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Finding an AWESOME Bike Shop In Kuala Lumpur

Submitted by on September 27, 2014 – 2:09 pm
Location of the Bird Nest Guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur

Saturday September 27, 2014
8:15 a.m. Eagle’s Perch, Bird Nest Guest House
Kaula Lumpur

I thought the guest house would be alive with activity at this point, but I think the young kids were up late and they are now sleeping in. Or they were up long ago and are now out sightseeing. So far, I’m not that excited about Kuala Lumpur. I hope my plan works out and I’m able to fix my bicycle, get an Indonesian visa, and fix my camera here. Otherwise, I thinking coming here will prove to be a mistake. On first impressions, there is little here for me to enjoy, and it is quite expensive. This neighborhood is astonishingly touristic. On my walks around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon and evening, I saw nothing but hotels and guest houses and “reggae bar”s. Everywhere I turned, there was either a giant skyscraper type of hotel or a backpacker guest house. There was no end to them, and the foreigners poured out of them and were everywhere on the streets. A British woman I met raved about the central market, but to me it looked like an oversized souvenir shop. The entire neighborhood looks fake to me, and half the people on the street are dumb white people like me. I suppose I’m spoiled with my experience of Taipei/Taiwan and the Philippines, both very natural places and empty of backpackers and tourists (at least where I went). You might laugh considering all the bad things I wrote about Cebu City, but I’m missing the Philippines like crazy. It’s that contrast thing – how you never see something clearly until you have something to contrast it with. And with Kuala Lumpur as the contrast, the Philippines seems more and more like a paradise – at least for someone like me. The British woman might disagree. On her walk yesterday in the central market, she bought all kinds of things, including long pieces of fabric – souvenirs to take home and give to people as gifts and to decorate her apartment. She would not find any such markets in the Philippines. Markets in the Philippines were full of freshly caught fish and the entrails of newly slaughtered pigs. No beautiful cloth wraps to wear to the beach or things to hang on the wall. I wanted to get off the Philippines and onto the mainland, but now that I’m sort of on the mainland, I dislike being amongst the mainland hordes. People generally don’t go to the Philippines precisely because it doesn’t connect with any other places. People fly into Bangkok because they can then go by land to other countries. The Philippines gets forgotten, and that works out well for someone like me. I find that my time in the Philippines is now rushing through my head and I’m appreciating it again. I imagine that good things about Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia will appear over time, but at the moment, I’m not digging it. Perhaps the main problem is being amongst the backpacker and tourist hordes. It’s so weird. I find that because of them, I can’t act or feel natural. When I go out on the street, I’m intensely aware that the local people see thousands of me every week. I’m reluctant, therefore, to engage anyone in any way. I don’t want to bore them with my dumb whiteness.

So far, everything falls short in comparison to the Philippines. I went out last night to find food, and I was really stuck. I walked and walked and walked, and I saw just one place that seemed to be a normal place where you can get a meal. And it was jammed with backpackers. People rave about the street food of Malaysia, but I didn’t see anything to get excited about. And the food I did find was really expensive and far too elaborate. I miss the simple buffets of the Philippines – two or three on every street corner and a couple in every village – meat dish, veggie dish, rice, boom, done, one dollar please. Here, it is a big process. I’m hoping to eat most of my meals in the guest house.

