Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Canyon Endurace CF SLX Disc. Part 2: Road Test - Singapore To Kuala Lumpur

The continuing story of my new endurance road machine. See part 1 for the background. This is where I put it through it's paces, pitting the machine against the elements that it was designed for.

After a couple of short rides around Singapore to get my position sorted, my plan was to do a 2-day ride to Kuala Lumpur through a route up the west coast covering around 450 kilometers.

Though it's long been a part of our bike touring operation, I had been itching to do this ride 'randonneur style' - carrying everything on the bike with me - for quite a while, but contingencies had always been against me for one reason or another. Having a home in 2 cities definitely creates this option, but the caprices of my working life do mean that I can't function for too long without my laptop - in either place - and I'm really not willing to carry that much!

The stars eventually aligned - more through determination than anything else - and I chose a Thursday/Friday slot in late October for my mega-commute. A little over a week since the arrival of the Endurace in my clutches, and it was time to get this beast onto some proper roads. I deliberately made no precise plan or hotel booking, or warned anyone of my ETA. I want to enjoy this!

Day 1: Singapore to Malacca

Though the ride would be a solo endurance effort, I had the welcome company, for the 40 or so kilometers of the Singapore stretch, of my good friend Charles, who offered to accompany me in the wee hours up to the border crossing. I don't often ride in Singapore at 5am, but I can see why so many of the city's riders do. It's about the only time you get anything resembling a relaxing stretch of quiet roads to ride on, and the ubiquitous road-lighting means visibility is great.

The weight of my luggage, though minimal, was definitely affecting the bike's handling, and any incline in the road had a significantly greater effect on my effort than it normally would have. Just as well I have 2 almost completely flat days ahead. Actually, beyond phone/wallet/passport/keys,  and the crucial tubes/pump/tool kit, I was essentially carrying only one set of ultra-light shorts and t shirt, plus a small tube of sun block, and chargers for the gadgets. My plan, as usual with these rides, was to get hold of a cheap pair of flip-flops in Malacca for the evening footwear - that is if the hotel didn't provide them anyway. Nevertheless, I wouldn't be able to get a true feeling of the handling properties of the bike with all this ballast, but I would at least get to see how it fared as a beast of burden.

Charles bids adieu

Charles left me at the Woodlands crossing into Malaysia, and continued his morning ride. I found my way onto the end of the expressway approach to the crossing, hopped over the kerb into the motorcycle lanes through immigration, and made my way among the noisy rabble of motorcycles, bracing myself against the toxic atmosphere.

Dawn was breaking as I rolled into Malaysia. The route follows the coast for the first kilometers and then cuts inland through the urban sprawl of Johor Bahru. I was overjoyed to find a Shell station with an espresso vending machine, which gave me the essential morning caffeine shot. This was already more than I expected: an espresso is still a rare commodity outside of city centres in Malaysia. A short while after, and still before leaving the larger urban area, I stopped at a good breakfast spot that we have used a few times in the past on our tours.

breakfast stop day 1

Rush hour in JB. By now I was enjoying the incredibly solid feeling of the bike. I mean, this bike feels like it can deal with anything, so you worry much less about patchy road surface, and this also means that the proximity of heavy traffic is less alarming, since you can actually ride in the ditch if you have to.

The overall feeling of the front end is super stable. On rails. I guess it's the combination of the fork rake, head tube geometry, single-piece cockpit, wide rims with 28mm tyres, through-axle precision, and disc braking. If this was a heavy steel touring machine it would perhaps be more expected, but it's not.

About the 135km mark I hit the town of Air Hitam. This is my next food stop at the Chinese food court on the corner doing pretty good Dim Sum. Up until this point I've been mostly on route 1, which is the old main Singapore to KL road, but from here I will turn down to join route 5 up the coast. Should be slightly quieter.

The town of Batu Pahat marks the point at which I join route 5 which will bring me all the way through to the day's destination. At the moment I'm still feeling good, motivated, and enjoying the ride, though the tropical sun is now bearing it's full weight down on me. I'm getting through more water now, and I stop in Batu Pahat at a petrol station to refill the bottles. At this 165km point I am well over half way with around 100km to go.

I'm getting to like the gearing on this bike. The 52/36 "semi compact" chainring pairing of this bike with its 11-32 cassette is not a combination I've used before. Having been an overnight convert to the joys of compact gears a few years back, I had gone immediately for the smallest chainring options in order to be able to deal with the gradients above 25% common to Northern Thailand. So my default chainring set up has been a 50/34, whereas I switch between cassettes depending on the terrain. On initial consideration the gear selection on the Canyon seemed slightly illogical: extreme at the back, but moderate at the front - but I'd have to say that I'm beginning to understand the choice.

The alignment of chainring to cassette on this bike allows me to stay a lot longer in the big chainring, which means that even a combination of 52x28 is possible - and effective. Basically the idea is that transfer of power is better when using larger rings, mainly because torque stress is less, plus the chain has to bend less, which means less friction. Being someone with a relatively high cadence that mostly chooses to  ride hills, I tend to spend a lot of time in the small ring, but on this ride I don't think I used the small ring until somewhere near the end of day 2 on a couple of short grinds.

As I approach the 200km mark I start to fantasize about a latte. Only option I can think of is that in the upcoming town of Muar I might be able to find.....a McDonalds with a McCafe! Quick google moment later and I have a plan. At the 215km point I am sitting with some of the worst food on the planet in front of me, but at this point it is what I need. The meal is followed by the closest thing I'm going to get to a latte today.

After spending way too long fiddling around trying unsuccessfully to book a hotel for the night in Malacca on my phone, I eventually leave the air-conditioned chaos of McDonalds behind and head back to the furnace of route 5, eager by now to arrive at the day's conclusion. The unrelenting flat, long-and-straightness of the route is starting to wear on the patience.

The day is cooling down as I enter the urban edges of the ancient trading city of Malacca, and I make my way through slow traffic to the centre of the old town. By now I'm really looking forward to dinner, so though I need to identify a likely hotel, my plan shifts to identifying first the restaurant, and then a nearby hotel so walking is minimised. I quickly discover one likely combination and my day's ride is over at 269.5km.

