CROSS-COUNTRY GIRL MICHELLE FONG FROM PENANG
Mention long epic rides to mountain bikers in this region and very likely they will think of Malaysian Jamborees. The fun thing about Jamborees as opposed to timed cross-country races is that riders get to ride long-distance scenic trails with others of different experience level and rather than adopting a solely competitive mentality throughout the race, the majority of riders can either treat it as a fun ride with friends, a long ride that can help to assess their own personal standards or an informal race that can prepare them for the more serious ones should they decide to join one. And there are much benefits to riding Jamborees – internalization of cycling skills, physical fitness and endurance, socializing and in some case riding for a charitable cause.
Bikezilla discovered a truly inspiring cyclist who proved that Jamborees can be a great way to improve one's skill and fitness and yet satisfy that latent quest for challenges and competition while also provide the opportunities to make new friends. And that Jamboree winners also win races! Meet Michelle Fong, avid Jamboree rider, cross-country racer and road cyclist from Penang with a true cyclist attitude! We got Michelle to tell us more about her riding lifestyle and what motivates her, and got motivated by her sunny attitude in return.
Name: Michelle Fong
Nickname: Princess, Downhill Queen, Carpet Queen … ("Depends on who you ask" says Michelle)
Age: "Forever Young at Heart"
Living in: Penang
Preferred riding discipline: Cross-country, Road
Years of Riding: Cross-country since Mar 2009; Road: since 2011
Sponsor(s): Currently N/A; CCI when racing 2010-2011
Team / Club(s): No specific team, but cycles with a bunch of close friends
Current bike(s): Cross-country: A 26 inch mountain bike (brand not stated) and a 29 inch Gary Fisher. Road: Trek Madone
Why do you like riding the cross-country and road?
Both off road riding & road riding are very different. Each has their own share of fun & “sufferings”. My ex-colleague Danny Khaw introduced me to cycling after I started having knee problems – thanks to those ‘glorious’ years from competitive badminton during my ‘younger’ days (I was previously a junior national trainee with BAM). I started to ride in March 2009 and won my first Jamboree after 3 months of riding (Nibong Tebal Jamboree 2009). But riding then was not so ‘fun’ as you only focus on ‘finishing’ the ride as fast as possible. It was typically ‘hello’ and ‘bye bye’ when you overtake other riders you know.
In general, the off road trails are shady and away from the polluted air, one needs to have a good sense of direction, and navigate their way in the woods. It gives the rider a feel of adventure and excitement, as the trails condition may change, and encounter with the unexpected is normal, especially during trails exploration. I also love burning calories and the adrenalin when ‘riding’ downhill I guess this is what makes offroad riding interesting.
Road riding on the hand has to have the distance, minimum 100km or more. The fun of riding also lies with the team and the company that you are riding with, as you will find a common understanding within the team. We also take care of each other by giving out warning signs when we see obstacles ahead. In road riding we put our trust in our fellow team mates. Nothing beats the fun of riding in a peloton at a great speed. And the satisfaction of the distance you covered, makes you proud and it's worth every ounce of effort that you put in. My longest ride was Penang to Hatyai (245km) with G Club from 7am to 5pm. I remember riding against the head wind at Alor Setar (after 100km) cursing away and telling myself “I would never ride to Hatyai again” and eating my own words the following year when I went again for the second time. As the saying goes…"never say never".
What are your preferred trails and tracks? Why do you like them?
I like all kinds of off road trails, so long as the trails have no leeches…as it drives me crazy!! […eee!!!.] I like trails that makes you curious about what lies beyond them as I like to explore. I also like trails that are shady with fresh air. I’m lucky because I have so many such trails in my “backyard” at my disposal. We have the durian orchard, rubber estate, coconut plantation, pineapple plantation, vegetable plantation, bridges, villages, idle land, temples, huts, stream, water falls, rocky garden, steep climb, technical downhill, single trails, sandy, rocky, muddy, “grassy”. Most of these trails are connected, and it leads you from one place to another. Practically you can stay “inside” the hills and ride till your energy runs low before deciding to go back to civilization. It is like the “Garden of Eden”. The cyclist here give them all kinds of names, such as Carpet, Reverse Carpet, SP Setia, Bao Lu Song (guarantee satisfaction), Zig-Zag, Coconut, Bird house, Framer’s trail, Haunted house, Pak Man’s trail, Balihome, Mali Home, Devils Hill aka King Hill, Air Itam Dam, Hilton, Ngo Hean, Lam Sua, Penang Hill, Tiger Hill, Iron X, Terrapin, 1200 steps, 3 Towers, Gertak Sanggul, Pondok Upeh, Genting, Kenari, Or keo, Jln Chai, Botanica, Sg Rusa…and the list goes on …
Describe a typical day at the trail.
