Monday, September 19, 2011

Could we really go car-free?

Are we willing to do without our car for a day-the World Car-Free Day on 22nd September 2011? So far Malaysia has never organize her own car free day and maybe the government should put in effort towards promoting it. It is a day whereby we find other means of commuting, be it by the public transport, bicycles or a combination of both.

Photo from NST

Even though the event or campaign is focus more on congested areas, I would prefer to look at it more as a way of we moving around no matter where we are in Malaysia. Can we live car free? How actually we could get to where we need to go and ways to that without getting in a car and driving. To be totally car-free would seem to be quite impossible for most of us due to the inefficiency of the public transport system in Malaysia. Besides, taking public transport is somehow expensive and inconvenient when compared to riding a bike or maybe driving. For instance, if I were to take the bus from my hometown in Batu Pahat, Johor to Subang Jaya, the total cost would be around RM60 to and fro for a single person. Driving my car, it will cost around RM90-RM100 to and fro (excluding the car maintenance cost). So in this case, if travel more than 2 person, definitely it's better to drive than taking the public transport. Long distance travel, would actually require you to evaluate whether it's more convenient and how much does it cost between driving and taking public transport.

However, what we really need to look at and evaluate is our short distance commuting. Based on personal experience, anything below 25km (single trip), it is much more better to ride a bike than driving or taking the public transport. I have experimented it myself between driving and bicycling for all those short trips and found that bicycling is quicker and less stressful. Why don't you do you own experiment and see what is it like for you. A simple approach that I would suggest that could improve your life and your financial is to Drive Less. Start replacing all those short trips by car to riding a bike. For instance, to the grocery store, to meet a friend for a coffee, to the bank or to pay your utilities, etc. Sure, you can't replace all of those trips due to certain valid reasons, but most of it you would be able to. I can assure that you'll find it fun and freedom riding around.

You don't have to make a big change in your life to make a difference in the world. While living car-free is probably not possible for you, a Drive Less commitment is doable. Sooner you will reap the benefits for all those short trips. Even though I do support The World Car-Free Day campaign in Malaysia, I just feel that most of the campaign sometimes just for the sake of a campaign. I would prefer a program or event that would change the mindset and systems that will encourage Malaysians to cycle on a daily basis a transport.

Related readings:
1. Wikipedia A Car Free Day encourages motorists to give up their car for a day.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Biking is Better-From Taking Public Transport to Cycling to Work

How do I get started? It was sometime in 2005 when I lost my motorbike. So while waiting for the insurance claim, I started taking the public transport. At that time, in January 2006, RapidKL was about to introduce the new bus systems. The best way to save money on taking public transport is by purchasing the RapidKL Monthly Pass. For you to use the RapidKL buses and LRT for unlimited ride, you need to pay RM125 a month at that time. Now it has been increased but I don’t know how much. I don’t need to bother as I have already discovered a better and efficient alternative transport i.e. Bicycle.

Proved that I tried the public transport for 18 months or 1 ½ years. I gave up!

The biggest upset of the RapidKL bus system at that time was the feeder or local shuttle buses, that collect the passengers from the residential areas to the suburban or regional hub (Trunk Routes). So basically I need to take two buses before reaching KL from Subang Jaya. It can easily take about 1 ½ to 2 hours before I could reach my office! The feeder bus timing was really inconsistent. It can arrive at an interval of every 15 minutes up to 30 minutes. What triggered me about riding a bike was when I saw the foreign works riding their bikes. I was thinking maybe I could ride to the suburban hub and parked my bike there. But I was worried that it might get stolen. So, the solution was to ride straight to office.

Since the distance to my office from home was quite far i.e. 50km to and fro and I have not been cycling for so many years, I started to ride around my neighborhood to build my confidence and stamina. I ride 3 times a week for 30 minutes after came back from work as well as during weekends for the first 3 months. Honestly, it was quite boring after awhile riding around the neighborhood. So the subsequent 3 months, I started riding a bit further and longer but still maintained the 3 times a week routine. So it was like riding in the neighborhood during weekdays and during weekend I would ride from Subang to Shah Alam.