Well not quite. After checking in and discovering that the hotel doesn't provide flip-flops in the bathroom, I jump back on the bike and ride around the block to a convenience store to buy the cheapest pair I can find. Then my legs officially get time off.

Malacca is getting hipper these days, and I manage to find a couple of promising places for a dinner in 2 courses with some quite acceptable Rioja. Perfect end to the day!

Day 2: Malacca to Kuala Lumpur 

a beach-side moment

After a fairly good sleep, I hit the road at the relatively lazy time of 7am in the beginnings of daylight. Seems I'm getting used to riding in rush hour traffic, but I have some nice beach-side routes out of Malacca which are a great way to start the day. Weather seems fine at this point, and I succumb to a second visit to McDonalds - this time just for the latte. Hard to ride without coffee.

The stretch between Malacca and Port Dickson is one that I look forward to most on this route. If you look at maps of Malaysia, it seems there are a lot of roads that run along the coastline, but when you're on most of them, you don't see the sea at all. People in this part of the world are not beach lovers, so mostly they build roads a few hundred meters inland from the actual coastline, and you often get quite thickly growing plantations completely obscuring any beach view.

This road is an exception. Possibly something to do with linking the old port of Malacca with the colonial beach resort of Port Dickson, but at any rate, it's a lovely road to ride a bike on. There are plenty of little chalets and homestays along this stretch of road that presumably cater to the globally itinerant backpacker community. I stop in one of the beach-bar type restaurants for a breakfast, more to enjoy the beach-side moment than the more-or-less-edible food.

breakfast on the beach

I get to try the bike on a couple of brief off-road moments riding over patches of gravel and at one point sand onto a beach, and though hardly enough to form any solid opinion of the bike's off-road capabilities, it does remind me that this bike can do way more than I'm using it for.

I'm starting to see some dark clouds up ahead over the sea. A bad omen. I try to mentally brush it off. I'm happy if I get cloud cover all day, but I'm really not looking forward to the kind of rainfall that those clouds are promising. Hope they are moving towards Sumatra. Fat chance.

that road-beauty moment

At around 100km in, Port Dickson provides another nice beach side moment featuring one of my favourite bits of coastal road. Here I stop at a great roast duck and pork place for second breakfast (or is it third by now? or lunch?). From here on we're moving inland towards KL, and it's going to get increasingly rolling, and increasingly urban, at a painfully gradual pace that will really test the resolve.

Then it starts raining.

For those of you who don't have first-hand experience of a tropical downpour, it's like having a bathtub of water dumped on you continuously. The road turns into either a pond or a river depending on the gradient, and you can barely see 5 meters ahead.

The rain started as I was getting close to the town of Sepang, at around 140km. I stopped in a petrol station for shelter until the more torrential part was over, but soon it had faded to a steady drizzle and I set off again.

Now I was really getting to see what this bike could do. I was riding through a lot of standing water, getting repeatedly drenched by the bow wave from passing cars and trucks, and it just felt solid as a rock. The rotors of the disc brakes have a distinctive squeak when it rains, but they never got any less effective regardless of what was happening, and my wheels were just ploughing through it all with disdain.

The new road after Sepang gets wide and straight through acre upon acre of oil palm estate, before getting back to some more rolling, older roads as we get towards the more traditional settlement of Semenyih. Normally I'd take this road and continue through up past the dam to Ulu Langat and back onto some quiet but hilly roads that lead into the eastern side of the Klang Valley, but in this case I had to aim for the centre of town where I would pick up my car.

I have honestly never ridden through the aftermath of this sort of deluge on a Friday afternoon rush hour in Kuala Lumpur, and though I can't say I'm looking for the next opportunity, I was on the right bike, and would be prepared to tackle it again only with the assurance of being on the same one.

The kind of confidence this bike inspires is so intoxicating that I haven't been able to ride anything else since. I am starting to tick off all my favourite endurance rides, and testing it against all the toughest, roughest surfaces and hairy descents, and it's shrugging all of it off without breaking stride. I honestly can only liken it to driving a top new BMW model after spending your whole life driving cheap hand-me-downs.

I finished day 2 in the centre of Kuala Lumpur after completing 184 kilometers. The rain had made the last 50km pretty miserable, but it had tested the bike to the extreme. It was completely coated in mud and sand, which had dried to a solid cake by the time I got it home and hosed it down.

a seriously muddy beast

One other great feature of using discs is that it's very easy to access all the muddy bits. No fiddly calipers at the wheel arches exactly where all the worst shit congregates. No sand and grit ground into oily smears on your poor wheel rims. The actual brakes pick up very little muck from the road since they're at the centre of the centrifugal force of a spinning wheel.

A Verdict?

What I've tested here is basically how this bike handles adversity: load it up with a few extra kilos, ride it on some dubious road surfaces for 2 whole days in tropical conditions, throw all kinds of shit and truckloads of water at it, and how does it fare? Well it came through with flying colours.

What I didn't test on this ride is how it behaves under normal, unladen riding conditions: how it climbs, descends, corners, sprints, and handles or compliments my riding style. I have tested all of these things regularly since then so I guess another chapter is brewing....

I'm sure I'll write about this bike again. I can't stop riding it, and when I do, I can't stop talking about it. My only dilemma now is what to do with my other bikes.

My Strava record of Day 1
My Strava record of Day 2

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bike Review: Canyon Endurace CF SLX Disc. Part 1 - The Journey Begins

I had been raving about this bike long before I rode it. In my view Canyon have really come up with the way forward for riders like myself here. The mantra with the Endurace model is to offer the vibration-damping of an endurance machine while not losing the character of a carbon race bike. Add to this the shift to disc braking, and the clearance to use wider tyres and this becomes a really versatile, all-weather, all-road-condition breakthrough. The price point for the CF SLX, their top carbon frame, also made it attractive as a complete set-up, since for around USD$4k (current 2018 price) you get the frame and a Reynolds Assault wheelset, equipped with full Shimano Ultegra mechanical components. Shipping will cost you another $340, plus whatever import tax into wherever you are.

I'd come across enough glowing reviews, not only of the Endurace as a bike, but also of the Reynolds wheelset, that I would have gone for this bike over most others on the market anyway, with it's absolute specificity for the kind of endurance riding that I gravitate towards these days. Factor in my recent awakening to the sheer practicality of disc braking, and this one had my name on it.

