January 22, 2011
Looking for some two-wheel action? You should join the mountain bike hashers on their monthly jaunts.
Darn! I’m toasted,” I said , staring at the steep, muddy incline ahead.
I downshifted to the lowest gear and grimly cranked the pedals. Midway up the hill, my wheels churned in the mud like a mixer whipping cake batter. The bike stopped dead in its tracks.
A mountain bike hash can serve up the thrills in spades
Huffing and puffing, I hopped off and started pushing the bike. Just then, eight-year-old Finley Young pedalled gingerly past.
Two weeks earlier when I told hubby I was joining a bike hash for the first time, he had cocked an eyebrow.
“Er, aren’t you a little out of shape?” he said.
Since our baby arrived five months ago, I hadn’t sat on a saddle for almost a year. But then Kuala Lumpur Mountain Bike Hash (KLMBH), a fat tyre group, had described the upcoming “Scenic Ride” on their website as “a short scenic, 13-km ride through rolling terrain with no steep climbs or technical sections, suitable for wife and kids”, so no probs.
Yeah, right …
It was a lovely Sunday morning when I joined up with some 160 KLMBH members in Lenggeng, Negri Sembilan. Located south of Broga town and an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, Lenggeng is a sleepy place surrounded by tranquil villages and rubber and oil palm estates.
Our trailhead started at an oil palm plantation, two minutes’ drive from Lenggeng. Riders had the option of joining the short “Scenic Ride” or the “Long Ride” (read: hardcore!), which was more than twice the distance with sheer climbs.
“It’s not a ride for those who’ve only ridden short rides or have laid off riding for a while,” the organising committee cautioned.
The fat-tyre buffs are usually a hodgepodge crowd — the age ranging from six to over 60. All riders have to register their names and contact numbers and grab a tag number each. Non-members pay RM15, while members ride free for all 12 hashes in a year upon paying the RM70 fee. At the end of each ride, you need to sign off.
The roster ensures every rider is accounted for.
Modelled after the hash run, the KL bike hash (bash) was started by expatriates Richard Aubry and Mark Chatterton in 1994. Before a bash, “hares” (volunteers from the organising committee) explore and then map out two routes, “Long Ride” and “Scenic Ride”, and mark the trails with paper, flour and other clues.
The fastest riders during a hash usually lead the pack, keeping sight of the markers until they get to intersections or forks where the markers disappear. Called “checks,” these gaps challenge the front riders to find where the trail picks up next, and this allows slower riders to catch up. (See The job of hatching below.)
“Usually, the trail continues within 200-300m, but there are ‘false’ trails to trick the riders,” explained outgoing KLMBH president, Chee Yih Tzuen. “The longer the rider gets stuck and tears his hair out figuring it out, the more the hares have done their job.”
KLMBH is run by volunteers. Each year, a new committee organises the activities. Aside from monthly rides, the group has clinics on bike maintenance, riding skills and First Aid. Membership fees fund the annual Epic Ride and annual dinner and also subsidise the various clinics.
Sticking together is best
Know your limits
Bash guidelines suggest riding in a group so nobody gets lost. A repair kit is also advisable.
“You need to be self-sufficient and not expect people to bail you out if something happens on the trail,” advised Chee, 44, a basher for seven years. “You also need a minimum level of fitness, some technical skills and know how to ride correctly.”
If you ride alone, get lost or have problems with your bike, you’re on your own, he added.
“We provide a trail for you, and we have sweepers to wait for the last and slowest riders but we provide support only if there’s an emergency medical situation,” Chee explained. “You have to be prepared to push your bike to the nearest access road or wait for the sweeper or stop the next guy that comes along and ask for help.”
I was just happy to follow the pack. The bashers are a friendly lot. Someone is always offering to ride with you or offer assistance. Our trail meandered through kampung roads, rubber estate, oil palm plantation and secondary jungle. Kids waved and yelled “Hello” each time we whizzed past a village.
I was so engrossed in it all, I forgot to look out for the paper trail and followed some riders blindly. Not surprisingly, we got lost a few times before backtracking and finding the way again. The highlight: Barrelling down the hill with the wind in my face. That was sheer bliss.
For the most part, I rode with Chee Zhou-Chen and his mum, Janet, who sort of looked out for me since I didn’t really know anyone at the bash. Junior Chee had been riding since he was four and started mountain biking when he turned eight.
“I love the adrenaline rush when you’re speeding downhill and the feeling of pride you get when you conquer a massive steep hill without having to push the bike and to finish a ride,” the 11-year-old said.
“It’s also nice to be outdoors, breathing fresh air in the midst of nature. I enjoy the company, too, especially on rides with family friends who have other kids,” he added.
Veteran rider, Eric Teo, 60, is proof that age is no barrier when it comes to riding. Teo, also a hash runner for the last 30 years, joined the bike hash in the mid-1990s.
“Mountain biking is addictive! It’s the speed and excitement,” gushed Teo. “Also the bike hash has a bigger crowd so I get to meet all kinds of people. God willing, I hope to continue mountain biking for another 10 years or for as long as my body can handle it.”
One week after the ride at KLMBH’s annual dinner, members voted the Lenggeng ride as the best for the entire year. Stoked by my first hash, I’m all psyched up to get back into mountain biking again.
It’s time to start cranking those wheels regularly and shedding the excess “baggage”.
