Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rawang - Batu Arang Ride: Part 2

In the big country...

The journey from Kundang to Kuang was breath taking.
Lots of greenery and clean country air.
We rode past a few fishing pay ponds and Kuang town was in the horizon.
Cikgu Chin led the cyclists past the town area and into the outskirts of Batu Arang.
We rode past some housing area and rolled into the town square.
I've never been to Batu Arang and found this town to be rather fascinating.
There is a monument in the town square which was still under construction.
We gathered around and took some snapshots before moving into a fruit stall where Cikgu Chin had arranged for a durian tasting session.

Moving towards Kuang

At the monument in Batu Arang

Hui Min and Michelle

At a local bicycle shop

Learning from an old-timer

A makan place in Batu Arang
The newbie's blues..

We stopped at a local bicycle shop.
One of the guys said he had some issues cycling and that the gear was not shifting well.
The bike shop owner told the new guy that there was nothing wrong with his bicycle.
"You need to change your gear in order to ride on flats and climb hills, there is nothing wrong with your bicycle...," said the old-timer.
Well, I guess if you have very little knowledge in bicycles, you tend to jump into the wrong conclusion.
So, that was the case.
The new fella was happy to pedal his bike around and learned that he actually has gears on his bike to make the journey even smoother.
But, seriously, a long ride like this would be tough for a beginner.
We rode around town and to my surprise, the layout in Batu Arang looked rather similar to Sungai Lembing in Pahang.

Our Jets

Durian time!

The local fare at a coffee shop
Down time!

After the durian session, we went to the other side of town to see the remnants of a brick factory.
The long chimney from the brick kiln can be seen from a distance.
Michelle and I took some shots at the area before moving on.
While waiting for the others to re-group, we learned that one of the cyclists had a flat tire.
All of us rode towards the downed cyclist and a the time, a few guys were attending to the cyclists.
I noticed from a distance that they were fumbling all over.
Then, I offered help by fitting the inner tube into the tire and got it inflated. The bike was up and running in no time.
My take on this: too many cooks spoils the broth.
To make matters worse, some of the guys actually don't know how to patch and change an inner tube. A lot of time is wasted by fumbling around and hoping to get it right.
We fixed the problem and moved on from Batu Arang to Rawang.

At the old brick factory

A boy and his bicycle

Cikgu Chin capturing the scene

Michelle and Ann
The hilly ride to Rawang

We circled around Batu Arang and found a half-demolished house with creepers growing all over it.
It felt as if we were in an old Khmer ruin.
No time was wasted in capturing the scene and all of us were excited with the find.
As we moved on, the terrain became undulating. This was spoken of by some old-timer who cycled around the area.
The average gradient was around 5 - 9%.
We finally made it to the junction linking Batu Arang to Rawang.
There, we waited for the rest to re-group and rode to the AEON shopping mall near Country Homes.

The famous wall in Batu Arang

Rolling hills

The journey to Rawang
A job well-done!

From the AEON mall, we rode towards Emerald West housing estate.
What Cikgu Chin didn't tell us, was the steep climb towards Emeral East.
We got past this and rolled down towards the Lafarge Cement factory and back to the SMK Seri Garing.
Once everyone was accounted for, we parted ways.
Some of us decided to have a late lunch in Kg Lee Kim Sai with Cikgu Chin and Cikgu Lee.
On the whole, the teachers had done an excellent job leading the ride.
Cikgu Chin told me that he will retire in February 2014 and focus on doing some adventure rides. I wished him all the best on this and told him that his rides are worth joining.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Rawang - Batu Arang Ride: Part 1

The other side of Rawang.. 

I caught wind of a ride organised by Cikgu SC Chan, a teacher in Rawang, Selangor who took up cycling seriously.
The route was from Rawang - Kundang - Kuang - Batu Arang - Rawang.
To the uninitiated, this is roughly about 56km looping around Rawang's heavy industrial areas and towards Kundang lake, Kuang and Batu Arang.
The plan was to meet up at SMK Seri Garing near the Lafarge Cement plant and ride out from there.
I told Michelle that it was time for us to join up with the foldie community as we have been totally isolated from their activities.
From his reputation, Cikgu Chin is a meticulous person who plans his ride and takes really good care of the people who cycles with him.
I know about this through friends who rode with him in Serendah.

