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.