over YC and we all had a very meaningful time.

Latest research on cancer see a very strong correlation between exercise and recovery and survivability. Under the guidance of Prof Celia, YC began to do long walks each morning of 6km each go. He recorded it on Strava and many of us were just blown away at his determination and grit. We could see his cycling and life attitude kicked in each day. 

One of the trips that was planned by YC and I before the illness hit him was to put together an ultimate 2 prong Taiwan adventure ride in April 2018. He was to lead a more challenging group, Team 1, who was to head north from Kaoshuing and scale Wulin, descent east to Hualien. Team 2 was to be led by me, heading south to Kenting then head north east along the beautiful coast. We were to rendevous in Yilan and enjoy the famous Hot Springs Resort there. But of course with his condition, there was no way YC was going to make it but he insisted that we carried on. Claudine took the lead for Team 1 and did very well.

Both teams had an amazing trip but in our hearts, there was something missing - YC. All the excitement we experienced felt incomplete. So it was an unexpected joy when we received news that YC was going to meet us at Chishang! When he finally showed up at the spic and span Railway Station at midnight, we were all ready to receive YC. 

Knowing Chishang like a local, YC led us to the many attractions, riding the hotel's complimentary bicycle and it was just like the good ole days and we savoured every minute of that. We went to visit the Waterwheel, a café up in the hills, Brown Ave of course, a soya bean factory and enjoyed a local lunch. This was probably one of the happiest days in the history of LTF.

We took many opportunities to have get-togethers for YC whenever I was in Spore (still living in Perth then) and one such meet up was when we celebrated the arrival of my new child - a Dahon Dove-Plus which weighed only 6.9kg. It was always fun for the gang to eat, laugh and just enjoy each other's company. Em Griffin, a Prof at Wheaton College once defined friends as "people who enjoy wasting time with each other" and indeed, this is something we do best.

In June, Papa very kindly took time off from his busy clinic to organised a trip to Taiping, Malaysia. This is usually a sleepy hollow of a hamlet that not many people will bother to stop, proceeding on to vibrant Penang. However, Papa grew up in Taiping and knew every nook and cranny, hence it was to be a most delightful experience.  The 4 of us did the 630km drive in one go and we had an amazing time. 

Taiping is known for the famous Lake Gardens and we enjoyed our morning and evening walks there, something that YC appreciated. This was an unintended result of tin mining activities 100 years ago during the British days and they decided to turn it into a beautiful lake. With Maxwell Hill overlooking it, the lakes are absolutely splendid. 

Of course, the food in Taiping is incredible and Papa being our CFO, Chief Foodie Officer, was in his element. My fear in visiting Taiping with him is always an increased waistline! Among the many culinary delights offered, the Duck Egg Fried Noodles is my favourite and here is YC enjoying it! 

Meanwhile back in Spore, there was always a ride or a makan organised for YC by his various friends.  YC belonged to a MTB group as well and he was well enough to do short rides. One thing that was abundantly clear was that YC was very well liked and well loved by so many. He also managed to squeeze in a trip to Taipei in August. 

In Sep, I was absolutely delighted when YC and a few wonderful friends decided to spend some time in Perth with me. YC had just gone to India to follow Doreen on a pilgrimage and almost immediately, joined us in Perth. The 2 weeks he lived in my home was very special and enjoyable. This was also a lovely time for our Perth friends to enjoy his company. 

We organised a trip down south to Margaret River and enjoyed some cycle rides together there with Lance, YC nephew who lives in Perth. He, my nephew Nic, Wayne and another friend rode 170km in a day to meet us! It was great to meet up with Frank and family too. He and his wife Molly put up an amazing BBQ dinner for us!

Pic taken by YC

It was a very good father and son time for YC and Wayne as well and it was heartwarming to see how close they were. Often, YC will spoil Wayne in giving him the best choices of food and here we are enjoying the famous Fish and Chips in Mandurah, Australia.

Meanwhile in Oct back in Spore, we had a big preparation for a combined birthday party of my 56th and Alice who flew to Spore for this. YC very kindly put her up as well as Carolen from Perth in his home. 

Carolen writes, "YC & Doreen always offered me hospitality whenever I stayed in Spore. He was a very generous, humble, caring person who always put others first. He would also be the first to offer help and support. A true friend who I miss very much!"

Before Carolen arrived, YC and I played tourist guide for Alice and we brought her to Artpartment where our friends Joeel and Esther run an amazing art school. 

Part one of the celebrations were at Ben and Prue's lovely home and they put up a really fantastic meal of home made Lasagna and baked veggies. 

We organised a little getaway to a Kelong, a fish farm in the Johor River where YC, and a few of us, with our guests spend a night on water. Poiseidon Oyster Bay Resort is really worth going and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. It was fun going up in Khee Jin's MPV. 

The big celebration was held at my home and it was so good to see everyone come together, especially those from overseas. We had about 30 folks squeezed into my home and we would have failed social distancing big time for sure now in Apr 2020.

We noticed that Alice had a rather cumbersome folding bike which she uses on and off the trains so we gave her a cutesy Bickerton Scout. Its minute size and light weight make it perfect for her 1km daily commutes. That really made her day and she couldn't stop crying tears of joy for 20 mins. LTF means really loving the fold and YC does that so well. 

Nov was another exciting month for YC as he joined us for the LTF 10th Annv Adventure once again to N Thailand, Mae Hong Son. Wayne came along all prepared this time in his new road bike and it was wonderful that we could all do this again like last year. The MHS Loop truly is one of the world's best touring route and YC played the role of navigator and sometimes driver of our mothership. Gary, Siew Wan, Wayne, Heng and I truly enjoyed ourselves together with YC esp at this special place in the mountains called Ban Jabo.

At the end of our MHS loop, I had to rush YC and Wayne to the airport as they wasted no time to make their way to Canadian Rockies in the middle of an icy winter. Papa and George had invited them over to join them for a winter holiday. Talk about being a jetsetter!

Looking at the wonderful year that went by, we are grateful that YC really enjoyed many meaningful moments of love, generosity and friendship. I am so grateful for everyone that has supported and helped made 2018 such a special one for YC. And the good news was that there was still 2019 to savour!