Twelve times a year, a bunch of Kuala Lumpur Mountain Bike Hash (KLMBH) members volunteer their time to hatch different routes for the monthly rides. The goal is to ensure everyone, regardless of riding skill or fitness level, enjoys a safe, fun ride.
Lead Hare for the Lenggeng ride, Chee Yih Tzuen, shows how he cleared the undergrowth during his recce
“Each time we go for a hash, it feels like we’re going on an exciting adventure or school trip,” says regular basher Evanna Phoon who joins the monthly hashes with her husband, Michael.
“We get excited about these new found or remote places, and the organising committee always surprises us with the varied terrains and scenic trails.”
At the end of each year, the committee lines up a 12-month ride roster for the following year. One person, known as the Lead Hare, is responsible for each month, rounding up a team to help him recce the area.
“First, you decide which area you want to ride in, then you explore and find a way to stitch together a network of trails to create a loop each for the ‘Long Ride’ and the ‘Scenic Ride’,” says Chee Yih Tzuen, the 2010 KLMBH president (Head Basher) and Lead Hare for the Lenggeng bash.
Piece of cake, right? Hardly!
The Lenggeng ride, for instance, took 12 weekends of exploring and hacking before Chee and his volunteers cobbled together a good trail. Using Google Earth, Chee looks out for existing dirt roads. Then armed with GPS and parang, the riders hit the trails to find out if the tracks still exist and whether they are linked.
In the early days …
Before the GPS and Google Earth days, long-time KLMBH members like Azizul Adnan @ Joe, set up bashes using a compass, intuition, good memory and great sense of direction.
“We looked at the direction of the sun, and anytime before 10am, you know where East lies. So you ride north, south, east and west for an hour each and hope you find your way back,” says Joe who with Pat Brunsdon hold the record for the most number of bashes set: 25.
“Once you get the basic loop, you have to recognise the trail features and landmarks so you can backtrack and lay the paper trails,” says Joe, 42, who set his first bash in July 1995.
In the old days, the Native Americans used to sing songs as they walked and the song lyrics corresponded with the trail features they saw along the way, and this helped them to navigate the route again, Joe explained.
“I didn’t sing but I talked about the trail and described its features to help me remember. These recce experiences equipped me with the skills to find my way in the forest today,” he added.
Over the years, Joe has seen many biking trails squeezed out by urban development. His first bike hash in 1994 in Ladang Sedgeley is now the Cyberjaya sprawl.
“But I think riding trails are inexhaustible if we venture farther out and explore,” says the optimist who used to ride the 100km off-road journey from Damansara Heights to Meru, Klang.
What keeps these trailblazing hares going?
“If nobody steps up and contributes to the club, nothing happens. If you want to ride, you have to ‘sacrifice’ one year of your time and volunteer to do the work,” says Chee.
“Going into a place you’ve never been before and (encountering) the uncertainties make it challenging,” adds Joe.
“Who knows, I may just one day find that elusive single-track or the Shangri-la of mountain biking.”
From the time his two kids were old enough to hop on trail-worthy bicycles, Kuala Lumpur-based expatriate Victor Young has made the monthly hash rides a fun, family outing.
Here are a few pointers from Young regarding young riders:
KLMBH doesn’t impose a minimum age for participants, but Young figures six years old or so should be the limit. Even for short rides, a kid needs to be able to ride and control a bike with 20-inch wheels — the minimum size for bumpy trails.
“Finley, who just turned nine last weekend, has been doing hashes for about two years, while Rebecca, six, has only been doing it for the past six months or so,” says Young from the UK.
Kid has to say yes!
Some parents can get a tad overzealous and want their kids to join the rides badly. Time-out.
“Never force the kids to ride. We ask them the week before if they want to ride, and sometimes they do and sometimes not. It needs to be fun,” Young stresses.
Make sure your kids are confident on their bikes, can operate the brakes properly and are able to get on and off the bike. They should also know to ride on the left hand side (in case there are any road sections) and be able to ride in a straight line without weaving around too much.
Feed them well
Stuff your kids with a good, healthy breakfast at least one hour prior to the ride to make sure the food’s well digested. Young and his wife, Juliet, always pack snacks like raisins, bananas and cereal bars and equip the kids with small, one-litre hydration pack.
“Children often forget to drink so they need regular encouragement!” Young says.
Safety gear and precautions
Padded gloves, helmets and sunglasses are compulsory. The Youngs also have a back-up plan in case anyone gets lost or separated. Both Rebecca and Finley know their parents’ mobile numbers and they have been told to stop and wait in an obvious place if they lose sight of their parents.
“The hash is a very safe environment for kids to go exploring because there is a sweep rider, whose job is to ride at the back and make sure everyone gets home. We haven’t lost anyone yet, and in fact, Finley and I often take the role of sweep riders because we ride slowly, and he responds well to the responsibility,” Young reveals.
Make sure to also slap on some sunscreen and mozzie repellent.
Savour the ride
Kids will inevitably get tired and may want to give up. Young cheers his kids on and makes sure they make plenty of stops, relish the view and try to spot wildlife.
“I have a strong left arm from pushing them both up hills, and so do some of the other hash regulars who love to lend a hand to tired, young riders,” sums up the 43-year-old father. – Stories by Louisa Lim
For more information on Kuala Lumpur Mountain Bike Hash and to sign up for membership, visit www.klmbh.org. The next hash ride will be on Jan 30, 2011.