Teacher in da house: Cikgu Chin setting up his bike
Wild country

We drove to SMK Seri Garing and found that there crowd was already setting up their bikes.
Among them, were familiar faces.
Facebook celebrity Andrew Ng and his wife Hui Min was already there with a relative who was cycling for the first time.
Cikgu Chin and his cycling buddy Cikgu Lee was seen there setting up their bikes with one of their pupils.
Slowly, one-by-one, the cyclists arrived at the school.
We were allowed to park in the compound and the cycling event was acknowledged by the school's headmaster.
We gathered for a group photo before riding out to the Lafarge cement factory where the trail begins..

Taking a snapshot with the cyclists
The headmaster posing for a shot

We were surprised to learn that Rawang is actually a small valley surrounded by hills.
There were some stretches along the route where the gradient was around 5 - 7%.
Slowly, but surely we rode up to a plateau and re-grouped.
At this point, it was clear that the more experienced cyclists were ahead of the pack.
Those with strength and stamina were not even panting after the climb.
We waited for the last guy to reach the rendezvous point and moved on.

Cycling along the cement factory
Clearing the hill

Rolling down towards Kundang
Expecting the unexpected..

Just a quarter way round the bend, I experienced a flat tire.
My front wheel was dragging as a result of a slow-release.
Upon closer inspection, I found a piece of wire embedded on the tire's wall.
It was small enough to patch and it took me about 15-minutes to recover the bike before moving on to climb a series of slopes before we rolled towards Kundang.

Helmet malfunction: my friend rode a distance before he noticed the helmet was worn the other way round.. 

Taking snapshots at Kundang Lake
Much to do about nothing in Kundang..

Kundang is a small town located not too far from Rawang.
It can also be accessed via Sungai Buloh.
After taking the scenic route from the Lafarge cement factory, we reached a busy intersection and moved towards the lake area in Kundang.
Most of us commented on the filthy public park which was a put off.
Empty cans and drinking bottles were littered everywhere.
We took some snapshots and moved on to a stall located about 500 meters from the lake and had late breakfast there.
Cikgu Chin was considerate enough to eat in a Malay stall as he was mindful about the Muslim cyclists in our midst..

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2014 Folding Bike Trend

Are we there yet?

With just weeks away, 2013 will draw to an end.
I think it was a really exciting year with a few surprises to boot!
In late November, Malaysians had a taste of the best 24" folding with the introduction of the Tern Eclipse X20.
About a dozen of these bikes found its way to some passionate owners. Whether they see action or end up as a wall-hanger, much is to be said.
But, even with that, the public has a shallow perception of the folding bike.
They still think that it's a toy.
"Why pay so much?", asks a curious onlooker.
Compared to its larger peers such as the Mountain and Road bikes, a folding bike has more moving parts that are secured by a locking latch.
Its expensive to produce them and the good ones are never cheap.
Why? You put your life on it and the least you'll expect is for it to fail on you.

Terning heads: The Eclipse X20

I don't think folding bikes would sell very well due to its reputation and pricing factor.
Many cyclists still scoff at it for its "handling" and "image" issues.
Yet, the top-selling brand in the country is Dahon bicycles and with a solid reputation, its become well-known.
Thanks to the cyclists who have shown what the bike can do by engaging it on long-distance rides.
Some maniacs even went offroad with the bikes.
Second only to Dahon is Tern Bicycles. I don't need to elaborate on the brand as its being accepted by the folding bike community here.

Dahon, back to thrill..

We knew that there was a spat between Dahon's founder and his son.
This issue has been settled.
And Dahon is back for good after the trademark issues where many Dr Hon bikes were sold here.
As consumers, we can expect some interesting bikes like the Dahon Vigor P9.
I've seen the bike up close and its targeted for experienced cyclists with its aggressive styling.
Pound for pound, I'd say that Dahon had cut corners in terms of "giving the best" with good components.
But, nevertheless, you can see that the fit, finish and quality is just average.

The Vigor P9
Tern, leading the pack..

