To avid cyclist and tourer Faizal Tarihhuddin, 38, bike touring is the best way to go on an adventure.
"Two wheels under me, powered by my legs, the world goes by at my own pace - fast enough to get somewhere and slow enough to admire the flowers along the way," says the IT professional based in Kuala Lumpur.
Faizal actually started with mountain biking in 2009 but when he crashed and injured himself in a downhill mountain bike race in 2011, he started bicycle touring to keep fit while recovering from his accident.
It led to his biggest adventure: cycle touring from Malaysia to China!
Faizal firmly believes that cycling and bike touring can bring people from various walks of life and social and cultural backgrounds together.
"There's nothing like a common interest in cycling and bicycle touring to bridge differences and transcend skin colour, nationality, and even language. It builds a bond among bike touring adventurers from all backgrounds and ages, taking you to new unexplored places and opening up your eyes and developing empathy for others," he says.
What's more, bicycle touring gives one a better appreciation of the world around you.
"Imagine this every day and all day: the feeling of pedalling along to a series of constantly changing sensations and sceneries - one moment, you're daydreaming and watching the world go by, the next moment, you're in full concentration as you cadence furiously for a big hill climb; and later, you're flying fast downhill with a huge grin on your face, stopping only for a well-deserved dessert.
"That is the most wonderful thing about bicycle touring - its flexibility - it can be whatever you want it to be," he enthuses.
"It can be going for a micro next town adventure, or a year away on the bicycle, high-fiving the locals through several continents.
"It can be taking the whole family along or going solo; packing the minimal or taking everything you need; splurging on a hotel or stealth camping in the woods; having a plan or zero plan," he says, the enthusiasm evident in his voice.
Faizal, who met his wife Siti Hajar A. Bakar, 30, when cycling, says that they recently completed a 500km cycle-camping trip from Kyoto to Tokyo, Japan.
They run Doowaroda.com (the name is a play on "dua roda", Malay for "two wheels"), which promotes mountain biking through social networking, events, and development of mountain bike facilities, and provides guided tours and mountain bike rentals.
Some of his most memorable bike touring routes in Malaysia include KL-Morib, KL-Port Dickson-Melaka, KL-Singapore, his first big solo bike trip from Shah Alam to Krabi, Thailand, which covered 700km, in 2012, and his biggest Malaysian trip in 2013, which took 30 days to cover 2,240km in a Peninsular Malaysia loop.
He says that when bike touring, it's good to have a plan, itinerary, some cycling experience, and equipment, but it's not compulsory.
Faizal believes that cycling and bike touring is good for the country.
"Most Malaysians lead a sedentary lifestyle and Malaysia is very motorised and vehicle-centric. Our workplaces, schools, homes and public places have been engineered to lessen movement and muscular activity. People move less and sit more.
"We also don't spend a lot of time exploring, or going out for unexpected adventures," he says, adding that cycling improves one's health and broadens one's outlook on life.
Carry the basic necessities
Professional chef Danial Marzuki, 33, started cycling with his mountain bike 17 years ago, going both on and offroad.
"I like the feeling of being free when cycling and being self-supported while travelling around on a bicycle," he says, referring to his bicycle touring adventures.
"Some of the routes he has bike-toured on in Peninsular Malaysia include Sekinchan-Teluk Intan-Ipoh; around Port Dickson; Seremban-Melaka; and Tanjung Malim-Teluk Intan-Sekinchan.
"All the routes were enjoyable in different ways. All were done with different groups of friends and using different bikes, so every bike tour was a totally different experience," says Danial, who has used a foldie, hybrid, touring bike, and road bike for his tours.
"The most important thing to remember when going bike touring is to have a good time and to remember why you're doing it … especially when you are doing a solo bike tour," he says, adding that half the battle to keep going is in one's own mind.
"Another thing to remember is to keep safe and ride safe.
"Be visible so that vehicles can see you. And make sure you take the correct stuff along, like a small first aid kit in case of any falls or accidents, a multitool, spare tubes, bicycle tyre pump, and lights," he advises.
"Always have an emergency contact card or wristband that will let people know who to contact in case you're in an emergency," he adds.
"Money or an ATM card (if in Malaysia), a mobile phone and charger are also necessary," he says.
"You can pack as heavy or as light as you wish, but just remember … if you bring unnecessary stuff along, you will have a heavier load," he points out.
Danial, who hails from Ipoh, says he buys and sells his bicycles quite often but he usually keeps at least three on hand at a time.
"Each bike has a different characteristic, and I like to use different bikes for different occasions. For example, for a fun ride, either a touring or folding bike is best. You don't really need a lycra cycling kit for this. For long and fast weekend rides, a road bike is ideal," he explains.
Danial believes that cycling and bike touring is good for Malaysia and Malaysians.
"It promotes a healthy lifestyle and creates fantastic experiences. More often than not, people tend to find out a lot more about our country and traditions when cycling through rural areas and interacting with the locals," he says.
