For an intimate glimpse into Kuala Lumpur’s colourful side, skip the taxis and tour buses – a bicycle and a good road map are all you need to get up close and personal with the inner workings of the vibrant Malaysian capital. (Words by Adele Chong)
A jumbled profusion of city and jungle, Kuala Lumpur can become a bit much even for those born and bred here. By day, you are affronted by the unrelenting din of the Malaysian capital in motion, while the diminishing evening light brings with it the climactic roar of cars speeding into the city’s titillating reaches as well as the sweet, slightly vinegary air of a pasar malam (night market) in full swing. Ask anyone and you soon learn that there are only two ways of coping with this assault on the senses: retreat into the suburbs or dive headlong into the madness.
Fingers skimming over hot chrome, a dozen of us are gingerly manoeuvring our way alongside moving cars. Slowly, we assert our presence on the road, like aggressive bees journeying into enemy territory. I tighten my inexperienced hold on the handlebars of my borrowed foldable bike, grateful for its sturdy glide as we verge on tougher, traffic-heavy terrain. Kuala Lumpur drivers are known as some of the most belligerent in the region, but to our relief, the few we encounter this morning sweep past us tolerantly, perhaps placated by thoughts of breakfast.
The cycling swarm inevitably advances onto a busy four-lane road leading towards KL Sentral Station, where an enormous, heaving clunker of a bus leaps dangerously into view, sounding its offending horn: a mechanical Goliath charging towards a scattered formation of two-wheeled Davids. In wild disbelief, I utter something quite unlady-like. Unfazed, my bike-mates forge on, cutting neat, defiant paths through the thick exhaust. Our large rattling nemesis eventually hurtles onto an exit point, disappearing as quickly as it arrived.
We are here because, as you might have guessed, we have allied ourselves with the city’s rising population of bike converts. Urban biking is akin to a new extreme sport in Kuala Lumpur given the conditions. Dubbed Southeast Asia’s answer to Los Angeles by some, this is a land where bike lanes are non-existent, highways are rampant and the SUV is king. In silent revolt, a few of the city’s more audacious denizens stir at an ungodly hour every other Sunday. Donning spandex, they brandish their weapons of choice – mountain bicycles, fixies, foldies and the like – and seek safety in numbers. Situated in the neighbourhood of Bangsar, a studio belonging to Ng Sek San – a local landscape architect and unofficial instigator of this ongoing weekend bike-off – has long served as the default meet-up point for road warriors of all skill levels…
Originally published in the July 2013 edition of Garuda Indonesia’s inflight magazine Colours. Hit the below link for the original, unabridged feature.