There are tonnes of useless videos on Youtube but over the years, I have managed to filter down and consolidate a playlist comprised of road trips on motorbikes, urban paranormal adventures, knowledge or analytical based videos and now I got hooked with adventurers who doing long-distance road trips on bicycles. Image Source: Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash
Doing long-distance rides on a bicycle is nothing new in Western countries but it is rather rare in these parts of the world where proper touring bicycles are very expensive, the infrastructure and roads are bad and personal safety is a big issue.
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It is one thing to be riding alone for more than 3,000 kilometres but it is another whole story where you doing it on an old bicycle that does not have any gears and has poor brakes. Image source: Backpack Tamizha’s Instagram
I accidentally found this Youtube channel called Backpack Tamizha who embarked on a bicycle ride from his hometown in Coimbatore which is in the south of India to Leh in the north of India. There was nothing fantastic about this trip except that he was doing it on a grandfather bicycle (those old bicycles from the 1940s that does not have any gears) and he was doing it alone.
The distance from Coimbatore to Leh one way is about 3,018 kilometres and based on the estimates in Google Map, it will take about 53 hours for one to reach Leh if they are driving a car. It took Backpack Tamizha about 2 months to do the same, averaging about 40 kilometres per day.
Now he is planning to do a longer trip from Coimbatore to Singapore which is about 7,312 kilometres and will take about 124 hours assuming one drive without any rest. This time, the preparation is a bit more focused than the reckless ride to Leh. For start, he has ditched the old grandfather bicycle and gotten a proper touring bicycle (although he did not get the more expensive Trek touring bicycle as he originally planned).
He has not shared with his viewers the details of the plan for the trip so I feel that he may be rushing to do this trip without proper planning. It will backfire considering that he will be passing through at least 5 countries – each with its own traffic rules, visa & COVID19 requirements & restrictions and other logistic challenges.
It would be interesting to look at the factors that he needs to consider deeply before he starts off his journey. Let’s look at some of the factors that he needs to bear in mind and be well prepared.
Factor 1 – Bicycle & Equipments
Backpack Tamizha seems to be on the right track on this one considering the problems that he encountered with his old grandfather bicycle.
He actually wanted to buy Trek 520 touring bicycle which goes for a cool RM7,000 but he did not have enough to buy it despite the sponsorship and donations. He instead opts for Marin’s Four Corner touring bicycle which is cheaper at RM4,000 but durable and a good touring bicycle.
One of the key things that he needs in a touring bicycle is durability and Four Corner seems to meet this requirement:-
Durable: Everything on this bike is built to last. This bike is made from quality parts including what is basically a 29er rigid fork and wheelset to compliment the already robust steel frame. Nothing flexes where it shouldn’t.
The drivetrain shifts under load and doesn’t skip gears. The chain doesn’t bounce off the bike on big bumps or potholes. Like a Toyota Land Cruiser, everything on this bike looks made to stand 25 years of abuse.
(Source: Bicycle Point of View)
The other types of equipment that he needs to get ready are tough saddlebags that can be easily dismounted from the bicycle and be able to mount easily again the next day. He needs bars to hold his water bottles and as he may need to ride at night and in the rain, plenty of reflectors and strong front & backlights. I trust there will not be much issue on getting his bicycle ready but limited to the money that he has at the moment.
Due to the COVID19 pandemic, it is not really good to be travelling overseas unless you have no other choice but to travel for exams or business. The changing SOP may cause you to be stuck in another country without any option to return home. You need to constantly check on the latest SOP and get the paperwork done as early as possible. Image source: Malay Mail
Factor 2 – Visas & COVID19 Requirements
One rule that is changing every day is the rules related to the COVID19 which one will expect to be stricter considering that the Omicron variant has been detected. The data on this variant is still new and no one still knows the impact of this variant on the vaccines and how bad it will be against the first variant of COVID19.
Every country has its own rules in allowing foreigners into the country and some are via controlled travel bubbles. Backpack Tamizha will need to be ready to be held back at the border for weeks or months if a new travel ban is in place. Further, he needs to meet medical requirements and mandatory quarantine procedures.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) has issued a ban on travellers from 26 countries which were identified as having reported the spread of the Omicron variant from joining the Langkawi Tourism Bubble (GPL).
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the countries are United Kingdom, Portugal, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong (SAR China), Israel, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Nigeria and Belgium.
The others are Japan, Brazil, Norway, Czech Republic, France/Reunion Island, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Ghana, Republic of Ireland, United Arab Emirates and the United States (California).
(Source: The Edge Markets)
This alone may cause his plans to travel all the way to Singapore to be cut short and he may be forced back to India. I had the same trouble travelling to Cambodia and back in 2020.
