Monday 19 November 2012

Cycle Touring in South East Asia - the Start

Night after night we’ve watched rain sweeping across Kuala Lumpur. The view from our friends’ balcony is spectacular – a 180 degree view of the city with the Petronas Twin Towers pushing upwards into the murk. Occasionally the towers vanish as the weather closes in. Lightning strikes across KL, and sometimes the thunder is so close and so loud it makes us both jump and dash inside. The humidity, the warm, muggy heat mean we can barely move without breaking into a sweat. Our clothes are always damp and it’s only the air con in our bedroom that enables us to sleep.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, city skyline as the north east monsoon spills over onto the west coast - Nov 2012.
How on earth are we going to cycle in this, we ask ourselves. With no obvious answer, all we can do is prepare the best we can. Within hours of touching down in KL we’ve drawn up a list but it’s taken us more than ten days to get all the jobs done.

The first problem was that some spare parts for our tandem, which we call the Beast of Bridgwater, were held up by Malaysian Customs and it took all the diplomatic skills of our friends and hosts to get the process moving. When the parts arrived and we’d payed the import duty, we started work on the bike.
Packing up our tandem in Athens. The SS Couplings made it
easy to split the bike in two. Etihad weren't too concerned about
the size of the boxes, provided neither of them exceeded 32 kg
in weight.
We reassembled it after the flight from Athens, changed the oil in the Rohloff hub gears, fitted new tyres and tubes, brake pads, an extra water bottle cage and pedals for Mike (he decided the combination flat one side/clip-on the other side were more trouble than they were worth).
A hitch came when we went to a bike shop to have the rear sprocket removed and replaced – we don’t carry the necessary tool (a chainwhip) for the job. Unfortunately, the wheel was overtightened when it was put back into the forks and we discovered it was almost impossible to backpedal. When we pushed the bike, both sets of pedals rotated – a guaranteed way to gouge our shins. In desperation we emailed SJS Cycles in the UK, where we bought the bike. Within 12 hours we had a reply from them and from Rohloff in Germany. Their joint advice was to take the wheel off the bike and whack each side of the axle once, very hard, with a hammer to realign the hub’s bearing. It seemed a drastic course of action and Mike procrastinated for hours before summoning up the courage to do it. Ten minutes later, the problem was fixed.
The Beast of Bridgwater gets its first oil change at 5,000 km.
The 14 gears in the Rohloff hub run in an oil bath - the oil change
is a minor task compared with the continual tinkering needed to
keep a derailleur running while cycle touring.
As well as sorting out the bike, we’ve made some changes to the equipment we are carrying. The feather duvet that kept us warm in spring and autumn in Europe has been binned and replaced with two luxurious bedspreads.

The Shangahi Hotel in Ipoh may be pretty basic but we have
upgraded our bedding with a pair of stylish Indian cotton and
muslin summer blanketsfrom the Zari Collection, run by our
friends Annabel and Suku in Kuala Lumpur. Email us for
their contact details if interested.
We’ve thrown out the aluminium campstools we’ve carried for the past six months, but after much discussion have decided to continue carrying our tent – despite its weight and the fact that we will seldom use it in SE Asia. You just never know. 
We’ve stocked up on anti-malaria pills, bought a mosquito net and some Permethrin and soaked our big silk sheet in the latter – to discourage bedbugs.
We’ve also bought some maps of Malaysia and the wider region, but have been unable to get our GPS to work with a Malaysia map downloaded from the internet. We are now carrying a useless piece of junk but live in hope that we’ll find a way to use it at some stage.
There’s nothing left to do now but get on that bike and ride.
And our thanks go to …. (in no particular order)

With Stuart and Alison in Abu Dhabi - Stuart is the source of
the special mixture we add to our water bottles each day.
Stuart and Alison in Abu Dhabi, friends who helped us with our Etihad flights and had us to stay in their lovely apartment in the UAE.

Etihad - the staff were fantastic. As the last standby passengers to get on the flight from Athens we had a glimpse of just how hard they work. Even the sight of our two big bike boxes didn’t faze them.
L to R: Judy, Annabel, Mike & Suku in Kuala Lumpur.
Suku and Annabel in Kuala Lumpur. Suku dealt with Malaysian Customs on our behalf, and together they gave us the run of their apartment. They were incredibly generous, and Suku mixes a mean gin and tonic.

James and Gabi in KL who helped keep us fed and watered and entertained, and offered lots of useful advice.

The guys at the outdoor store Yellow Stone, Bangsar Baru, KL who got on the phone and worked out a cycle route for us from KL to Penang, avoiding the worst of the traffic and suggesting places to stay.
SJS Cycles/Thorn/Rohloff for their swift and practical response to our panicked inquiry about the problem with the rear hub. 
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  1. And we appreciate being able to keep up with you and ride along! Many thanks!,

  2. I have been following you in Europe but just caught up with the Malaysian leg. that is because we have been in Asia ourselves in Burma for the last nearly 3 weeks. If you get a chance, it is a fantastic country.

    Well done on the journey so far.

    David and Jane


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