Despite these lofty expectations, I have so far spent almost every minute on this bike grinning from ear to ear. It is nothing short of a revelation. I still fully expect this sensation to endure for a while, since I'm only now scratching the surface of the list of rides that I bought it for. Plenty of happy miles ahead!


If anyone needs an introduction to the Canyon phenomenon, I'd say it's like the bicycle version of Apple in the early days: a brilliant combination of innovation, design and engineering. On top of that, the bikes are only available through direct sales from their factory in Koblenz, Germany. This not only means they are totally in control of every aspect of design, manufacture, assembly, sales and shipping, but also fully responsible for following up should anything not be to your liking.

It also means that they beat the shit out of the competition. Their prices are way under the equivalently set-up machine from any of the other competitive brands. And with their presence in the world of professional sport - they are regularly ridden to wins at World Championships, Grand Tours and Monuments, and visibly sponsor many professional athletes and cycling teams - there can be no doubt that they make seriously good bikes.

I had heard a couple of  (unverifiable) horror stories about the delivery time, but my experience was quite the reverse. I paid for the bike by credit card online on Friday morning in Singapore, and it arrived by UPS the following Monday at my door. In fact it was already in Singapore Sunday morning but only cleared customs in the afternoon ready for delivery the next day. Less than 4 days door-to-door, half-way around the planet. So far 100% nailing it!

The bike arrives in its own purpose-built box, basically fully assembled, though the front wheel, seatpost/saddle and one-piece handlebar/stem assembly are removed and strapped carefully to the frame with plenty of foam rubber pads separating the parts. The box also includes a simple hex-key torque wrench, a hefty manual, various bit and pieces, and any accessories you ordered with the bike. There's also a smaller booklet with basic initial out-of-the-box assembly instructions.


Most of this literature was not immediately very helpful, as the instructions are non-model-specific, and since the Endurace comes with quite a few idiosyncracies, including a one-piece bar and stem, and disc brakes, I had to look quite hard to find any reference to these specific set-ups. I'm fairly confident of my bike-assembly skills, so I did manage to get everything into place soon enough, but I would think a lot of people might rather leave this to a mechanic they trust.

For a start, the bar and stem are the one-piece H31 Ergocockpit. So whereas the manual explains the process of mounting handlebars on a stem already attached to the steerer tube, the Endurace comes with the steerer loosely mounted in the headset assembly, and you will need to mount the Ergocockpit onto the steerer with the spacers positioned according to the height you want, taking care to make sure the bearing cups all line up, and then tighten the headset cap carefully to the point that there is no play in the headset, but that the steerer rotates freely. You then tighten the stem bolts once the bars are in position to a torque setting of 5nm, and the crown ring which holds the headset in place to a mere 1nm. Careful here!

I actually managed to over-tighten the bolt on the headset crown ring, as I was following the general rule in the instructions that 5nm was an appropriate torque setting, only to discover - once I'd cracked it - that there was a small, faint "1nm" printed beside the bolt. Sorry guys, my eyes are really not that good. It didn't seem to have any negative effect on the steering however, as the forks were already held firmly in place with the stem bolts. I have already received the replacement part FOC within a few days of pointing this out to Canyon, so all good.

Next thing was mounting the disc brake front wheel with the through-axle. Again, possibly not so self-explanatory if you're the average roadie, but straightforward enough. Taking care to slot the disc rotor between the brake pads, the wheel hub slots neatly into grooves in the fork, and you push the axle through from the left and then using a 6mm hex key, you just screw it into the thread on the other fork. This is a brilliant feature which makes the wheel-mounting massively more secure, stable and consistent.

After a few rides I was getting a slight rubbing of the front discs on the pads, and discovered that the through-axle had loosened itself. Once tightened, the rubbing disappeared, and it hasn't happened again since. There is a "quick-release" type handle on the back axle which can be detached and used for either, but since I always carry a multi-tool anyway, this is probably something I'll remove at some point. Makes the wheels much harder to steal.

The next thing to mention is the S15 VCLS seat post. This is one of the main shock-absorbing features of the Endurace. It's basically a leaf spring where the saddle is mounted on a bridging platform between 2 halves of the post. Aside from it's shock-damping properties, this is actually a very clever design for a seat post. The 2 leaves of the post are held in relative position by a bolt recessed into the bottom of the post. You adjust the level of the saddle by loosening this bolt, replacing the post in the seat tube, getting the exact level you want on the saddle, taking the post out again, and tightening the bolt. Once you've done this the level will not shift regardless of adjustments you make to the height, or position of the clamp on the rails.

I had read an early review complaining that there was an unpleasant spongy feeling from this seat post, though more recent reports had not mentioned this, so it may have been a teething issue with the early design. As far as I'm concerned it feels very close to a solid seat post, but it is very effective in reducing the road vibrations to the body. This alone is a design award-winner in my book.


The saddle that comes with the Endurace is a Fizik Aliante. Not a saddle that works for me so I changed it. I'm now using the new Specialized Power saddle, which does seem to work well - more on that elsewhere.

Since the one-piece Ergocockpit doesn't allow for rotation of the bars, and since I wanted a couple of cm more reach, I moved the position of the shifters around the curve of the drops by a few mm, and got exactly what I needed.

I have also now switched out the Ultegra cranks for a Rotor 3D+ crankset with the INpower meter. This also involved a new BB pressfit bearing set. I did like the Ultegra cranks, and the 52/36 "semi-compact" chainrings are a great match with the 11-32 cassette, but I'm used to 175mm crank arms, and the size M frame comes only with 172.5mm arms.

It is one unfortunate feature of this type of sales process that you can't really tailor components to your exact requirements, so you may have to spend a bit more to get it exactly right. You can always sell off the bits you don't use.


Out on the road, the immediate sensation is one of floating. The combination of all the built-in shock absorption features and the 28mm tyres really smooth-out any vibration from the road surface. However, once you get out of the saddle or start to put a bit more power into the pedals, you realise that there is plenty of agility there. It just feels so stable and robust at a cruise that it's responsiveness to changes in pace takes you by surprise.

