The Rapha Festive 500 returned for the 11th year in 2020. The challenge remained the same. Ride 500km in the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Different in 2020 was that indoor rides counted towards the 500km target. No doubt in recognition of a) the popularity of online riding platforms like Swift, Rouvy and FulGaz, and b) the various levels of COVID-19 lockdowns around the world.
Also different in 2020 was that Rapha would not send a woven roundel to everyone who completed the challenge. The reward in 2020 is a digital roundel in your Strava Trophy Case.
I assume that Rapha decided to stop sending woven roundels because the numbers of participants have mushroomed over the years. There were 84 participants in 2010. There were 119,206 participants in 2019. The cost of manufacturing and posting increasing numbers of roundels must be prohibitive.
These are the woven roundels that were sent to successful participants from 2011 to 2019.
Come to the 2020 edition of the Festive 500 and Rapha must be glad they stopped sending woven roundels. The inclusion of indoor rides more than doubled the number of participants compared to 2019. There were 240,991 participants in 2020.
This is the digital roundel for 2020.
I am curious to see how many participate in the 2021 Rapha Festive 500. And what the digital roundel looks like.
I have been riding a bicycle for twelve years or so. As I mused about my Strava stats, I started reflecting on what I know now about cycling that I didn’t know when I bought that hybrid bike at the end of 2008.
There are the obvious things, like how to use cleats and how to select the right gear for the speed and the terrain.
There are other initially less obvious things that I came to learn and appreciate through experience.
Riding with the right group makes all the difference
This is my number one realisation.
I really enjoy riding with a group of like-minded friends. By like-minded I means friends who ride for the same reasons as I do. For fun and food, rather than as a competition and to chase personal bests. Friends who ride at about the same pace as I do. Friends who don’t mind stopping to enjoy the scenery. Friends who wait for each other when there is a flat tire or other mechanical.
Take your time when repairing a puncture
As I have discovered to my cost, haste in fixing a flat tire often leads to grief. Not taking the time to check the tire for embedded bits of grit, staples, etc. guarantees another stop to fix another puncture. Rushing to install an inner tube can lead to a twisted inner tube, which results in a bumpy ride. More commonly the tube is pinched between tire and rim. The outcome upon inflation is an immediate flat.
Protect your spare inner tubes
Inner tubes are usually carried together with tire levers, multi-tools etc. These items can puncture tubes. Constant abrasion against the sides of saddlebags can also put holes in inner tubes. Inevitably, you won’t know that your spare tube is punctured until you get a flat tire.
I forget where I picked up this tip. Sprinkle talcum powder on your spare inner tube, and wrap it in plastic wrap or a plastic bag. The talcum powder stops the inner tube from sticking to itself. The powder also makes the inner tube slippery, and therefore easier to install in the tire. The plastic wrap or bag protects the inner tube from the other items in your saddlebag.
Silca Tire Levers Premio
I have used tire levers from several other manufacturers like Pedro, Lezyne, Ritchey and Park Tool. Each of them had weaknesses. Some had tips that were too thick. Another set snapped.
These tire levers from Silca are my favourite because they have narrow tips which are easy to get underneath tight tire beads. These levers have a reinforced nylon shield which protects the rim. Useful for those who run carbon wheelsets. They are also relatively short and thus easy to store on the bike.
I used a saddle bag or tool roll for many years. As with tire levers, I tried bags and rolls from Silca, Rapha, Topeak etc. Each had a shortcoming. The biggest issue was that I preferred to use the space below my saddle to mount a rear blinker, or for my Apidura Saddle Pack when I went on overnight credit card tours.
Nowadays, I use a tool storage bottle. Mine is from Specialized, but Shimano, Cateye, Elite, Fabric and others make similar items.
You have to sacrifice one bottle cage. I use the bottle cage on the seat tube. However, only having one bottle is not a problem. I am never far from a petrol station, convenience store or sundry shop, so regularly refilling one bottle is not a problem.
Ride With GPS is my go-to route mapping app. You need to subscribe to gain access to advanced route planning tools, but it is worth the money.
When I started planning routes, I dragged ‘Pegman’ over the map to see if the road I was thinking of riding on turned blue. I took this to mean that the road was mapped and rideable.
I was wrong. More than once, I led a group down a road that suddenly shrank to an unpaved track. Not a good thing in the middle of unfamiliar territory.
I now use Street View to preview the roads I plan to use. That helps prevent unpleasant surprises mid-ride.
I don’t wear a rain vest to stay dry. It rains too heavily in Malaysia for that. I wear a rain vest because it protects my jerseys from muddy rear tire spatter. My rain vest consists of a polyester material that is easier to clean than my jerseys are.
