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Ice is Nice

After last weekend’s Broga broiler my biker chick gave me strict instructions.  I was to get a full medical examination before doing any more hot and humid rides.  Which in Kuala Lumpur meant before doing any more rides – period.  Turning 55 was additional incentive, not that I needed it given that my cycling was at risk, to get checked out.

So I spent a few hours being been scanned, prodded, pierced, x-rayed and wired to various machines.  I was declared fully fit so I was able to turn my attention to what rides to do over the coming weekend.  A group from the Racun Cycling Gang and some Cyclistis had signed up for this ride:  a charity ride in support of the Malaysian Aids Foundation.

By the time I got my act together registration for this ride had closed.  Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately given the weather forecast for the day of the ride, the organisers accepted my entry despite my tardiness.  The ride was 130 km.  There was one water stop, at the 80 km point.  The organisers recommended that riders have two, or better yet, three bottles to get them to the water stop.  I had three bottles on the Broga ride and that hadn’t been enough.  I would have to do some things differently to make it through this ride in better shape that I had been during the Broga ride.

The first thing to do differently this time would be to not let my heart rate shoot past 150 bpm.  The Karvonen formula, which is a more accurate way to calculate your maximum heart rate than the frequently quoted 220 minus your age method, puts my maximum heart rate at 165 bpm.  I suspect that part of my troubles during the Broga ride stemmed from riding at greater than 85% of my maximum heart rate for more than an hour, including hitting 165 bpm at a few points.  In other words I would have to curb my competitive instincts and not chase after faster riders.

The second thing to do differently this time would be to stay as cool as possible.  I should have done this very simple and, in hindsight, obvious thing from my first ride in Malaysia.  I put my three bottles in the freezer overnight.

Farid and I rolled through the start at about 8am.  It was already warm and it was obvious that we were in for a sunny morning.

Bike-X 04

Photo courtesy of Cycling Malaysia Magazine

You can see two frozen bottles in my cages.  The third bottle was in the rear centre pocket of my jersey.  Pouring ice cubes down someone’s back was a high school prank.  Who would have thought that I would volunteer for the equivalent now?  Regular sips of frosty sport drink combined with that lump of ice at the base of my spine kept me lukewarm rather than hot for most of the ride.

Despite taking turns at the front of a group that hit better than 40 kph at times I managed to keep my heart rate in check.  This was helped in large part by the very flat route.  We were riding on the coastal plain to the west of the city, where the only climbing was up highway overpasses.  Much like in both Houston and Den Haag.  We did approach one climb today but just as we got to the foot of the hill we turned to the right and away from it.  I was not disappointed!

Of course there is no avoiding the effects of the heat and humidity completely.  I was dripping in no time at all.  This time I remembered to bring my Sweat GUTR, which I had bought to keep the sweat out of my eyes in the 40° C and higher summer temperatures in Houston.  It still works a treat.

The water stop had been moved to the 59 km point.  I was glad to see it.  I refilled one bottle.  I probably should have topped up my other bottles but I didn’t want to dilute the Nuun sport drink.  I poured some water over my head and the back of my neck.  More to wash the sweat off my face then to cool down.  Once we got moving again it did help to have wet hair and a wet jersey.

The organizers had shortened the ride to 98 km.  I was not disappointed about that either!  By the end of the ride all three of my bottles were empty.  I rolled across the finish line hot and sweaty and in need of fluid.  As you can see there was more  to drink at the finish area.

Photo courtesy of Cycling Malaysia Magazine

It may not look it from the photo above but my strategies to not overheat worked.  The freezer is my new friend.

Reverse Dragon’s Back

I was so excited to finally do my first long ride in Kuala Lumpur today that I could hardly sleep last night.  So it was no hardship to be up at 5.30am for breakfast.  That gave me time to drive the 27 km to Bukit Jelutong.  I got to the rendezvous point at 6.50am.  Mark L. arrived shortly thereafter, followed by Wan A.  By 7.30am we were a Racun Cycling Gang of four roadies and three foldies, ready to get on the road.  We weren’t the only ones heading out for a ride this morning.  The car park quickly filled up with all sorts of vehicles that disgorged all sorts of bikes and riders.

Mark led us on what he described as a Reverse Dragon’s Back ride.  Which meant tackling the six hills that make up the Dragon’s Back at the start of the ride rather than at the end.  A wise choice in my book given the potential for roasting sunshine by midmorning.

As it turned out we were lucky with the sun.  It was humid and fairly warm, but it stayed overcast for most of the morning.  I was glad that I had sunscreen on though.  I picked up some color in spite of the cloud cover.

Riding in Kuala Lumpur reminds me of riding in Houston.  The Houston weather, at least in the summer, rivals Kuala Lumpur’s for heat and humidity.  More to the point, riding in Kuala Lumpur requires cycling alongside all manner of motorized vehicles.  Fortunately I had a gentle reintroduction to sharing the road.  The Sunday traffic was relatively light.  This is Mark coasting down one of the humps on the Dragon’s Back with just the occasional car for company.