On descents it really inspires confidence. The wheels are fast and aero, and with 28mm tyres and disc brakes, there's a real feeling of security, and a robustness that is only reinforced by the whole bike. The front end is super stable: I can't quite get over the solid feeling of the one-piece bar and stem despite it's relatively slender aero front profile. No idea how they manage it. German engineering!

One issue to note is that you will need inner tubes designed for a 28mm tyre. I wasn't aware of this, and expecting to be able to use my existing stock of tubes, I discovered after repairing my first flat on these that the tubes I have, designed for tyres up to 25mm, will inflate very unevenly in a wider tyre. One rather lumpy ride home followed.

Read Part 2 - the road test - in a separate post as part of an endurance ride story. Much more to come!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Wheelset Review. Hunt Race Aero Wide

My quest to find the great all-rounder wheelset continues.

The primary spin-off from the atrociously early demise of my beloved Dura Ace C24s, with their rapidly vanishing braking surface, was the momentous decision that disc brakes are my future. The secondary one, since I'm not willing to just sell all my rim-brake bikes immediately, was a search for a worthy replacement for my favourite climbing wheelset. One that could handle the relatively harsh conditions of tropical roads, but one that you might be able to replace parts of without too much diffculty, should they go wrong.

I had been paying attention to the Hunt company, a British outfit, barely 2 years old. Their customer reviews - not to mention sponsorship of British Pro Continental teams and numerous design awards - gave me the confidence to take them seriously. Plus, they are one of the new breed of manufacturer that only deals directly with the consumer online, and have all sorts of safety nets for the customer, including a 60-day returns policy.

I was obviously looking for something robust, but being that it would be part of my climbing bike setup, I couldn't help trying to factor in a bit of weight reduction if at all possible. Dangerous ground perhaps. You have to save the weight by reducing something, and one of the criticisms of the C24s is that the braking surface is compromised through attempts to shave weight. Many of the options I looked at were bomb-proof, gravel crunchers, but somehow I wanted to try and keep the set under 1500g. In the end though the choice for me was between two Hunt options: the extra-robust 4-Season Aero at 1579g a pair, or the lighter Race Aero Wide at 1487g.

It was the Race Aero that won. These wheels not only have a weight and aero advantage, but at around 400 GBP, are remarkably good value too. At 31mm of depth and 24mm width, these are designed to work with 25mm tyres for the optimum aero advantage, plus the ability to run lower tyre pressure for improved comfort and handling.

Every wheel you check out on the Hunt website has availability listed immediately in the opening description, so apparently I'd have to wait 3 weeks before the stock became available. Not an issue, and they also offer the option of paying an initial booking deposit so you only have to pay the full price when they are ready to ship. They also offer free worldwide shipping on any order over 70 GBP.

True to their word, the wheels came into stock a little ahead of schedule. They arrived on my doorstep within a couple of days of shipping, and were soon equipped with a pair of 25mm Continental GP4000s and rolling happily up and down all my favourite local hills.


The first impression is that they roll very nicely. The bearings are fast and smooth, and the wheel has a robust feel to it. They really climb very well and feel laterally stiff when out of the saddle. They also feel quite aero, and are quick to pick up speed on descents. In the corners they quickly inspired the confidence to trust them, even at their higher rolling speed, and with the 25mm Contis at around 80psi, I'm really rocketing down my favourite technical descents.

I switched the skewers to a pair of Dura Ace after a few rides. I have yet to be convinced that anyone except Shimano knows how to make skewers. I just can't enjoy a ride if my bike is making noises, and it's an art I have not yet mastered to stop the average skewer from creaking. I hoard my old Dura Ace skewers, and any new wheelset almost immediately gets the skewers switched out. Freehub sounds nice though.

A lot of the roads I ride have poor surfaces, and these wheels definitely have a good amount of vertical compliance which is important for the kind of endurance rides I do. In fact it's a given that the nicest, quietest roads have the worst surfaces, since the integrity of poor old tarmac is no match for the flash-floods of the tropics, and only the roads which see heavier traffic volumes get regular facelifts.Vertical compliance is possibly the most crucial consideration when putting a bike together here.

The wheels looks great in a nicely understated way, with an anodised silky-matt surface and the quite minimal but stylishly different brand logo. Add a pair of the very black GP4000 tyres, and the braking surface really stands out, especially on my "stealth" machine, so visually they are a great match for this bike.

Overall I'd say that they feel a lot more expensive than they are, and for the money, you're really getting a great wheelset that should last you a few years. If you're in the market for a light alloy-rimmed wheel for hilly rides that you can train and race on, then I can't see you finding anything significantly better than this.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Audax 600 Malaysia. Part 2: Limits? What Limits?

team optimism L-R: Mike D, Mike T, me

Sometime in mid July, one of the more serious riders in my local network got in touch with me with the idea of putting a group together to do a 600km ride that was apparently in the plan for the Malaysian chapter of the Audax Randonneurs association. My schedule often excludes me from a lot of local races, sportives and grand fondos, but in this case I actually had that time free, so I said...er....maybe.

I mean: 600 kilometers! That's another level of madness. I've recently done almost 500km over 2 days - with about 5000m of elevation added in mind you - and I thought that was extreme! This would be much flatter, but still.....600km in one go! One single ride! Non stop!

Well that's not technically true. The cut-off time is 40 hours, and one should in theory be able to sleep - a bit, but it's hardly in the spirit of the Randonneur to be checking into a hotel half way. No, if this was to be done, it would be done properly.

The original plan looked interesting, the route left Kuala Lumpur, crossing to Kuantan on the east coast and back. However, sometime later I noticed the route had been changed to go directly north from Kuala Selangor up the western side of Malaysia to Butterworth and back. Later still, once they had actually recce'd the route, it was discovered that they would need to add around 40 kilometers due to a bridge closure. So now it's 642km!

At some point Mike D - the originator of the plan - let me know he had signed up, and shortly after I found myself following suit. I guess the opportunity to do something as out-of-the-box as this was too enticing to turn down. I think yet another stage of the Mid-Life-Crisis is when you realise that if you don't start taking the opportunities to challenge yourself while you still have the strength, the chance may never come again. The group however was still only a duo.

