Monday, September 18, 2017

Audax 600 Malaysia. Part 1: Getting Ready



If you've been following my blog, or Strava (or any of my other social networks) you will know of my penchant for long bike rides. As I pointed out in my recent blog post, Confessions of a Budding Endurance Junkie, I'm probably just getting started.

A little over a month ago, one of the more serious of the road riders on the local scene got in touch with me to ask if I'd be interested in helping him put a team together for the upcoming Audax 600 - a 642km ride - the first of this distance in Malaysia. I looked at the dates, and decided I could do it, and that was it. The ride is now less than a week away and there's still only 2 of us....

It's not that I didn't try to enlist others from my riding buddies to join. I did. Too short notice for most people, and I do think that it's so far beyond anyone's comfort zone, that it will involve a level of suffering most are unwilling to subject themselves to without some serious preparation

For those of you who are new to the Audax concept, these are long "randonneur" style rides over distances from 200 to 1000+ kilometers, which are officially sanctioned by the French organisation Audax Club Parisien. Each participant must ride unsupported, and has to complete the course within the cut-off time via all the official check points on the route.

In terms of real physical preparation, there's not much more I can do than I already am doing. For the last few months I've been doing at least one ride every other week over 200km, and have done some back-to-back days accumulating more than 450km and over 4000m of climbing in a 2-day block, so in many ways I've already done the ground work.

The issue here is how to mentally approach the ride - how to divide this distance up. How often to stop, and whether we need to get some sleep, and at what point in the ride.

I've scoured the internet for information, but I don't find anything particularly enlightening. Lots of advice, but the bottom line in most cases is: listen to your body and rest whenever you need to. Just have to keep track of where we can get water/fuel.

Fueling strategy with me is fairly simple. I will probably have to stop every couple of hours to fill bottles with water, and at this point I will also plan to eat. Since I'm ketogenic I won't be as dependent on carbs as many of the others that I'm riding with, but I'll eat whatever is available as I'll be burning a lot of calories!

Equipment is another straightforward one: don't use anything you're not used to. It will be my trusty old carbon road racer, with nothing changed, but with a couple of additional bags for carrying stuff. I'll need to carry a power bank to charge my GPS and my phone. I've bought myself lights that should last for well over what I need, and that run on AA batteries anyway, so can easily be replaced on the road. I'll carry a change of kit and some casual shorts and a t shirt in case I need to sleep. Other than that it's just a bit more cash than usual.

Pacing may present more of a challenge. My riding companion is notoriously fast, and has recently completed the formidable Cent Cols in the Dolomites, so he's on another planet in fitness terms. We have discussed this, and he is determined to try and be super-conservative. Let's see. I'm good at pacing myself under normal conditions, and I'm also quite happy riding alone if I find the pace unsustainable. Though riding alone in the middle of the night on desolate roads with 400+ kilometers in the legs might be more than I bargained for. I've really no idea - I've yet to experience that one.

More anon...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The New Retail Order. Part 1: Out With The Old

 
The Internet is without doubt the greatest development to human existence that has happened during my lifetime. Not perhaps a particularly radical statement, but bear with me.

If we consider other great forward thrusts in technology - like locomotion or electricity - and the monumental changes they forced within the otherwise steady march of human evolution (as viewed now with historical perspective), I doubt people living then had a full grasp of the significance of those changes. I'm quite certain that many of the outcomes of this recently initiated cataclysmic shift have yet to fully manifest themselves, let alone be fully appreciated.

We're increasingly witness to the fallout from these shifts. I'm fairly sure that those born into this world within the last 20 years will have little trouble navigating the new waters, but the older members of the workforce are having big problems keeping up with the pace of change. That would suggest that those at management level are often going to be the problem. Many businesses formed around traditional parameters betray evidence of a fundamental dysfunction in still trying to follow their traditional processes. The negative buzzword is now Legacy.

As a jazz artist, I have watched myself become a dinosaur in a world where the popular mainstream has been narrowed down to the basest formula-driven opiate. What seemed initially to be heralding a levelling of the playing-field in the media has actually given rise to an even more cynical and malicious manipulation of public taste and awareness. Survival requires a reassessment of the entire panorama, and your place in it.