Cargo Bib Shorts
I don’t think cargo bib shorts existed when I started riding. They have become my go-to bib shorts for longer rides. The pockets on both legs and two more pockets on the upper back mean that I can ride with empty jersey pockets. I find that more comfortable. The leg pockets are easier to access than jersey pockets are. I can also fully unzip my jersey and not have the back weighed down.
Small Chain Ring and Smaller Cog
It took longer than it should have for me to realise that I must shift to the small chainring and a smaller cog before putting my bike in the back of my car. If I don’t, there is a good chance that the high spring tension in the rear derailleur will make the crank rotate backwards and drop the chain. More often than not, the rearward moving chain drops below the chain catcher and gets trapped between the small chainring and the seat tube. Greasy fingers guaranteed to try to get the chain back onto the chainring.
Shifting the chain to the small chainring and a smaller cog reduces the spring tension in the rear derailleur enough to stop the crank rotating backwards.
I wonder what wisdom the next decade of riding will bring.
Pai and I had our Apidura saddle packs mounted on our bikes and were out of the Tien Terrace front door at 7:45 am. We had a short ride to the Penang ferry terminal. We got there just in time for the 8:00 am ferry.
On Friday on the way to the ferry at Butterworth, I had lost one of my cleat covers. I went to look for it, after Pai and I got off the ferry. Amazingly it was still at the roadside. That was a fine start to the day.
We stopped at Persiaran Nasi Kandar Subaidah on Jalan Chain Ferry for breakfast. Then we were on our way along the same route we had taken to get to Penang.
25km later we were on Federal Route 1. Our next turn was 50km away.
At 30km, we stopped at a Petron station to refill our bottles. At 63km we did the same at a Bestari Mart. The lady at the counter there was intrigued by a Mat Salleh speaking Bahasa. I gave her a short biography in response to all her questions.
5km later we stopped to take a photograph next to paddy fields. Ala the photographs taken during the round island ride.
Simon please note that I sucked my tummy in for this photograph.
21km later we were at the Larut Matang Hawker Center in Taiping.
We had an early dinner at the Hu Jing Ge Chinese Restaurant in the Flemington hotel. The food was good and reasonably priced for a hotel restaurant. The suggestions of where to eat from the Taiping locals came in too late!
After polishing off dinner, we went for a stroll in the Taiping Lake Gardens. The gardens were established in 1880. Some of the magnificent Angsana trees may date from that time.
The morning of Day 7 was wet.
We rode in the rain for the first 20km to Terong. I must have started the ride dehydrated because I needed to refill my bottle at the BP station in Terong.
It was a struggle to get from Terong to Beruas because of the headwinds. Every flag we saw during those 34km was flapping in the wrong direction for us.
The rolling terrain did not help. I was glad to see the coffee shop at Beruas. One of the ladies working at the coffee shop asked where the rest of the R@SKLs were.
Our next stop was 36km later at a 99 Speedmart in Seri Iskandar. I thought we would find a place to stop along Federal Route 5 about 5 kilometres from Gelung Pepusu, but I was wrong. There is nothing between the Shell station 2 kilometres after the left turn onto Federal Route 5 and Seri Iskandar.
We needed that stop. It was 36ºC, and we still had that pesky headwind. The headwind seemed to change direction as we changed direction. It was our constant and unwanted companion.
We rode the remaining 34km to Taiping without stopping. We would have taken a break at D’Anjung Bali, but it was closed. For real this time!
We cycled straight to The Entertainment Hub for beers and lunch.
When we got to the Kampar Grand Hotel, we both upgraded to rooms with a bathtub. A hot soak worked wonders on our tired bodies.
We had an early dinner at The Entertainment Hub. It was lights out before 9:00 pm.
There was a thunderstorm during the night. Simon had warned us that heavy rain was forecast for the day. It was overcast at dawn, but there was no more rain.
We had the Western set breakfast at the hotel. The Flemington Hotel in Taiping beats the Grand Kampar Hotel in the breakfast stakes. The Flemington is a better hotel overall.
We were on our bikes at 8:17 am.
It quickly got sunny and hot.
We stopped at the PETRONAS station in Bidor to refill bottles. There was a staff training event there. One of the staff brought plastic chairs to us to sit on. That was very nice. We probably stayed for longer than we needed to because of those chairs.
Our next stop was at Taiwan Fructose, just north of Sungkai. The R@SKLs may remember seeing that plant on the way up to Kampar and commenting about it to Pai. He knows the plant manager and his wife.