Neither of us had ever done anything like this before, so we left the actual plans pretty open. I think we both had the confidence we could finish it, but absolutely no idea how our bodies would react to being on our bikes continuously, or staying awake for that long.

all dressed up with somewhere to go...

As the day approached I had pretty much everything sorted in terms of gear: good strong, AA-battery-powered lights that would be up to the continuous usage; power bank to recharge GPS and phone; large, waterproof saddle- and top-tube-bags. All that remained to be decided was what I would actually put in the bags beyond spare tubes, pump, multi tool and lube. So much of the advice I could find on the internet was conflicting about what to carry, whether to sleep, how often to stop etc.

I booked myself a hotel near the start point. My reasoning was that I would maximise on sleep, since I could assume I'd be getting none for the next 30+ hours. Mike was planning to drive the 60-something km to the start on the morning.

2 days before the ride we became a trio. Mike T was the addition. He got roped in by Mike D over coffee, and since he had nothing planned at the weekend except doing a few long rides, he signed up.

registration and pre-ride breakfast

The Ride Begins

Meeting point was a coffee shop beside KFC at 6am. We picked up our Brevet cards (a card we would get stamped at each checkpoint) and were basically ready to go. Over coffee I started talking to Edward from Jakarta, and since he was alone he though he might join us if our paces matched.

The ride set off at 7am.  We set off somewhere in the middle of another 200+ riders who seemed in no particular hurry, and soon found ourselves off the front of the "peloton" with a gradually dwindling group in tow. The first stretch was 100km to checkpoint 1. Rough surface with a lot of sections of road works, but with fresh legs we were doing a good pace.

As we got closer to the checkpoint town of Teluk Intan a few guys started to push the pace, and the group fragmented at traffic lights, which meant a lot of sprinting to get back on, and closing gaps. I started to worry that we were getting a little above our endurance zone.


Checkpoint 1: Teluk Intan 100km

Teluk Intan is quite a busy seaside town, but it being a public holiday, a lot of the restaurants were closed. The checkpoint was still not open when we arrived (something that would become a recurring theme for us), so I went off in search of some food. The Mikes being content with portable food they had with them. I found a couple of roti telur (egg bread) with a tea, and headed back to the checkpoint, which had opened in the interim. The Mikes were impatient to leave.

We set off on the next section and before long I was wondering whether I should drop back and settle into a more all-day pace, or try and temper the enthusiasm of my companions so that we wouldn't all burn ourselves out too early. Hard to call really. The Mikes insisted that we should stay together so we did mostly, though I managed to lose them on a couple of stretches when stopping for water or a pee. I was reluctant to burn any unnecessary matches on gap-closing efforts which I might regret later.

lunch in Parit

Lunch #1: Parit 175km

We stopped in a town called Parit, and set about getting some pretty good lunch at a Chinese coffee shop on the main road. At this point we seemed to be off the front of the main group by quite a bit, as we were finishing our meal when the next group came in.

The next section was gently rolling along the side of a river, and the day was heating up. Our next target was the town of Kuala Kangsar at the 210km point. Still within normal parameters at this point, and feeling pretty good, though my heart rate response seemed a little high and was worrying me a tad. Looking back I think it was probably some erroneous numbers provided by my gadget, and it just shows how negative the use if these things can be. I'd say the only value in using something like that on a super-long ride is to make sure you don't push yourself too hard at any point, but if the numbers are not even reliable.....

Kuala Kangsar

Checkpoint/lunch #2: Kuala Kangsar 210km

Kuala Kangsar is a fairly typical Malaysian town set in a rolling landscape. Our checkpoint was a Chinese coffee shop where they would stamp our Brevet cards, and we of course took the opportunity to grab some pretty good Chicken Rice and tea. Not a long stop this one, and we were soon on our way with the searing mid-afternoon sun bearing down on us. Very thankful of our GPS route on our gadgets here, as we would not have found the restaurant without it, and leaving town would have been quite confusing too.

The next point we aimed for was the actual turnaround checkpoint 100km further on, though we would need water before that considering the heat. A petrol station around the 280km mark provided the water and some welcome shade, and I actually succumbed to the temptation for a cold isotonic drink along with some milk. By now I'm willing to consume whatever it is that my body is asking for, even though I don't normally touch sugar.

The next section was peppered by vague feelings of cramp in my hamstrings which got worse coming into the built-up area on the outskirts of Butterworth. I was just about evading any full cramp spasms - though this was getting tricky when clipping back in at the now-frequent traffic lights. I did have to come to a complete stop at one set of lights as a full spasm gripped my left hamstring.

It was getting towards evening by now, and the cooler air helped allay the feelings of cramp so that by the time I rolled up to the turnaround checkpoint around 8pm, the cramps had gone.

2 down, 2 to go...

Checkpoint #3: Simpang Empat 310km

The turnaround checkpoint was in a 24-hour Pizza Hut. By this time a pizza was a very welcome sight and smell, and we managed to polish-off 4 good ones. This was not a short stop. We really took our time, applying more chamois cream, washing faces and eyewear. The Mikes both brushed their teeth, and Mike D changed his socks. I didn't want to give my body any misleading cues about the possibility of sleep. I put on a gilet I had with me in the hopes that it was a bit more reflective. We'd be riding in the dark for the next 10 hours so we needed to make sure we were as visible as possible.

The route took us around 70km back down the same road, though now, in the coolness of evening, it was much more enjoyable. By the time we left, there was still no sign of any other riders, but we would soon see isolated riders and groups making their way towards the turn around, and we yelled encouragement as we sped southward.

At around the 380km mark we turned off the main road towards the coast. After stopping at a grocery store - which we literally caught just before it closed - to top up water, we were off into the pitch black of night in the jungle. The complete lack of moonlight made it particularly black, and with only very occasional little hamlets on this stretch, virtually no street lights for a long time.

round midnight
Our lights were good though. Collectively, the three of us generated quite a bit of light, so we could see enough of the road in front of us to be able to keep up a good pace, while also being visible enough to not worry about the infrequent passing truck or car.

This was by far my favourite point in the whole ride. In the cool night air, with nothing but a relatively short patch of road to focus on, we traded pulls on the front seamlessly for the next few hours, and the time seemed to pass very quickly.

