Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bukit Frazer

Its is not much more than 300 Km in total, but the entire loop takes the better part of a day, if you take time to take in the sights. Many miles of twisties are on offer, that will bring you across the Titiwangsa Range and back and also bring your average speed down to something ridiculously low. But it is miles of smiles!

Frazer Hill is a classical, albeit tiny hill station in the best of the former British colonial tradition. A small insular world on top of a high hill, in which the Britis sought a retreat from heat of the plains and the presence of others. Frazer's, unlike many Hill stations, did not owe its origin to medical establishments providing a healthy environment. No cool and bracing air that was believed to have curative powers, caused it to be built. Instead it was set up for more mundane reasons: as a trading post, mining area and some say, a safe heaven to run an opium and gambling den from.

Whatever the case might have been, with temperatures between 17 and 25C year round, and winding roads through the forest leading up to its summit, this is a trip to make. Needless to say the tarmac is pretty well maintained, and the surface won’t spring too many nasty surprises, mid-corner. Its is not a track though, and not a track surface either, so keep your right hand under control. With many cut hillsides, there is always a danger of landslides and stuff that fell on the road from up above. Depending on what speed you chose to negotiate the turns, it will take a little under 2 hours to reach the Gap from KL.


From KL, follow the old North South Road, Federal Road 1 out of KL in the direction of Ipoh, turn right at K Kubu Bahahru onto Federal Road 55 to the “Gap” across the Titiwangasa Range between Gunung Huku Semanguk (elevation 1394 meters) and Bkt Pokok Pine (1456 meters). In the middle is Frazer’s Hill, on of those typical but small English colonial hill stations. Something the old colonials knew how to create: creature comforts, cool climates, trees, shade, birds and general relaxing atmosphere. Frazers Hill is no exception Beyond the Gap, continue east on the N55, until you reach the Federal Road 8.. As you reach this road, turn right and follow it in a southerly direction until it reaches the main East West Expressway, the E8 : Turn right onto the E8, and it will lead you back to KL, on what by itself is a memorable ride. The six lanes are a nice reprieve by then..

The road past Kuala Kubu Bahru runs along a white water river and as you reach the foot of the hills, the forest closes in, the road narrows and starts to wind nicely. It continues to do so for dozens of miles, and the turns are simply made for a middle class machine. They beg for the bike to be flicked from one side onto the next, and back and so on, etc. The first time the road levels out and widens is near the Selangor Dam. The views over the lake are a good excuse for taking a breather, and there is a little center built by the development authority that you can visit. It is is air-conditioned and provides shade. It depicts KL’s drinking water issues, and what is being done about it. It is also at pains to explain how environmental damage was mitigated and original inhabitants that found their land flooded were settled. Classical textbook stuff and well presented. Amazingly there is no coffee shop or restaurant there. An exception for Asia, if ever there was one.

Bukit Frazer 2

Once past the dam the gentle turns sharpen again, the road narrows and the real fun begins. Next stop is “the Gap” and its restaurant, which was under renovation when I arrived there, so I just stopped and rested by the side of the road chatiing with the tour from Singapore that were having the same idea, and were tired as well. Nice bikes, Mostly one liter + 4 cylinder Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha machines and they were shown the way by a Malaysian guide on an old 400 cc Honda. But he knew the turns, which helped! Didn't see any Kawas, let alone BMs, Aprilias and other European stuff. So asked about it. German and Italian bikes were too expensive and lacked a dealer network,so the feeling was and Kawas apparently have low resale value in Singapore. Poor show by the green machine people. But good fun all round. The guys were on a three day trip, the first day from Singapore via the North South route to Frazers’s hill, the second day on to Cameron Highlands. A lot of riding, and they were in full leathers!

From the junction at the Gap, there used to be but one narrow road leading to the very top of the hill, a single lane affair, that allowed traffic on alternate hours to go up or down it. These days a second road has been constructed, Jalan Bukit Frazer 2, to accommodate downward traffic. The sign indicating the alternate hour opening times was still being displayed though

There was a historical Mr. Frazer, who explored these hills towards the end of the 19th century and discovered a viable tin ore body that could be mined. The story of the opium den finds its origins in the Chinese miners that were employed to work these mines.The Bishop of Singapore apparently turned the place into a proper hill station in the early 20s, after Mr. Frazer had disappeared in the haze.