Some of the major tollroads have separate motorcycle lanes.  Which of course make excellent bike paths.  Almost like the ones in the Netherlands.  After the Dragon’s Back and a stop for a drink we rode for 30 km on the motorcycle lanes alongside the Guthrie Corridor Highway.  The road surface is excellent and as it was a Sunday there were very few motorbikes out.

What is different here as compared to Houston and Den Haag is the lush and verdant foliage that covers everything beyond the shoulders of the roads.  Vegetation quickly reclaims any cleared land.  In just a few years secondary jungle takes hold.

The route that Mark chose was one that few other riders were on today.  We had long stretches to ourselves, including one 5 km section where Mark and and I were able to cruise along at better than 40 kph.  We stopped at regular intervals to regroup, including at the point where we would leave the highway.  Once back together again we returned to the urban roads.  From there we gently pedaled the last 2 km to where we had parked our cars.  Which just coincidentally was right in front of a ‘restoran mamak.’

These are very popular restaurants run by Indian Muslims.  These restaurants grew out of the roadside stall equivalent known as ‘gerai mamak.’  Some gerai and restoran mamak are open 24 hours a day.  All serve a variety of food and drink, including the ubiquitous roti canai and teh tarik.  Those make up the standard order at the end of a ride in Kuala Lumpur, in the same way a koffie verkeerd and an appelgebak met slagroom put the finishing touch to a ride in Den Haag.

R R Go Away, Come Again Another Day

The weather had looked threatening all afternoon.  The heavens finally opened in spectacular fashion at 6.30pm.  Thunder, lightning, and lots of water.  This was the view from our hotel room at 7.00pm.  Droplets still running down the window, but the main show was over.

Emails about the weather were a common feature of ride days in Houston.  A number of online weather sites were consulted.  Screen shots of radar images went out.  Six Thirty riders looked out of their office windows and reported about the state of the roads along the ride route.  If the roads were going to be wet at 6.30pm the ride would be canceled.  The Six Thirty group never rode in the wet if it could be avoided.  I remember just one occasion where we got caught in a deluge about halfway through the ride.  Somewhere in the vicinity of the old Masonic Lodge on the corner of Brompton Road and North Braeswood Boulevard.  Whatever the weather there was one constant.  The words “rain” and “wind” were never used.  It was always just R and W.  One of those cyclists’ superstitions.  Which I will disregard for the rest of this post.

The weather featured large in Den Haag too.  Saturday morning Not Possibles rides and all other rides were preceded by a look at various weather forecasts.  The concern was less about the rain though.  It rains much less in Den Haag – 25 cm / 10 in annually than in Houston at 122 cm / 48 in per year.  Plus everyone in the Netherlands seems to be very comfortable with riding in the wet.  We often rode on wet bike paths and in the rain.  A waterproof jacket and SKS Raceblade Long fenders were essential items.

For The Not Possibles it was more about the direction of the wind.  The average windspeed in Den Haag is 28.6 kph / 17.8 mph compared to 13.3 kph / 8.3 mph in Houston.  The decision to be made prior to the start of every ride was which way to head out so that there would be a tail wind on the return leg.  The wind in Den Haag is a fickle beast though.  We had many rides where the wind seemed to be in our faces no matter which heading we were on.  On some particularly windy days we chose to sail along with the wind, spinning at an effortless 50 kph for an hour or more.  Then we would ride the train back home.

The amount of rain in Kuala Lumpur is double that in Houston.  We get 240 cm / 94.5 in a year here.  This evening’s downpour dumped a significant amount of water onto the streets.  Enough water for Albert K to call at 7.15pm to say that the Racun Cycling Gang evening ride had been called off.  The fall during last week’s ride is still fresh in the memory.  That no doubt contributed to the decision to cancel this evening.  I shall have to get used to the R getting in the way of riding here.

“Toto, I Have a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.” *

My last urban night ride was in Houston in April 2010.  The Six Thirty West End group still does a Tuesday evening and a Thursday evening ride through downtown Houston.  I can still hear Juan R’s “Two Minutes” call at 6.28pm.  And I can still taste the Tex-Mex at Jax Grill where we had regular post-Thursday ride meals.

I was delighted to hear that Van’s hosts urban night rides in KL.  They start at 9pm so lights are essential.  Of course when I was packing up my riding stuff in Den Haag I didn’t think I would need lights right away.  My Niterider MiNewt Mini and Planet Bike Super Flash are in the sea freight, not to be seen until November sometime.  So if I was going to ride on Tuesday evening I needed lights.  When I was at Van’s on Monday, creak hunting with YC, I bought a Cateye Rapid 5 tail light.  Raymond T at Van’s kindly lent me a headlamp.  Good to go!

The Racun Cycling Gang met at the Decanter restaurant on Jalan Setiabakti in Bukit Damansara at 8.45pm for a 9pm start.  We were a mixed group of nine riders.  As was the case with the Genting Sempah ride the majority were on folding bikes, although Wan A was on a rather tasty looking yellow Specialized  S Works Tarmac SL3.  We headed out onto quiet residential streets with YC following behind in a car.  The roads were still a bit damp from the afternoon rain.  And my bike was still creaking!