I had a funny experience with water. In the Philippines, there are those water refilling stations everywhere, and they are perfect for cyclists like me. I have not seen them here. One of my first sights was of a backpacker woman coming back into the hostel with an armload of about eight bottles of water from 7-11. I’d already learned how expensive water is, so there was no way I could get water that way. Luckily, someone mentioned some kind of water station nearby. They talked about it like it was totally obvious and right outside the hostel on the street. I went outside with my Dromedary Bag and my oversized Nalgene bottle and went looking, but I saw no such water station. I wondered if it was inside the 7-11, and I went inside to ask the clerk. I felt self-conscious about doing that because I guessed that they had dumb white people coming in there by the hundreds every day and asking dumb questions and doing dumb things. I didn’t want to add to their burden. I imagined that an employee being assigned to this 7-11 in this neighborhood thinks of it as a punishment – like a Soviet guard being assigned to work at a labor camp in Siberia long ago. The clerk’s reaction sort of confirmed this. I had barely begun my question about this mythical “water station” when he shook his head and said loudly, “I don’t know! I don’t know!” The guy really startled me with his reaction, and I left the 7-11 to continue my search. I turned left outside the store, and I just happened to see a large white box sitting on the sidewalk. It was about seven feet high and four feet wide, and had a couple of hoses sticking out of an open square at the base. This was the water station. It was essentially a vending machine for water, and it was brilliantly designed. You fed coins into it, and you got a reading on a display about how much water that entitled you to. One button gave you a short burst of water to rinse your bottle with. Then you had a “Go” button and a “Stop” button. You put your container under the appropriate hose (small or large) and then you pressed Go. The water flowed and when it got to the top of your container, you pressed Stop. Then you could put in your next container and thus keeping going until your water credit ran out.

I was very happy to see this machine, and before I tried to use it, I turned right around and went back into the 7-11 to tell the clerk the good news – that the water station was right there just fifteen feet away from the door to the 7-11. I thought I’d share this information. Wouldn’t he want to know? Apparently, he did not want to know, and without even trying to engage with me, he shouted more loudly “I don’t know!” I told him that I was aware that he didn’t know. That’s why I was telling him. I was trying to help him. I was giving him information. I actually said this, and he shouted “I don’t know!!!” again. It was a strange encounter and it prejudiced me even more strongly against this neighborhood and perhaps against the city. The guy spoke English, after all. I hardly saw the need to be so rude and to react so strongly. This is one of the more stressful aspects of being a foreigner in Asia. I pride myself on being gentle and polite and considerate. I value those things. Yet, without trying to or intending to, I end up doing things that upset people. Misunderstandings abound. Here I am, a nice guy with a strong desire to do the right thing and follow the rules, and within hours of my arrival, I’d been escorted off the premises of the airport by a group of armed security guards, ridden illegally down sixty kilometers of freeway, shouted into a hostel and woken everyone up, and now caused a clerk at the 7-11 to have a nervous breakdown and yell at me.

After I got yelled at, I left the 7-11 and got my water. To do so, I had to sort through the coins in my pocket. The main currency is called the ringgit and I think this is divided into 100 units called “sen”. I don’t know if this is related to the English word “cent”. It would make sense. I had a range of coins from ten sen to fifty sen. The puzzling aspect was that some of the coins were different sizes. I had small twenty-sen coins and large twenty-sen coins. And there were two slots on the water station machine – one labeled “old coins” and the other “new coins”. I had no idea which of my coins were which and putting them into the slots didn’t help. Sometimes the coins were accepted and sometimes they weren’t. I just had to keep feeding the coins into the slots over and over until the machine accepted one of them. I have no idea if this machine filtered city water that was fed through it or was filled up with purified water. I was just glad it was there, and I filled up my Dromedary Bag and went back to the guest house.