At around 3am we pulled into a roadside restaurant that was, unbelievably, still open. I mean this is a village in the middle of nowhere, and these people are still running the place! We got fruit juices and I had a great, but extremely spicy, hot oxtail soup (not such a great idea as I would discover on the subsequent stretch). The young guys running the place had definitely never seen anything quite like us before, and were buzzing around us as we left. It was starting to get harder to get moving again.

it's finger-lickin' good

Checkpoint #4: Sitiawan 465km

This was a 24-hour KFC in the heart of Sitiawan, which is quite a large town, so there was actually some (night-) life in the place. When the checkpoint people rolled up we got our cards stamped. This stop was a particularly long-winded one. We got through a good amount of food and a couple of rounds of coffee. Mike D washed and changed his kit. Group photos were taken, and we started to feel a bit like we were achieving something. We finally rolled off onto the last night stretch. I was pretty well-rested but eager to get on with it.

As we made our way back towards Teluk Intan we remarked on how lucky we were to be doing this stretch in the dark. The openness of the landscape would make daytime riding particularly exposed to the sun's full effect. As we approached the town, dawn was breaking, Mike D needed to find a loo, and we needed some water, so we pulled into a Malay stall by the side of the road. They had some traditional Kuay, which was super-welcome, and as we sat there enjoying this with tea, the owner offered us some fresh jackfruit. Great stuff.

Breakfast: Teluk Intan 560km

But we still needed breakfast, and we decided to plough on through Teluk Intan and stop on the final stretch of road back to Kuala Selangor when we would have less than 100km to go. As it happened, our hunger got the better of us, and we were only just under the 100-to-go point when we stopped at a Chinese noodle place with a roti stall right beside it. Perfect. Everyone got what they wanted.

The day was heating up by now, and there was that pesky matter of 90-something kilometers still to cover on terrible road surface with lots of traffic and road works.

This was tough. I think the last 40 kilometers I counted every single kilometer, always hoping that the end would come sooner than expected. The heat of the day felt particularly abusive without having slept for more than 24 hours, and the dust and traffic and rough road were killing me. As we came into the recognisable bits of Kuala Selangor I wanted so much to back off the pace and spin my legs in to the finish, but the Mikes wouldn't let me drop back, insisting that we had to finish this together.

glad that's over!

Finish: Kuala Selangor 649.3km

The finish point was a large stand-alone McDonalds to the left of the main road. I have honestly never been so happy to see a McDonalds in my life. We had completed the whole thing in around 22 hours of moving time in an overall elapsed time of under 30 hours. I ate the biggest burger meal I could find on the menu, and then went to find my car. Our arrival time was 12.30pm and the checkpoint wasn't due to be open until at least 2 hours later.

Of course we all congratulated each other on our amazing collective achievement. Really a team effort. We wouldn't even have attempted to ride through the night without the moral support and security of each other, and we managed to keep a fairly respectable pace with shared duties on the front, especially through the night. Also, without ever having done anything like this before, the likelihood of one - or more - of us cracking was high, but there was never even a hint of doubt in our quest. We were also the first group on the road for most of the event, and finished well before anyone else, despite the presence of some fairly experienced Randonneurs.

the proof

I think we all got a little emotional at the end. I lucked-out with these guys - honestly two of the strongest cyclists I know, and great people to boot. Despite any internal low moments they remained upbeat and positive with nothing but encouragement to offer. Mike T later admitted to having had a period of nausea and some disorientation in the wee hours, but we just rolled along like a well-oiled machine.

Chapeau guys!

Mike D had to rush off, so the other 2 of us reconvened at McD to wait for the Audax staff to arrive to chop our Brevet cards and get our medals. I managed a second massive burger meal in the meantime. I had wanted to get a hotel room for a couple of hours nap before the drive back to KL, but there were no rooms available in the few places I asked, so I just washed the grime off arms and legs in the McD toilet, and changed my clothes. After wearing the same racing kit for the previous 30 hours, just wearing dry, loose-fitting cotton felt like a supreme luxury.

My ass was definitely the main casualty of the ride, and I think I will have to sort myself out a slightly more padded version of my saddle in the near future. I will also review my eating policy if I attempt anything like this again. While eating whatever you can get your hands on might work for a single long-day ride of 8-10 hours, when you're going for this long continuously, the lack of quality of the nutrition starts to impact your physical state. My stomach was also becoming increasingly unsettled by all the processed crap and carbohydrate.

As for this new team of 3, I think we may be looking for some more mad things to do. Mike T emailed us a day or 2 later with a link to a video about the Paris-Brest-Paris annual 1200km event - the pinnacle of the Audax Randonnee experience. My response was: why not!

My Strava file for the ride.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Audax 600 Malaysia. Part 1: Getting Ready

If you've been following my blog, or Strava (or any of my other social networks) you will know of my penchant for long bike rides. As I pointed out in my recent blog post, Confessions of a Budding Endurance Junkie, I'm probably just getting started.

A little over a month ago, one of the more serious of the road riders on the local scene got in touch with me to ask if I'd be interested in helping him put a team together for the upcoming Audax 600 - a 642km ride - the first of this distance in Malaysia. I looked at the dates, and decided I could do it, and that was it. The ride is now less than a week away and there's still only 2 of us....

It's not that I didn't try to enlist others from my riding buddies to join. I did. Too short notice for most people, and I do think that it's so far beyond anyone's comfort zone, that it will involve a level of suffering most are unwilling to subject themselves to without some serious preparation

For those of you who are new to the Audax concept, these are long "randonneur" style rides over distances from 200 to 1000+ kilometers, which are officially sanctioned by the French organisation Audax Club Parisien. Each participant must ride unsupported, and has to complete the course within the cut-off time via all the official check points on the route.

In terms of real physical preparation, there's not much more I can do than I already am doing. For the last few months I've been doing at least one ride every other week over 200km, and have done some back-to-back days accumulating more than 450km and over 4000m of climbing in a 2-day block, so in many ways I've already done the ground work.

The issue here is how to mentally approach the ride - how to divide this distance up. How often to stop, and whether we need to get some sleep, and at what point in the ride.

I've scoured the internet for information, but I don't find anything particularly enlightening. Lots of advice, but the bottom line in most cases is: listen to your body and rest whenever you need to. Just have to keep track of where we can get water/fuel.

