Monday, November 11, 2019

Everywhere has roads

International travel is one of the "perks" of an academic's role, but it is not something I have typically enjoyed.  My introverted nature makes me feel quite uncomfortable in a conference setting, and trips as an administrator in recent years have consisted of virtually zero exercise, and abundant cheap and delicious food.

It has only recently registered through my thick skull that travel is good for me - perhaps not the environment, but having ridden my bike to school virtually every day in the last 30 years, I feel like I can justify burning a bit of gas.  My job is stressful and easily imposes on my leisure time, and holidays help make it all feel worth while, before, during and after.

Recent indulgences - to France, New Caledonia and Taiwan - have been specifically chosen because of the reputation those places have for quality riding.  But, as I once noted to Matthew, a colleague in the International arm of the university, "everywhere has roads".   So, when a last minute opportunity came up to visit Melaka (the 9th largest city in Malaysia, according to Wikipedia) for a few days, despite it having no reputation as a cycling mecca, I decided to pack my bike, and request a meeting schedule that would accommodate a bit of R&R.

My hotel was on the outskirts of the city, and with three afternoons and one full day to play with, the extent of my planning was to try to head in a different direction each day.  I had zero expectations, nor any specific targets - the sole purpose was to be pedalling, a goal which I figured would easily be achieved.

The extent of my planning had been to download a base map from and load it onto my GPS.  Getting my bike ready was a cinch, and consisted only of remounting the rear derailleur and wheels, and pumping up the tyres (the former by virtue of my Scicon bag which doesn't require the handle bar to be removed, and the latter aided by a nifty Topeak travel pump).

Day 1 - West

I was clear of work and ready to roll out at 2pm the day after arrival into Melaka.  I figured the best shake-down ride would be to cruise into the old part of the city via the outskirts and coastal road.

The beauty of having no fixed agenda was immediately apparent, and with no riding companion, I was free to duck and dive as I chose.  I had the map screen up on my GPS, and used both a suitable level of zoom, a general sense of the direction I wanted to go in, and the colour-coded roads, to identify a likely route - albeit one subject to last-minute change.

One of the first gems of the ride!
My legs felt surprisingly good - I'd been on a daytime flight between Auckland and Singapore, so had moved around a lot, and between times was seated in relative luxury by virtue of an Air NZ elite airpoints dollar upgrade to premium economy.   When I arrived at the intersection I'd been gunning for, I stayed on the main road rather than turn left - the Melaka waterfront would have to wait.

On the way out to Masjid Hanan, I toyed with various small loops, before settling on a less convoluted loop back to Acer Keroh on the outskirts of Melaka.

The mosque the town was named after

I was struck by how nice the roads were - a great surface mostly, and plenty of space, due either to a complete lack of traffic, or the sort of courtesy you rarely get on New Zealand roads.

Not atypical road conditions!
Rounding one corner, there was one hell of a commotion on the left side of the road, and it was clear that I startled something.  Three macaque monkeys lingered long enough for me to snap a photo of them, before also disappearing into the jungle.

On the homeward leg, I had only a single navigational blunder (to add to a few earlier in the ride).  A likely looking road was actually the E2 freeway, and I wasn't welcome there.

Almost home, but not before a quick stop to admire this temple

By the time I rolled into my hotel lobby, I'd been out 4 hours, a far cry from the couple that I'd been expecting.  I'd really enjoyed the heat, and the format, and was very pleasantly surprised at how well my legs had travelled.

Stats:  103km at 27km/h, max temp 33 degrees

Day 2 - East

After the previous day's cracker, I planned to head in the opposite direction as far as Muar, about 50km along the coast towards Singapore.  I headed inland initially, saving the relatively straight coastal run for the homeward leg.

No sooner had  I got underway, than I realised that it was going to be a warm one.  While I love the heat, a humid 40-degrees was pushing the comfort zone a little!

The outbound journey was great fun, again making it up as I went along.  There were long stretches in the countryside, but also time spent passing through small towns...

... with the occasional deadend, at least one of which I managed to avoid doubling back on.

100m or so of this, and I was back on the pavement

Nearing Muar, the back road I was on was so sweet...

... it was a shame to dive off it, but the tiny wee road I spent the next 10 minutes on was totally worth it.

My route got a bit messy just before Muar, and I decided not to venture over the river.  Instead, I admired the town from afar for a couple of minutes, before circling around and picking up the back road between the main highway and the coast.

Mwah, Muar.
The old legs started to tire a bit, and both sundown and dinner time were approaching.  Luckily, there was no shortage of places to buy drinks, and cracking scenery kept me going!

Probably the "worst" road surface of the trip - I'd take this over NZ's standard chip seal any time.   
On the edge of Melaka, I turned away from the coast, saying farewell to the occasional ocean view and marina.

Mmmm, boats
About 10 minutes from the hotel, I decided to stop for dinner, and spent all of $5 on a delicious chicken murtabak and roti, washed down with 100-plus and teh tarik.  It was dark by the time I got back to the hotel, but I wouldn't have had it any other way!  Another great success, albeit a bit more energy sapping than the previous day's ride.