Then came my next adventure – one that fits in perfectly with my nature and my obsessions. The guest house has a coded entry system. Every room key has a magnetic disk attached to it. You place this disk near a sensor on a keypad and then you enter the code the guest house gives you and the door pops open. It is efficient and provides some much-needed security. Given the level of tourism in this area, I can only imagine how many thieves and organized crooks are on the prowl. Out of every 100 people on the street, fifty are foreign tourists, thirty are running souvenir shops, and the last twenty are probably thieves. I went to the door of the Bird Nest and I confidently waved my magnetic disk and typed in the code, and, of course, nothing happened. I was surprised because I had been very careful to go over the instructions before I went out. These instructions were on a poster in a glass window near the reception desk. It’s a very clear poster and gives exact step-by-step instructions. It wasn’t rocket science, and I was annoyed that somehow I was doing it wrong. I keep saying that my brain is not working anymore, but surely I can enter four numbers into a keypad. I was positive I was doing it right, but after about twenty attempts, I switched up the sequence and tried every possible combination of steps just in case. I’m nothing if not obsessive. There was a doorbell there, and I could ring it to summon the Bird Nest clerk on duty, but I REALLY didn’t want to do that. I was tired of making mistakes. So I stood there much longer and tried to open the door another twenty times. I’m doing this with a giant water bag at my feet and I could feel every person walking past me looking at me and wondering what I was doing. In the end, I had no choice. I was hoping that someone else would show up in the meantime and open the door, but no one did. I admitted defeat and pressed the doorbell button. Almost immediately, a person appeared at the top of the stairs and waved at me and pointed to the right strongly as if he wanted me to walk down the street to the right. I had no idea what that would accomplish, but I did so and I have to laugh when just a few steps to the right was another door to the Bird Nest – a door that looked identical to the door I was trying to enter with its own identical keypad entry system. I waved my magnetic disk, typed in the code, and the door popped right open. I felt bad that I had bothered the Bird Nest clerk, but my systematic mind couldn’t help but wonder why on the wonderful and simple instruction poster they didn’t tell you that there were two identical doors to the Bird Nest, and the code only worked on one of them. I was actually given verbal instructions about this system when I checked in, and no one said anything about there being two doors. It was like a Twilight Zone or Star Trek episode with multiple doors and only one right answer. I apologized to the clerk for bothering him, but then I tried to tell him that I didn’t know that there were two doors. I was thinking he would acknowledge this problem and say something about it. But there was no reaction. I wasn’t the first dumb foreigner to be standing there futilely at the wrong door. I imagine there have been hundreds of them over the years. Why, then, has the poster not been altered to include the “secret door” information? This will be another mystery that will fester inside my brain until the day I die. My life is an endless parade of these mysteries. I lie in bed at night composing fantasy emails to a long list of people detailing the simple fixes they could make to improve their systems and customer service. Last night, I was writing an email in my brain to the airport about how a bicycle in your luggage is fine but then security kicks you out because you have a bicycle in the airport. I was mentally explaining to some fantasy cop about riding my bike on the freeway – about how I had tried to take a train and a bus, but no one would accept my bicycle. And there were no other roads away from the airport. I was being forced to break the law. I was writing to the 7-11 clerk and explaining that I wasn’t hassling him about the water station. I honestly thought that as an employee, he’d want to know that the water station was fifteen feet from his door. Then he’d know this when the next customer came in asking the same question. And, of course, I was suggesting to the owner of this guest house that he somehow inform guests of the existence of the mystery door. Stuff like that just drives me crazy. Does no one else ever see these things? When I talk about things like this, people look at me like I’m crazy. But I’m not. If you had a guest at your home and you gave the a key to the door, you’d tell them whether it was for the front door or the back door, right? Of course you would. So when you run a business for thousands of guests a year and you give every single guest a “key” to the door, wouldn’t you at some point figure out that you should tell your guests which door the key is for? Apparently I live in a dream world.

I explored the hostel a bit more yesterday. The common room that is out on the veranda is generally more popular than this kitchen common area. It is nicer and has comfortable chairs and a card table, but it is also permitted to smoke out there. And as there are Europeans here, the smoking does go on. From this common area, a steep set of steel stairs go up to another level and then from there you can go to another level. Each level is nicely and funkily decorated with plants and cushions – giving it the same hippy vibe as the entire guest house. It’s a wonderfully organized set up, but it is let down quite a bit by the lack of a view. You can sit outside up there, but you see nothing but high concrete walls on all sides – just high buildings and a paved street and traffic noise below. The unwary exploring this part of the hostel (that’s me) can be started by two extremely large iguanas in a big cage. These are scary looking and very interesting beasts – more dragon than natural animal – and I found myself mesmerized by their alien appearance, sharp claws, motionless nature, and steady gaze.