Trail rides typically starts around Sg Ara area around 7am in the morning and we would typically plan ahead the hills we would cover. However sometimes the ride becomes an “Exploration ride”. When that happens, we would ‘divert’ and go path-finding instead, discovering new trails, and try to link up each trails. Sometimes we reach dead ends, and sometimes we would find “through road”. The most amazing part is when you find a way out… all the agony and sufferings would disappear… like when an archeologist discovers a Pharaoh’s tomb. You just feel great and you talk about the newly found trails with your buddies, and you look forward to take others to the new trails. You talk over it through emails, in the group's chatroom, over lunch, facebook … this is really fun.
I usually ride with my close buddies. Nowadays, I like to take pictures and post it on facebook. I like to “capture” those special moments. Trail rides allow us the ‘breather’ we usually take after each climb. That’s when you regroup, take shots and chat a bit at the peak, before we head for other climbs. Normally we would stop for breakfast before we head home. At times we bump into other cycling groups and might join them or hook up with new riders and bring them around instead. After all these years of cycling, I realized that we can actually make a lot of friends from all walks of life when you are on a bike. The cycling community in Penang is growing rapidly, sometime you do not know their name, but you can recognize their faces, but whoever they are, I treat them as another cycling friend. When someone wave to me as I ride past them, I would wave back. That never fails to put a smile on my otherwise tired face.
Do you ride competitively?
I used to join a race or Jamboree every 2 months but not anymore…now I only have fun rides. [Here's some of the past Jamborees and races photos.]
NTMB Jamboree June 2009, First Place
UUM Jamboree July 2009 3rd Place
Kedah Jamboree August 2009, 1st Place
Perlis Jamboree 2009, 3rd Place
NTMB Jamboree May 2010, 1st Place
Kuala Kangsar September 2010 , 1st Place
BMMBH Jamboree October 2010, 1st Place (Mix Race – partner with Ian Chin)
Putrajaya PCP November 2010, 3rd Place
Kayuh Lasak December 2010, Queen of Mountain
Jerai Jamboree January 2011, 4th Place
Jeli Jamboree February 2011 , 1st Place
Bukit Merah March 2011, 1st Place
Ipoh XC June 2011, 4th Place
Bendang Jamboree Aug2011, 1st Place[Michelle says: "There are more but can’t recall…"] [Ed: "Awesome!!"]
For Road Bikes, it's FUN rides only so far.
Penang – Hatyai 245km – twice
Road Bike – PCC IS (fellowship ride), 2011-2013
Medel ride for hearing
and others that I can't remember the event name …
My last Jamboree was 2011 Kayuh Lasak one month after my appendix operation – managed to complete despite internal pain. I received a scolding from the doctor because I was lucky there wasn't any internal rupture. However that was a turning point for me to stop racing and start loving myself. Winning became secondary. Being healthy and happy is TOP ONE!
How do you prepare for a race/Jamboree?
I carbo load 1 week before the race, which is easy cos I love to eat. I would typically ride 4-5days a week and during the race itself, I would focus fully. Balancing is very important. I also stay well hydrated/energized (power gel…etc).
Do you do downhill race? Tell us more if you do.
Nope – not with my 4 screws in my left knee/leg after ACL operation October 2012. But I really have to admire those downhill riders for their guts and skills
How about urban rides?
I avoid heavy traffic routes; prefer the nature/forest with fresh air, great trails!
How would you attract more folks to pick up cycling as a sport? And how would you attract them to mountain biking?
Join me, and I’m sure you will like cycling like I do. It helps you stay young and healthy. There are so many great trails in Penang to choose from….and it’s a sport anyone/any age can take up and best of all…it has minimal impact to the knees!
Any words you would like to shoutout to riders in Asia?
Just ride, have fun and be happy…
Your favourite quote(s)?
The trouble is you think you have time …Buddha
I choose to be happy because it’s good for my health
We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are
Thanks Michelle for sharing your insights. Follow Michelle at facebook/michelle.fong
(All photos owned by Michelle Fong)