For 2014, we can expect a lot from Tern Bicycles.
There's the Verge P9, a basic ride to complement the Verge platform.
It's a 9-speed bike with no frills.
Speaking of 24" folding bikes, I am very excited with the Eclipse P18, which is a cheaper version compared to the Eclipse X20.
Another bike to lookout for is the Eclipse S18i. I am very excited with this bike as its a touring bike straight out of the box!

Tern's Road Warrior: The Eclipse S18i
I was told by Tern's Joshua Hon that the Eclipse S18i is a heavy machine that is ready to roll on whatever that you will throw on its path.
And its also been extensively tested in Taiwan where it's made...

Pacific Cycles

Fei Lee of GW Cycles had taken over the Birdy brand from a former distributor.
He's been busy marketing the bikes and is now the man about town if you want the best bikes from Pacific Cycles especially the birdy classic. 
This is of course, a niche market product and there aren't many Birdy owners around the country compared to Dahon and Tern bikers.
That said, we can look forward to many cool Pacific Cycle bikes from Lee's showroom!

Birdy redux: the Classic returns!

Popular British brand Raleigh will continue to be a preferred beginner's bike with their Ugo-series folding bike.
It's one of the cheapest bikes around.
The only beef one would have is the weight and poorly designed drivetrain.


China-made Java Fit folding bikes are as good as they get.
It's also a value for money bike with a decent component set-up. Beyond some slight improvements, I don't see much coming out of this manufacturer..


Taiwan's Hasa bikes came up with an impressive line-up with their folding bikes.
They had some really good models like the Hasa F-1.
Right now, the only bike that is still being sold here is the M-2. Which is quite a decently-priced folding bike...


I first saw this bike in an upmarket shop.
Personally speaking, it didn't quite hit the mark even with the "designed in Japan" backing that it has. Some company is aggressively marketing this bike and has a Club to support it's owners. Their first appearance was at the 2013 OCBC Cycle Malaysia.


This made in the UK folding bike will remain as one of the most popular "upper crust" bike in the Klang Valley.
Favoured by aristocrats, yuppies and wannabes, it will continue to flourish under a new distributor. 
Personally-speaking, I don't think it will sell that well considering the fact that its an expensive bike.


A cut above the rest, this one is show-stealer. But I doubt that many cyclists, especially beginners would go for it. 


An aggressive Japan-made bike and the marketing is just mind-blowing! Sponsor some state riders and win many trophies, this brand is here to stay. At least for the time being.

Bikes from the motherland..

Five years ago, we can hardly experience variety in terms of the brands of folding bikes available in the country.
Today, there are at least a dozen brands from China, fighting for a piece of the action.
The market is accepting China-made folding bikes for its pricing factor.
You can forget about built-quality and reliability with "cheap" as the deciding point in one's acquisition of a new bike.
There's just too many bikes out there from China and right now, we're spoiled in terms of choices.

Bike shops: Love them, hate them, but you can't kill them!

Make or break, dealers are the backbone of the bicycling industry.
You've heard horror stories about brands coming and going. And the dealers have to push their brands to earn their keeps.
Here in Malaysia, I'd say that there are two schools of thoughts. Good dealers who are friendly and only sells you the average bike. These are the people that will become your friend as you stay loyal to the store and their wares.
The other end of the spectrum are high-end bike boutiques that caters to the rich and famous.
So, if you ever step into such a store, be prepared to be looked down upon or pay a premium. Good dealers are far and few in between. Its always the case of landing in a shop that gives you the half-assed service.. 

A word of advise

"Look before you leap..", there are many choices out there, before you commit, learn more about your purchase and if permissable, ask for a test-ride.. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Small cameras for the field