This hostel really is a remarkable place. It is far from perfect, but it has a lot of interesting features. The bulk of it appears to be inside almost a warehouse structure with an exposed roof many, many meters above. I think when they began building it, they started with just this vast empty space. Then they started throwing up short walls to make all the tiny rooms. They threw a roof over these walls, so the rooms do have a ceiling, but then there is a large open and airy space stretching from the tops of the rooms to the roof structure. It’s a very unusual space.

The floors are largely wooden and they creak and shake a lot as people walk about. I don’t know if all guests are as considerate, but the ones here now walk gently and are careful not to make much noise. As I said, it feels like a library space – one into which I started boorishly shouting yesterday. Funkiness abounds here. It’s very convenient that the kitchen, bathrooms, and outdoor veranda are far separated from the rooms and reception desk at the front. That’s probably the key to the appeal of the place. The rooms themselves are so small as to be designed for hobbits – not real people. They are also rather airless and get very hot and muggy. My single bed is a lumpy thousand-year-old mattress on top of a ramshackle wooden frame which creaks and moans and threatens to break as a I move. The single fitted sheet on the mattress has to be even older than the mattress itself. It is so thin and so covered in those tiny bumps that old sheets get that it is generous to call it a sheet. In any event, it has long given up any pretension to hooking over the corners of the mattress and staying in place. The sheet will be over the mattress when you “make” the bed. But the second you sit down (let alone lie down), the sheet pops free at every corner and becomes just a pile of thin tissue-like cloth. You can try to put it back, but it’s hopeless. You will be sleeping on the bare mattress. The “sheet” is there for appearances sake only. The same can be said for the pillow case. The pillow itself is a lumpy old thing from who knows what decade and the pillow case around it is worn so thin as to be nearly transparent. I was thinking that if I saw a sheet in a store somewhere on my wanderings, I’d just buy one to make my nights a bit more comfortable during my stay here. It’s hot enough in that airless cell without lying directly on top of the scratchy outer material of the mattress itself. I do have my own sleeping sheet, and I got that out last night after I gave up my struggle with the non-fitting fitted sheet. There was no top sheet provided. It’s simply too hot for anyone to want a sheet on top of them with that scratchy and lumpy mattress below.

I was still running on nervous energy from my fight from Cebu and the harrowing bike ride from the airport, so when I retreated to my room, I found it difficult to sleep. I’d picked out a novel from the bookshelves, and settled in to read for a while. It had been a long time since I’d read a book. My reading stopped when my Kindle broke months ago in Tacloban. It took some time to lose myself in the story. At first, I found the fictional quality of the story hard to get invested in. My dad used to say that he had no interest in movies and TV shows largely because he knew they were all fake. They were not real. And I can sort of understand that. I had that feeling about this book’s story at first. I was too aware of the author. I guess I was out of the habit of reading. But the habit came back and I read with pleasure. The biggest problem came from my sore eyes.

Each room has a nice fan, and that made the room just bearable enough to get some sleep. However, I soon found myself engaged in a war with my most dreaded enemy – mosquitoes. I was being bitten all over and I’m super sensitive to mosquito bites. The bites themselves itch terribly, but I get a reaction over large parts of my body. My brain starts focusing on every sensation over my body – thinking that every twitch was a mosquito landing on me – and sleep became impossible. I had no choice but to get out my mosquito net and try to rig it up. There was no convenient and natural place from which to hang it. I ended up having to jam a hook in between the metal support rod and the roof tile resting on top of it. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. After that, I managed to go to sleep. And that was despite the extra heat from now being inside the mosquito net.

