Riding in KL – By Dave Powell
Let’s ride in KL someone suggested. A farewell ride for two friends who are leaving Singapore. Sounds well and good, but to ride in KL, first you must get there. Simple enough, you have two choices.
Drive: Half an hour to Tuas, 3 hours queuing to cross two border, 4 hours driving (includes all stops), half an hour of late night KL traffic = 8 hours.
Fly: Half an hour to Changi, 2 hours waiting for your flight, 1 hour flying, 1 hour waiting for your bike to arrive on the next flight, 2.5 hours stuck in KL peak hour traffic during a tropical storm in a minibus that takes you to the wrong hotel = 7 hours.
It’s a marginal call either way, but at least you can have a drink (or two) in the airport lounge.
The plan was to be up and ready to depart by 0700 hours. We roll out at 0715 – close enough. The ride, mapped out by our host, was to ride The Wall, Evian and then onto KBB for a crack at Fraser’s Hill. Less than 200km – easy. Knock off the Strava Grand Fondo challenge and put a serious dent into the Climbing Challenge while we’re at it.
The flat bits were a chance to admire the best (rural roads and scenery) and worst (KL’s streets) that Malaysia has to offer whilst covering ground to the real challenges that lay ahead.
The Wall, aptly named, kicks up at 11% for over a kilometre. Think 3 x Lorong Sesuais end to end. A good chance to check out my chainring / cassette combo. Up and over – no problems.
Next up Evian. 5km at 6-7% with no flat spots or ramps. Find the right gear and tap tap tap till the top. Easier than last time. Bring on Fraser’s.
But, first you have to get there. One hour (including drink stop) and 20km of Malaysia’s finest rural roads later and the mountain is looming overhead.
Fraser’s Hill is 30km our host said. But he forgot to mention the 10km climb to the reservoir that precedes it. Bast*rd.
The road up to the reservoir is fairly new and wide. Built with modern machinery for modern cars there is less need for the path of least resistance and so it is steeper too. The section past the reservoir is flat, almost undulating and I stop to take a few photos and the obligatory selfie. The reservoir is well down from its usual levels which probably explains the motorists gathered around points where water cascades from the rocks with water containers in their hands.
Moving on, it is already apparent that we range from hares to tortoises. The hares, already ahead, stay as a group for a while, while the rest of us climb alone with only our thoughts for company. It’s funny the sort or random thoughts and observations that go through you head as you slowly make your way up the mountain.
The road has changed from new and wide to narrow, winding and old. A descending lorry that toots his horn at every corner, slightly irritating but probably a good idea. The almost complete absence of cars and then three come past together. A Valentino Rossi wannabe on his R1 coming down trying to find the balance between gravity and throttle through the corners. A fire ravaged gully on the high side and total greenery on the other. The incessant sound of cicadas droning out their one note song. What sounds like bagpipes skirling in the distance only to realise that it must be another species of cicadas with a different pitch to their drone. The changes in vegetation as broad leaf ferns give way to a narrow leaf variety. The group of long boarders standing around as one of their members lays on the grass on an apex with a bad case of gravel rash on his stomach. Bitumen surfing not really to be recommended, but I guess he knows that now. A dead snake still neatly coiled up. The temperature, which peaked at 30 degrees at the reservoir, now slowly dropping despite the sun still rising. It’s only 27 degrees and I’m grateful that it is heavily overcast but not raining. I’d hate to go up this on a sunny day even if it is well shaded.
Eventually the road flattens and a suspension bridge comes into view. I cross that and realise that this must be The Gap. The road up to now has been two way, but from here it becomes one way to the top. In days of yore this was the only way to the top and cars alternated – first half of the hour going up, second half coming down. These days there is another road leading back to The Gap so there is no need to wait.
I turn up past the former control post and the road immediately narrows and steepens with the milestones indicating 8km to go. Just what you need I think, 8km at 4-5%. Cog it down a gear and keep on pedalling. A rider appears ahead. It’s Johan who is suffering cramps. Not much later another rider appears. It’s Bjorn struggling with his excess baggage although to his credit he’s got this far with it. The road is now wet indicating recent rain, but so far I’ve been lucky and stayed dry. 1.5 km to go and the road levels out to dead flat. Surely not I think, and sure enough, with 1 km to go it kicks back up again. Stone buildings appear and there up ahead is the famous clock tower. 200m and I’m there. I pose for the obligatory photo, kindly taken by our support driver known to all as the Bad Beer Fairy, and climb the steps to join the others while we wait for the last 5 riders.
The descent is a bit of a blur. I overtake several riders and a VW Golf on the way to The Gap. There we regroup before setting off again. I set off last and soon find that the riders in front are using different lines and braking points to me disrupting my rhythm. I soon overtake but by then Andrew, Mike and Noel have cleared off. Never mind. I spend the next 30km carving turn after turn riding to my own lines, speed and rhythm. Pure heaven.
But all things must come to an end and somewhere along the flat John, Johan, Raoul and Adrian catch me up and we pace line as it starts to drizzle. Decision time at the junction. Do we wait for the others here, or press on and wait at the 7-11 in the next town. Press on is the decision and 2 minutes later we abort seeking shelter under a car porch as the weather gods chuck a hissy fit and hurl it down. Mark and Bjorn soon join us, as does Beverly. Colin decides he has seen worse in the RN, dons his mask and snorkel, and presses on.
The rain eventually eases and we press on. Through the next town, skipping the 7-11 and on towards Evian. Our host, Mark, had warned us that the back side of Evian was steeper than the front side and he wasn’t wrong. Once we passed a dead monitor lizard I switched my Garmin over to my ‘hill climbing page’ only to discover it wasn’t reading the gradient properly. Legs said 6%, Garmin said 1%. Bugger. At least the altitude gain works off a different sensor so the Altitude Challenge should be okay. Heads up just in time to see a sign reading 10%. Great, just what I need. Down to the granny gear and tap it out. Regroup at the summit to find that the others had been getting the same funny gradients. Must be the heavy cloud cover playing havoc with the satellites.
Down Evian and onto the Wall for the final hill. Two false ramps before the real one appears. Seems easier this time, or maybe the lower gearing helps. Final regroup at the bottom and it’s back to KL with Colin setting a pace that had us wondering if he was on a mission or a promise.
We finally rolled back into the hotel lobby at 7:05, nearly 12 hours after we had set off, having ridden 200km and climbed 2,167m
Long and tiring? Yes.
Would I do it again? Definitely.