SG – Muar – Mersing – Desaru – SG. A 4-day cycling trip along the borders of the Malaysian state of Johor was a somewhat impromptu one with my friend popping up with an idea of a very relaxed bikepacking holiday roughly two months prior. It soon developed into a 4-day trip with three riders and one of the rider’s parents as the support vehicle.
The support vehicle was a very generous gesture, and we wholeheartedly appreciate their never-ending patience and understanding to watch the backsides of 3 wannabes pretending to be pro tour riders in a race-long breakaway.
Tirelessly watching over us for 5-6 hours every day, marshalling traffic around us and providing the much-needed bananas and water when we called. I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to Mr and Mrs Lim for their help in this trip.
This multi-day trip was a first for me. Although I was rather confident that I’ll do alright for this trip, there were some things that I’ve only managed to learn only in the moment itself.
1.What works for 100+km, may not work for 160-180 km days consecutively
Back pain, butt pain, feet pain
A slight ache, sore or numbness may be okay for a few hours ride in Singapore where you’d be stopping at traffic lights, unclipping and standing out from the saddle. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes it spoils the fun.
This actually relieves the small aches or sores you’re experiencing, and you’d soon think that it may be a minor issue. In Malaysia, I found myself very happy to stop for a red light.
At times, even celebrating when caught by one. Due to extended periods on the saddle without any stoppages, every sore, ache, extra hip movement or misalignment of fit will add up over the many kilometres and hours ridden.
A slightly misaligned cleat position or incorrect seat height may cause pain & aches which may make your cycling not very enjoyable and possibly difficult to recover from if you’re doing consecutive long days of riding.
Remember, you are pedalling at an average rate of 90 revolutions per minute, which equates to 5,400 revolutions an hour. And if you do the math, you’d probably doing in excess of 32,400 worth of revolutions for a whole ride of 6 hours. You’d definitely not want to feel a joint pain during every single pedal stroke.
A long & slammed stem is very pleasing to our eyes and looks good on the camera. It works alright for short blasts, but over the many hours of riding, I found myself subconsciously putting my hands closer to me. For myself, my hamstrings are not the most flexible, and I’ve never been able to touch my toes with my knees straight since young.
I found myself being able to put out more consistent power positioned slightly upright than forcing myself to be hunched lower and unnecessarily exhausting my muscles. Sure, getting lower is more aerodynamic and saves you power, but I believe this applies well if your body and muscles can perform fully in low positions. This highlights my weakness in flexibility, and I’ve been more frequent in my stretching routine.
What can be done about this? One may be to get a bike fit with comfort in mind. One can also do a continuous loop, indoor trainer session or even a day trip into Malaysia. The idea for this is to minimise stoppage & unclipped time as much as possible to teach your body to be on the saddle for extended periods and also spot fit issues that will only arise during extended saddle time.
2. Food & Water
Electrolytes, carbohydrates, sugar
Riding in the heat above 32 degrees Celsius will take a toll on your body. It becomes paramount to keep yourself fuelled throughout the ride as bonking or dehydrating mid-ride is challenging to recover from.
How much to eat? I do not have the proper data and numbers to answer this question, but during this four days of riding, I have never eaten so many bananas in my entire life! If you’re making your roommate complain about your farts, then you’ve eaten a good amount of bananas for energy.
It is also best to put endurance sports specific electrolyte tablets into your drink. Off the shelf sports drinks may not be sufficient in replenishing what you’ve lost.
3. Learn to pedal in rough tarmac
Wider rims, wider tyres and carbon finishing kit may help to ease vibrations and road buzz. However, you may encounter several kilometres of road that are teeth-clattering bumpy, regardless of your gear. These are the kind of vibrations that would actually make your vision shaky and bring about never before heard sounds and creaks from your bikes and wheels.
What I did was to wrap my fingers around the hoods (think of the Vulcan Salute, fit the brake levers between your middle and ring finger), lighten my grip and pedal at a lower cadence of 85-90rpm.
What this actually does is it forces your body to engage your core to keep yourself balanced and isolates your palms from the vibration. For fast downhills, ensure a proper grip on your controls through the hoods or drops. Focusing on a smooth and consistent pedal stroke lets you ignore the road buzz and put your mind into pushing past this rough section.
4. Working Together
Although it is alright to have designated riders to be leading the group, it is better and more fun if everyone contributes to maintaining the pace. It does not need to be a match burning effort every time you’re out in front.
Actively rotating the pull will train your body to alternate between a sweet spot or threshold effort and then a recovery period while in the draft. Everyone shares the load, and everyone has a chance to get some fitness in them, it is a win-win situation!
In Sedili, where there are continuous rolling hills, we did have our fun where we tried to outsprint each other on each climb. It was a blast. An all out, out of saddle effort over the crest and then sitting onto the top tube for the downhill. The thrill was addictive and we were left wanting more everytime.
However, once the lactate in your legs kicks in and the fun is over, do gather your fellow riders and continue to work on maintaining the pace originally done.
5. Your mental & physical strength may fail faster than your bike
Not on the lightest, ceramic-smooth, aerodynamic bling? Don’t sweat it! These marginal gains sure do help you make your pedalling efforts ever so easier but still, your fitness and mental capacity is the bottom line when it comes to long hours in the saddle.
Halfway through the ride, you’d probably meet the little voice in your head, pestering you to slow down and call the group for a break just to heed to its words. I did face that voice many times and to counter it, I looked ahead for visible landmarks and tell myself to work towards reaching it.
It could be a radio tower, a building, a T-junction or if there’s absolutely no sign of civilization anywhere, aim for the road that’s visible at that moment. It worked well for me and soon enough, I muted the voice out of my head and continued pedaling with full focus.
6. It is worth the pain
Here’s the funny thing about cyclists: Who else in the right mind would wake up groggy and sore hours before sunrise, push the pedals of an occasionally bumpy and uncomfortable two-wheeler for hours up countless hills and relentless winds, all under a blazing hot sun and maybe under a heavy downpour?
The distance and duration will mess with your mind and you’d be longing for a rest stop simply because you’d rather sit on hard concrete with your legs stretched out than spinning the pedals on your bicycle.
All these pain and mental torture is worth it. You’ll find things not easily spotted whilst inside a moving automobile: a small landmark, locals waving and cheering or a sudden change in scenery to break the monotony. Hills and open spaces have a sense of scale to them as you’re exposed in the open.
You’re working to achieve what many would not be able to do or even think of doing. After the ride, you’ll heave a sigh of relief that the day’s riding is complete and when you take a look at the route map, you’d be amazed at where your own legs and willpower has brought you.
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