Sunday, October 27, 2013

ToST II - Part 3

Sichon, here we come...

We set our alarm for 05:00am for the ride to Sichon, some 40km away from Nakhon.
At 04:30am, we woke up, packed our gear into our panniers and loaded up the bikes.
During this time of the year, the weather was not that forgiving. Up North, the far-flung provinces of Thailand was flooded.
Even in the wee hours of the morning, it rained.
Things came to a drizzle when we rode out towards the road to Sichon.
The night before, Roger had suggested a shortcut through a military installation.
We rode past this place without a hitch.
If we had taken the normal route, it would have been a few kilometers off-course.
When we exited the army camp, there was a small town and we had breakfast at a local coffee shop serving coffee and dim sum.

The bikes, ready to roll

Michelle, setting up her ride
Entering a small town outside Nakhon

The dim sum shop

Sin and a local cyclist
After a good fill, we did cover some extra kilometers.
Then, it started to rain and we found a petrol station to take cover just in time.
Barely minutes after rolling out from the station, Michelle experience a puncture on her rear tire.
I took about 35-minutes to fix the tire with a new inner tube.
The cause was a sharp pebble.
As the Sun came up, we slowly made our way towards Sichon...

On the move.. 

Tha Sala junction 

One for the album.. 
The mothership.. 

I was cranking my bike and gained an average speed of 18km/h.
Out of nowhere, a white guy and his partner whizzed by with a "Sawadee-Krab" greeting.
I was stunned and my initial response was "Hello!"
It struck me that a "mothership" just passed by and there as a guy riding in upright position while his partner was seated in a reclining position.
A bit of research showed that it was a Hase Pino touring bike. The combination of two person driving a bike gave it the speed that none of us on a folding bike could match.
Sin and Roger rode alongside with the couple and had a chat with them.
Seems that they were riding towards Surat Thani and were covering as much grounds as they could to get there.

My view of the Hase bike..
Sin's view of the bike

Direct shot of the couple on their Hase Pino touring bike

How the bike looks like
The couple was towing a small trailer with all the bells and whistles and they have been on the road since May last year. Now, that is some serious globe-trotting!
We watched as the mothership slowly melted into the horizon.
As we were progressing towards Sichon, the day got hotter.

A second puncture!

Michelle had some problem with her bike again.
This time, a second puncture.
She realized this when we reached a beach area in Sichon.
We were not too far away from town and took some time out fixing the damaged inner tube.
This time round, it was another cut by a road debris on the rear tire.
The 2011 Dahon Speed TR has a SRAM Dual Drive II system.
No skewers and the wheel has to be removed by taking out the 15mm nut that holds it together.
But first, you must remove the Dual Drive's click box.
Access through the nut that holds it together is through the box. And to the untrained person, this might be a serious problem.
We fixed the punctured tire and moved on. 
But this was just temporary as air was escaping through the patched inner tube.

Riding the inner road to Sichon's beach
We made our way towards the beach area and found a resort.
It wasn't that ideal so we moved on.
And just down the road from the resort was a hill.
Michelle slowed down her bike as air was escaping from the rear wheel.
To remedy this, we used the seatpost pump to get in as much as as possible.
The search for a place to stay ended up at the Prasansuk Villa Resort.
We paid 850 baht for a chalet which was on offer during off-peak season.
After a long day with two punctures, I'd give this place a go! 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

ToST II - Part 2

An easy day in Nakhon...

 Minivans are ideal for middle distance excursions. 
More so if you want to take advantage of time and get to your destination as early as possible.
We didn't know what lies ahead if we had taken the stage bus, so, the chartered van came at a higher price.
But I couldn't ask for more as we reached Nakhon Si Thammarat, some 300km away from Hat Yai in record time.
The van dropped us off in the town area and we had to haul our luggage to Thai Hotel, where we stayed for a night.
A room there is about 550 baht and we specifically asked for a room with attached bathroom and as a bonus, WiFi is available free-of-charge to hotel guests.
The location of the hotel is convenient as it is in the central area of town.
Nakhon Si Thammarat is a large town with some historical sites. 
One of the "must see" attractions here is the Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan which is located about 5km away from the downtown area.

Hat Yai's bus station

Getting ready for the journey to Nakhon 
After a shower, we met up at the hotel lobby and took a walk around the town area.
Earlier, we met a Thai man of Chinese origin who told us where to eat.
It seems that there is a decent coffee shop at the corner of Bangkok Bank that serves chicken rice.
We took a walk around the area and found the place where we had lunch.
After a good fill, we went to a Hainanese coffee shop across our hotel called Cafe Hao where Roger had suggested a short ride to the historical temple. 
We went back to our rooms and got ourselves ready with the bikes for the short excursion.