A few other notes to round out my arrival in Kuala Lumpur. I went out last night to find a meal and I was disappointed to find few places to eat in this neighborhood. I suppose such places are out there. I just don’t know where to look yet. I ended up in some Malaysian chain. A big sign out front said it was the most popular restaurant in Malaysia. It seemed a bold claim, but it could be true. I ordered their largest combo meal since I was really hungry. This consisted of a large piece of savory chicken, rice, vegetable soup, sliced tomatoes and cucumber, and some kind of crunchy bread-like substance. I have no idea what anything was, but I think the meal as a whole was called “jelemet”. The meal was fine, but the price was high for me. By Canadian standards, it was cheap, but for my budget, it was expensive – a much more expensive meal than any I would have in the Philippines. Money seems to be just flying out of my wallet here in Kuala Lumpur.

This hostel has a pet rabbit and a pet cat. The rabbit looks fat and healthy, but the older woman from the front desk seems to enjoy torturing it. From an Asian point of view, I’m sure she’s just playing with it, but it seemed very rough to me, and the poor rabbit was giving out horrible growls and moans the entire time. I’ve never heard a rabbit sound like that. It was clearly really distressed. This woman eventually picked it up and then gave a shout and dropped it. The rabbit had bitten her on the hand. Good for the rabbit, I thought. The poor rabbit then retreated to a corner and lay there for a long time trembling badly. I know that we Westerners are very sentimental about animals, but still. It really did seem like this woman was abusing the poor creature. I sat at this kitchen table for a long time typing on the NEO, and I was pleased when the rabbit finally came out of hiding, and it hopped over to my feet under the table and kind of nestled there against my feet and legs. Perhaps it felt my sympathy.

The resident cat is a big brown creature with a shortened stubby tail. It’s a bit standoffish, but when lying down and relaxing it seems to enjoy a good chin scratching. It’s just one of those wilder cats that could go from purring to attacking and biting in a second. I think it has also suffered from some rough handling at the hands of local staff.

5:45 p.m.

It is still too early to call it, but I appear to have had some luck today. Perhaps not much in the grand scheme of things, but relative to the ways that things generally don’t work out for me, then, yes, I did have some luck.

The day started with some coffee and some instant oatmeal and bananas. That was my breakfast. I’d brought the oatmeal in my food bag from the Philippines along with some soup, the coffee, and the coffee creamer. And there were some bananas in the free food section on top of the fridge. I’m rather paranoid about food, and I’m waiting for my system to explode from the sudden change in diet. So far so good, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

My goal for the day was to track down a bicycle shop that could possibly build new wheels for me with new spokes. I went first to an Internet café around the corner. That was also an interesting experience. It was very similar to places in the Philippines in that it catered to stupid young male gamers making hooting and hollering noises and otherwise being annoying. There were a number of differences, though. The guy managing the place was quite gruff and loud and aggressive. This gruffness and boldness amongst the Indian and Chinese populations here is quite a shock after the laidback “let’s party” approach of the Filipinos. One had to pay in advance in this Internet café, and therefore you had to choose how many hours you wanted. It cost a lot more than in the Philippines – about a dollar an hour, I think – but they provide a lot more room, very comfortable LazyBoy style chairs, and much nicer computers with big monitors and working mice. I didn’t try to upload pictures or anything, so I didn’t test out the USB ports. But the mouse and the Internet connection were both far superior to anything I used in the Philippines. Even using Google Maps was a breeze as I zoomed in and out on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. In the Philippines, that would have taken ages and the computer would likely freeze up before it finished any such operation.

I nearly ran into a typical security-related Catch-22. I tried to check my Hotmail account, but the system detected that I had changed countries. So they blocked me and said that I had to use the option to send a security code to my alternate e-mail address. My alternate email address is my Gmail account, but that too triggered a security lockout. And the alternate for Gmail is Hotmail. So I could get into neither one. Luckily, my Gmail account also had a security question option. I chose that and when I gave the right answer, I was allowed into that email account. Then I could get the security code for Hotmail and go back and put that in. It’s nice that they’ve got my back in terms of this security business, but the customer is often the one that is the most inconvenienced and the most hurt by security measures as they get more and more onerous and complex.

