Bintan is one of the frequently visited places for cyclists. Hosting major events like MetaMan and Tour De Bintan, the island boasts of well-maintained roads, scenic routes, and most importantly for the road-nervous rider like me, cyclist considerate traffic. The annual Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) charity ride is a wonderful opportunity for amateur riders like me to experience riding overseas and to feel the adrenaline from conquering hill after hill. The best part? It’s all for a great cause. The proceeds from this event will go towards the needy sick of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, especially the elderly with no or little family support, and the sandwiched class who fall through the gaps of the system and are unable to receive help from traditional sources. The charity fund provides timely and critical financial help to needy patients and their families for medical treatment, medication and breathing equipment to mobility aids, as well as nutrition needs. In a burst of enthusiasm, I jumped on the invitation from TTSH to participate in the event. It was my first time travelling overseas for a ride, and a long hilly 60km ride at that. While there are cyclists who clock 80km rides on a daily basis, the furthest I have ever completed was 42km for OCBC Cycle 2013. Daunted by the terrain and travelling alone, I was undeniably nervous before it all started. All thanks to Hup Leong’s generosity, I’m grateful to be able to smoothly conquer two laps of Bintan’s King of Mountains with a competent Merida Scultura Comp 905. Used to riding the Tyrell CSI, the full carbon Scultura Comp 905 was the first road bike I have ridden. Equipped with an Ultegra groupset, this bike weighed just slightly more than 8kg. I’m certain this bike, with its stiffness and great power transfer, was a major contribution to my success in completing the route.
Before the ride
On 21 September, everyone met at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. Before boarding the ferry, the organizers strongly encouraged all riders to protect their bikes in bubble wrap to minimize chances of damages during transportation. The Departure Hall became a massive wrapping station that morning.
An hour ferry ride later saw us boarding the resort bus to Nirwana Gardens straight to the resort centre where the refreshments that awaited us marked the start of a tasty line-up of meals over our stay at the resort. After an introduction and safety briefing, we finally reunited with our bikes to do some post-ferry checks and tuning.
Taking a walk around the bike depot after getting mine unwrapped, I felt like I was walking through a mini bike parade, with a wide variety of bike-makes and setups that got my heart fluttering.
The official mechanic for the event was Robin from Fat Cat Cycles. With him at the helm, bikes were tuned and fitted to precision.
A close shave with a disintegrating bike
But here’s where my embarrassing incident came into the picture: I rode past Robin on his way back to the hotel room, which was when- thankfully for his keen eye- he noticed my bike was terribly fitted. On top of that, the pieces under the saddle were pieced together in the wrong orientation. This could have potentially translated into a disintegrating bike perhaps 10km into the ride.
Moral of the story: before I fully calibrate my inner mechanic, I should keep my amateur itchy fingers to myself and get my bike properly fitted by a professional. So in a nutshell, Robin saved my life from a flimsy saddle and a painful ride.
On event day, we were up at 5am for breakfast. Pampered by the wide buffet selection at Nirwana Garden’s Coffeeshop, I had to consciously restrain myself from overeating. I learnt that the main bulk of the energy will come from dinner the night before, and not so much from breakfast. Well, with the sumptuous dinner I had, I’m sure I won’t be needing my energy gels. (I really didn’t.)Jittery nearing the ride, I’m particularly grateful to both Robin and Benny who were generous with their advice. I remember clearly, in between my nervous visits to the washroom, Benny assured me: “Enjoy the ride. Take your time, and appreciate the scenery. Don’t be too caught up with chasing the cyclist in front of you. That’s not your goal for today.” I have never felt more ready standing at the flag-off line with all my self-doubts melted away. The route looped at Ria Bintan and split at a turn into Simpang Lagoi for the 60km riders, while the 30km riders headed back to the resort. My defining moment as a sportsman came when I was given the wrong directions by the Road Marshals and was led straight back to the resort. I found myself at the entrance of the resort, wondering if I should retrace my route or just head back to the resort with a 30km mileage in my wheels. Much to the protests of my thighs, I decided to do a u-turn to continue my route after informing the organizers. My unfamiliarity with the area accentuated the deafening loneliness during that part of the journey. While pedaling up the n-th slope with the sun blazing and my thighs screaming, a piece of advice from a cyclist friend surfaced in my head: “Keep your eye on the top of the slope and work towards it. Just keep moving your feet. The slope isn’t going to get any higher, whereas you are eating it up bit by bit.” Fortunately for the Merida, the bike’s responsiveness efficiently translated my effort into mileage.
New friends found
Friendship is empowering. It is encouraging to receive a smile or a “keep going!” from cyclists who you meet along the way.
From checking up with cyclists I overtook, I managed to strike a conversation with a rider, who eventually became my KOM (King Of Mountain) buddy. We cheered each other on while battling the neverending slopes in the village of Simpang Lagoi and the KOM.
In the village, the children stood by the roads, cheering for us. They stuck out their hands for a hi-five when we rode past. Their laughter was so infectious that I could not help but forget the sore muscles and kept on pedaling. Some of them even ran alongside us to ask if we needed water or a towel. Despite the pact Heng Lee and I made to never dismount during the ride, we eventually did, for this photo.