DEMAND DRIVES SUPPLY

I could go off on many tangents from this one, but in this case I want to ponder our current situation as consumers, both from the perspective of the supplier and the receiver, and for our purposes here to narrow it down to the market for cycling-related products.

The bicycle business has shifted quite monumentally to an online mail-order business over the past few years. The average discerning cyclist on the road sports an increasingly eclectic selection of equipment and clothing that is not even available locally. In fact there seems to be a specific intention to be as exotic as possible in the more well-heeled of the cycling community.

Shops can't possibly compete with the variety, value and specificity of online retail. When you're not restricted by location, your global market can be huge, and online retailers can then invest in a selection of stock that can cater very specifically to each customer's demands and, with low overheads thanks to being in the middle of nowhere (or an industrial estate), your prices can be much closer to cost price.

Clothing, wheel and bicycle manufacturers are now getting more and more into retailing directly to the consumer, which is just great news for all of us. And though it might seem through this evolution that the local bike shop is becoming a thing of the past, in fact, as so many of us are discovering in our respective industries: it's really all about re-positioning.



 THE MODERN BIKE SHOP

Service

What hasn't changed for shops for a start is the crucial provision of a centre where people can go to get service, repair and maintenance. Not by people with basic mechanical skills, but by people with real experience in building and fixing bikes/wheels - which means employing genuine experts. Having a real expert bicycle mechanic is worth his weight in gold to the modern bike shop. A lot of your investment should be there.

Fitting

I can check the price of anything on my phone immediately, so there's no point in having a stock of items that people can get cheaper elsewhere, except in the case of things that require personal fitting - like saddles, clothes, shoes, plus a good bike-fitting system.

I'd suggest taking the fitting idea one step further, and offering as extensive as possible a selection of things you don't necessarily sell so that people can "test drive" things, and make better decisions about what they spend their money on.

Try starting a collection of every saddle you can get your hands on - starting with all your old ones. Finding the right saddle is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the development of most cyclists, and you would build some real long-term relationships with customers this way. Offer these things for hire on a weekly basis so that your customers can make more informed choices.

Emergency

The stuff we might need in a hurry like tubes, tyres, chains, chainrings, cassettes, pumps, brake pads, cables, and middle-of-the-range components. Things that might unexpectedly fail or wear out and need to be replaced. This stuff is also available cheaply online, so I'd suggest this is not where you're going to make a profit. If local prices are really not competitive, the more enterprising are just going to buy a stock of spares online.

Consultancy

You can take the service idea further, and do a consultancy on equipment selection (from the complete market) and even to sports-testing, coaching, spin classes, indoor training labs. Some of these things might also be available online, but there is always an advantage to dealing with a real person face-to-face.

If you do offer a consultancy service where you fit equipment to an individual's physical characteristics and intended application, it is better not to be a dealer or distributor for a particular brand of anything, as it reduces your integrity and the customer's trust. You could however offer a - very transparent - service where you get hold of the stuff for a customer, and build to order with clear, and fair, charges for the service.

Social Centre

I have seen a few shops make tentative moves towards creating a cafe section - basically a cafe/bike-shop hybrid.. This is a great idea, and often seen now in London and various other forward-thinking bike-friendly cities. But you have to make it a good cafe. Just having a couple of tables and chairs and a coffee machine in the corner won't do it, especially if there's just a couple of grumpy teenagers manning the shop. It has to be a cafe that people go to for the coffee and the food. It should have at least one screen with cycling films and races running continuously, especially current events, perhaps a library of cycling magazines and books is a good idea too. You can use it as a meeting point for group rides, seminars, coaching clinics and various other events that are ways of sharing experiences/knowledge with the cycling community. You can host special events to watch important races, or have club meetings. In short it should become a community centre.

Bike Porn

I think there's always a good case for having a selection of drool-worthy items around your shop. The latest, lightest, fastest, most aerodynamic/expensive/limited-edition will always attract attention. Signed jerseys and other collectors items are great. You may not even want to offer most of this stuff for sale, but having them on display will draw cyclists to your shop like ants to a discarded gel sachet.

So you bought it online and it doesn't work?

Embrace what the internet is in all of our lives. The latest trend of top manufacturers like Canyon is cutting the middle-men out completely, selling direct to the end user, so get used to it. It's going to be increasingly a fact of life, so there's no point in feeling bad about it, or stigmatising those who opt for this method. Offer a tariff of realistic prices for fitting - or fixing - bike parts supplied by the customer from elsewhere. There's nothing to be lost in that exchange - and much (respect, gratitude, plus a lot of new friends and customers) to be gained.