High-end compacts

I've been working with a high-end compact digital camera since 2001. 
It was a Canon Powershot G-1.
The pocket camera worked for me and was also one of the very few cameras in its class to offer RAW capture.
Today, I lug the Canon Powershot G1X around my neck.
Wherever I go, I use it to capture snapshots of my travels and its been a faithful bicycling companion.
The G1X yields some really amazing captures.
And it has features that allows you to post-process in-camera.
This is a far cry from the G1 that came out 13 years ago.
Paving the way, is the smaller Powershot G16 which was announced sometime in August this year.
It has Wi-Fi image transfer capabilities.
This means that when you go touring, all you need, is a smartphone or a tablet or a phablet (big-assed smartphones).
I don't think any high-end compact cameras from other manufacturers would come close to Canon's Powershot G-series cameras in terms of image quality, features and value for money.
Compared to camera makers like Panasonic, Nikon and Olympus, I prefer the Canon compacts for its ease of use and user-interface.
On a Canon, there's very few steps to access the features and menu pages.
And as a result-orientated person, I am very pleased with the image quality of my Powershot G1X.

Powershot G1

Powershot G1X
Powershot G16
Moisture: your compact's enemy

I've cycled through three Powershots with issues on moisture.
When I go cycling, sweat from my face trickle down onto the camera's body.
It seeps onto the circuit board and corrodes the internal wiring which is pretty sensitive.
So, given that issue, the average lifespan of a compact camera that gets physically-abused in the field is about one and a-half years.
Even my Powershot G1X is now showing signs of degrading.
More than often, I get the "Memory Card Error" warning and after rebooting it a few times, it was back to normal.
I've considered waterproof cameras like the Olympus TG-2, but it's image quality was aweful.

Micro Four-Thirds and Mirrorless cameras..

Some say compact camera with interchangeable lenses like the Olympus Pen, Panasonic G-series Lumix cameras, Sony Alphas and Nikon 1s are worth a look.
And certain gurus even claim that it can replace the D-SLR.
I don't agree with their views although a compact camera with interchangeable lenses can be very convenient to lug around.
I won't bother with the Panasonic cameras as they are really expensive. Even the lenses are exorbitantly priced.
The only good ones are from Olympus. Their Pen-series are worth looking at.
But, again, only the high-end lenses from the Zuiko Digital series can yield some really good images.
I left out the Sonys because to me, they are really awful.
Recently, Nikon had introduced the Nikon AW-1, an all-weather waterproof camera.
It has all the bells and whistles for you to bring it into places even I won't go.
But for Nikon, the apparent dislike I had is the user-interface. It simply sucks.
And the AW-1 is not cheap either. It comes with a hefty pricetag of RM3K for a body and kit lens.
At the end of the spectrum, was the Canon EOS-M.
Which turned out to be a major disappointment.
Its Auto-Focusing sucks.
And if you shoot a lot, power management is an issue with Micro Four-Thirds and Mirrorless cameras.
They drain your battery like a thirsty camel..
Well, the EOS-M may be a turkey, Canon had introduced an upgraded version of the camera called the EOS-M2.
Said to be faster in terms of focussing, much is left to be desired.
This camera is also not available for the North American market and is sold exclusively in Asia..

Canon EOS M-2

Nikon AW-1
Choices, choices, choices..

Well, I didn't mention the Fuji mirrorless cameras and Leicas because they are ridiculously expensive.
From the image quality output perspective, it yields some really good shots. But you won't be mad enough to lug it around on your bicycle.
Speaking of producing some kickass shots, I think the Micro Four Thirds and Mirroless cameras deserve a chance, its the optical elements on the lenses that are going to give some really good shots. But the letdown is pricing, battery life and weight.
Nothing can beat a compact camera with a built-in zoom lens. 
And if you are willing to pay, there are a few models that comes with a fast lens that allows excellent low-light captures. 
But again, the saying always goes: "Cheap thing no good, good thing no cheap.."

Jetstream Adventures Series 04: Taiping - Part 3

Riding back to Taiping..

We checked out Port Weld and it was a brief affair.
After taking some photos at the famous train station, we rode off.
The afternoon sun began to strain our progress, but we gained ground by moving forward to Simpang Empat...

The famous signboard in Port Weld..
Workers sorting out dried shrimps

Salted fish left to dry under the hot sun
We rode back to Matang and connected to the flyover that crosses the North-South highway.
From there, Simpang Empat was not too far in the distance.
In this small town, there are some really interesting fast food joints.
There's a McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through and dine-in facility.
With the dark clouds looming over the horizon, I can see that Maxwell Hill was fully covered in mist.
That was when I told Michelle to pull over at a roadside coffee shop.
By the time we got fully settled-in, it started to rain..

