Bharath Sethuraman Goes Bicycle Touring In Malaysia and Singapore

Tell me a little bit about your bicycle tour. Where did you go? And what was it like?

My buddy “Partha” and I traveled from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Singapore. We traveled a distance of five hundred kilometers and it took us six and a half days. Most of the route was hilly: nothing super steep, but rolling hills one after another. Malaysia is a tropical country, and we were treated to dense vegetation throughout our tour. There were plenty of palm plantations on the hillsides that we traversed, along with fruit trees: mango, rambutan, banana, guava. All along the roadside were coconut water stands, sugarcane juice stands, and a whole host of eateries providing several kinds of cuisines. The people were warm and friendly, and at no point was anyone aggressive towards us. But be wary of riding in either Kuala Lumpur or Johor Bahru (Singapore’s twin city across the strait): these are big cities that are not bicycle friendly, and riding there can be frightening.


What was your biggest fear when planning or preparing for your trip by bike? And how exactly did you overcome that fear?

I was the more experienced cyclist of the two of us, but I had never done a bicycle tour on my own before! Plus, we are both over fifty (we were college buddies over thirty years ago, and have remained buddies since), and therefore, significantly more risk averse than most bicycle tourists! Of course, this was not an entirely self-supported tour: we allowed ourselves the comfort of staying in hotels at night instead of camping. But that said, this would be a major accomplishment for us if we could pull it off given our inexperience.

I was also afraid of mechanical breakdowns. I was riding a Bike Friday New World Tourist, and Partha was riding an off-the-shelf hybrid. I had ordered low gearing for my BF, but his bike only had the standard range of gears. So, we did have our basket full of doubts about our completing the trip. But one of the advantages of being over fifty is that you have fought other battles in other arenas before, and you learn that in any battle, you just got to take one step after another step after another step…listening to your fears but not allowing yourself to be taken hostage by them. We did just that, and in short order, found ourselves at the goal post in Singapore!

What was the thing you liked MOST about your bicycle touring experience?

The independence, the feeling of good health, of camaraderie, the experience of seeing a country at the ground level instead of from a tourists’ point of view, meeting “real” people in small villages, learning basic words in other languages (in this case – Bahasa Malaysia), and yes, the sense of achievement at the end!


What was the thing you liked LEAST about your bicycle tour… and how did you think that aspect of your travels could be improved upon in the future?

In retrospect, it is hard to label anything on the trip as having liked it the least (although, by sheer logic, there has to be one such thing), because even the “least liked” tag has a negative feel about it! Yes, there are some things we could do better, but I wouldn’t want to label those as “least liked.” For instance, both of us would have panniers (only I had them). For instance, I would also carry a smart phone (only Partha had one).

As it turned out though, thanks to my having devoured touring blogs hungrily (including Darren Alff’s, I found that we were quite adequately prepared, at least for this level of “credit-card” type touring that we did. So thank you, all previous blog writers, and thank you Darren!

What one piece of information inside “The Bicycle Traveler’s Blueprint” or from the website at helped you the most in planning, preparing for, or executing your bicycle tour?

As in my answer to a previous question, I learned many things from many blogs, including Bicycle Touring Pro. Perhaps the one most useful thing to me was the advice to get low gears for hill climbing. When I ordered my Bike Friday I told them that this was a must, and I wanted gearing down to 20 gear inches if possible. They gave me a 8-ring cassette with one chain ring, and then augmented that with a 3-speed hub gearing that in its lowest setting, reduces gear ratios by 27%,


Name three things you learned from your bicycle tour:

1) Beer is the long distance cyclists’ best reward.
2) It really helps to have a buddy to travel with.
3) And most importantly, attitude matters.

So all in all, bicycling mirrors life.

Do you think you’ll conduct more bicycle tours in the future? If so, where do you want to go? And why do you want to go there?

Absolutely! I would mostly do short trips of about one week or ten days. I am open to several parts of the world, with a slight preference for South East Asia. Partly because of the dense population—I don’t have much experience camping and would like hotels every 50 to 100 kilometers—and partly because I am vegetarian and it is easier to get vegetarian food in South East Asia. I would also like Europe, again because there are towns every 50 to 100 kilometers.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is planning their first bicycle touring adventure?

Read every blog and book you can find, so you can be as prepared as you can before you start your tour. There is a goldmine of information and useful tips on these sites. That said, I assume that no two tours can be alike, so you are bound to have your own wonderful set of adventures!


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