It should be obvious now that my agenda for the modern bike shop is to prioritize the software (the humans) not the hardware (the gear), and only really deal with hardware as it needs specific fitting to software. The shop is a place for cyclists to feel they belong. It's a place populated by humans that can offer real expertise and advice. You have to offer a generous and respectful experience to the humans that are drawn to you, and welcome everybody in as if you value their company - not just their business.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Confessions Of A Budding Endurance Junkie



It's an intoxicating feeling. At around 6am I set out, bike lights flickering in the still-dark morning air. This is the coolest it ever gets around here in the tropical humidity of Malaysia, so the obvious lack of unassisted visibility notwithstanding, it's a very nice time to be out on the roads.

The delirious moment is in the contemplation of the agenda ahead: I have all day. I'm carrying everything I might need, and quite literally, the world is my oyster. It's quite normal for me to do over 200 kilometers on a day like this, and the fact that I'm quite happy doing it on my own seems to surprise a lot of people.

Somewhere along the line I suppose it might have evolved as a result of my athletic history: much of my cycling in the past was in training for Ironman triathlons - and since that type of racing constitutes a quintessentially solitary effort, which requires specific, solitary training, I just got used to doing it on my own. Add the fact that as someone who often worked late nights, my rides were at times of day when most others were working - or avoiding the heat.

And it is hot here. That's another factor. I somehow suffer less in the heat than many of my friends, so I'm quite happy being out under the midday sun when most local cyclists are safely back in their air-conditioning. And so being out from dawn to dusk doesn't really present any additional issue for consideration. Good sun block on arms and legs. And I wear a cap under the helmet to give sun protection to the forehead and nose - sunblock on the face always ends up in my eyes.

The final deciding factor though has to be my ability to keep going happily and indefinitely on water and not much else. This makes preparing for a ride a breeze, where the only difference between preparing a short and long ride is the size of the bottles, how many spare tubes I carry, and the amount of cash in my back pocket. It means I stop less during the ride, since my first couple of bottles can last me 100km, and I eat only when my appetite demands it, and even then I rarely stop for long.

Since I adapted my body, almost 3 years ago now, to ketosis via a low-carb-high-fat diet, I no longer seem to have any limit to how long I can keep going. I don't experience fluctuation in my energy levels, and have entirely forgotten that fear of hitting the dreaded "wall" of glycogen depletion. In a body adapted to burn its stored supply of fat,  instead of sugar, I seem to be able to operate indefinitely within 70-90% of my threshold without really running out of reserves. I will get hungry, but there's no "wall" to hit. Hunger is just that: I feel like eating. It's a massive advantage.

No doubt it's a major factor in opening up this world of possibilities, but why do these possibilities even interest me? "Where does the desire to be out all day on a bike come from?" you might ask. Now that's a good one. I will have a stab at analysing it.

In a previous post "The Poetry of Cycling", I suggested that those of us who discover cycling as children as part of our exploration of the world around us, never quite lose the sense of freedom associated with the humble bicycle. It's an empowerment. There's enormous satisfaction for us in getting ourselves somewhere else propelled entirely by our own forces.

It's a feeling of self-sufficiency. Maybe it's a residual genetic imprint of our persistence-hunter forefathers and their nomadic lifestyle. Keep moving to survive.

Then there's the sense of discovery and adventure added once you're onto new roads towards new destinations. This in itself is possible with many forms of transport, but as an additive to this self-sufficiency, it's even more special.

There's a kind of intimacy with the environment, which is only possible on a bicycle, with nothing more than the sound of your breathing to disturb the peace, and every element of the world around you tangible to your senses, you form an integral part of the world as you move through it.

Then of course there's the obvious sense of achievement. To be doing distances routinely that you once considered seriously challenging can become quite addictive. This is just inevitably going to lead to ever longer, higher, harder rides.

FUCTIONAL MINIMALISM

I relish the lightest possible load when I'm doing this. The art for me is to get everything down to the purely essential. I'm always looking for the smallest and lightest way of carrying only precisely what I can't do without on a ride like this.