Crossing over to Simpang Empat
A bareback cyclist
Hawker food, the best in Taiping!

We entered town after the rain had stopped.
The landmark was a hawker centre near the Larut-Matang area.
It wasn't hard to find it as I've been there before.
And as soon as we found the makan place, it was packed to the brim.
Lucky for us, there was a table and I wasted no time ordering the food.
I had a plate of char koay teow while Michelle settled for some nyonya kuih.
For RM3 a plate and the excellent taste, I can't complain.
We had ice-kacang and some pork satay before heading back to the hotel where the car was parked.

Entering Taiping

Pork satay 
Char koay teow and ice-kacang

The lovely pork satay

Happy camper! Michelle and the ice-kacang

The hawker centre
After a good fill, we cycled back to the hotel, packed up our bikes and gear.
By 3:30pm, we were on the road.
The journey lasted about four hours straight.
We reached the Subang Jaya toll about 07:30pm and the traffic jam was really bad.
I decided to head to Chitta Mall and had our dinner there.
Michelle and I celebrated our successful outing with some beers and burgers.


Taiping - Port Weld is definitely an easy ride.
For bikepacking, plan your trip in advance. Avoid public and school holidays.
If you love adventure, take the train. The experience is well-worth it.
You can also ride from Ipoh and stay in Taiping.
If you don't have time, drive straight to Taiping, book a hotel for your night stop and ride out early in the morning..

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jetstream Adventures Series 04: Taiping - Part 2

The Charcoal factory...

Kuala Sepetang is well-known as a charcoal producing hub.
There are several family-owned kilns that supplies charcoal for domestic needs.
As a matter of fact, the charcoal producers of Kuala Sepetang are the few remaining cottage industry that specializes in producing the fuel.
And the Matang Forest is also Malaysia's most efficient and sustainable mangrove forest.
As a result, the area is rich with marine life, particularly shrimps.
It has a healthy shrimping industry and the offset businesses are small eateries around the area.
In short, Kuala Sepetang is known for their Mee Udang (shrimp noodles).
Our aim was to sample the noodles and visit Port Weld where a signboard of its old railway station once stood.

At a wood storage area in Port Weld
Free-for-all, visitors are welcomed at the charcoal kilns

An inshore vessel used for the transportation of mangrove logs

The Matang Forest

A worker preparing the logs for smoking

Charcoal blocks ready to be used as fuel
We rode the Ngah Ibrahim fort which is a national heritage site and took some photos.
It was closed, so, we proceeded some 6km down the road.
The charcoal kiln is located outside Port Weld and when we got there, there was a handful of tourists visiting the the area.
A busload of USM students from Penang alighted and were led to the kilns by their lecturers.
One of them asked if we were foreign tourists and was surprised to find out that we came all the way from Subang Jaya.
And just as we were about to leave, Michelle's Jetstream experience a flat.
The front tire was completely deflated.
Upon close inspection, I found a hole facing the rim tape. But there were no foreign objects on the Maxxis DTH tires.
It took me a while to replace and fit a new inner tube and after inflating it, we were on our way to a fishing village near Kampung Mentri.

Mangrove logs are smoked for 90 days before it becomes charcoal

A worker removing the smoked charcoal from the kiln

Off they go! 
Shrimping time!

We rode to the jetty where fishermen land their catch.
There were no shrimp boats in sight and by the time we reached the area, it was already mid-day.
So, the only thing left to do, is to head down for some makan.
I led Michelle to a Malay coffee shop and ordered a bowl of mee udang.
And at RM9.50 a bowl, one cannot ask for more!
It was good and there's plenty of shrimps to savour..

Fixing the flat tire..
Mee udang Warisan, one of the best around..

Riding along the fishing village in Kuala Sepetang
After a good fill, we rode towards the Malay fishing village again and found our way to the edge of Port Weld town.
Basically, its a real small village dominated by deep-sea fishermen who are mostly of Chinese origin.
We rode around the area and noticed that there were some Brahminy Kites circling above.
It's strange to see so many birds of prey in a single area.