Whatever might have been the case, in its morphology, Frazers hill today still shows its hill station origin, as witnessed by the former attempts to alter the landscape and flora to create the illusion of a rural British setting, and help the colonials remember their landscape of origin. It is built on a fairly extensive high plain on on top of a granite formation. As every self-respecting hill station Frazers hills is dotted with the English cottages and Swiss chalets that the British built in the hills, as opposed to the verandah bungalows that they were quartered in in the plains. The winding lanes , with familiar names that sounded like home all elading to a main street dominated by a steepled church which asserted itself as the center of the universe. The hillstation was always more that just a nostalgic retreat, some became the vey symbols of colonial over-rule. Some of the old bungalows, lawns, ye olde smokehouses etc survive to this day, as does the original lay out and its winding lanes. The golf course is one of the oldest in the country. It is still charming, if you can see through the shadier bits of its past.

The route to Frazer's Hill earned itself a little further footnote in history as the site where the former British High Commissioner was ambushed and killed, during the Emergency. The sign is still there, and it is still pretty remote For those interested in travelling the road to Frazer's Hill in the 1950s, there is a bit about it in Peter Nevilles: the Rose of Singapore, 2006).

Mercifully modern Malaysia is taking over, also here and busy turning this into a more relevant and contemporary place to be in. The ride to and from Frazer's Hill remains memorable by any bikers standards!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

route to and from Genting Highlands

The 40 highway KM out of KL may be interesting by anybody's standards, but the final stretch to the top is something else again. This, the 20 KM Genting road proper leads to an 1800 meter high plateau, on which is located the Genting resort. Initially proposed as a "simple" retirement center, it has grown since 1971 to a major hotel and family amusement complex, with over 10 000 guest rooms, catering to the Malaysian and Singaporean tourist trade, notably their large Chinese communities. The resort is situated on a stunning location, on the Mountain range between Genting Sempah and Gunung Ulu kali, and with a distance of 58 Km, is within easy striking range from the capital Kuala Lumpur. The entire complex, with hotels, two cable cars and road and all is a private development, realised with mostly private funding and the brainchild of one of the Country's most powerful and visionary entrepreneurs. It has also put his Genting Company on the world's map.

It remains a stunning sight, and some 10 to 15 degrees cooler than at sea level. Hence its popularity with the K-Lites. The road itself, took years to construct through almost pristine rainforest, and demanded serious engineering. The final hairpins leading to the top are actually flyovers and bridges hung against the cliffsides.. But you won't notice, you'll be way to busy negotiating the twists and turns...

The Genting road is easily the most fun biking stretch ever constructed near a major city in this Country, or in Asia, or in the world, for all I know. It is essentially a couple of dozens of nice and tight, and ever steeper hairpins leading up and down two hills, a minor and a major one, with a bit of a reprieve in the middle. there you drive to a nice cool valley of Gothong Jaya that links both hill ranges. Time to take a breather, or stop for some food. It is Asia after all. Or play golf, if you are into that and happen to have a sidecar handy. By the time you reach the top it takes a lot less than 4 wheels to stay near a decent bike...

You get to ride this twice, as there is only one way up the hill. But its worth it, you'd want to do this a dozen times, at least, it is that much fun. As a matter of fact you can do a loop, that only does the the last half dozen hairpins, endlessly. Some people are believed to have lost themselves there!

Biking Malaysia: The Genting Highlands

The Genting Highlands.

Important point when biking the tropics: Its is either hot, or it pours, and it is always humid. Temperatures range between 25 and 35C, the sun beats down, but what gets you is the humidity. My best Lookwells, just wont cut it here. The moment you stand still you’re drenched. The lining went out ages ago , but they are still hot, hot hot. Sweating like an Icehockey player, and that without your name being Kim Loke, ain’t no fun!