At the train station 
Wat Wang Tawang Tok - restored by the Siam Architect's society
Hao Cafe, a nice place to chill out in Nakhon
Our first stop was the ancient city walls 
This is a ruin and a large structure at the outskirts of the town area.
We snapped some shots and seeing the dark skies looming ahead, we wasted little time to head off to the historical Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan.

The historical city walls
Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan

A scene from the historical temple

Buddha statues at the temple area
We spent some time at the temple and headed down towards the City Pillar Shrine.
Just nearby, was the Tourism Authority of Thailand office.
We visited this facility and took some brochures of the province which will be used as our guide.
There were also illustrated city maps where most major attractions of the district are shown.
After the brief visit, we rode out of town and decided that its best to head back for a beer at a local grill opened by an expatriate.
Over a few drinks we chilled out in a relaxing atmosphere and recapped the day that was. 
Dinner was just around the corner, so, we headed back to the hotel to keep our bikes.

A street hawker at work with his wok...

Tom Yam goong! 
Excellent and cheap hawker fare!

We found a hawker doing stir-fried dishes around the corner at our hotel.
There was a steady crowd having their makan there, so, we waited a bit.
As soon as they cleared, we sat down and ordered some dishes.
Roger, who speaks a little bit of Thai, took the lead by ordering some dishes
We were amazed at the speed the dishes were prepared and the fare was excellent! 
After a good fill, we bought some beers and snacks and headed back to our rooms to work out the expenses. 
The bulk of the expenditure was the chartered van and I paid for the hotel rooms. 
So, after splitting the cost, we were even.
Time to hit the sack for the short ride to Sichon...

ToST II - Part 1

Continuing our mission in Southern Thailand...

I got in touch with my cycling kaki Roger Teoh who got to work straight away with a ride plan in Southern Thailand.
Earlier in July, we did the first section covering Hat Yai, Songkhla, Ranot and Patthalung. Its actually a day shorter than the second tour of Southern Thailand.
We despatched an email to the touring group and received a lukewarm response. 
The total head count was me, Michelle - my wife, Roger and Sin Tai Lim who is a newcomer to the touring group.
Four makes the perfect party for this.
Over the course of a few months, we kept in touch via group email and proceeded with purchasing our bus ticket to Hat Yai where we staged the ride.

The plan

We laid out a course for six days, where we will spend three days on the move.
The logistics was planned in such a way, when we get to Hat Yai, we transfer onto a local stage bus to Nakhon Si Thammarat.
This means that there will be little cycling on the second day when we get to Thailand.
From Kuala Lumpur, we will board a bus to the Thai border and straight into Hat Yai.
We got a lift from Pat, my mother in-law from her house in SS3, Petaling Jaya to Pudu Raya in KL where we boarded the bus.
To kill time, I left the bikes and panniers at a luggage hold facility and took a walk around the city centre.
We had dinner at Jalan Silang and there was plenty of time to kill.
Later, we met the gang and waited to board the bus at platform 19.
The ticket to Hat Yai costs RM55 one-way and it can be purchased on-line. Our choice bus company was Konsortium Bas that came highly recommended by Roger.

Downtown traffic in Kuala Lumpur's city centre

Pat and Michelle

The city skyline at dusk
Rendezvous with the gang in Pudu Raya
The public transportation experience...

We've taken the train to Hat Yai in our first tour and this time, its slightly different.
There are daily bus services from Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai and they usually depart from Pudu Raya at 10pm.
This means, we have to be at the terminal about an hour before departure.
The journey takes about eight hours from KL to the Thai border in Bukit Kayu Hitam in Kedah.
Our bus was a VIP coach with electronic reclining seats. 
Each set has its own multimedia terminal where passengers can watch movies or listen to music during the journey.
When the time came, we moved our cargo onto the platform and waited for the bus to arrive.
The bus driver was kind enough to help out with the luggage compartment where the bikes were stowed for transport.
We had four bikes, three 20" and one 26" folding bike. 
No problems at all stowing them onto the large cargo hold in the bus.
My only worry was the bikes tipping over and damage to the sensitive drivetrain components.
But that was not an issue because the bikes were secured.
At about 4:30am, we reached Changlun, a town near Bukit Kayu Hitam.
There, we waited for an hour before moving to the Customs and Immigration checkpoint before proceeding to Danok, a border town in the Sadao district in Southern Thailand...

Sin and Michelle at the platform

Roger getting comfy at his seat
Waiting in Changlun
At the Malaysian CIC area in the wee hours of the morning...
Arrival at the Hat Yai bus station 
The long day ahead..

