There was a twist to this year’s Shimano Highway Challenge. Unlike the 2013 and 2014 events, this year’s ride was at night. The LEKAS Highway was closed from 5.00pm until 3.00am so that participants could cycle on an empty highway under LED street lights that came online in December 2015.
I have done one other night ride. The Moonlight Bicycle Ramble in Houston. The Ramble was a well-organised event. The Shimano Highway Challenge, however, has been in a class of its own right from its first running in 2013. Heavyweight sponsors will do that for you.
RHB, which is a Malaysian bank, and Shimano were the title sponsors this time. RHB put out a number of tips for participants leading up to the event.
Cycling Plus magazine has just launched a Malaysian edition. IJM Land, a local property developer, has an in-house magazine called “like.” Copies of both publications were in the goodie bags, along with a Brother branded water bottle and a PowerBar.
The benefits of generous sponsorship extend beyond schwag. It also funds proper and sufficient resources to run the event well. The organization of the event, as it has been in past iterations, was excellent.
The goodie bag, and bike and rider identification number, distribution was efficient and fast. There were a large number of volunteers working the process. It was obvious that a lot of effort had gone into pre-packing bags and pre-sorting identification numbers.
3,000 or so riders lined up at the start point for either the 78km / 48mi or the 105km / 65mi ride. Here are some of the guys I regularly ride with, all set to go.
The outstanding kit award has to go to these modern-day Les Forçats de la Route (Prisoners of the Road), a phrase immortalised in a piece written by Albert Londres for Le Petit Parisien during the 1924 Tour de France.
LEKAS, the highway concessionaire, estimated that closing the highway for us would result in a loss of traffic volume of approximately 50,000 vehicles. Despite information about the closure being disseminated through various media, there was quite a traffic jam as motorists clogged up alternate routes in the area.
Inconvenience to motorists aside, it was a treat to be able to cycle on the fast lane of a three lane highway. We joked about needing our Touch ‘n Go electronic cash cards to get through the toll booths, which of course had been disabled.
In a nice touch, the electronic highway information signs had been reprogrammed for this ride.
As in previous years, the route was an out-and-back one, with a 4km / 2.5mi climb to test the legs. If you rode the 105km / 65mi option, you had to repeat a section of the route.
The 105km riders rolled out right on time. As we always do, my riding buddies and I positioned ourselves at the rear of the pack at the starting line. Even so, we got swarmed a few times in the early kilometres by bunches of riders moving faster than we were.
There were, as is always the case, a few crashes. One happened right beside me when there was a touch of wheels in a group that was overtaking me at speed. Other crashes were announced by the wail of an ambulance siren. As far as I know, none of the crashes resulted in serious injury.
Crashes aside, this event was once again among the best on the Malaysian ride calendar. The evening start time was universally appreciated. It was cool with minimal wind. Which meant that overheating and dehydration were not a problem.
As you would expect from a highway, the road conditions were excellent. Smooth, pothole-free asphalt under bright LED lights. The rolling terrain, coupled with no disruptions from motorized traffic, were a delight.
I didn’t stop during my ride (a first for me on a ride exceeding 100km / 62mi), but reports were that the water stations were superb. Although there was an issue with a shortage of water at the first stop. All the other stops were literally overflowing with cool water, 100 Plus, bananas and PowerGels. I’ve never been in a Malaysian ride where PowerGels were given away. As many as you wanted.
The marshals were excellent. Each highway exit was manned with volunteers holding lighted batons with which to direct riders. Marshals on motorbikes patrolled the route. The need for route signage was minimal, but it was clearly visible where needed.
The entire mood of the event was festive. The lively music at the start, the upbeat volunteers, the outstanding facilities, the magical sight of thousands of red lights blinking on down the highway, and the reception at the finish line all helped make this a memorable event.
The good times continued at the finish area. Sponsors like Garmin, Volvo and Polygon, a local bike shop chain, had booths displaying and selling their products. Clear Marque, the local distributor for Volvo Life Paint, was demonstrating and taking orders for their unique reflective spray. As Volvo says, “The best way to survive a crash is not to crash.”
Like on Friday during the goodie bag pickup, the Starbucks van was doing a good trade in Frappuccinos.
Lots of free food was on offer as well – satay, muffins, coconut shakes, fruit. There was a massage tent. There were lucky draw prizes to be given out.
And post-ride was a great time to catch up with friends.
Including these former colleagues of mine in their spiffy corporate jerseys.
There are some who didn’t think that the RHB Shimano Highway Ride was a tremendous success. Mostly drivers who were caught in the traffic caused by the closure of the LEKAS highway. The rest of us can’t wait to do it all again next year.