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Photo credit: JULIAN TAY, GORDON GOH, CAI HAOJUN

Three youths share their experiences cycling long distance to Malaysia

From establishing close friendships within their cycling group to learning how to overcome tensions, these youths recount stories of their various trips to Malaysia.

Ruth Chan

Enjoys solitude. Finds comfort in watching the sunset and drinking milo.


Published: 4 December 2020, 1:58 PM

For most of us, cycling is seen as a form of bonding session with friends and family members or a mode of travelling to school or work.

But one Singaporean youth has taken the road less travelled and found immense fulfilment in long-distance cycling. Since picking up cycling four and a half years ago, 19-year-old Julian Tay has cycled an average of 7,450 km per year. 

In February, Julian cycled 250 km over 11.5 hours to Melaka during his school holidays. Besides Melaka, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic student has also cycled to Desaru, Pulai Waterfall, Kukup and Cameron Highlands. 

 

Julian and his dad on the summit of Cameron Highlands. PHOTO CREDITS: JULIAN TAY

 

He attributes his introduction to the world of cycling to Singapore Polytechnic student Cai Haojun. Julian’s dad and Haojun’s mum are colleagues, which led them to be acquainted with each other. Haojun, who’s an avid cyclist, reached out to Julian to try road biking back in 2015.

Julian said: “My first ride on the tarmac wasn’t even on a road bike, but it shows that anyone who can balance on a bike can pick up this sport.

“I like long-distance cycling because I love being out in the fresh air with only myself for competition.”

For Haojun, his interest in cycling was sparked when his dad bought him his first bicycle after PSLE. At first, the 18-year-old was cycling at Park Connector Networks but soon found himself joining groups on Facebook to cycle with people for longer distances.

He has made many friends from cycling because the cyclists he has met are friendly. He’s even made trips to Desaru and Pulai Waterfall with his cycling buddies.

 

Haojun has also explored South Korea on a bicycle. PHOTO CREDITS: CAI HAOJUN

 

Julian and Haojun are currently part of the same cycling group, Heart Riders, together with Gordon Goh, a 20-year-old Republic Polytechnic student. 

A veteran cyclist despite his young age, Gordon has similarly cycled to many places in Malaysia like Kukup, Kulai, Pulai Waterfalls, Desaru, Port Dickson and Melaka.

Gordon, who admitted he wasn’t the most active kid while growing up, shared that he picked up cycling from his brother at 15 years old. It ignited a passion for cycling in him. 

Fuelled by the thrill the activity brings and the beautiful scenery he gets to admire while doing so, he invested more on bicycles and equipment as well as exploring new places to cycle. To date, Gordon has spent more than $8,000 on cycling. 

While the trio of Julian, Haojun and Gordon haven’t been on a trip together, there were multiple trips in which two out of the three were present.

A tight-knit community

When asked why they would endure such gruelling journeys, Julian said that he enjoys “rides where [we] look out for our fellow group mates rather than to out-compete each other”.

I know that I don’t have to overcome these journeys myself because my friends are always there at every step of the journey.”

Agreeing with Julian, Gordon feels that going on such a long-distance expedition is an excellent way to bond, grow together and gain more experiences. But more importantly, he loves the kampong spirit displayed by the villagers they passed by during their trips.

Citing a trip to Desaru as an example, there was an incident in which the bicycle derailleur of a group member suddenly broke. With the frame broken, it was impossible for him to continue cycling.

 

While some of the riders were taking a look at the bike to try and solve the issue, others stood by the road to flag a passing vehicle. PHOTO CREDITS: GORDON GOH

 

In the end, the group of approximately 10 cyclists solved the problem by flagging a lorry which brought the cyclist and the broken bicycle to a nearby town to hail a Grab. The Grab driver, who also happened to be a cyclist, made a U-turn from the town and followed the pack to cheer them on.

This is one of the many ways that show how close-knitted the cycling community is.

Haojun also had his fair share of troubling experiences. On a trip to Desaru, he accidentally hit something which caused his tyre to puncture. Unfortunately, the spare tyre he had with him also punctured and the entire journey was delayed by one or two hours. 

The other cyclists with him were very understanding though and even helped him to find a replacement tyre. 

He said: “You never know what’s going to happen, and it’s important to stick together as a team and have each other’s backs”.

Agreeing with Haojun, Gordon said: “Whether it is in our daily lives or when we are cycling, we are here for each other.”

 Julian also appreciates the life advice the older cyclists give them whilst cycling. As compared to friends his age, conversations with older cyclists are more geared towards their experiences and the places they’ve been.  

During a separate ride to Melaka, due to strong winds, the group split into two packs, with the faster one several hundred metres ahead. But discouragement was the last thing on their minds.

“We had each other and talked about life (when there’s less traffic). We shared about how our families are doing, (the older cyclists) talked about how their sons are coping in NS, and they even gave us advice for NS.”

 

Mini gestures like sharing water during rides with someone who has run out are things that keep Julian going. PHOTO CREDITS: JULIAN TAY

 

Long term aspirations for cycling

Haojun seldom joins the group for overseas trips due to his busy schedule at school and sticks to round island trips. He is in the midst of building his own mountain bike which he plans on bringing on off-road trails such as Pulau Ubin.

In terms of a more long-term goal, he hopes to explore Taiwan on a bicycle one day. 

Julian hopes to cycle to the Chinese border, while Gordon wishes to attempt cycling up Samoeng Loop and Doi Inthanon, two mountain roads in Chiang Mai, Thailand, that are highly popular with cyclists.

Due to current travel restrictions, many plans to cycle to Malaysia had to be cancelled. Prior to the pandemic, Heart Riders had plans to cycle up Cameron Highlands as part of a chill competition as well as to make a trip up to Fraser’s Hill. 

For now, they’ve settled with cycling expeditions around Singapore of about 100km each, including routes such as Mandai Road, Mount Faber and West Coast Highway.

Advice for people interested in long-distance cycling

Gordon recommends beginner cyclists in Singapore who are interested in road cycling to cycle at Seletar Airport and Tanah Merah Coast Road as these two roads are flat and there are not many cars.

Julian also encourages them to join My Bike Group, a cycling group that brings bikers of all ages and experience levels to explore Singapore and surrounding regions on two wheels.

Additionally, it is paramount to prepare for a long-distance ride, as suggested by Haojun.

“Before you start riding, ask yourself how many stop points are there, what your route is… and remember to pace yourself.

“Push your limits but know your limits. Don’t always try to keep up with the faster group. The main point is to listen to what your body is telling you,” he concluded.


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