PERSONALITY: IT'S JUST HAFIZ AND HIS BIKE!
ON A PATH LESS TRAVELLED WITH THIS SOLO TRAVELLER
What is freedom? Many related the word" freedom" with unrestricted mobility. And the bicycle, is one of the most commonly used personification of that ideal when it comes to illustrating this carefree, unrestricted mobile state of being. But, why not cars or simply go on foot some may ask? While cars has other "glam" factors associated and could be a tad too fast when moving around to really stop and smell the rose, moving around on foot is too "zen" and could be too slow. (Alright, these are writer's own perception). Bicycles on the other hand gives the feel of carefree tranquility, moving at a wider pace range, from really fast sprints to casual cruising and soaking in the world, goes far without feeling the burden of walking. And you don't need fuel for the vehicle (in this case the bicycle), only needing to feed the cyclist. So, while biking may not be the be-all end-all symbol of freedom, it's does come close enough. Add in a few mountain trails and single tracks, the feeling would be beyond blissful. A feeling many would try to satisfy through bike trips – an outlet for self discovery as well as social needs.
With the above said, what do you make of bikers who go on solo bike trips? We see it as a totally personal self-discovery journey. Having travelled from this part of the equator flying solo to the temperate European biking destinations, Hafiz seems like he's been bitten by this ""freedom bug" to an almost addictive state, craving for solo trips regularly (He is planning for his next one already). We spoke to him after his recent trip.
THE SOLO TRAVELLER HAFIZ
Name: Mohamad Hafiz
Daily Grind: Teaching at a secondary school
Current Rig: Mondraker Foxy XR
Favourite Local Trail: Ketam MTB Trail
Favourite Trail in the World: No preference so long it's overseas you're gonna have a hell of a fun time!
(Making new friends wherever he goes)
THE JOY OF TRAVELLING ALONE
Hi Hafiz, thank you for agreeing to share your experience with us on your bike travel. What are the countries you have visited so far?
Not much yet. I've been to Queenstown New Zealand, Bettmerhorn and Zermatt in Switzerland and Leogang bike park in Austria.
Which of them are in groups and which are solo?
Err.. Non of it in groups. Been doing it solo all the time.
Why do you like solo biking trips?
It's not exactly a biking trip that I intended to. I am much more of a photographer and solo traveller on foot and public transports. Been to some parts of European cities such as London, Paris and Venice. There was a time when I got sick of the cities that I started to pick up mountain biking from my neighbour .(Somewhere in late December 2014) I had a “boot camp” training on MTB skills and techniques from my brother-in-law and friends. During these period, I fell in love and embraced nature and its many diffewrent terrain so much that the idea of cycling overseas struck me. Solo travelling has been part of me for quite some time and cycling is an addition to it. Why I would go solo for my travels? I simply loving independence and freedom. That feeling of being in соmрlеtе соntrоl оf everything. If уоu want to dо ѕоmеthing or ride somewhere, thеrе’ѕ nо оnе else you need to соnѕult with and nо соnѕеnѕuѕ needed. You juѕt do it. Traveling аlоnе gives you the ultimate flexibility, frееdоm аnd thе орроrtunitу tо bе аѕ spontaneous as уоu wiѕh. Solo travelling also allows you to become a better conversationalist bесаuѕе you will mееt ѕо many riders whеn riding аlоnе, уоu nаturаllу еnhаnсе уоur соnvеrѕаtiоnal ѕkillѕ and confidence level. There iѕ nо оnе еlѕе who уоu can dереnd оn tо саrrу a соnvеrѕаtiоn; it’ѕ all оn уоu. Sо naturally, уоu gеt better аt ѕtаrting соnvеrѕаtiоnѕ аnd less hesitant аbоut approaching реорlе. Yup, I was once a terrible speaker with zero confidence.
Tell us about your recent solo trip. With so many nice trails and bike parks around the world, how do you arrive at a decision on where to go for your trip?
I would look at my world map pasted on my bedroom wall first. I simply pick a country and study their public transportation. Too bad I've not gotten my driving license yet. My first priority would be to always look out for train services allowing bicycles stowage. For example my first trip to Switzerland in 2015. I have learnt that Swiss trains allow you to bring your bicycle along anywhere. The next thing I would do is find out their trail information from YouTube and Trailforks.com. This leads me to narrow down the best location to book my apartment. I would also use Google Map to find out train routes to the trails. Lastly, have faith that wherever you go, as long you're not in the cities, there are always bike trails that await you.
What goes on behind the scene before the fun begins?
Nothing much, just the normal routine of packing your luggage, necessary first aid kit and bike tools. But the most important thing is to get into a right frame of mind for burden – to face the treacherous weight of dragging your bike and your luggage throughout your travel. Why I use the word "treacherous"? In biking trips, the chosen apartments are mostly often located at countryside. And countryside are packed with hilly and/or unpaved roads. Need a simple analogy? Just imagine hiking up Kent Ridge MTB Trail with your luggage and bike bag.
What about the cost?
These prices are of current. Do take note that they are subject to changes as to how early you make your bookings. They are also quoted for 18 days of travel.
Return ticket on Singapore Airlines – S$1126 (Some airlines charge bike fee, some do not. Singapore Airlines do not charge extra for bikes.)
Apartment with single bed, shared kitchen and private bathroom – S$859 (Shared bathroom apartments are cheaper. You might want to look into them)
Food – S$200 if you buy them from grocery stores and cook your own meals.
Train Travel Pass – S$670 (15 flexible days within 1 month. Fewer-day passes are cheaper)
Miscellaneous – S$600
Ed: And there you have it! The Total Estimates works out to be S$3,455! 18 Days of European riding fun for just under SGD3,500! Now don't say it can't be done!
What were your planned activities?
Eat, sleep, dump, ride! Repeat!
(Guess how Hafiz got this shot taken?)
Any interesting stories to share?
There was once I missed the last train to my apartment from the bike park. The last train in Austria is about 6pm. If you missed it, you would have no other way to go back. The train ride from the bike park to my apartment was about 4 hours. Too far to cycle back to the apartment as it turns really dark by 9.30pm. I then knocked on several doors, hoping to bunk in. I was lucky enough an old couple in their 60s were very kind and let me in for the night. Had good conversations over hot chocolate with their grandchildren. Bid them goodbye and went back to my apartment the following morning. Such beautiful family!
Where will your next solo biking destination be?
Err. I've been thinking of Iceland.
We always hear the advice to ride with a buddy for safety, especially when you re in bigger jungles where there are possibilities of more ferocious wildlife. What precaution did you make on that?
Basically it's "Cautious Riding". Danger is not just about wildlife but the wilderness terrain as well. Be wise on the choice of trails as well as on the fly, especially at higher altitudes and/or off-camber single track. One wrong move and you will fall off the track or cliff.
What are the 5 most important items that you MUST have with you during such trips?
Bike tools, spare tube(s) , spare chain, camera, helmet.
How would you motivate a friend who is half-hearted or worried about traveling alone to a new destination for a bike trip ?
Just do it! Be wise on your choices. You know your capabilities. As long as you do your safety checks and self assessment, I'm sure you will be good to go. Nothing to be scared of. In my opinion, solo travelling comes from within. You need to be able to self-motivate. Some may be inspired by other solo travellers while some seek for time alone. For me, I just keep doing what I love and share my experiences. People around the world are friendly.
All photos by Mohamad Hafiz