After clearing the Customs and Immigration on both sides of the border, it took another hour for the bus to reach Hat Yai.
It seems that the bus station is located on the East side of the city and our plan was to get onto a local stage bus headed for Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Roger found out that the bus is only available at 10:30am, so, seeing as it is, we took our luggage across the street and laid it at a noodle stall and had our breakfast.
Sin was looking for a data package from the local Telco to get in touch with home.
He is a well-known blogger with nearly a million hits on his blog.
I told Roger that we shouldn't waste time and that we should get rolling.
We went back to the bus station and a runner who spotted us at the information booth offered a van ride at 240 baht per head. 
I told him that if we could charter the van at 1,800 baht, we have a deal.
He was reluctant in the beginning, but after much deliberation, agreed at 1,850 baht.
And we were on our way to Nakhon Si Thammarat!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Paying more..

Dearer pricing from next year...

Currency fluctuations, Government Sales Tax (GST), increase in fuel prices and all that are going to fuck up your plans to get a new bike in 2014.
Well, at least we've got about 14 months to scramble for our toys before the GST takes effect and that said, its inevitable that we will have to fork out at least 5 - 7% more on top of what we are paying retail for bicycles.
So, if you are planning to get your next new ride, be sure to set aside some money as prices are expected to be higher due to the weak Ringgit against the US Dollar.

25% + 10% for ALL folding bikes

Bikes from Taiwan, USA and Europe are subjected to 25% Duty and 10% Sales tax. This does not include freight charges and mark-up for the item.
So, generally-speaking, bicycles are way cheaper if you buy them from countries that exempt taxation on Folding Bikes.
But, again, if you plan to take things onto your own hands by importing bikes yourself, be prepared to fork out the extra moolah...

The ugly face of retail

It doesn't help that some bicycle retailers are morons looking for a quick buck. 
Only a few bike shops are decent enough in terms of pricing and selection, at the same time, be earnest about good customer service.
While some folks would pin down higher margins and profitability, the survival of folding bikes in the market depends on the supply and demand situation.
Based on what I see, some retailers are bold enough to gamble on bringing in premium brands and charge a higher retail price at their outlets.
Just as long as the customer is happy to pay and do not whine and bitch openly, I guess they've made their money..

Is there a way around this? 

Sadly, no.
All we can hope for, is for the Malaysian Ringgit to stabilize and appreciate. But, seeing as it is, this is still -- just a dream.. 

Cool beans from Tern Bicycles for 2014

Entry-level bike for the Verge family

Tern's entry-level bike in the Verge platform: Verge P9
Next year will see the introduction of the inexpensive Verge P9, a nine-speed bike in addition to the company's stable of single and duo-speed 20" folding bicycles.
This will bridge the gap between the Verge X10 and P18.
From its set-up and features, the new Verge P9 will fit in nicely for cyclists on a budget looking for a reliable ride.
Based on the specs, this 11kg bike will be able to handle anything from leisure rides to commutes.

New and improved for 2014

Verge P20
Another bike that made its debut in Eurobike 2013 was the Tern Verge P20.
This folding bike is the latest addition to the Verge platform and is expected to replace the Verge P18, which made its mark as a successful and affordable bike for cyclists seeking a moderately-priced entry-level bike.
Like the model its replacing, the Verge P20 features a 20-speed drivetrain, which is ideal for cyclists wanting a flexible gear range for short, middle and long-distance rides.
The components on this bike are hardy enough to take the punishment of daily use. And the new Verge P20 is expected to hit our shores at the later date in the first quarter of 2014.

The "other" little big bike!

The design team at Tern Bicycles have been constantly improving their masterpiece.
And for those who are facing the "Circus Bear" syndrome, here's a compact bike with 24" wheels that is up to the mark in terms of value for money and overall performance.
The Eclipse P18 was introduced at the Eurobike 2013 show to complement the Eclipse platform.
It's bang for your buck lies in the hardy components and the 18-speed drivetrain will ensure that you able to take on any terrain thrown your way.
Like the Verge P9 and P20, the Eclipse P18 is also expected to be seen in Malaysia in the next few months. Hopefully, in January when K2 Asia receives their shipment of new bikes from Tern Bicycles. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The mean season..

Bracing for tough times..

The head honcho in my company have had a town hall meeting with the employees.
He said about 5.000 people will be affected by a corporate downsizing exercise.
"What is the point of keeping some deadwood and paying them when we can pay them off?," said the man.
This is the first time in the 42 years of history in the company that such an exercise is taking place.
He said that a downsizing committee has been formed to cull at least 10 - 15% of the workforce.
Some took the news lightly while there are those who were rather depressed with such an exercise.

No stranger to the chopping block..