Fueling strategy with me is fairly simple. I will probably have to stop every couple of hours to fill bottles with water, and at this point I will also plan to eat. Since I'm ketogenic I won't be as dependent on carbs as many of the others that I'm riding with, but I'll eat whatever is available as I'll be burning a lot of calories!

Equipment is another straightforward one: don't use anything you're not used to. It will be my trusty old carbon road racer, with nothing changed, but with a couple of additional bags for carrying stuff. I'll need to carry a power bank to charge my GPS and my phone. I've bought myself lights that should last for well over what I need, and that run on AA batteries anyway, so can easily be replaced on the road. I'll carry a change of kit and some casual shorts and a t shirt in case I need to sleep. Other than that it's just a bit more cash than usual.

Pacing may present more of a challenge. My riding companion is notoriously fast, and has recently completed the formidable Cent Cols in the Dolomites, so he's on another planet in fitness terms. We have discussed this, and he is determined to try and be super-conservative. Let's see. I'm good at pacing myself under normal conditions, and I'm also quite happy riding alone if I find the pace unsustainable. Though riding alone in the middle of the night on desolate roads with 400+ kilometers in the legs might be more than I bargained for. I've really no idea - I've yet to experience that one.

More anon...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The New Retail Order. Part 1: Out With The Old

The Internet is without doubt the greatest development to human existence that has happened during my lifetime. Not perhaps a particularly radical statement, but bear with me.

If we consider other great forward thrusts in technology - like locomotion or electricity - and the monumental changes they forced within the otherwise steady march of human evolution (as viewed now with historical perspective), I doubt people living then had a full grasp of the significance of those changes. I'm quite certain that many of the outcomes of this recently initiated cataclysmic shift have yet to fully manifest themselves, let alone be fully appreciated.

We're increasingly witness to the fallout from these shifts. I'm fairly sure that those born into this world within the last 20 years will have little trouble navigating the new waters, but the older members of the workforce are having big problems keeping up with the pace of change. That would suggest that those at management level are often going to be the problem. Many businesses formed around traditional parameters betray evidence of a fundamental dysfunction in still trying to follow their traditional processes. The negative buzzword is now Legacy.

As a jazz artist, I have watched myself become a dinosaur in a world where the popular mainstream has been narrowed down to the basest formula-driven opiate. What seemed initially to be heralding a levelling of the playing-field in the media has actually given rise to an even more cynical and malicious manipulation of public taste and awareness. Survival requires a reassessment of the entire panorama, and your place in it.


I could go off on many tangents from this one, but in this case I want to ponder our current situation as consumers, both from the perspective of the supplier and the receiver, and for our purposes here to narrow it down to the market for cycling-related products.

The bicycle business has shifted quite monumentally to an online mail-order business over the past few years. The average discerning cyclist on the road sports an increasingly eclectic selection of equipment and clothing that is not even available locally. In fact there seems to be a specific intention to be as exotic as possible in the more well-heeled of the cycling community.

Shops can't possibly compete with the variety, value and specificity of online retail. When you're not restricted by location, your global market can be huge, and online retailers can then invest in a selection of stock that can cater very specifically to each customer's demands and, with low overheads thanks to being in the middle of nowhere (or an industrial estate), your prices can be much closer to cost price.

Clothing, wheel and bicycle manufacturers are now getting more and more into retailing directly to the consumer, which is just great news for all of us. And though it might seem through this evolution that the local bike shop is becoming a thing of the past, in fact, as so many of us are discovering in our respective industries: it's really all about re-positioning.



What hasn't changed for shops for a start is the crucial provision of a centre where people can go to get service, repair and maintenance. Not by people with basic mechanical skills, but by people with real experience in building and fixing bikes/wheels - which means employing genuine experts. Having a real expert bicycle mechanic is worth his weight in gold to the modern bike shop. A lot of your investment should be there.


I can check the price of anything on my phone immediately, so there's no point in having a stock of items that people can get cheaper elsewhere, except in the case of things that require personal fitting - like saddles, clothes, shoes, plus a good bike-fitting system.

I'd suggest taking the fitting idea one step further, and offering as extensive as possible a selection of things you don't necessarily sell so that people can "test drive" things, and make better decisions about what they spend their money on.

Try starting a collection of every saddle you can get your hands on - starting with all your old ones. Finding the right saddle is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the development of most cyclists, and you would build some real long-term relationships with customers this way. Offer these things for hire on a weekly basis so that your customers can make more informed choices.


The stuff we might need in a hurry like tubes, tyres, chains, chainrings, cassettes, pumps, brake pads, cables, and middle-of-the-range components. Things that might unexpectedly fail or wear out and need to be replaced. This stuff is also available cheaply online, so I'd suggest this is not where you're going to make a profit. If local prices are really not competitive, the more enterprising are just going to buy a stock of spares online.


You can take the service idea further, and do a consultancy on equipment selection (from the complete market) and even to sports-testing, coaching, spin classes, indoor training labs. Some of these things might also be available online, but there is always an advantage to dealing with a real person face-to-face.

If you do offer a consultancy service where you fit equipment to an individual's physical characteristics and intended application, it is better not to be a dealer or distributor for a particular brand of anything, as it reduces your integrity and the customer's trust. You could however offer a - very transparent - service where you get hold of the stuff for a customer, and build to order with clear, and fair, charges for the service.

Social Centre

I have seen a few shops make tentative moves towards creating a cafe section - basically a cafe/bike-shop hybrid.. This is a great idea, and often seen now in London and various other forward-thinking bike-friendly cities. But you have to make it a good cafe. Just having a couple of tables and chairs and a coffee machine in the corner won't do it, especially if there's just a couple of grumpy teenagers manning the shop. It has to be a cafe that people go to for the coffee and the food. It should have at least one screen with cycling films and races running continuously, especially current events, perhaps a library of cycling magazines and books is a good idea too. You can use it as a meeting point for group rides, seminars, coaching clinics and various other events that are ways of sharing experiences/knowledge with the cycling community. You can host special events to watch important races, or have club meetings. In short it should become a community centre.

