What Is A Long Ride?
Fancy a long ride? What is a long ride to you? For some it may be a spin to the nearest 7-Eleven, for others a 50 plus kilometre Kranji loop and for the seasoned, perhaps a Century RTI (Round the Island) or more.
For me a long ride means going to Malaysia. Indeed, riding around the periphery of Singapore can get you typically 140 kilometres, and if done at a good pace you can finish in a few hours. The only problem is that you will find yourself having to constantly stop for traffic lights, limiting the time you can really pedal to 10 or 20 minute blocks maximum.
No, if you really want to pedal without stopping, you have to go over the border. Sound daunting? It isn’t. Banish those stories you’ve heard of horrible roads, errant drivers or highway bandits. Sure, there’s potholes. You have to keep your eyes on the road. But you’ll find Malaysian drivers very accommodating – dare I say more than their island counterparts.
So, you’ve decided to make the plunge and head over the border on your bike. First you’ll need to prepare a few things and plan your route. Before I provide a list of items to bring with you, first assess the state of your bike and your body. Have you done 150 kilometre rides before? If not, you are better advised to do a few of these ‘RTI’s before testing your resolve in unknown territory.
What about your bike? Depending on what your pace and intentions are, you could ride a hybrid, road or mountain bike – as long as it’s tuned up and in fine working order. Changing a flat on the road is one thing, but fixing a broken wheel is another. If you don’t have the luxury of a van following you, it is best to make sure your bike will get you to where you plan to go.
Body – check. Bike – check. Now it’s time to pack a few things for the ride. What do you really need? A water bottle or two, two tubes, a hand pump, a couple of energy bars and some Ringgit. The last one is the most important. Just like Singapore, there are gas stations and shops on every route, only they are farther apart. You can refuel at these little nests as long as you have some currency.
As for tools, bring an allen key, tire levers and an air canister or two if you want a nice, hard tire. But even if you bring canisters, don’t leave your hand pump at home. I’ve seen too many instances where the canister has fizzled, and without a hand pump you’re stranded.
Last but not least, if this is your first foray across the border, you may want to bring a friend. I’ve done many Malaysian rides solo, but not until I’ve known the route quite well. Bringing a friend will make the ride more fun and you’ll have someone to reflect on the ride with over a drink back in Singapore. Just be sure this person is of the same or similar ability – as it’s no fun to keep waiting for someone who cannot keep up, it is also a downer to get dropped because you can’t keep the pace.
So now that you’re organised and ready to go, where do you go? I highly recommend you plan your route in Malaysia and print a map with road names on it to carry with you on the ride. There are GPS units that are handy and helpful, but they can set you back quite a bit. A printed map is just as good, just don’t get it wet!
The routes that are most popular are Kulai, Deseru and Gunung Pulai. Depending on the mileage you want to accrue you can choose any of these routes or a combination thereof. My favourites include a route which takes you up to Senai and over through Ulu Tiram up towards Kota Tinggi then over towards Kulai and down J8 and back to the border. The other route I like is Gunung Pulai clockwise to Jalan Sungai Tiram. The route through the National Forest is sublime, with little traffic and smooth roads.
Ever hear someone say they are going to do a ‘Kulai’? Well this is the road – Jalan Sungai Tiram. Taken either way, it’s hilly and challenging. Features that you don’t get on the island and the reason it’s so popular – especially with those training for races like Tour of Friendship or Tour de Bintan.
Once you’ve got your route planned it’s time to leave the island. I recommend an early start – this means before sunrise. This also means you’ll need a good set of lights on your bike. A good set boasts superb lighting with a light-weight lithium battery that lasts at least a good three hours. The reason for leaving early is you’ll find the traffic quite light on your way up to Senai or out towards Kota Tinggi.
I mention these two routes because they are the one’s you’ll be faced with leaving Singapore. On a bicycle you must leave through Woodlands. So those living in Jurong are out of luck if they want to exit through Tuas. Luckily the Woodlands exit is hassle free, and on the Malaysian side they have a nice new route through to immigration just for bikes. There is a gas station immediately after you exit Malaysian immigration where you can top up your liquids and even grab a sandwich.
On the Road
So now you’re riding on the road in Malaysia. POTHOLE! Keep your eyes peeled at all times – there has been a massive on-going road improvement since I started riding in Malaysia a few years back, but that doesn’t mean there are no dangerous craters. They are still scattered about and you need to pay attention to avoid a potential catastrophe.
The other thing to take note of is to not be squeamish in traffic. If you are scared riding around cars at home, then a road ride in Malaysia may not be for you. When you’re riding on the Highway never yo-yo in and out of the lanes trying to stay all the way left. The far left lane usually filters off and you need to hold your own on a main lane. Be confident – CARS CAN SEE YOU – they won’t run you over if you are steady, confident and predictable in your lane. Bad things can happen when you wander erratically all over the road.
The last and most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself. Stop when you feel like it, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the often smooth and long pedalling sessions you can get in. Nowhere in Singapore can you pedal in excess of two hours continuously without stopping. Unless of course you’re on the trainer at home, and let’s face it – that’s no fun!
What To Bring
Here’s a checklist of what to carry over the border
On the Bike
2 tubes + Canisters
New(er) tires – check casings for silica chips
1 or 2 water bottles
On the Body
Money! At least S$50 in Ringgit
A cycling cap if it rains
A couple of energy bars/gels
Passport with Immigration Card
Also remember to waterproof the important items; a soggy mobile phone is not going to be of much use.