Those were the least of my concerns though.  Here is the elevation profile for the first twelve kilometres from my last ride in Den Haag:

Here is the elevation profile for the first twelve kilometers from the Tuesday night ride:

We weren’t even two kilometres into the ride and my heart rate was pushing 150 bpm.  Which is not far short of my maximum heart rate.  The rest of the ride was more of the same.  A series of  7% to 9% gradients packed fairly together.  Those low-geared folding bikes were starting to look good.

We were fortunate to have YC in a car following behind us.  At the 4km mark we were all descending at some speed.  I heard the unmistakeable sound of a bike hitting the pavement behind me.  The damp road surface, wet leaves and speed had brought down one of our group.  Fortunately he came away with only scrapes and bruises.  YC took our unlucky rider to get his road rash cleaned up.  The rest of us looked around for my headlight, which had fallen out of its handlebar mount at about the same time the accident happened behind me.  We found the batteries and the light, less the battery cover and lens cover.  The LED was still working so I stuck it back in its mount and rode on.

We made it safely up and down the rest of the climbs that made up this ride.  We regrouped at the Decanter, loaded our bikes into our cars and drove down to a roadside stall for a lime juice and cycling chat.  Which stretched to another lime juice and more chat.  And a third lime juice and yet more chat.  I’m not sure that “I was just out for a bike ride” worked as an excuse for why I got home at almost 1am.

* Title courtesy of The Wizard of Oz.

Step One: Find the Meeting Point

The instructions for the Sunday morning ride with the Racun Cycling Gang seemed simple enough:

Meet at the McDonald’s – Middle Ring Road 2 @ 7.45am

I was familiar with the road if not that particular McDonald’s outlet.  I fired up the Tom Tom and selected my destination.  I pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot on the MRR2 at 7.40am, pleased that I was right on time.  I walked into the restaurant and looked around for anyone clad in stretchy fabrics.  The first warning bell rang in my head.  I was the only one sporting bib shorts.  Fortunately I wasn’t fluorescent as well.  I looked outside.  The second warning bell rang.  There were no bikes to be seen.

A hurried phone call revealed that there is more than one McDonald’s on that section of the MRR2.  I wasn’t on time after all.  But not to worry.  This was Malaysia; the land of the never-on-time,  and not the Netherlands; the land of the fastidiously punctual.  Ten minutes later I was amidst a group of new-found fellow Lycra-wearers.

I hadn’t hauled my bike out of the back of the car upon my arrival.  Which was a good thing as the ride didn’t start there.  We all piled back into our cars and drove for another six kilometers or so to Kampung Batu Dua Belas, Gombak.  That translates literally as Twelfth Mile Village, in Gombak.  Naturally enough the village is at mile 12 on the Gombak Road.  And it wasn’t renamed after the country went metric.

The Gombak road used to be part of the main route from KL up over the spine of the Malaysian peninsula and down again to towns and cities on the east coast.  It has been superseded by the Karak Highway.  Which means that there is now hardly any motorised traffic on the old road.  Bicycles were another matter entirely.  I hadn’t expected so many and such a variety of bikes on the road.  I saw between eighty and one hundred cyclists during my ride that morning.

We found parking spots and got our bikes ready.  Three of us had road bikes; I had my purple steel bike, but the rest of the guys in the group pulled folding bikes out of their cars.  I quickly learned that folding bikes are very popular here.  At least for the distance we planned to ride that morning.  Which was about sixteen kilometers – straight up.  I did say that the road goes up over the spine of the peninsula.  Here’s the route:

Genting Sempah

We regrouped at the top of the climb to catch our breath, and in my case to also wipe the sweat out of my eyes and off my face.  Here are some of the Racun Cycling Gang:

Christine D saw this photo and sent me the following sweat control advice – which I definitely needed:

Using unflavored, uncoloured (no mint!) lip balm, draw a line on your skin, above your eyebrow, extending down past the side of your eye, to make a “hydro barrier” – do this over each eye. don’t put it on too thick or smear it. this channels the sweat away from your eyes.

Here’s some of the competition we had for the shade at the top of the climb.

Once our pulse rates stopped hammering in our ears we rolled down the other side of this slope to the McDonald’s that is a rest stop on the Karak Highway for coffee and Cokes.  Then it was a sharp one kilometer climb back up to the point in the photo above, followed by a long sweeping descent back to our cars.

What a fabulous first ride!  The road runs through the rain forest that covers much of the country.  So while it was rabbits, ducks and geese on the bike paths in Den Haag, here I had to watch out for monkeys on the road, in this case long-tailed macaques.  The road surface is generally very good and there was very little traffic to contend with.  On my way down I passed perhaps three cars coming the other way, all driven by learner-drivers with instructors at their sides.  Presumably practicing hill stops and starts.  So I was able to descend with some speed.

The only niggle in my morning was a creak that developed at the start of the climb.  All creaks seem to emanate from the bottom bracket, but I am fairly sure that wasn’t the source.  A bit of a mystery to solve in the next few days.