We got a fascinating tour of the plant. Taiwan Fructose is one of two producers of fructose and maltose syrup in Malaysia. There is very little processed food and drink that does not contain fructose or maltose.
We made one more stop at the PETRONAS station in Slim River. Having enjoyed sitting in chairs in Bidor, we borrowed stools from inside the Slim River station to sit on while we had our drinks.
23km later we were in the KFC at Tanjung Malim having lunch. We had plenty of time before the 2:55 pm train.
The rain started as we approached Rawang. Pai got off the train at the Segambut station.
The rain stopped as I got to the Bank Negara station. A few kilometres later, I was at home. It was a safe ending to an epic trip to Penang and back.
Thank you R@SKLs for another most enjoyable Penang adventure.
A ride around the island is the main reason for our trips to Penang. Okay, maybe the food is the main reason, and the round island ride is the excuse to come to Penang. Either way, a group of R@SKLs and our Penang-based friends gathered outside Tien Hotel.Residence at 7:15 am.
Pai and I were not among them. We planned to cycle back to Tanjung Malim, starting on Monday. We took the weekend off from riding.
The annual organized ride is not happening this year because of COVID-19. The route for the morning was very similar to the one used during CFAL. With a couple of detours led by our Penang friends.
As always with our round island rides, the outrider boys accompanied the group to provide directions and stop traffic and junctions.
Many thanks and kudos to Serena and TH, who once again were fabulous hosts. They took care of all the arrangements in Penang for us. Accommodation, food, weekend activities, the works.
The detours were into the paddy fields of Balik Pulau.
The rest of the route was familiar to anyone who has ridden around the island before.
No ride can be complete without a yum cha stop.
The festivities continued with drinks and dinner at Tien Hotel.Residence.
There was plenty of food. Char koay teow fried to order, pasembur, samosas and fried cauliflower.
We had Simon’s birthday cake for dessert.
I had a craving for nyonya kueh as well. The kueh stall was closed, but Geetha and Vanessa found an apom vendor. It took a while for him to whip up fifty apoms.
There was some leftover char koay teow in takeaway boxes for anyone who needed a late-night snack.
Day 3 was the final leg of our ride to Penang. 88km to the Butterworth ferry terminal, and a few more kilometres in Georgetown to get to the Tien Residence Hotel and the Tien Terrace.
The Flemington Hotel breakfast buffet opens at 7:00 am.
Breakfast is on the rooftop, so there is a nice view of the Taiping Lake Gardens.
We were ready to hit the road at 7:45 am.
Our first bottle refill stop was at the PETRONAS station in Bagan Serai. We stopped again nine kilometres later to put on rain gear.
Naturally, the rain eased off for the next twenty kilometres. We stopped again for drinks and bananas at Kawasan Perindustrian Valdor.
It started pouring as we set off again. It rained for most of the way to Butterworth.
We made good time despite the rain and were on the ferry just after noon.
Our first destination in Georgetown was the Tien Hotel.Residence. Some of the group were staying there.
The Welcome banner was a thoughtful touch.
We all took advantage of the outside hose to wash off our bikes.
A smaller group of us rode on to Tien Terrace.
Tien Terrace is the latest of TH’s boutique hotel projects. A half dozen of us were the first guests in the as-yet unopened hotel. Our role was to give TH feedback about what needed attention and fixing as the finishing touches are applied.
The pool is ready.
Penang is a food lovers paradise. No surprise then that some hit the food stalls early on for snacks.
Drinks and dinner were at Tien Terrace.
Of course, where there is a pool . . .
A good time was had by all. There would be a few sore heads in the morning.
Day 2 was the longest of the three days. It was 124km from Kampar to Taiping.
We left the Grand Kampar Hotel at 7:00 am.
Breakfast was about an hour later at D’Anjung Bali. I had talked up their puri to Vanessa, so I was relieved that the place was open. Despite the sign on the gate saying “Closed.”
We paused for drinks at Gelung Pepuyu. Our next scheduled stop was at Beruas.
4km from Beruas Vanessa had her second flat tire in as many days. It sounded like a gunshot when her rear inner tube exploded. Fortunately, her tire was undamaged. It was the same tire that had flatted the day before, which was a bit of a worry. When we got to Taiping she had her wheel and tire checked at a bicycle shop. Happily she had no further problems.
Most of the group were considerably ahead of us when Vanessa flatted. They had finished their drinks at Beruas by the time the rest of us got there.