So after 6 months of training and riding around neighborhood as well as from Subang to Shah Alam to build my confidence going out on the streets, I started to ride to office in Kuala Lumpur. My first ride was during weekend because I need to check on the safest route as well as to time myself on how long I would get to office. I also time myself on how long to cool down. This is very critical as you need to familiarize yourself with the route as during weekend the roads are not that busy. With the heavy traffic during weekdays, you can’t actually think much of which way to go but to focus when you are on the road.

I wouldn’t have discovered that riding a bike to office was a lot more fun and faster if not because of the poor service of the feeder bus. It takes me about one hour to one hour fifteen minutes to reach my destination compare to taking public transport ( 1 ½ to 2 hours). It was considered blessing in disguise. Bicycle is a door-to-door transportation. You can ride your bike up to the front door of your office building.

You might not need 6 months of training if your distance is shorter. Maybe 3 months or less than that is sufficient. It all depends on you. The more you ride, the more you understand the challenges and dangers of commuting on the road and how actually to handle it. There are times when you will encounter rude drivers and motorcyclists, Don’t let them get you down. Just have fun and enjoy your ride.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why Students Should Cycle In Campus


Do you know that bicycle is the most efficient human powered transport? In the context of UPM, it gives you mobility at relatively little cost. A student can cover distances between any two points in the campus in about 15 minutes, roughly the time it takes for a bus to arrive. Generally one can save an hour a day by cycling instead of using the campus bus service. That makes 5 hours a week! Time that can be utilized for something else of your choice.

One bonus point is that cycling is actually an enjoyable activity. Its non-contact and it is also low impact, unless one fall or crash that is. It takes only 40 minutes to ride to Putrajaya from UPM and the ride is good…

The Right Bike

Bicycle is like a shirt one wears. It has to fit the rider/user. To ride efficiently, preferably the bike is of the correct size and the settings adjusted to suit the rider. The saddle height is the easiest to set. So is the saddle position and angle which can be slided either forward or backward. The most practical bike for getting around campus is a basic 26” MTB preferably fitted with 1.50 slick tires to reduce rolling resistance. There is the smaller 24” bicycle but getting suitable tarmac friendly tires for a 24” bike is almost impossible.

The most efficient bike design is still the basic diamond frame with front rigid fork. The suspension was originally designed for off-road riding so there is not much point in getting one for road use. Suspension system also adds unnecessary weight to a bike and soaks some energy from pedaling effort. The heavier the bike is, the more power it requires to move and that power requirements comes from the rider! Simple physics!

Apart from the physical weight, the quality of components used also determines the effort required to put a bike in motion. This is because better quality components have less internal friction due to better grade materials and manufacturing tolerances. In the long run it pays to get a bike with better quality components. They are more efficient and last longer. Sadly, demand for lower price bikes have preclude fittings of better quality components to standard bikes sold in the market. Whenever they are fitted, the final price tag would be relatively high. That is the reason why only those in leisure ride segment can and are willing to pay the higher prices for those bikes. It is a question of value. For the purpose of personal transport around campus, a bike costing RM300-400 is recommended. Anything below that will just not last the two of three years required of it.

All is not lost however because decent quality parts can still be fitted to a standard bike to make it better and more efficient. The amount spent on them will be worth it. Think of the minutes and effort saved during the life of the bike. When acquiring a bike, go for function, not look (form). Pretty bike is just for the eyes, a good bike is meant for ride!

Maintaining It

Bicycle is a machine. It is simple. It is light. Like all machines it has to be maintained to keep it running efficiently. To make a bicycle efficient, most of parts used are small and light. Generally, if a bike is used often it requires general service once every six months. The three main bearings – front, rear & middle - have to be regreased if not rebuild.

The chain, which transfers power to the rear tire must be lubricated periodically to extend its life and keep it efficient. A better option is to clean the chain every month or so to rid it of sand and grits that acts like grinding paste reducing the life of the chain further. Use a good chain lube if you can afford it. It is worth the cost in term of longer life and better efficiency when pedaling a bike.

Brakepads should not touch the rims when brakes are not being applied.

Generally, efficiency suffers over time. Most bike owners do not really realize it because the degradation is gradual. A good running bike makes the owners want to ride it. So, choose a bike well and maintain it. Get the most value out of it. A decent quality bike can last 2-3 years if maintained properly. After that period of use it will require major work to make it good again. This is when many moving parts need replacement. The basic frame made of steel can last virtually forever!