You might one day see me heavily laden with panniers etc as I embark on a round-the-world or trans-continental ride, but for my current plans of rides lasting no more than a few days, I'll carry everything I can in my pockets and a saddlebag. You see, I also want to be reasonably fast, and not too severely handicapped when it comes to my favourite terrain: the hills. So I'm fully-kitted-out for the bike, and only minimally prepared for the time off it.

On rides in Malaysia - where keeping warm is never an issue - the only extra clothes I will carry if I'm staying overnight somewhere, is a t shirt and a pair of shorts. Assisted by the new high-tech fabrics by sportswear companies that pack away into tiny spaces, these will take up very little space. I won't carry extra footwear since the budget hotels available in most towns provide flip-flops in the bathroom, which they don't mind you wearing to wander around. And if not, I would rather spend a few ringgit on a pair of flip-flops than carry these things with me.

So then the only additional thing in the "luggage" is a single charger for gadgets with 2 cables for the different plug types of my phone and my GPS. If I intend to do a lot of riding in the dark I would invest in some AA-battery-powered lights, as carrying additional charging capacity for rechargeable lights would be more trouble than it's worth.

I'm doing an Audax race of 600 kilometers later this month, so I'm looking around at those light options now. That will probably mean riding through one whole night as I don't intend on stopping for long, but I'll see how my body feels. I'll find somewhere to sleep if I need it.

That is a story you'll hear more about here. It's not something I've done any specific preparation for, and my longest single ride so far was around 10 hours, but I'm quite sure I can do it.

It's just a long ride after all.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: SRAM Red Groupset (Long-Term Review)


I remember when I first heard about SRAM road bike components around a decade ago. Rumours were rife that this relative newcomer American brand, then up-and-coming, would compete in a world that for years had only had 2 protagonists: Shimano for the modernists, and Campagnolo for the traditionalists. I had severe doubts that they'd survive long enough to establish themselves - let alone get their stuff to G2 stage. We'd seen so many attempts from even quite big players in the bike industry, but none had been able to hang in there, compete, or convince for long enough to break into the drive-chain component market.

At some point I realised that SRAM must actually not only have some serious stamina, but that they must also possess a truly worthy product. For survive they did. Now, if you look at what the pro cycling world uses, they sponsor many top teams, are probably the most aggressive innovators, and are very present as standard equipment on World Tour team rider's bikes, and that means a lot.

Contador using SRAM Red with a medium-cage RD


When I decided in 2013 to have a road bike built up that ticked all the boxes for me: top all-rounder frame, aero carbon clincher wheelset, power meter in the cranks, and top-end drive-chain components, my choice of groupset for the build involved a leap of faith - a (calculated) risk.

Having used pretty much exclusively Shimano components since starting my love affair with bicycles in the late '80s, I was tempted to try SRAM by the promises of lighter weight, slightly better pricing (at the time) and favourable reports from trusted fellow riders.

I opted for the 10-speed SRAM Red groupset, even though 11-speed was widely available by then. This was due to a few considerations: a) 10-speed chains were still a bit more robust than 11-speed; b) I could find replacements for maintenance more easily where I live/ride; c) I do a lot of long rides into places where I would be hard-pressed to find anything more cutting-edge if something went wrong.



My initial responses to riding with the new groupset were favourable. The shifting is precise, and easy to adjust. The actuation of the shifters with their "double-tap" system felt very intuitive to me and took almost no time to get used to. The routing system on the rear derailleur is particularly well-designed, and the front derailleur, with it's "yaw" system makes for a good, smooth change on the chainrings, plus the chain-catcher that comes with it is effective and easy to install and adjust, and means you are unlikely to drop the chain inwards off the small ring. I'm using elliptical chainrings, and these could be difficult for a front derailleur to handle smoothly, but I've had no issues.

The ergonomics of the shifters makes them comfortable, at least for a normal-sized male hand, and the reach from the drops is naturally closer than my previous Dura Ace setup. I also like the fact that the main lever of the brakes does not move side-to-side, which makes braking more secure - one of the few issues I have with the Shimano system. This made riding in the drops a much more confidence-inspiring experience, and has been part of my metamorphosis into a demon descender.