The road from Beruas to Terong is in poor condition. All the lorry traffic has left it badly rutted. Sadly one of those ruts caused Ernestine to lose control and fall. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt badly, but that was the end of her ride.
Once she was on her way in one of the support cars to get her abrasions cleaned and dressed, the rest of us stopped at Padang Gajah for drinks and to refill bottles.
It was 35ºC at Padang Gajah, and it was 38ºC when we got to Terong 11km later. I needed to stop for ice cream. Fifteen minutes later we were riding the last 20km to Taiping.
AiWei and AiLei are from Taiping. They took us to the Larut Matang Hawker Centre for lunch.
It was a short ride from lunch to the Flemington Hotel. It was 4:00 pm by the time we were in our rooms. That gave us seventy-five minutes before we had to be in the lobby, ready to be driven to dinner.
Dinner was courtesy of Simon. His penalty for pulling out of the ride. We went to Restoran Light House Seafood.
This restaurant is famed for its seafood porridge. We had that, and lots more besides.
I was stuffed after that meal, but others had room for more. One of the Taiping-ites ordered fried chicken by phone. We stopped to collect the order on our way back to the hotel.
We wanted to sit at the rooftop bar but our chicken, being outside food, was not allowed. So we went to the Taiping Lake Garden across the road.
This year a group of seventeen opted to cycle to Penang.
The first day’s ride was from Tanjung Malim to Kampar.
Some of us got to Tanjung Malim by road.
The rest took the train from Sungai Buloh. After stopping at Bin Soo’s and AiLei’s for muffins.
Being the R@SKLs, our first stop was one kilometre from Tanjung Malim KTM station for roti canai and nasi lemak at Restoran Al Kassim Maju.
We had two support vehicles for this trip. An ice chest in the back of Amy’s truck held water and 100 Plus. Our drivers, Azaman and Suwardy, took advantage of an ice delivery to the restaurant to buy ice for us.
There was a flat tire to deal with before we could get going. That was the opportunity to try out TH’s new toy.
Then we were on our way.
Our next stop was an unplanned one. Vanessa had a flat tire north of Trolak.
We dipped into the ice chest at our first rest stop just before Sungkai.
The next stop was for fresh-cut fruit at Bidor. Having ridden 55km, we were more than halfway to Kampar.
We spent more than one hour at Tapah for lunch. We got there at 1:00 pm. It was 36ºC, and we appreciated the air-conditioning in the KFC. We are on the floor because all the furniture has been removed from the ground floor of the restaurant. No doubt for social distancing reasons.
The others went to a chicken rice shop across the road. I assume that shop had ceiling or wall fans.
The remaining 22km passed without incident. We checked into the Grand Kampar Hotel, showered, and went looking for food. About half of us went to the McDonald’s around the corner from the hotel. We had our first taste of strictly enforced COVID-19 SOPs there. In addition to the now-standard registration via the MySejahtera app and temperature checks, we couldn’t all gather at the counter to order our food.
After our burgers, we met most of the rest at the Entertainment Hub for more rehydration. We fell foul of the COVID-19 SOPs there too. Our group had grown to more than ten, so we couldn’t stay.
The last stop before calling it a day was at Restoran Ken Claypot House. Claypot meals are a Kampar speciality. COVID-19 SOPs meant five people to a table.
Pai and I signed up for this ride when it was scheduled for March 2020. COVID-19 put paid to this event and many others. The Movement Control Order came into effect on 18th March and life as we knew it came to a sudden stop.
Five months later, life has returned to a semblance of normalcy. Including the resumption of outdoor sporting activities. The postponed BRM300 and BRM1000 rides were rescheduled to the end of August. A BRM600 ride was added to the mix. All to coincide with Malaysia’s Independence Day (Merdeka) on August 31st.
The ride started from Morib. Pai and I spent Saturday night in a hotel in Banting. By the time we got our acts together, all the hotels in Morib were full, so Banting, about 12 km from Morib, was the next best option.
The idea was to get the 65 km drive from home out of the way on Saturday and thus be able to sleep for an extra ninety minutes on Sunday morning.
I neglected to check the location of the hotel. It was on a very noisy Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad, which is the main road through Banting. I didn’t get much sleep.
The BRM300 started at 5:00 am on Sunday 30th. We had twenty hours to complete the distance. Pai and I got to the start with plenty of time to check in and to set up our bikes.
As we were about to start, I noticed that my chain was trapped below the chain catcher, which hadn’t done its job. However, the chain catcher did stop me from getting the chain back onto a chainring. The only way to get the chain back onto a chainring was to break the chain. Fortunately, I had a quick link on my chain, and Pai had quick link pliers. And a stack of wet wipes for me to get all the grease off my fingers afterwards.
