CYCLING has become a popular hobby in recent years in Sibu, once known as the bicycle capital of Sarawak.
In the last decade or so, many people have made lifestyle changes and taken up cycling to keep in shape in Kuching and Miri.
National and international cycling events have also spurred interest in the sport of cycling.
thesundaypost met up with three lecturers and keen cyclists from Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN) — Zul, Anis, and Shafiq. They take their Saturday cycling day very seriously, pedalling from IKBN, off the Miri Baram Road, to Lutong, Pulau Melayu and back to their college, taking three and four hours for the round trip — with a rest at Lutong Beach.
During the Movement Control Order (MCO), they practised social distancing and wore masks when out cycling.
Zul, a culinary arts teacher from Kelantan, has been teaching in IKBN for the past seven years. He and his wife, also from Kelantan, have enjoyed their stay in Miri.
He said cycling is most suitable for his lightly built physique.
“Mountain biking is a good sport, especially on off-roads like the Bakam Road and the small kampung roads,” said Zul, who has invested in an RM1,000 plus bike.
As Miri is rather flat, he and his friends would go to Lambir, Bakam, and even Bario for more challenging rides.
They have joined some cycling events but Zul said riding in small groups is best for them at the moment.
Wong Meng Lei, a local Foochow historian and writer, enjoys mountain biking. And in the past seven years, he has gone through two mountain bikes.
He cycles to work and, after knocking off at five, will go for his long-distance ride before heading home. He selects various routes in Sibu and may ride up to 30km every evening.
He took a break during the MCO but resumed his routine when restrictions were eased.
Wong is a busy man with a tight schedule. He decided to cycle to work seven years ago to stay in shape.
He lives in a suburb, about 5km from his office. While cycling to work, he has a water bottle at the ready, wears a helmet, and carries a backpack.
At first, he only had an ordinary bicycle, which didn’t last a year. He then invested in a sturdier mountain bike, which he has been using since — plus a second standby bike.
“I have spent quite a bit on repairs and spare parts. Over the past seven years, these had cost more than the price of the bike.
“Cycling is safe and so far, I haven’t had an accident,” said Wong who has been recording the distances he covered in a logbook since he started cycling. So far, he has logged 39,000km — 1,000km short of circumventing the equator.
If he keeps it up, he will soon be completing a ride around the world — a seven-year accomplishment from the day he started cycling.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving,” he quoted Albert Einstein.
Wong’s old office was spacious enough to accommodate his mountain bike but as his new office is on the first floor of the Methodist Building at Island Road, Sibu, he has bought a foldable bike.
Another cycling enthusiast Tommy Wong took up the hobby in November 2013.
“The rainy season put me off golfing and as I was keen to get some exercise, I joined the Kuching Nite Riders who were into night riding as their name suggested. I used an aluminium US-made Iron Horse of the early 90s that I brought back from Padang, Indonesia in 2004.
“The others in the group had flashy new road and mountain bikes and some of them suggested the first thing I should do was to get a ‘respectable’ looking bike if I were serious about cycling,” recalled Tommy, who was born in 1953.
After getting a new bike, a 2014 giant XTC, and joining the Giant Cycling Group, he was soon doing 60km comfortably.
But in 2014, a slipped disc put him out of action. For two years, he relied on non-pervasive treatment such as acupuncture, acupressure, Chinese Herbal medicines, and core back muscle strengthening therapy.
In March 2016, he was back in the saddle and joined the Bunga Riding Club, a group pedalling top-notch brands like Colnagos, Bianchis, Specialized, and Cervelo.
There was one bike hand-painted by an Italian with a price tag of RM67,000!
In June 2016, while in Melbourne, Tommy bought a Cannondale Synapse Gran Fondo machine — a carbon bike weighing only 7.6kg — and rode it during weekends to Damai, Muara Tebas, Sematan, Rambungan Ferry point, and the Borneo Highlands – over a distance of 60km to 100km.
His third bicycle was a Brompton Folding Bike. This handcrafted bike from England folds in less than 10 seconds and is the most compact of all the foldies.
As the bike was painted white, Tommy named it Lady Godiva.
He took it to Penang for a riding event and on his return to Kuching, painted the bike with black spots and patches, transforming Lady Godiva into his “trusty Dalmatian”.
In November 2016, his Kuching Brompton Group (nine cyclists) went on a leisurely bike tour in Australia — from Perth to Margaret River, passing through the towns of Mandurah, Bunbury, and Busselton in a record-cold Spring but the scenery was beautiful. They also got to enjoy the superb quality of the red wine from the 100 plus vineyards of Margaret River.