There was nothing of interest in either Hotmail or Gmail. But when I checked with Warm Showers, I found that a potential host I’d contacted in Kuala Lumpur had written back. Her sister was visiting, so she couldn’t host me, but, in a remarkable coincidence, she was picking up her sister at the airport at the exact same time that I was landing there. She offered to meet me at the airport and then help me find a cheap hostel in Chinatown. If, like the rest of the world, I had a smartphone and a wifi enabled computer, I could have checked my email at the airport and gotten her message. Things turned out okay with me sleeping in the airport and cycling into town, but it certainly might have been less stressful and far easier to have met her and then been driven into town by her. Chances are though, that my bike would not have fit in her car easily if at all.

Once I’d checked all my social media sites, I went searching for listings of bike shops here in KL. Then some rare good things happened. For one thing, I got the names of some shops that looked pretty good including one shop that sold Surly Long Haul Truckers. Those are dedicated touring bikes built on a 26-inch wheel steel frame. They’re kind of old-school and very strong and reliable. I’d always wanted to have one. Any shop that had Surly Long Haul Truckers would likely speak my language, and I looked more carefully into its location.

Then came the second bit of luck. While at the airport, I’d had to choose between several maps of Kuala Lumpur. I really had no way of knowing which particular map was better, and I picked one sort of at random. It was a map for Kuala Lumpur AND the Klang Valley. I had no idea what the Klang Valley was, but I didn’t really care. Then it turned out that this fancy bike shop – Bike Pro – was located in a satellite city of Kuala Lumpur in the Klang Valley area. So by chance, the map I had chosen actually showed me this area where the bike shops were congregated. I found the shop on Google Maps and then used that to pinpoint its location on my map. Google Maps was great because it gave me precise directions for getting there using local transport. This guest house is right across the street from a major subway station and Bike Pro was near a subway station on that exact same line. At first I thought they were talking about a light rail system – like taking a real train. But in actually they were just talking about the regular Kuala Lumpur transit system – and nothing can be easier than that.

My walk to this Internet café and then my trip on the aboveground subway line has radically altered my perceptions of Kuala Lumpur for the better. As I suspected, I just had back luck on my first night here when I went looking for food. I just happened to choose a direction and a set of streets that had little food on offer. Had I gone over just one or two streets to where this Internet café was located, I’d have found lots and lots and lots of interesting places to eat – places with great local color. There were many interesting and basic Chinese and Indian eateries and restaurants and other shops – bird shops, for example, and self-serve Laundromats and other useful places. I became much more fond of this neighborhood in one fell swoop.

The transit system was easy to figure out with clear instructions in English and the local languages. The token vending machines were all operated with touch screens. You simply touched the station you wished to go to, and the machine told you how much money to insert. It accepted both bills and coins. Then it issued a token plus your change. You simply tapped your plastic (magnetized, I assume) token on the turnstile on your way in. When you exit, you insert the coin in the slot. Easy as pie.

Since the transit line was aboveground, I got wonderful views of the city as we progressed the nine stops to my stop. I was impressed with the many modern skyscraper structures we passed. THIS was the modern and well-stocked city I was hoping for. In one short day, I’d found an interesting and colorful traditional area and a modern metropolis.

With my wonderful map, I was easily able to navigate my way out of the subway station and get started in the direction where my bike shop lay. Right on the corner, however, I spotted a wonderful-looking outdoor Indian eatery. I had eaten nothing except that oatmeal, and I decided to get a meal before I tackled the bike shop. Better to be less irritable for that encounter.