He also believes that cycling does help to bring people together and instil a spirit of harmony and unity:
"Cycling is more often than not a happy and positive activity that is shared by all races at the same time. When the objective is to cycle and have fun, you tend to leave all the other issues behind and focus on the ride," he says.
Enjoying the slower pace
For Joseph Tan, 59, cycling began five years ago when "a friend showed me how he always had a folding bike in his car, ever ready to ride." That inspired him to pick up the sport.
The Kuala Lumpur-based construction manager believes that cycling and bicycle touring celebrates the country's muhibbah spirit.
"When we come together to ride, we are blind to colour and creed. We see one another as friends without questioning our differences. We learn about one another's cultures and how interesting and unique these can be," he says.
"Cyclists don't just come together to get united, we already are united. Cycling together leads us to understand one another better and to share more of our culture with one another.
"When we're on a bike tour through kampungs, we discover that Malaysians, at the grassroots, are straightforward people who are warm and friendly, ever ready to greet one another and extend a helping hand," he adds.
Apart from its other benefits, Tan loves the freedom that cycling brings: "Besides helping to keep one healthy, cycling at a slower pace helps us to take in more of the environment, people and culture, and discover less well-known places. Often, people we meet will ask about our bicycles and destinations," he explains.
"Bicycle touring has taken me to many places that I would not have dreamt of going to if I had been driving or was in a bigger vehicle.
"It's taken us to many towns, through a beautiful countryside, amazing sunsets, beautiful islands … and all at a slower pace. It has enabled us to be part of celebrations, cultural events, and also the communities that we travel through," he says.
Some of the interesting places and routes that Tan has toured by bicycle include Sg Gadut-Seremban-Melaka; Pahang-Taman Negara; Perak fishing villages; Taiping-Kuala Kurau-Tanjung Piandang-Penang; Seremban-Melaka for a Hari Raya celebration and beautiful sunset at Masjid Selat Melaka; Kota Kinabalu-tip of Borneo (Tanjung Simpang Mengayau)-Pulau Banggi; and through Sarawak for the Gawai Festival.
He highly recommends Sabah for its exotic culture and challenging trails, and Terengganu for its beautiful beaches and fishing villages.
He has also gone on bicycle tours abroad in Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
Tan, who enjoys blogging about his bike touring experiences at ahpekbiker.blogspot.my, says that a camera and charger are a must on a bike touring trip if one wants to record the best parts.
Healthy, ecofriendly activity
Jason Leong, 40, started cycling when he was quite young and growing up in Ipoh.
"As a kampung boy, I only had those classic metal bikes meant for adults. I was barely a primary school kid then, so to use the tall bike, I had to put one leg between the bicycle frame and cycle with the body leaning in the opposite direction.
"Most kids in the village cycled the same way."
Although he hardly cycled when he went to secondary school, he picked it up again six years ago.
"I bought a Japanese reconditioned folding bicycle and kept it in my office for commuting to lunch and running errands," Leong explains, adding that the person who sold him the bike then invited him to join the Putrajaya Urban Riders to cycle in Putrajaya.
And he hasn't looked back since. In fact, he's even more involved in cycling since he set up Chainstory Studio this year to design, service, and customise projects for the iconic British Brompton bicycles.
The self-taught designer, who had started designing as a hobby years ago and discovered that he could use his talents in various fields, saw a niche to fill.
"As a cyclist, I found that good designs and materials for cycling clothing were not easily available in the market, so I decided to make my own. Brompton-specific clothing and tastefully designed cycle-wear were difficult to find in Malaysia during that time. My friends saw what I wore and asked me to make it for them too," he explains.
He goes on to add: "I like cycling because, very simply, it makes me happy, gives me freedom to go where I want to, and also gives me the opportunity to make friends - I really appreciate the friendships that I've made along the way," he enthuses.
"Bicycle touring has taken me to many locations, to explore places that I wouldn't normally have the chance to, it has enabled me to meet people, hunt for good food, and even understand myself better," he adds.
"My first bicycle touring experience was from Putrajaya to Port Dickson in 2012. I enjoyed it so much even though my butt hurt like hell after such a long ride!" he laughs.
Some of the places and routes that Leong has toured and highly recommends include: Kuala Selangor-Teluk Intan-Bota Kiri-Kuala Kangsar-Ipoh; Taiping-Selama-Kulim-Alor Setar; Seremban-Melaka; and Kota Kinabalu-tip of Borneo.
He has also cycle toured overseas in Japan, Australia, and Thailand. To him, the most important thing to remember when bike touring, whatever the distance, is to stay safe and have fun.
Leong, who has four bicycles at the moment - two folding bicycles, one touring bicycle, and one classic road bike - believes that cycling and bicycle touring is good for Malaysia and Malaysians.
"Malaysia is a beautiful country, you'll meet lots of friendly people along the way, not to mention find lots of places for good food and drinks," he adds.
"Moreover, even though some people complain about the heat, you can still cycle all year round, unlike certain countries where the weather is not conducive for cycling during certain seasons like winter.
"It's a healthy, ecofriendly activity," he says.