On the next excursion, he and five friends spent 11 days touring the northern regions of Luzon Island, the Philippines, from the end of February 2017.
Tour captain Clifford Augustin Juan, a Filipino architect residing in Kuching, arranged the ride from Tuguegarao, Pagudpud, Bangui where they saw giant windmills for the first time, to Laoag City, Vigan Heritage City, and Baguio.
Besides home outings to Mukah, Bintulu, Miri, and Sibu, Tommy also rode his Dalmatian in Melbourne, Singapore, and the 2017 Penang Round Island CFAL.
The group made a side trip to Langkawi before the Penang event, taking the inaugural AirAsia direct flight from Kuching to the Jewel of Kedah and were greeted by the state executive chairman for local tourism and garlanded with flowers.
In October 2017, they toured Aruk, Sambas, Singkawang, and Pontianak and this was followed up with Bali in June the following year.
Other 2018 tours included a trip to Kota Kinabalu, Penang (round Island CFAL ride), Beijing, Bangkok, and back to Penang.
Long-distance tour-biker Simon Sandi was among the group for the Bangkok to Penang ride. Retiree Peter Lai also joined the 1,502km bike tour.
Their combined age at that time was 189 years old. They spent 21 days travelling southwards from Bangkok, passing Pattaya, Hua Hin, Chomphon, Surat Thani, Hat Yai, and Padang Besar.
They celebrated with a cold local beer after each day’s ride.
In Thailand, they went for inexpensive lodgings, including staying in tents on five occasions. A scary incident was when they camped by the beach one night and a tropical storm blew up around 4am.
Their tents were nearly blown into the sea but they managed to break camp and rode off in the dark — soaked and drenched.
They had five rest days during the trip.
The fourth bicycle
Tommy bought his fourth bike, a Chromoly steel machine dedicated for bike touring, for the Bangkok-to-Penang excursion.
In November 2019, he and his friends were invited to an all-expenses-paid trip, sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism, which coincided with the end of their Thai outing.
There were 50 Brompton participants from Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, and Malaysia. Tommy was the only one from Sarawak.
In December 2018, he rode in Singapore with new friends from the Bali event. They did a midnight ride, starting at 10.30pm and finishing at 4.15am.
“It was a great experience,” he said.
The year 2019 saw Tommy cycling in Kota Kinabalu, Zhu Hai, Shekou, Shenzhen, Gold Coast/Brisbane, Taipei/Taichung/Hua Lien.
In December that same year, he took part in a 21-day 1,200km tour of Sri Lanka with his Thai tour buddy Simon Sandi, retired Singaporean marine engineer KC Auyeong, and Malacca-born Tony Gan, a retired headmaster from a school in Kudat, Sabah.
The group soaked up the beautiful and contrasting sights of the host country. The Buddhist majority Sri Lankans are a friendly, courteous and welcoming.
In February this year, 10 cyclists from Wong’s Morning Hills Ride Group toured Biawak/Aruk, Sambas, Singkawang. During the trip, they witnessed a Chap Goh Mei celebration, describing it as a mystical experience, not for the faint-hearted.
Mediums in a trance performed unbelievable acts like piercing their cheeks with a four-foot sword or slamming their derrières with the tip of a spear.
One of the performers carried two bicycle wheels –- one on each side of his face — hanging on a steel rod pierced through his cheeks.
“I think a last-minute bicycle-related the act was put up for our entertainment,” Tommy quipped.
When the MCO was relaxed, 10 cyclists from the Kuching Hills Ride group rode from Kuching to Sibu along the coastal road and stayed overnight in Maludam, Sarikei and Sibu. It took them three days to cover the 350km route but only four hours and 45 minutes to get back by express boat.
At the time of writing, Tommy was looking forward to his next ride from Aug 26-30. The plan was for eight of The Hills Riders to take the express boat at the Pending wharf before continuing their cycling expedition along the roughly 560km coastal road from Tanjung Manis to Miri, with overnight stops in Daro, Mukah, Bintulu, and Batu Niah, reaching in Miri on Aug 30.
As the Brunei border is still closed, the lap from Brunei to Kudat, Sabah, would have to wait.
“Cycling is really good for you. It makes you feel younger — all my cycling mates are much younger than I — builds up your cardiac and general health and reduces stress. One definite improvement for me is that my knees have become stronger,” Tommy said.