The single paddle shifter works by moving the chain incrementally up the cassette/crankset onto the larger sprockets/rings with a series of strong single pushes (against the spring) on the shifter, and back down the cassette/crankset with a single, or series of, shorter pushes or "taps" (releasing the spring). It quickly becomes natural. You can do multiple shifts in both directions easily once you get the hang of it.



My only bone of contention with the shifting system is that when the rear derailleur gets to the bottom gear - or largest sprocket - and you happen to try to shift further, it shifts back up (ie: releases the spring back across the cassette to the second sprocket). This can be extremely annoying if you're on a tough climb, looking for another easier gear (which you don't have), and instead you shift back down to a harder gear. It can really wreck your rhythm.

SRAM have actually improved on this mechanism, as I discovered with my, more recently acquired, 2015 11-speed Force system - which I will write about separately. It now pushes through when you "bottom-out" and the chain stays where it is. So suffice to say that this is now a redundant criticism, but if you do happen to pick up an old 10-speed system, you'll have to get used to this feature.

The brake calipers are excellent - really strong and reliable actuation, easily as good as the Dura Ace, as are the SRAM pads. Again, this gives you a great feeling of control, and more willingness to let go when you need to.

I can't vouch for the cranks as I didn't use them, choosing instead a set of Rotor 3D+ cranks with a  Power2max power meter spider. All completely compatible and excellently matched.

THE LONG HAUL

So now, after putting in over 10,000km to the bike, I can assess how this groupset has held up against all the other ones I've used.

I like the SRAM chains with their master-link system, and have used them pretty exclusively over the past couple of years. I keep my chains pretty clean and change them regularly, so cassettes and chainrings haven't worn excessively. However, I recently replaced one of the jockey wheels in the RD as it was almost toothless. The often wet conditions I ride in do mean that a lot of stuff gets thrown up around the back wheel. I couldn't find a SRAM jockey wheel replacement easily so I used another brand. Again, SRAM's state of permanence in the market is clearly evident when all replacement parts now come in 3 options.

Another great in-built feature is that SRAM have designed all their components to be entirely compatible with the ubiquitous Shimano system that means all wheelsets, chainrings, cassettes and chains built for one, work with the other. I haven't had to throw any still-useful bits away.

I think the bike has probably had so far 3 changes of cable in it's time, and the barrel adjuster for fine-tuning cable length on the FD cable housing (which is a necessary item if you want your FD to shift accurately) is a bit loose and should be replaced soon. The shifters do get a little stiff and need lubrication from time to time, so I think a bit of a clean and lube with each cable change is probably in order - will have to remember on the next one...

Aside from that, really nothing to report. The fact that I built up another bike last year, using an 11-speed SRAM drive-chain, speaks volumes. My next bike will most likely have disc brakes, possibly hydraulic, and I can't at this point see any reason that I wouldn't again choose to use SRAM for the brakes and the drive-chain, but that's another story for a future post.

The Inner Battle of The Ultra Endurance Athlete


I was watching this interview with a guy who finished 4th in the grueling Transcontinental Race, a sub-10-day unsupported ride from Flanders to Istanbul (after coming down with bronchitis on day 1!).

Even though he was obviously very focused on the competition, he does say something about every day being a competition against yourself, and it made me think: actually all of these ultra-endurance events are a competition between the best parts of yourself, and the worst parts: an inner fight between light and dark.

Your angels against your demons.

Some of us just need to work that hard for our self-esteem!

It goes a long way to explaining the "why?" that is so often leveled at us endurance-junkies by people who can never imagine challenging themselves in this way.



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Human Diet Rediscovered - Dawn Travels

The daily hunt and gather of a keto-readapted human.
Log #1

"It's on America's tortured brow, that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow" David Bowie. 


Today I’m on an early bus. It’s part of my regular shuttle between my 2 homes in the Southeast Asian cities of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Being as it’s so early, I usually rely on Burger King for breakfast. Yes, that's right: in a carb-obsessed world we make friends in strange places. That bastion of fast food junk is actually able to provide me with something basically nourishing. The reason? They do an Omelette Breakfast. Eggs, oh joy! - the original super-food.

Anyway, there’s one in the mall from which the bus leaves, and it’s open early. It’s one of the few places I can get something which I’d consider nutritious at this time of day. An omelette with a cooked half tomato and a rather leathery sausage. In this case the only thing I absolutely have to ditch is the croissant, so it doesn’t feel too wasteful, and it comes with a small pack of butter, which adds to the nutritional value.