Personally, I have survived three downsizing exercise.
Back in 1998, I was offered the Voluntary Separation Scheme letter.
In it, I get two months of salary for every year of service. 
I applied for this and was rejected.
Two years later, another letter of offer came, I also applied for the scheme and had my application rejected.
A third scheme came and did the same. 
It too was rejected.
Back in the days when I was a rookie in the workforce, I was "let go" three times.
My foray in the world of employment was a disaster.
I worked under three bosses and was told to leave after my probation ceased.
That, to me, was a learning curve.
In the years to come, I made some hasty decisions that cost me plenty.
Nevertheless, I held on and made my journey to what I am today.

Learning, a life-long process..

If you are an exemplary employee, the company would have no reasons to cull you.
And it is a norm for the management to identify who them want pay off and if the applications do match their requirements, the said employee will be laid off.
In my predicament, the best move now, is to dig in and weather out the situation.
No reasons to act irrationally and be overwhelmed with emotions on the matter.
My policy in such matters is to be in the rear with the gear...

The Farce and The Furious

The trouble with trolls..

I met this dude who rides a China-made folding bike nearly a month ago when I organised a fun ride in Putrajaya.
He asked if a larger chainring could be added on his bike so that he could go faster.
This is where alarm bells rang...
The guy had his bike for more than a month.
I told him to take one thing at a time and that if speed is what he seeks, better get a road bike and be done with it.
Later, he joined a group ride I co-hosted in Ipoh. It was his longest ride.
Barely a week into that, the guy invested in a higher-end folding bike.

That's when all the farce began..

Hours into getting the new bike, the guy rode out with the local bike store owner who sold him his ride.
There were issues.
Creaks from the headset, and later, a chainslip which he claimed, nearly cost him his life.
I felt bad for the guy after hearing the problems.
This didn't end well when he couldn't register his new bike on the brand's website.
And in all this farce, an old-timer who took up cycling again on his folding bike offered help. Very generous of him.
Some issues were solved and the dude who bought his new bike actually said he regretted paying so much for the folding bicycle.
The bike store owner, on the other hand, made an offer to refund the guy. Which is fair because the bike is still very new.
Its tough luck for the cyclist to get a defective bike. Instead of taking matters onto a public forum and whining about it, thrashing the brand and making unsavoury remarks, the matter should can be settled amicably.
Way I see it, the new bike should be given time to run-in and small issues like creaks and chain-slips can be addressed with a tune-up.
Before you run, learn to walk and its ridiculous to run a marathon when you can barely jog.
Initially, I felt bad for the guy. But seeing as it is, the guy was not willing to forgive and forget. 

Let's move on and don't forget to have fun!

People come and go.
In a past-time such as cycling, going for speed and distance by pimping the bike is short-term.
I felt that the young man was too impatient and highly-strung about his minor issues on the new bike. It's under warranty and the right thing to do is to let the service dealer handle the problem.
But I guess the scar was too deep.
This is such a case when a person does not know how to have fun and places very high expectations.
So, that said, take a chill pill, relax and let time heal the pain. Just move on and let it go...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Malaysian Foldie

Cover of the October 2013 issue
Raising the bar...

You've read the Samosaurus Chronicles and its been on-line since 2009.
Taking things one step further is an electronic magazine catered specifically for folding bicycle owners.
I believe in sharing knowledge, news and entertainment (for a few laughs) and came up with the idea of an e-magazine.
So, having tweaked with Joomag, an e-magazine creator, I put up a 14-page magazine and posted in on-line in mid-September.
It has a lukewarm reception as many mobile users were asking for a version where they can read on their cellphones.
Joomag offers their creator software (web-based) free-of-charge.
For more features, its USD$39.95 a month (RM130) with HTML5 support for mobile, Native iPad and much, much more.
I intend to keep this as simple as possible and also free-of-charge to the readers.
That said, I sat down and started working on the content and came up with the first issue in about three hours.
The contents were sourced from my blog which is readily available and three years worth of work would easily fill up the pages.

Cover of the first issue in September 2013
A milestone..

No one has come up with a magazine dedicated to folding bikes before.
You might have read some published articles on Cycling Malaysia which were mostly advertorial-based or simply ripped off from brochures.
On The Malaysian Foldie, we give you the heart and soul of the subject with in-depth articles and reviews.
And to keep things going, I offered free advertisements to my contacts for the first three issues.

Articles plucked form the e-mag (issue 02)

An advertisement placed next to a feature article on the magazine
 Well, I am pretty happy with the results and will continue to serve the folding bike community with the magazine.
In the months to come, I hope to get more advertisements from my contacts to balance out the pages.
The magazine can be read here: The Malaysian Foldie - Issue 01, September 2013 and The Malaysian Foldie: Issue 02, October 2013 Enjoy the magazine and happy reading!