The meal I had was a revelation and a sensation. A very helpful and very animated short Indian man took me under his wing as soon as I entered the place. It was buffet style, so it was an easy matter to get a big plate of rice and then an assortment of curries. I have no clue what I was eating, but it was all delicious and such a change after the bland food of the Philippines. It had been a long time since my taste buds had been treated to such an experience. I’m still very worried, however, about my digestive system. It is not used to the level of spices I’m dealing with now, and I probably ate far too much. This meal was also much more economical than the other meals I’ve had here. It was a huge and filling meal and I think the bill came to 7.8 ringgit, which is slightly more than $2. A solid meal in the Philippines would cost anywhere from $1 to $2, so I was back on familiar ground. The meals I’d previously were much more expensive and not nearly as filling. So there is hope in terms of an affordable diet.

After the Indian restaurant, I walked down the street in the direction of Bike Pro, and I happened to pass by another bicycle shop. I popped inside and had a wonderful chat with a very friendly young guy that worked there. It was such a pleasure to talk to a guy that was interested in bikes and knew a lot about them. This shop did not specialize in touring equipment, but he was well versed in bike lore, and when I mentioned things like DT Swiss Alpine spokes, he knew exactly what I was talking about. He knew about straight gauge spokes and double butted spokes. He knew about brass nipples and aluminum nipples. He knew all the basic stuff and much more besides. He knew, in short, all the things that none of the bike shop dudes in the Philippines knew. In addition to that, he was attentive and interested and helpful. He didn’t carry DT Swiss Alpine spokes, but he showed me what they did carry. And he gave me the address of a shop that might have them. He took the time to look up their address and write it down on a piece of paper for me. It was wonderful.

After that, I went to Bike Pro and had the good fortune to be served by Jason – an equally friendly and helpful and knowledgeable bike mechanic. He knew all about everything I was talking about, and it was such a relief. It was just normal – like talking to a good bike mechanic in Canada. I felt I was in good hands.

This shop also did not carry DT Swiss Alpine spokes, but Jason said the spokes they used were just as good and just as strong. They built custom touring bikes all the time, and these were the spokes they used. I’d never heard of the brand before. They were Sapim spokes from Belgium. This company made a version of their spokes called Sapim Strong, which were designed for tandem bikes and bikes with heavy loads – just like the DT Swiss Alpine. They also came with the same hefty price tag, so they had better be just as good. Things just got better and better at this shop. It’s one thing to find a shop that builds touring bikes and uses super-strong spokes. It’s quite another for that shop to have the spokes in the lengths that I need. In my normal life, such a shop would have every length of spoke except for the precise length that I needed. This place was different. To my great pleasure, Jason knew how to measure spoke lengths and had the proper tools to do so. I had brought my extra DT spokes with me, and he measured them and calculated the appropriate lengths. Then he found two boxes of those spokes in his supplies. So it was looking good in terms of having my wheels rebuilt with new spokes.

I had a variety of other options in mind ranging from replacing the rims AND the spokes and even the rims, spokes, and hubs. It depended on what made the most sense. Jason understood instantly what I was talking about, and he said that when I brought my bike in, he would check my rims for wear and damage and give me some advice on what I should do. Technology had moved on in the bike world since 1999, so buying new rims wouldn’t even be that easy. All new rims are designed for use with disc brakes, not the V-brakes on my bike. V-brakes are old-fashioned now. So that had to be considered as well. Jason understood all this and I felt that I was in capable hands.

Before I left, I threw one other option at him – my buying an entirely new bike – a Surly Long Haul Trucker – and starting from scratch. Perhaps in the long run it would be more economical to simply start over with a new bike. Jason grasped this idea as well, and he said that a completely new bike with all new components would run upwards of $2,000. But that price could come down considerably if we could use parts from my current bike – such as the drive train, which is, in theory, still in pretty good shape.