When we wanted to do the one day trip to Kota Bahru back in 2011, the one thing that helped us to navigate the twisted road to Kota Bahru was our car GPS that had a good offline map downloaded. Nowadays Wave or Google Map is available at our fingertips but provided you have internet connectivity. Map source: Google
Factor 3 – Finding Best Route
I have travelled on the so-called highways in Myanmar and let me tell you, it is suicidal to be cycling alone on these roads. It is better once he had reached Thailand and it will be good once he is in Malaysia. However, he will need to use the old trunk roads or what we call the “kampung roads” to travel. It is unlikely he will be able to use the highway as he used it in India for the Leh trip:-
Malaysian police warn that any cycling activity on highways without the permission of police or the Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM) will incur penalties. This include a fine of between RM1,000 to RM5,000 or a prison term of up to 12 months.
“Action will be taken under Section 54(1) of the Road Transport Act 1987 which provides for such a penalty,” said Bukit Aman police Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department (JSPT) director Datuk Mat Kasim Karim.
Additionally, Kasim said failure to obey road signs showing cycling activity is not permitted on Malaysian highways will attract charges under Section 79(2) of the same act, while Section 112(3) provides for the bicycle to be impounded.
According to a Harian Metro report, this includes failure to install front and rear lights, as well as a bell, under Article 35 of the Road Regulations 1959 which comes with a maximum penalty of RM2,000 fine or a jail term of up to six months.
Kasim added that between January and September of this year, 150 reports involving bicycles were received of which 71 were fatal accidents, 24 with serious injuries and 55 with light injuries.
(Source: Paul Tan)
If he is unable to use the highway, this means a longer journey to reach the next destination. Has he mapped out these destinations?
Petrol stations can be a good place for a pit stop after a long journey as most of them have clean toilets, fast food restaurants and well-stocked grocery shops. But it may not be convenient to pitch a tent for the night due to security and safety reasons. Photo by Sergio Souza from Pexels
Factor 4 – Accommodations & Pit Stops
The question is how many kilometres he can ride in a day?
Riding at night is totally out of the question so he only has certain hours of daylight to ride and that too if it is not raining and the visibility will be quite low. At the same time, this ride should also encompass the story of his travel through the few countries from the point of the cyclist.
So where he plans to stay for the night – if it is on the Malaysian highways, then the well equipped, 24 hours R&R would be an excellent place to stop for the night. On the other hand, if it is on the Malaysian trunk roads, then it will be tougher as some of the petrol stations will be closed for the night for security purposes.
Unlike his first trip to Leh where he managed to stay at petrol stations and roadside food stalls, he may have problems doing the same in this part of the world. He may end up staying in cheap hotels or hostels for the night.
These arrangements need to be marked and booked early so that he will have the rooms available after a long tiring day riding. Although it will not be expensive, he still needs to allocate money for these accommodations.
Alternatively, he can reach out to his subscribers and supporters in the countries that he will be passing by so that he can probably stay with them for the night like how he managed to do for his trip to Leh.
It is a good start for Backpack Tamizha, moving on from the old, no-gear grandfather bicycle to the newer dedicated touring bicycle but this should not be the end of the planning as it is not a small matter to be cycling through a few countries. Image source: Backpack Tamizha’s Instagram
Factor 5 – Internet & Language
Considering Backpack Tamizha will travel through some countries where they don’t speak English, he will need good internet connectivity or failing which, able to read maps the old fashion way and also pick up some simple but important words in Burmese, Thai and Malay.
He needs to download or have a good offline map app on his smartphone as the internet connectively especially in Myanmar can be dodgy especially after the February 2021 coup by the military.
To be frank, as I have mentioned before, I highly respect people like Backpack Tamizha who makes real content on Youtube whilst having a great time doing adventures. His trip to Leh using an old bicycle was a risk that he took and in the end, managed to achieve the end objective.
His next planned trip to Singapore is a bit grander but the timing is not right. It is one thing to be travelling within your own country where you are used to the traffic rules, weather, language and food. It is a totally different thing to be travelling in another country where the borders are restricted due to COVID19 or internal security concerns.
From Backpack Tamizha’s Youtube videos, it is clear that he is very eager to get started with this journey but the concern is whether he is truly ready to make this trip which may take at least 5-6 months to complete.
Poor planning now will cause him dearly later as any project managers out there will agree. Personally, I don’t think he is ready for this trip although he did mention that he only plans to start in January 2022 which means he still has the month of December to get ready. Hope things are being worked out in the background.
He had made the right start by getting the right touring bicycle for the trip which will allow him to travel faster, with a heavier load and still be durable to withstand the stress of the roads for the trip. He is getting used to the new bicycle in Chennai based on his last recent videos.
And I do hope to meet him up in Malaysia and take him for a good tour of the city and great Malaysian food.