T-shirts and shorts tempt, as do slippers and other things that you know are plain wrong and outright dangerous. Just be ready to meet a guy with and angle grinder, is what my bike instructor told me, more years ago than I care to remember. Great old character. Drove a 1950s HD on his daily commute and had a 1940’s one in his house. In the living that is, and in a billion bits…. But he taught me to ride!

As to biking gear in the tropics, a workable compromise for me consists of boots, leather gloves, a pair of Alpinestars riding trousers and a tropicalised jacket, consisting of mostly webbing and hopes that its strategically placed padding maybe effective.. But hey, keeping Lookwells open “to let some air in” also takes away their rationale. Helmet is one that hinges open all the way, to get more cooling when in town. Backpack with rain jacket and odds and ends rounds it off. Bit of elastic webbing, so that some stuff can be stowed, if picked up on the way.

The Bike: you can go either way in the tropics, small or large, cruiser or sports, tourer or enduro, or a dual purpose, you can’t really go wrong. You name it, it will do the trick. I do most of my riding in Malaysia, where the infrastructure is fantastic, including the B and C roads, so I dropped the off roaders and dual purpose ones, even though I like them. Used to have good fun on a Yamaha TW Off roader. Most locals do their thing on little 125s, great for driving round in the kampong, but can be a bit of a pest on urban roads, and rubbish on the highway. Speed is limited on the highways, however, and I don’t do tracks, so I didn’t see the point of a true superbike here, also because you’ll be hard pressed to find a dealer with the equipment to maintain them, not to speak of parts. There is simply no market for them (yet). Malaysia has plans to become a hub for the production and assembly of motorcycles. Production apparently reached some 400 000 units, in 2004, but its basically all mopeds and what they refer to locally as scooters. All variant of the venerable old Honda 50cc Cub. Kawasaki recently brought in some Completely Knocked Down kits of bigger bikes and started to assemble them here in town, so there is hope!

Even if the rides are limited, there is no shortage of great routes. Many can be done as day trips, or over the weekend. One of the most popular is the ride up the Genting highlands. If you want to stay current as to new bike arrivals in KL, this is the place to go.,as we all love to chase each other up the twisties here and the odd fool car, that thinks it can play along!

Directions: From KLCC get on to the main highway to the east Coast, the E8, follow the direction Kuantan, and take the off ramp on the left label Genting Highlands, just before Kampung Bukit Tinggi. the off ramp is to the left and labeled Genting Highland from KLCC get on to the main highway to the east Coast, the E8, follow the direction Kuantan, and get off at Kampung Bukit Tinggi. The off ramp is to the left and labeled Genting Highland. The sign is too close to the off ramp, so when you are just busy having fun, you are gonna need your front brakes!

The road gets interesting soon after you get through the tollgate, leaving KL. You are on the main road to the East Coast and it is a Highway that could be anywhere in Germany or someplace else where they are proverbially good. Switzerland comes to mind even, because apart from it being in a fabulously good state, the highway soon starts to wind its way through the hills in a manner that begs a bike with great high speed cornering abilities.

And the turns keep on getting tighter! Hence you are going to lean more and more, till you are finally forced to reduce speed. It is such good fun that you’d almost forget to look around, and the views are fantastic, and worth a look or two and a few revs less. At least that is my excuse when a Singapore based Hayabusa comes zooming by on an inside lane.. Whilst he is doing that he is even taking his left hand off his steering togreet me! That is a bit much, I an’t that slow… Hi mate, busy taking in the environment, I communicate whist raising my own hand on salute.

Nope, Bikes don’t pay toll here. Ain’t it a great feeling? You can try, but they will just look at you funny and wave you through. Choose a tollgate for trucks: the boom leaves enough space for anything less wide than a Goldwing to pass through comfortably. Ignore the little signs that compel you to follow the moped trail that the Malaysian ransport department routine builds around its tollbooths. They are meant for the 125s, even though the road sign simply states:” all motorcycles this way”, at times they force you onto what are basically bicycle paths for miles and miles……