Have wheels, will travel
Elena Shim braves potholes and inconsiderate drivers because cycling is the best way to experience Kuala Kumpur.
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.
(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.