This is the ending of my January post about the Audax BRM200 Malaysia 2016:
The teaser video for the 400km / 248mi brevet in September is already out! The time limit is 27 hours.
The question now is, will my buddies and I ride it?
As they say, “famous last words.”
Seven of us were in a three-vehicle convoy to Malacca on Friday afternoon. We had lunch at the McDonald’s on the KL – Seremban Highway, near the Sungai Besi Toll Plaza.
It is an easy 133km / 83mi drive from that McDonald’s to the Fenix Inn Melaka. Our base for the weekend.
There was still some important preparation to be done for the long ride ahead.
My power nap burned through all the calories from lunch. Some of us walked around the corner for dinner.
Roasted chicken rice, some of the eponymous chicken rice balls, and an omelette. The roasted chicken was very good. The rice balls were mushy and disappointing. The rice balls would have been better if there was a bit of chicken inside each one.
By 6.45pm we were ready to roll. We all had additional storage on our bikes to supplement our saddlebags. Essential items for a long ride like this were one or more power banks to recharge cyclocomputers, lights and mobile phones, extra stocks of energy bars and N8 Endurance drink mix, and small medical kits.
We had prepared as well as we knew how. Nevertheless we were all a bit nervous at the thought of covering slightly more than 400km / 249mi in 27 hours. None of us had ever ridden that far before. Ken (third from the left) had good reason to be more nervous than we were. His longest ever ride had been only 140km / 87mi, he was on a borrowed bicycle, and he was wearing tennis shoes.
The event organisers were at the McDonald’s Dataran Pahlawan before 7.00pm to hand out the brevet and cue cards for the ride.
Before I go any further, I must convey a big Thank You to the volunteers who ran this event so smoothly. Jess Lim, Ray Lee and Chong Su at Checkpoints 1 and 3. Stefaaniem Choo at Checkpoint 2. Johnny Lee on his scooter. Sam Tow in the Audax Landrover Defender. And Jaykay helping out where needed, while at the same time riding most of the route.
By sundown the area was teeming with riders anxious to get their brevet and cue cards, and to make the first of the many, many, many pedal revolutions needed to get to Skudai and back to Malacca. Including one rider on this specially badged bike.
Kudos to the organisers for a much-improved card distribution process. There was no repeat of the long queues we saw at the Audax BRM200 early this year. Minutes after arriving at Dataran Pahlawan, we were ready to go.
We headed first to a Malacca landmark, the historic Dutch Stadthuys, for a photograph.
The short ride to and from the Stadthuys took us through a procession of lighted trishaws, a distinctive feature of Malacca.
I wish I could blame the dazzling lights for my leading the group down the wrong side of the McDonald’s at Dataran Pahlawan to start the ride. 409km / 254mi to go, and we picked up some unnecessary extra distance right out of the gate by going the wrong way.
The real culprit was being too dependent on the cue card, excellent though it was, and not studying the route beforehand. This was the first of a few lessons about riding Audaxes that we learned over the next 27 hours.
Fortunately we were soon back on track, and following a string of blinking red lights southeast along the coast toward Muar.
Our mantra for the night was “start slow, finish strong.” We kept our speed below 30kph / 19mph as we rolled through Muar and on to Checkpoint 1 at Kompleks Niaga Benteng Peserai, in Batu Pahat.
I was in new territory as the clock ticked toward midnight. I had never ridden my bike that late at night before. I think it was a new experience for everyone in the Flipside group.
Team Flipside got to Checkpoint 1 together. The cue sheet read 93.5km / 58mi. Our cyclocomputers showed 7km / 4mi more, given our unplanned detour through Malacca.
Every time I participate in an organized cycling event, I see something new. Someone on a bike with an “AUDAX BRM400” label on the down tube, a Specialised S-Works Mclaren Venge, or a unicycle, or an Elliptigo. This time it was unusual footwear for a long-distance ride. Those are flip-flops on the feet of the second gentleman from the left.
Don’t laugh. The last I saw of him and his riding companion, both on small-wheel bikes, were their rear lights disappearing into the distance at more than 30kph / 19mph.
After getting our brevet cards stamped, we grabbed some of the sports drink on offer. 100 Plus very kindly donated 1,200 bottles of their Edge non-carbonated isotonic drink to this event.
We also needed something to eat. Given the late hour, the pickings were slim at the Kompleks Niaga Benteng Peserai. We needed some help.
Article 7 of the Rules of Brevets Randonneurs Mondiaux states, in part, that
Each rider must be self sufficient. No follow cars or support of any kind are permitted on the course. Personal support is only allowed at checkpoints.
Luckily we had the benefit of support from a person who has local knowledge. My biker chick is from Batu Pahat, and she, together with my mother-in-law, met us at Checkpoint 1. She would also meet us fourteen hours later, at Checkpoint 3.
Her advice was to cross the road and eat at the Restoran Ceria Maju Klasik. It was an excellent suggestion. Fried rice done in a variety of styles, some fried eggs, and sweet teh tarik. Just what we needed to set us up for the next leg to Skudai, 113.5km / 70.5mi away.
We stuck to our plan to keep the pace below 30kph / 19mph, and continued to ride as a group of seven. At 2.30am, an hour after we left Batu Pahat, we started seeing lightning and hearing thunder in the distance. By 3.30am the roads looked like this.
Marco and I had rain jackets, and we were happy to ride on. The other Flipsiders did not have wet weather gear, and as the rain got heavier, they decided to take shelter at a bus stop.
The rain came with a strong tail wind. Marco and I were glad to be pushed along for as long as possible. We sailed through Pontian Kecil, dodging puddles and ride down the center of the deserted roads. It was a lot of fun for the next 12km / 7mi, until we realised that we should have made a left turn in Pontian Kecil.
Which brings me to the second and third lessons about riding Audaxes. Lesson 2 is always put your cue card where you can easily refer to it. Taped to the handlebar or top tube. Not in a jersey pocket, which makes retrieving the card a hassle. It is even more of a hassle when your rain jacket covers your jersey pockets.
Lesson 3 is once you do pull out your cue card and realise that you missed a turn, it is better to double back to the turn that you missed. That is a much smarter option than trying to navigate to the next checkpoint on your own, in the hope of not having to ride too many extra kilometers.
Suffice to say that instead of arriving at Checkpoint 2 in Skudai at about 5.30am, as originally anticipated, Marco and I got there at 8.00am. Admittedly, thirty minutes of that additional time was spent getting a drink and some you char koay at Bukit Indah, when a hunger bonk threatened with 15km / 9mi still to go before Checkpoint 2.
By the time we stopped for a snack, we had burned ninety minutes on stop-start riding as we navigated through unfamiliar territory via Waze and Google Maps. Including a failed effort to stay off the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link Expressway. We finally had to accept that the shortest route from where we were, in Kampung Ulu Pulai, to Checkpoint 2 meant riding for 6km / 3.7mi along that expressway.
That misadventure added another 28km / 17mi of unnecessary riding to our total mileage.
Marco and I put a brave face on things as we finally arrived at the McDonald’s on the Skudai-Pontian Highway.
The five others rolled in to Checkpoint 2 an hour later. I thought that they might have lost their way as well. But no. They all napped for a couple of hours while they waited out the rain.
A McDonald’s Brekkie Wrap with Sausage had called my name. All the tables were occupied by riders who had arrived before us. So I pulled off my wet shoes and socks, and perched on the curb of the Drive Thru lane.
The other guys got a table when they arrived.
It was 9.00am and we were halfway through the BRM400. We had fourteen hours to cover the 202km / 126mi back to Dataran Pahlawan in Malacca. That felt possible. Despite the faces in this photograph.