I was not a happy man when we finally got going.
The route took us to Lukut and then clockwise to Rembau, Tampin, Sungai Udang, Port Dickson, Lukut and back to Morib.
As soon as we left Morib, Pai noticed that my rear derailleur was making a clicking noise. We stopped at the roadside to check my RD, but in the dark, we couldn’t see anything wrong. We stopped again under lights at the Petronas station in Sungai Pelek and saw the problem. In the dark at Morib I had threaded the chain over rather than under a small tab on the RD. So out with the quick link pliers and wet wipes again.
Dawn was breaking when we left Sungai Pelek. 20 km later it was bright enough to turn my front light off.
It was the middle of the three-day weekend so the roads were very quiet.
Checkpoint 1 was at Restoran 3 Abdul in Rembau. That was 94 km into the ride.
We had breakfast there.
We rolled out of the restaurant at 10:00 am.
It might have been a better idea to stay and nap at the restaurant like this fellow.
The major climb of the day started at KM 102.
How major? This major.
We decided to save our legs.
I didn’t feel very good after that climb. My average heart rate increased by 10% and I was pedalling squares. It was getting hot, which didn’t help.
I started to cramp in the sartorius muscles. The sartorius are the longest muscles in the human body, spanning both the hip and knee joints. Fortunately I was able to stretch and stop the cramps from really biting.
I emptied my water bottle at a rapid rate. We stopped at the sundry shop at KM 119 for a rest and to buy some drinks.
50 minutes later, just south of Tampin, Pai spotted a roadside stall selling coconut shakes. That was a much needed cold drink.
The temperature was on its way up. It was 33ºC / 91ºF when we stopped for that coconut shake. It would hit a high of 39ºC / 102ºF later in the day.
Along with the heat, there were these to contend with.
At 1:20 pm we got to checkpoint 2 at the Petronas Sungai Petai station on the AMJ Highway. It was the hottest time of the day. We had ridden 153 km, and I needed a break. As did many others.
That bike with the orange fork is mine. I was inside the station, enjoying the air-conditioning and more drinks.
Our next stop was at a Petron station in Sungai Udang. Pai needed nutrition. I needed more drinks and to get rid of my jersey. It would be cooler riding with just a base layer on.
Those stops and a lot of sugary drinks must have helped me. I felt a lot better when we left that Petron station. I still had to ward off the occasional sartorius muscle cramp.
We hit some holiday traffic on Federal Route 5 between Sungai Udang and Taman Masjid Tanah. It was a relief to get off Federal Route 5 at Kampung Pulau Semut and out of a steady stream of traffic.
We took a short break in the shade at a bus stop at Kampung Tengah. It was still 34ºC / 93ºF. The forecast had predicted rain, but there was not a drop all day. It was 4:20 pm, and we had ridden 195km.
Checkpoint 3 was 15km later at a FIVE petrol station in Pasir Panjang. Five Petroleum is a local fuel brand that launched in March this year. This particular site used to be a Caltex station.
After yet more drinks.
At 6:00 pm we got to Teluk Kemang. It was time for some food at the McDonald’s linked to the Shell station there.
“Only” 75 km to go!
We spent 40 minutes refuelling, chatting and cooling down. Then it was ‘lights on’ and through more bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic along the beachfront to Port Dickson town.
We made a short pit stop at the Petronas station just after the Lukut climb. And a longer stop at the Petron station in Sungai Pelek. Then Pai pulled us along at 28 kph over the last 35 km to Morib.
Thank you Sam Tow and his group of amazing volunteers for organizing yet another excellent BRM ride.
A BIG thank you to Pai. I couldn’t have finished this without you riding with me, my friend.
A welcome sign of the slow journey to normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic is people returning to work. Especially when work is in another country.
Nineteen R@SKLs met at Rimbayu to bid farewell to Kieren.
We did a relatively short ride to Jugra for a meal at the no-name Chinese restaurant on Jalan Bukit Jugra.
The drive to Rimbayu was through alternating belts of rain. Rimbayu was dry, but lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled not far away. The drizzle started as we rode through Kampung Seri Cheeding, and persisted to Kampung Sawah.
Soaked socks are not nice.
We have eaten at this restaurant before. The food is reliably good.
There is a temple next door. Giant joss sticks were across the road to celebrate an auspicious day for the temple deity.
No rain but there were a couple of flat tires to deal with on the way back.
We will miss your extended stints at the front of the group. Be safe and well, and we look forward to riding with you again.