I hardly wanted to leave this shop, I was having such a good time talking with Jason. I actually told him this a couple of times – about the relief I felt on finding a well-stocked shop like his and finding someone who understood bikes as well as he did. Forget about the fact that he spoke English and offered great customer service. It was an unusual stroke of luck for me to find a suitable bike shop at the very first bike shop I found. I left him with the idea that I would likely return on Monday or Tuesday and have him build me two new wheels with the Sapim Leader spokes. I’ll look them up online tonight or tomorrow and see what the reviews are like and how they stack up compared to the DT Swiss Alpine. Hopefully, they come recommended. Jason swore by them and he proudly showed me some touring wheels he had just built using them. Up until quite recently, I would have sworn by the DT Swiss Alpine. I still remember the crazy confident way the guy at the shop in London threw those spokes down onto the counter and told me they were what I needed to build “bomb proof” wheels. I also remember how he sold me some extra spare spokes on my insistence. He said that these spokes were so strong that I would never need the spares. But apparently that’s not entirely true. All spokes appear to have a lifespan, and my DT Swiss Alpine have reached theirs. I have a feeling that I hastened their demise by not truing the wheels as often or as professionally as they should be. That goes to my stupid brain again. I did tons of research over the years and read up on how to true wheels properly, but I never got the hang of it. I think the trouble started when I got my bike from the airport in Conakry, and the wheels were completely bent out of shape through the rough handling of the airline. I had to true the wheels myself in Conakry, and I guess I never did it properly. And for whatever reason, the typhoon finished them off. The spokes just started snapping like dried spaghetti. I’m guessing that it was actually just old age, the heavy loads, and my trip around Catanduanes island that truly ended their useful life. That road around Catanduanes was unbelievably tough and my wheels smashed up and down on the exposed rocks like crazy. Even the legendary DT Swiss Alpine can’t cope with that kind of treatment forever. Then add the most powerful typhoon in history and an 11-foot storm surge, and that’s the end.

I told Jason about my concerns about the headset and the bottom bracket, and I’m hoping to have him check those as well. I even found special water bottle cages at this shop – the type of expandable cage for 1.5-liter soda bottles. I’m not sure how I feel about those. Sure, it’s nice to have room for more water, but those soda bottles are not meant to last long. They’ll obviously keep failing. But I guess that doesn’t matter. They are universal now, and you can get new ones everywhere. Just buy 1.5 liters of cold Coke. Enjoy the Coke and bam, you have a new water bottle. It’s not like regular bicycle water bottles last forever. My high-tech bottles all died. And the ones I purchased in the Philippines to replace them are horrible. They won’t last long.

And I guess that’s the end of my story. I came back to Chinatown on the same transit line. A trip there – nine stops – cost about 65 cents US, I think. I feel much, much better after that experience. My decision to fly to Malaysia may not turn out to be so dumb after all. We’ll have to wait and see, but at least it looks possible to have my bike restored to some dependable state. And if this is how the bike shops are, then it is a good bet that I can find good camping stores, too, and I can finally get a fuel bottle for my Trangia. I was using my Nalgene bottle for fuel, but the fuel destroyed the bottle. I had no idea denatured alcohol could degrade plastic like that. I tested the bottle before I left Cebu, and it wouldn’t even hold water anymore. The water just kept pouring out of the lid no matter how much you tightened it. I left the bottle behind in Cebu.

It is weird, though, to be surrounded by so much stuff all of a sudden after the year plus in the Philippines with nothing. The amount of choice is bewildering. It’s also strange to be surrounded by so many foreigners – particularly since the vast majority of them are European – German, Italian, Spanish, etc. Europeans always intimidate me, country-bumpkin that I am. I’m very aware that there is nothing cool about me at all. I don’t smoke. I don’t have any tattoos. I don’t go clubbing. I don’t wear clown pants covered in elephant prints from India. I don’t have a ponytail or dreadlocks or bracelets or necklaces or ear rings. And I’m really no fun at all. All the people here seem uber-cool, and that effect is heightened by everyone traveling in groups.

Riding My Bike from Airport to Kuala Lumpur
The Three Cultures of Kuala Lumpur

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