Bike Porn

I think there's always a good case for having a selection of drool-worthy items around your shop. The latest, lightest, fastest, most aerodynamic/expensive/limited-edition will always attract attention. Signed jerseys and other collectors items are great. You may not even want to offer most of this stuff for sale, but having them on display will draw cyclists to your shop like ants to a discarded gel sachet.

So you bought it online and it doesn't work?

Embrace what the internet is in all of our lives. The latest trend of top manufacturers like Canyon is cutting the middle-men out completely, selling direct to the end user, so get used to it. It's going to be increasingly a fact of life, so there's no point in feeling bad about it, or stigmatising those who opt for this method. Offer a tariff of realistic prices for fitting - or fixing - bike parts supplied by the customer from elsewhere. There's nothing to be lost in that exchange - and much (respect, gratitude, plus a lot of new friends and customers) to be gained.

It should be obvious now that my agenda for the modern bike shop is to prioritize the software (the humans) not the hardware (the gear), and only really deal with hardware as it needs specific fitting to software. The shop is a place for cyclists to feel they belong. It's a place populated by humans that can offer real expertise and advice. You have to offer a generous and respectful experience to the humans that are drawn to you, and welcome everybody in as if you value their company - not just their business.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Confessions Of A Budding Endurance Junkie

It's an intoxicating feeling. At around 6am I set out, bike lights flickering in the still-dark morning air. This is the coolest it ever gets around here in the tropical humidity of Malaysia, so the obvious lack of unassisted visibility notwithstanding, it's a very nice time to be out on the roads.

The delirious moment is in the contemplation of the agenda ahead: I have all day. I'm carrying everything I might need, and quite literally, the world is my oyster. It's quite normal for me to do over 200 kilometers on a day like this, and the fact that I'm quite happy doing it on my own seems to surprise a lot of people.

Somewhere along the line I suppose it might have evolved as a result of my athletic history: much of my cycling in the past was in training for Ironman triathlons - and since that type of racing constitutes a quintessentially solitary effort, which requires specific, solitary training, I just got used to doing it on my own. Add the fact that as someone who often worked late nights, my rides were at times of day when most others were working - or avoiding the heat.

And it is hot here. That's another factor. I somehow suffer less in the heat than many of my friends, so I'm quite happy being out under the midday sun when most local cyclists are safely back in their air-conditioning. And so being out from dawn to dusk doesn't really present any additional issue for consideration. Good sun block on arms and legs. And I wear a cap under the helmet to give sun protection to the forehead and nose - sunblock on the face always ends up in my eyes.

The final deciding factor though has to be my ability to keep going happily and indefinitely on water and not much else. This makes preparing for a ride a breeze, where the only difference between preparing a short and long ride is the size of the bottles, how many spare tubes I carry, and the amount of cash in my back pocket. It means I stop less during the ride, since my first couple of bottles can last me 100km, and I eat only when my appetite demands it, and even then I rarely stop for long.

Since I adapted my body, almost 3 years ago now, to ketosis via a low-carb-high-fat diet, I no longer seem to have any limit to how long I can keep going. I don't experience fluctuation in my energy levels, and have entirely forgotten that fear of hitting the dreaded "wall" of glycogen depletion. In a body adapted to burn its stored supply of fat,  instead of sugar, I seem to be able to operate indefinitely within 70-90% of my threshold without really running out of reserves. I will get hungry, but there's no "wall" to hit. Hunger is just that: I feel like eating. It's a massive advantage.

No doubt it's a major factor in opening up this world of possibilities, but why do these possibilities even interest me? "Where does the desire to be out all day on a bike come from?" you might ask. Now that's a good one. I will have a stab at analysing it.

In a previous post "The Poetry of Cycling", I suggested that those of us who discover cycling as children as part of our exploration of the world around us, never quite lose the sense of freedom associated with the humble bicycle. It's an empowerment. There's enormous satisfaction for us in getting ourselves somewhere else propelled entirely by our own forces.

It's a feeling of self-sufficiency. Maybe it's a residual genetic imprint of our persistence-hunter forefathers and their nomadic lifestyle. Keep moving to survive.

Then there's the sense of discovery and adventure added once you're onto new roads towards new destinations. This in itself is possible with many forms of transport, but as an additive to this self-sufficiency, it's even more special.

There's a kind of intimacy with the environment, which is only possible on a bicycle, with nothing more than the sound of your breathing to disturb the peace, and every element of the world around you tangible to your senses, you form an integral part of the world as you move through it.

Then of course there's the obvious sense of achievement. To be doing distances routinely that you once considered seriously challenging can become quite addictive. This is just inevitably going to lead to ever longer, higher, harder rides.


I relish the lightest possible load when I'm doing this. The art for me is to get everything down to the purely essential. I'm always looking for the smallest and lightest way of carrying only precisely what I can't do without on a ride like this.

You might one day see me heavily laden with panniers etc as I embark on a round-the-world or trans-continental ride, but for my current plans of rides lasting no more than a few days, I'll carry everything I can in my pockets and a saddlebag. You see, I also want to be reasonably fast, and not too severely handicapped when it comes to my favourite terrain: the hills. So I'm fully-kitted-out for the bike, and only minimally prepared for the time off it.

On rides in Malaysia - where keeping warm is never an issue - the only extra clothes I will carry if I'm staying overnight somewhere, is a t shirt and a pair of shorts. Assisted by the new high-tech fabrics by sportswear companies that pack away into tiny spaces, these will take up very little space. I won't carry extra footwear since the budget hotels available in most towns provide flip-flops in the bathroom, which they don't mind you wearing to wander around. And if not, I would rather spend a few ringgit on a pair of flip-flops than carry these things with me.

So then the only additional thing in the "luggage" is a single charger for gadgets with 2 cables for the different plug types of my phone and my GPS. If I intend to do a lot of riding in the dark I would invest in some AA-battery-powered lights, as carrying additional charging capacity for rechargeable lights would be more trouble than it's worth.

I'm doing an Audax race of 600 kilometers later this month, so I'm looking around at those light options now. That will probably mean riding through one whole night as I don't intend on stopping for long, but I'll see how my body feels. I'll find somewhere to sleep if I need it.

That is a story you'll hear more about here. It's not something I've done any specific preparation for, and my longest single ride so far was around 10 hours, but I'm quite sure I can do it.

It's just a long ride after all.