One word – get a good lock for your bike! In the Netherlands most commuting bikes uses not one but THREE locks! So, value your asset and take some measures for security. For a student, a bicycle is a mode of transport. It means mobility. Be especially careful when parking near faculties. It is good if one can get a length of chain and a good padlock for those high risk areas and please..please do not leave your bike near faculties overnite or over the weekend. One can park overnite near the koperasi & CIMB because of CCTV coverage but not the faculties & library, those are high risk areas.


Frame material

Today with modern technology bicycle frames are made with various materials. The four main ones are steel, cro-moly steel, aluminium, carbon & titanium. Steel being the cheapest, is the heaviest of the lot. Aluminium bike frames are lighter than steel but the price difference really are not justified because they are stiffer. In our view, cro-moly frames still represent the best value. Sadly they are not being made in quantities anymore. The few that do cost even more than aluminium frames! Majority of middle grade bikes utilized aluminium frames.

Aluminium or alloy frames require suspension system to give it a softer ride, that pushes the bike’s price further up. And suspension parts don’t last that long pushing its value further down. In our view, cro-moly represent the best value. One can still find decent cro-moly frame bikes amongt old stocks in bikeshops. Most of them come from the days before alloy frames became prominent.

Cro-moly, being stronger that just hi-tensile steel, can utilize smaller tubings to make bike frames making them lighter and more flexible. That’s the word, ‘flexible’. It can make a bicycle has more feel and give a softer ride without resorting to suspension system. It is quite obvious when one takes sharp corner.

One word on aluminium frames, they are light but stiff. Every knock it takes weakens the frame. Technically because of that character, an aluminium frame has a shorter lifespan than a steel or cro-moly frame. Precisely for that reason one do not see an alloy frame without front shocks. It just cannot take harsh knocks repeatedly for long period without breaking down.

Frame design

The basic and most efficient design is still the diamond frame. It requires the least material leading to a very light frame. Suspensions, either in the front or the back only add a lot of material weight to a bike. Yes, the ride will be softer but the energy required to move the bike around will be substantially more than moving a lighter bike with a rigid fork. To make a bicycle with fancy frames, many manufacturers compromise by substituting inferior components fitted to it.

Opt for a basic diamond frame with rigid fork if you are not going off road.

Other components that matter

To make a good bike, three major components must be of decent quality – front and rear hub & the bottom bracket (the bearings assembly attaching the crankset to the frame). Of course the rest follow.

There are many component makers in the bike world. For all practical intent and of interest of commuters and leisure ride communities Shimano represent the best value. They are relatively more expensive than no-name products. Shimano does not make bicycle. It only manufactures bike components. The product range is quite extensive.

Bicycle runs on two wheels, they are the most important part of a bike. To run smooth and efficient, hubs must be of decent quality and the wheelbuild is good. Spokes tension must be uniform so that wheels are stronger and stay true longer.

Then there is the bottom bracket. Practically it is the main bearing for a bike. Cheaper bikes utilize cup and cone design for the bearings while a better design is the sealed bearings type. The sealed bearings cartridge type represent better value because it can last and perform well for a few years while the cups and cone bearings type requires overhaul every year or so.

The chain transfers power from the crankset to the rear wheel. Quality determines efficiency. Opt for better quality chain for your bike. Due to the nature of modern bicycle design, the chain is exposed to the elements – dust, dirt & moisture. It requires lubricant to make it works well. Every couple of weeks or so put a drop of oil on every link of the chain to prevent rust from setting in because presence of rust accelerates wear. Periodic cleaning of the chain is also recommended. Generally with daily use, a set of chain can last a year or so, depending on mileage and maintenance.

Basic upgrades

There are many options to upgrade a bike. A decent basic frame generally just requires an upgrade of the drivetrain to make it more efficient. One can either do it in stages or do the everything in one go. The first is the BB bearings (the bearings assembly that attaches the crankset the the bike frame.) If the original set uses the BB cup & bearings type, change it to a sealed bearings cartridge unit. It offers the best value because the unit is maintenance free and is very efficient.

The next items are the hubs, both front and rear. Shimano freehub offers the best value because of better manufacturing tolerances and materials used. Sadly shimano has stopped manufacturing those 7-speed freehubs some years ago. Whats available in the market are old stocks that can still be found if one knows where to look for them. Those with double seals require less maintenance. Their main enemy is water ingress… if you value your bike, have your hubs serviced at least once a year because replacing a hub is an expensive affair.