Well, imagine my annoyance when I’m greeted with:

“sorry sir, we open at 7.30” (the time my bus will leave!)

“since when?”

“since Monday"

Oh well....

I wander around the mall, into corners I don’t usually visit, in search of something else acceptable. Nothing. Everything carbohydrate. Lots of baked products. I’m thinking to myself how sad it is that in an Asian country, the only thing on offer for breakfast is bread. Good morning America.

Then I pass by a couple with child tucking into what would probably be termed Continental Breakfast - bread, jam, honey etc. I’m trying to remember the warm, fuzzy sensation of that first blood-sugar rush of the day. That kick-start to the day’s vicious cycle of blood-sugar-top-ups, with its peaks and troughs, and associated energy fluctuations. What a blessing it is to be out of that cycle. As usual, I start feeling like an alien observer. My thoughts are turning dark.

I get myself a latte at Coffee Bean, grateful that they haven’t managed to outlaw full-cream milk. They do include some nutrition in their breakfasts at this place, but the focus is the ubiquitous carb fluff, and it just feels too wasteful spending good money on stuff of which I’ll throw 70% away.

Liquid breakfast. Oh well, I guess I’ll get something more solid at the rest stop after about 3 hours of bus journey - some stuff they usually put on rice, except without the rice. Not that I’m particularly hungry - in a body free from the dependance on glucose, hunger is a much more gradual, subtle event. Breakfast is more of a habit. Coffee is way more crucial anyway at this point. I may have ditched my addiction to carbohydrate, but I have no intention of giving up caffeine!

Then I remember that I have a piece of siew yoke (roast pork belly) in my bag, and a packet of blueberries. Things I rescued from my fridge in Singapore since I won’t be around for over a week.

The morning brightens.


Since discovering the secret to human nutrition in late 2014, initially through self-experimentation for athletic purposes, but eventually through a growing library of unbiased and objective scientific research, I was impassioned with the need to enlighten my fellow travelers. I’m fighting a losing battle. The odds are so massively stacked against nutritional enlightenment since the food industry (which drives a large part of every country’s market economy) along with the drug industry, and with staunch support from public health institutions, is dedicated to preserving the status quo, ensuring we keep believing dietary principles which are in exact contradiction to real nutritional science.
There is just so much to say about the benefits of eating correctly, and the fight for responsible information on health, that I have decided to keep writing down my thoughts on the subject as they occur, in the hope that the truth may be recognisable to someone who may then be inspired to start this journey themselves.

I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions!


Related Articles: 
Low Carb High Fat Nutrition #1 - The One-Eyed Man Is King 
Low  Carb High Fat Nutrition #2 - Biology Not Physics
Nutrition #3 - Re-Learning to Fuel Ourselves
 The Low Carb High Fat Cyclist - Perpetual Motion
Low Carb High Fat Cycling - A One Year Snapshot

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cycling In Malaysia - New Year In Cameron Highlands With Equipe Nomad




I'd been looking forward to this ride for some time. The bulk of our ride operations still revolve largely around standard 2 or 3-day weekend lengths, so the opportunity to do a hard 4-day ride with a day in the middle for some highland respite on the first day of 2016 in the tranquil coolness of Cameron, was a buzz indeed.

The ride is basically a festive version of our Tour De Titiwangsa, named after the mountain range that gives us all the highest roads in peninsular Malaysia. Devised last year as a possible fledgling stage-race in 4 daily stages looping out of Kuala Lumpur, taking in the lofty altitudes of the Cameron Highlands as well as Fraser's Hill on a circuit that re-entered the capital city after 4 hard stages and around 600km.

The big difference in this occurrence was to take one day off in the middle to smell the roses (and strawberries) in the cool surrounds of the Cameron farmlands, before descending back down to the heat of the tropics for the final 2 stages.

My fellow travelers on this one were originally to be 3 riders: Vicki and Hari flying in from Bangalore, and Paul in from New Zealand. As none of them voiced any major concern about distances, ascent or preparations, one could assume that these were fairly experienced riders, well able to handle a decent pace over the proposed route.

