Conservatively speaking freely, 6 April 2017
If I had an antipathetic attitude towards running before being persuaded into it ahead of the Seremban Half Marathon event back in August 2014, I was still repelled by the idea of road cycling in the months before the CIMB Cycle @ Seri Menanti on 26 March 2017.
Such feelings were formed over years of firstly being a pedestrian in London, and then a motorist in Kuala Lumpur.
In the British capital, too many cyclists thought they were exempt from stopping at pedestrian crossings, resulting in some dangerous near misses, but the worst offenders were those who invaded the pavements when they deemed the actual road to be inconvenient. The situation for pedestrians got more dangerous once the bicycle hire scheme – colloquially termed “Boris bikes” after the then Mayor of London who was an enthusiastic cyclist himself – was introduced. Though the stated aims of providing an affordable, convenient and green form of transport were of course laudable (and a response to an increasingly popular pastime), it apparently took some time for cycling etiquette – and the infrastructure such as dedicated lanes – to became mainstream.
In the Malaysian capital, there are few things more frustrating for a driver than encountering cyclists blocking your way, particularly on smaller roads where a single rider can slow your progress. And when there is a swarm of evening cyclists, emitting their firefly-like flashes, overtaking becomes nigh impossible. The worst case scenario is when you’re prevented from turning, causing a discontented pile-up behind you.
I resisted, therefore, when friends asked me to try the sport for myself. But when CIMB decided to schedule their inaugural cycling event in Seri Menanti, I had no defence. The vocabulary used in the cycling shop was alien, and even the kit was intimidating: the tight jerseys, unaesthetic shorts and compulsory helmet were understandable but the shoes – called cleats, which physically unite the rider and the bike – took some getting used to, especially since the penalty for failure is falling off. So, prepared with my new equipment and uniform (on which I spent more on than all the racquets and balls I’ve ever bought for squash and tennis), I was ready to train.
And was thereby introduced to entirely new geographies, and an entirely new way of seeing them. I went round the lake in Putrajaya, and discovered the joys of sprinting under bridges. I rode in a lane parallel to the Guthrie Corridor Expressway, where I witnessed the community spirit among riders. I cycled around the streets of Kuala Lumpur on a car-free Sunday, seeing our capital city from a glorious perspective. And I did a trial of the Seri Menanti route, truly a treat for the senses in the unspoilt rural environs. Running introduced me to parks I’d never visited before, but cycling has brought me to much more diverse locations. Being able to sympathise with the motorists’ plight, I was also glad that these routes did not require hogging lanes used by others.
Eventually came the day of the CIMB Cycle, when over 1,200 riders descended upon the quiet royal town, including pelotons from the armed forces, police and professional teams led by Azizulhasni Awang and Fatehah Mustapa, whose inspirational achievements have clearly spurred many to take up the sport. The Yang di-Pertuan Besar and Tunku Ampuan Besar rode a 3.7 kilometre loop, while I joined my brother the Tunku Besar Seri Menanti in the 35 kilometre event. As tough as that was, the 120 kilometre route was deemed a satisfactory challenge by the more experienced participants.
On the day, CIMB Foundation donated bicycles to local children, to whom I extolled my newfound virtues of cycling, relating to health, the environment and camaraderie. But it’s also not as hard on the knees as racquet sports, while providing great cardio. A popular indoor variant, known as spinning, is much more interesting than running on a treadmill, being synchronised to music and “enhanced” by additional workouts.
The Imperial Japanese Army famously used bicycles in their rapid invasion of the Malay peninsula, and it’s conceivable that cyclists of a historical bent might want to retrace those routes. In the meantime, it looks like new battalions of wheeled infantry will continue sharing our city roads. Local authorities can respond by designing more cycle lanes, but in some countries the debate has moved on to whether cyclists should have insurance, pay road tax or even possess a licence before riding on a public road.
With the deaths of eight teenagers in a late-night cycling accident in Johor Bahru in February, these – as well as the issue of parental responsibility – are legitimate questions to accompany the nationwide uptake of this excellent sport.