Stats:  124km at 26.4km/h average, max temp 39 degrees

Day 3 - South

I had a 3pm catch up with a former colleague, so didn't roll out until just before 5pm, with a view to doing the ride I probably should have started with - a loop through the Melaka city centre.

I was becoming pretty good at following my nose, and managed to pick out some great wee lanes to kick off with.

Give. Me. More!

I hadn't been right to the coast on my earlier rides, so it was nice to finally do so.

The Straits of Malacca, with Indonesia off in the hazy distance
I was keen to try to find a "chinese pillow box" for my dear wife, but my loops through the Jonker district and a bit of walking through various markets were unsuccessful.

Malacca centre is full of garish rickshaws! 
It was dark by the time I pulled the pin, but I felt very safe on the roads nonetheless.  I'd packed my lights, and the traffic seemed very mindful of my presence on the road.

I'd have been screwed without my GPS - the streets rarely go anywhere in a straight line, and the constant direction changes, particularly after dark, were hard to keep track of. 

There's no shortage of road-side dining in Malaysia, and so I grabbed a few bucks worth of deep fried goodies at a stall a few kilometres from home, a big bottle of water from the servo, and then back to the hotel for a bloody good wash and a rest.

Stats60km at 20km/h average, max temp 31 degrees

Day 4 - North

My final day was the first time I'd literally have the whole day to ride, and having headed up and down the coast, and to "the beach", today was the day for a foray inland.

First port of call was to head past the Durian Tunggal reservoir, which presumably is a water source for Melaka.

I'd ridden through a lot of palm plantations, and seen plenty of rubber trees (complete with their diagonal scars and small buckets collecting the latex), but also various fruit crops.

Fruits!  (Don't ask me which)
I eventually settled on Tampin as a target, and managed to find some nifty wee back roads to get there.

Not the rail underpass, but very close to one!
My legs were feeling pretty tired, which seemed odd after the relatively easy ride the day before.  But, progress seemed fine, and I was even up for doubling back to record a stunning array of mushrooms for sale in someone's front yard.

I was getting pretty peckish by the time I reached the outskirts of Tampin, and stopped to remedy my hunger.  Teh tarik and a couple of plain roti slid down so well, I had to order a second round of each.  As I made my way through the last of it, I realised they were packing up, and I was reminded that the time of day you can't typically buy roti is at lunchtime (seems very counter-intuitive to this westerner)!  These roti were great, and it would have been a crying shame to miss them.  The whole meal cost less than $2.

I filled my bottle at the other end of town, and managed to avoid too much time on the main road towards Rembau.

Transmission lines getting a bit of a tickle up

I was skirting around the back of a conservation area, and took a wonderful shortcut between two bits of highway.  The wee roads through the villages were an absolute highlight of these rides.

Back on the highway, I got into the only major climb of the four days, and my timing could not have been worse.  It was a rampy 2km ascent, averaging 10%, but peaking at over 20% in one stretch.  As if the gradient wasn't bad enough, the temperature shot up, and I saw 40.3 degrees on my GPS just after the summit!

At least things cooled down a bit on the other side, and I had almost 30km of gradual descending to do.  My single 900mL bottle was empty, and while I'd had plenty of stops (during which I'd usually skull a can of 100-plus, and empty a 1.5L bottle of water into my bidon and stomach), there had been no resupply since well before the climb had started.  But, sure enough, it wasn't long before I spotted a store and pulled in for some drink (and an ice-cream on a stick).

The locals were enjoying nasi lemak - rice with sambal, eaten with fingers on one hand, in a fascinating motion which I'm certain it would take months to perfect.  One fella asked if he could have a selfie with me, and I obliged.  I guess they don't see too many cyclists passing through, and certainly not gringos like me.

I made the symbolic turn for home just before the 100km mark.  While I was keen to avoid the main roads if I could, it was hard to imagine I was going to take on too many more optional extras from here on!

I don't think this was a shooting range
I had a couple more stops for fuel before riding through the UTeM campus and dropping down to the hotel in Acer Keroh.  Luckily, I still had a wee bit of energy, and was able to pack the bike for the next day's flights back to NZ. 

Stats:  154km at 26km/h average, max temp 40 degrees


I'm so glad I took my bike with me, and am somewhat bemused by the quality of the riding in and around Melaka.  The road surface was fantastic, the sights and sounds were fascinating, distances between shops were never too great, and the drivers were incredibly courteous. 

As a single data point, it is hard to know how unusual this might be, but my temptation is to think that I could have had a comparable experience on the outskirts of any of Malaysia's cities, but perhaps in South-East Asia more generally.

Most of my bike-travel has been of the point-to-point variety, a format I love, but which is not without considerable logistical challenges.   This alternative, riding each day from home base was no less satisfying, and is something I'll definitely look to do more of.

I'm back at home now, and feel so much better (both physically and mentally) having been active while away.  Not to mention that I was out doing my favourite thing.  440km of riding in celebration of the fact that Melaka is surrounded by not just any old roads, but great ones!


  1. Cool to hear it was such a positive experience for you. It looks like some great riding, and the lack of hills look right up my alley!

  2. I think those fruits (on day 4) are papaya.