Unfortunately Vicki had picked up what seemed to be a particularly vicious flu by the time she arrived, and really wasn't fit for cycling. Terrible news for her since she'd been gearing up for this ride for months. It also meant 3 riders instead of 4, which makes quite a difference to group dynamics. That left three to try and generate the morale, and momentum, of a peleton for the journey ahead.

Day 1.


Kuala Lumpur to Teluk Intan. 171km. Elevation gain: 314m.

We started out just after 7am from our base hotel through the back roads of Gombak, a northeastern suburb of Kuala Lumpur, wending our way west through the early morning traffic. Within an hour we were on quieter roads moving firmly away from the capital and down to the coast at Kuala Selangor. The traffic is a necessary evil really - if you want to ride door-to-door - but Malaysian drivers are a tolerant bunch generally, and the sight of 3 lycra-clad MAMILs weaving through rush-hour traffic still has novelty value in these parts. A first hour then getting through the built-up bit before we could start to enjoy our surroundings.

A quick refuel around the 50km point, and then we settled into a good pace along the coastal roads. This stage can be a bit daunting, faced with 170km of almost pancake-flat, long, straight roads, and as the sun hits it's zenith it can wilt the resolve. I just settled into time-trial mode and pulled away on the front of the group. Imagining myself the Super-Domestique - or even Road Captain - to get me through the day. A boy playacting his heroes - just another romantic delusion, comparing mine to the roles played by the pros in the Grand Tours. Actually, as the only paid member of this little peloton, it is my duty to deliver these guys to the more interesting - and challenging - bits of road with some zip left in their legs, so it's not that far away from the truth.

We stopped for a noodle lunch in the town of Sungai Besar with about 50km left to go to our day's destination. As Malaysian towns go it's a tad curious, with an untypical sparsity of restaurants in the main area. We've been here before though, so we know under which rocks to look. Luckily my fellow travelers are all keen on the local fare, so there was no issue with the selection of Malaysian Chinese dishes on offer, and we all took some much-needed nutrition on board.

For the remainder of the stage we made fairly good time, and arrived at the finish line in the seaside town of Teluk Intan shortly after 2pm, were quickly checked into the hotel, showered and soon enjoying a pretty good latte in the lobby. For me, the local mini markets provided the recovery meal of milk and almonds, after which a bit of catching up on the internet, and a short nap, took us through to dinner.

I look forward to dinner in Teluk Intan more than any other stop on this tour since we discovered a great seafood restaurant on the outskirts of town, and though there are many food options within walking distance from the hotel, the 10-minute drive is well worth it.

Day 2.


Teluk Intan to Tanah Rata. The "Queen" Stage. 150km. Elevation gain: 2182m.

A rather slow start to the day saw us hit the road around 7.30am as we began the stage's early sections getting through another 80km of flat before beginning the long ascent up to the Cameron plateau. More long, straight flats. More of me doing my Bernie Eisel impersonation. We stopped for a second breakfast - southern Indian style - in the town of Kampar, just off the main Ipoh road.

At the 75km point, as the gradient of the road started to vary a little more, and the surroundings developed a distinctly greener appearance, we stopped again for a quick refuel. From here it would get harder. From here we would probably not stay together, as the relative parity in power output would be compromised by differences in body composition. From here we'd be starting the long ascent up to the entrance into Cameron Highlands at around 1400m. No more Bernie Eisel. Now it was Mikel Landa :) (I flatter myself in both cases of course!).

The climb is fairly gradual, with lots of sections of respite during the first half, but a bit more consistent climbing between kms 100 and 120 taking us to the top of the first main stretch of climbing. The road flattens out before another rise, and then a drop down to the beginning of the main farmland area at Kampung Raja and Blue Valley.

Nearing the top of the main climb, we had enjoyed a pleasant cool wind helping keep our temperatures down. As we hit the top of the climb though, we started to get that fine drizzle that tells your you're into the clouds. Then the pleasant wind came back with a vengeance in a rather less pleasant form. Coupled with the increasing wetness of the road, it made for a rather cold, and brake-orientated 5km of descent before the final 8km climb up to the 1600m Cameron peak at Brinchang.

Owing to a couple of lengthy stops to regroup I found it quite hard to keep my body temperature up on the descent (should have grabbed that jacket!) so, even though I basically just hammered up the subsequent climb, it took almost the full 8km ascent to get the feeling back to my fingers. Not something you experience often in Malaysia, thankfully! I'm no lover of the cold.

