Have wheels, will travel

Elena Shim braves pot­holes and in­con­sid­er­ate driv­ers be­cause cy­cling is the best way to ex­pe­ri­ence Kuala Kumpur.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By S.INDRAMALAR Star2@thes­tar.com.my

AS she ped­als her bi­cy­cle along the streets of Chi­na­town in Kuala Lumpur, Elena Shim is greeted by the food ven­dors and mer­chants along the way.

Shim has be­come a fa­mil­iar face around these parts since she started her guided cy­cling tours a year or so ago. Her tours cover the city and greater Kuala Lumpur as well as the his­toric city of Malacca. She also of­ten or­gan­ises ex­cur­sions off the beaten track.

Bik­ing, Shim says, has al­lowed her to dis­cover new things about KL. The slower pace of cy­cling has al­lowed her to ad­mire and ap­prea­ci­ate the city’s sights, from its ar­chi­tec­ture to its nat­u­ral beauty. She has also been able to savour more of KL’s good food, of­ten in non­de­script cof­fee shops and hole-in-the-wall stalls that have been op­er­at­ing for decades.

“You have to try the Hainanese cof­fee or Cham cof­fee and Kaya Toast at Ah Gou cof­fee shop,” she in­sists as we passed a tiny in­con­spic­u­ous cof­fee shop along Lorong Pang­gong in KL.

Orig­i­nally from Sabah, Shim says cy­cling around the city has opened eyes to what the city has to of­fer – things and places that of­ten went un­no­ticed when she sed to com­mute by car.

“When I used to drive, I didn’t no­tice many things in the city be­cause I’d just pass

quickly… them by so build­ings, shrines, unique trees and plants and of course the wonderful stalls and cof­fee shops sell­ing de­li­cious food that aren’t in plain sight. Since I’ve got­ten on the bike, I have dis­cov­her ered so many hid­den gems in and around the city. Not only do I spot them, I can get down to take a closer look at any point,” she says.

Shim is so con­vinced that bik­ing is the best way to see the city that she left her job as a re­searcher at Univer­siti Malaya to set up Bike With Elena, her out­fit of­fer­ing guided cy­cling tours. She has a small fleet of bi­cy­cles and if she needs more, she rents them from Dataran Merdeka (in­clu­sive of safety hel­mets). “I ly started cy­cling three years ago. I be­gan by com­mut­ing from my home in Pe­tal­ing Jaya to the uni­ver­sity, and I’d do about 10km a day. Now, I do about 30km a day,” she says. Shim’s guided bike tours are pop­u­lar with tourists and lo­cals who ap­pre­ci­ate the chance to see and ex­pe­ri­ence the city on two wheels. “It’s a great way to see the city and it brings peo­ple to­gether. When you com­bine a sporty ac­tiv­ity like cy­cling with food, you break bound­aries. We sweat, laugh and eat to­gether and it’s a lot of fun,” she says. Cy­cling has gained pop­u­lar­ity as a pre­ferred way of sight­see­ing. In Malaysia, there are cy­cling tours in Pe­nang, Malacca as well as in East Malaysia. Tourists and lo­cals can now rent bi­cy­cles in most cities in Malaysia. In Ge­orge Town, tourists are cy­cling down the streets in its her­itage area to bet­ter savour its post­colo­nial charms.

Although still rel­a­tively new in Malaysia, cy­cling tours have been hugely pop­u­lar in many tourist des­ti­na­tions around the world, from big cities like New York and Paris to the coun­try­sides of Hoi An, Viet­nam.

One of the big­gest sell­ing points of see­ing a place on bi­cy­cle is that it al­lows trav­ellers to cover long dis­tances while be­ing com­pletely aware of their sur­round­ings and hav­ing the free­dom to stop and stare at will. It is also a less stress­ful way of trav­el­ling as the sched­ule is more flex­i­ble as there are no buses or trains to catch.

For Shim, the bi­cy­cle is her main mode of trans­porta­tion although cy­cling in the city has its chal­lenges.

She lists pot­holes and er­rant mo­torists as her two top peeves.

There are much fewer women cy­clists com­pared to men, and the most of­ten cited rea­son is con­cerns about safety on the road and se­cu­rity.

But Shim take these chal­lenges in her stride.

She has trained her­self to be alert and aware of her sur­round­ings at all times.

“The pot­holes are like booby traps for cy­clists and we have to be on the look­out for new ones that al­ways ap­pear on the … roads. Be­ing alert is key some­times pedes­tri­ans step onto the streets out of nowhere and we have to brake sud­denly. An­other chal­lenge are driv­ers who don’t re­spect cy­clists and who don’t see the need to share the road with us,” she says.

The lack of park­ing fa­cil­i­ties for cy­clists is also an in­con­ve­nience.

“Trees, fences and poles have be­come my best friends. I have to

look for lamp posts and trees to park my bi­cy­cle as there aren’t many bike racks for cy­clists to use. In build­ings and ho­tels, we’re ex­pected to park with the mo­tor­cy­clists in the un­der­ground car parks but its dan­ger­ous for a cy­clist to go down the ramps with cars com­ing down as well.

“Also, these places are dark and it’s dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially for women.

“There re­ally should be park­ing for … cy­clists af­ter all, it won’t cost much to set up a bike rack or two out­side an of­fice or ho­tel,” she says.

— Photos: ELENA SHIM

(Top and bot­tom) Shim has dis­cov­ered so much about KL since she started cy­cling three years ago.

Shim started con­duct­ing guided tours on bi­cy­cles a year ago.

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