Between the crankset and the rear hub there is the chain that transfer power from crankset to the rear tire. A decent chain does it more efficiently. In the drivetrain, the chain is the item that wears the fastest due to its exposed nature. It can last up to a year with daily use if properly maintained. After that one year, a stretched (elongated) chain will start ‘eating’ into the rear drive components so it is better to change a chain before the rear ‘sprocket’ gets totally worn that a chain can no longer sit on those rear sprocket cogs.

The rest in the drivetrain are just ancilliaries, they are the gear system. They consist of shifter, FD (front derailleur), RD (rear derailleur) and cables. A good RD in a properly tuned system is a joy to use. It matters most when one encounters hills and descents when cycling.

The last is the rubber. The tire.

Mountain bikes or MTBs were initially designed for off-road riding. Hence they come with big fat tires with rough thread patterns meant to provide grip and traction on unpaved surfaces. On paved road, they are heavy & noisy, requiring a lot of power to move the bike. Cycling on-road, one does not need those knobbly tires. A set of smaller diameter & slicker tires is recommended. They present lighter weight & lower rolling resistance without compromising braking power. They are more expensive though because they are designed to hold higher pressure, being smaller. Normal MTB tires are designed to operate with 45-50 PSI (pound per square inch) of pressure while slicker 1.50 tires are designed to run on 55-80 PSI of air. Higher pressure requirement also means that they require better quality inner tubes. They are worth the price because of the less effort required to propel the bike. Generally a set of tires will last 1-2 years. Of course one has to get lucky with inner tubes because they’re subjected to puntures by sharp objects strewn around on our roads. Even a staple or a tiny thorn is enough to flatten the cushion of air we travel on!


After one has acquired a bike, one better learn to ride right. Being human powered, it is to the rider’s benefit to know how to cycle efficiently.

First thing first, the set up of the bicycle must suit the rider. The most important is to adjust the saddle/seat height to suit the rider. To be most efficient, the saddle height has to be adjusted so that when one pedal is at its lowest point, the rider’s knee is only slightly bent. That means that when the rider is on the saddle, one’s feet cannot reach the ground. If one is not able to handle that in the beginning, start with a lower saddle height and raise it by degrees later after one has gained more confidence.

Handlebar height also has to be adjusted accordingly. Ideally it has to be lower than saddle height but getting there may take some time for those not used to cycling. So take your time getting there. All these are because our bodies are most efficient cycling in that position.

Pedalling rate also determines efficiency. Generally we are more efficient if we pedal at a higher rate. Learn to use a lower gear and pedal faster. The pros ride their bikes pedaling at 70-90 rounds per minute! (That pedaling rate is called cadence) That is how professional riders can ride such long distances …up to 250km a day! But riding efficiently is to our interest. Like it or not, bicycles are here to stay. High fuel prices necessitate that. It is already happening in Europe. In the Netherland, 40% of the workforce cycle to work!

Another benefit of pedaling at higher rate with lower gears is, it put less strain on chain, extending its life further.

We are not pros. We are not aiming to be! But getting around on a bike is fun and saves time. With a bicycle, one is very mobile. UPM campus and its surrounding areas are ideal for cycling. A ride to Putrajaya is recommended for those who are interested. It takes about 30 minutes to get there. Quicker if your bike is good.

One can go exploring the whole UPM campus on a bike. Catch a glimpse of sunrise near the GSO very early in the morning and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the ‘ladang’… Or, go and have breakfast at Uniten just to have a look at your neighbour’s campus! … (It is a boring place by the way!)

If one is in the mood of getting a bit more adventurous take a ride to Kajang for its famous ‘sate’. The town also offers an excellent bookshop with a vast range on stationeries. It’s called Chip Lee near Metro Kajang. Do remember though not to eat too much when you are riding… you’ll discover why when you do!

Finally, there are longer routes a cyclist can take if he/she wants to do longer distances. They are there to be discovered.

Note: Article contributed by Hisham Mohd Mukhtar. He is running a bicycle shop in UPM at Gate 5- Black Cup. He specializes in rebuilding bike from the junkyard to bring it back to life.