After this it's a steady, rolling run in to the finish at Tanah Rata, with quite a picturesque route along a ridge. We were out of the cloud and the wind had dropped, so we had a less hostile environment to deal with, but with hammer-mode still locked into operation it wasn't long before we were checked in and into warm showers.

So it's New Year's Eve, and you have some tired, depleted bodies craving nutrition around dinner time. Dinner in Tanah Rata presents a fairly eclectic set of options, but regardless of the various normal preferences in the groups we arrive here with, after the efforts of climbing to this point, curiously the consensus usually gravitates towards red meat, and then inevitably western fare, so we have our choices more-or-less dialed in. After a sumptuous meal chased down with a few glasses of red wine it's a quick glance at the watches that tells us that no one's going to make it to 2016 awake.

Day 3.



Happy New Year!

Rest day. The low cloud has persisted, so ideas for a recovery ride (or run) have been dropped. There were some moments of dryness in the afternoon, but the holiday weekend traffic was an instant turnoff, and we ended up just supporting the coffee and food establishments of Tanah Rata mostly. Could be worse! A much needed lazy day.

Day 4.



Descent to Raub. 145km. Elevation gain: 986m

A dry morning greeted us as we stepped out at 6.30am for breakfast at the local roti chanai shop. With a technical and steep descent to start with, that was very welcome news. This first descent evolves, after 8km, into some rolling flat through a slightly lower plateau into the town of Ringlet, in which we turn into our main descent back down to the heat of the lowlands.

This long descent covers the best part of 80km, and the best description I can assign it would be "severely rolling". For many sections the upward bits seem equal to the downward bits, but we are actually descending - gradually. It does have several sections of good old plummeting, which invariably gives the heavier members of the group a chance to get their own back. Once again, the groups rarely stay together in this mode either.


This 80km section of road, has to be one of the quietest roads I've ever ridden. This fact makes it all the more remarkable that the road is very well engineered, and the surface is actually mostly in great condition. The surrounding landscape is often breathtaking, with some very ancient and dense jungle in many parts, and vistas into the valley below clad in wisps of low cloud. The moment is not lost on my riding companions who are obviously taking it all in with awe.

We stop for lunch at 92km at the Malay stalls in Sungai Koyan. At this point we've done the descending, and have 50km of gently rolling oil-palm estates ahead of us under the heat of the midday sun. Luckily we get quite a bit of respite, courtesy of an overcast sky, for most of the remaining distance and, though it often looks like it might rain, it never quite does.

So we roll into Raub ahead of schedule at around 1pm with the mosques singing their lunchtime prayers. Once room keys are procured, bodies are washed and some head off for a massage while others nap through the heat of the day in their air-conditioning.

Dinner once again is a group affair, this time at one of the excellent local Chinese seafood restaurants.

Day 5.


Raub to Kuala Lumpur via Fraser's Gap. 115km. Elevation gain: 1399m.

And so on into our last stage. We hit the local Indian breakfast place before sunrise so we can make sure we get back into Kuala Lumpur ahead of the end-of-public-holiday traffic, and so we're already starting the climb up to the Gap at Fraser's Hill by 7.30am. This is a super-quiet and serene road that climbs through the thick overhang of dense jungle growth pretty much all the way up for 20km at a steady average of around 3%.

From here it's a descent of about 30km before we pass the town of Kuala Kubu Bharu and into the rolling flats that take us through to a lunch stop at around the 90km mark in Hulu Yam - my local favourite is a killer Char Siew Rice with a particularly delicious, pungent sauce.

The remaining 30km gives us plenty of ups and downs including a last couple of testing ramps, the first of which hits around 18% at it's worst, and the second short one that definitely hits 25% at one point, though the GPS never quite gets it right due to heavy overhead foliage. These add a nice little footnote to the journey, before we descend back into the city traffic for the last 5km home.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable ride with 2 great riding companions, both strong cyclists.

I like to analyze my fellow riders using comparisons with pro cyclists, and Paul for me was definitely an Andre Greipel: great raw, explosiveness; a good descender and lots of rocking-and-rolling power on the flat. Hari: Alberto Contador - lean and slight of frame but with great power-to-weight, making him a natural climber, but still with the excellent technique of a time-trialist.

An honour to ride with you guys!