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We caught up with Francis to find out more on his Malaysia bike packing trip

We caught up with Francis to find out more on his Malaysia bike packing trip

If you live under a rock, you probably didn't see Francis' bike packing across Malaysia. Well, I wanted to know the things that weren't covered on his Youtube video's, that you can watch here.

What sparked the idea for the trip?

The cold weather at home meant me and two friends were like, where is hot at this time? Malaysia's hot, southeast Asia, let's go there. I've been to southeast Asia before, I knew it would be good fun.

I've never been to Malaysia before so we were like let's have a crack at this, everyone speaks English which makes things easy. Let's turn up with bike and see what happens.

So we turned up and it was great, but it was insanely hot. Apparently we turned up in a heatwave and it was the hottest temperatures ever recorded in some of the towns that we went through. So that was challenging.

We got some weird looks from people like, what are you doing riding in the middle of the day through here and people kept moaning at us saying, why aren't you getting up at 5am to ride but they didn't realise that we were with Lawrence. And my friend Lawrence, he doesn't wake up 9:00 am wake up if you're lucky.

Was there a moment from the trip where you were like s***, I can't believe this is actually happening?

I know you want me to stay something along the lines of there was just an amazing climb or that descent was absolutely incredible, but it was actually when I fell down a hole.

I was just outside of supermarket and they have these giant storm drains because when it does rain there it chucks it down. So they need these huge storm drains underneath all the shops to make sure they don't flood and there's concrete slabs on them. And I just got up to leave and then my foot went through as it crumbled, and next thing I knew I was in a hole. That's when I was like what that is going on. I had a very small cut on my knee, just a small boo boo.

What are the top three pieces of advice you'd give to someone planning their first bike packing trip?

Okay number one piece of advice. If you're gonna be going to a new place you've never been before, leave yourself a couple of days leeway. If you're booking trains or planes just make sure you got a couple of days extra in your itinerary because you never know what's going to happen.

Number two, don't book everything in advance because again, you don't know what's gonna happen and then having to battle around with all of that. It's like, I've booked an Airbnb or one of those warm showers days, and I've got to be there in this time, but I've had a huge mechanical or I'm too tired and actually want to have a rest day. Things really can be sorted out on the same day with,, websites like that.

So do the booking the night before, we usually do just so we don't have too much of a strict itinerary and you have a better time as you can relax a bit more.

Number three, always have loads of food with you in your bags. Even if you don't think you'll need it because it can catch you by surprise. We were cycling in Malaysia, we knew it was happening, but Ramadan was in full swing. So a lot of places were closed and a lot of the restaurants don't open until the afternoon and the evening because the local people are fasting.

Sometimes things happen you don't account for or there's a bank holiday and everything's shut. So have lots of food with you, at least enough to get you through a day of riding. I would say the extra weight doesn't really matter as the bike's heavy anyway, so that would be my third tip.

Any funny or unexpected challenges that you faced along the way?

The hole is a good one. Oh and a giant lizard in the middle of the road on descent, that scared us.

We weren't attacking the decent but we were going pretty fast and then around a corner and Ben's just like, there's a giant lizard in the road! I haven't seen that in the Northeast yet.

What about people or characters that you met along the way, any memorable encounters with the locals?

This one guy, he was a local dude, just outside a petrol station and it was something to do if Ramadan being on and he had a table set up where people could come and talk to him and he was there he wasn't the most affluent guy in the world And he may start a conversation turned out his family. Some of his family had been to university in England. We got chatting and then before, he was trying to give us money. and he was gone for the rest of your trip for food for the rest of your trip and it's just the kindness of people the whole way through the trip was incredible and that wasn't the first time, everyone we met along the way was absolutely ace.

We should talk about the gear that you took on the trip. Obviously we can't cover everything, but what was the most useful would you say?

We took our rain jackets. That was a silly idea. We didn't need them. It's way too hot, however when I do go on bike packing trips, and people made fun of me in the bike packing video about this, I always take a puffer jacket a down jacket with me despite not having to use it this trip.

When we were in Vietnam a couple of years ago, you do need it sometimes because it gets cold in the evenings, or you go up a big climb and then you have a puncture at the top of the climb or you need to stop for whatever reason (or Lawrence has 17 punches and snaps his chain) and when you're at elevation suddenly the very hot weather isn't so hot.

Packing something like that, which it might take up a bit of space but it's very light and I've got electronic equipment, lenses, spare cameras, things like that. So I just wrap them up in it.

If you could pick one place along the route to ride again visit again, where would that be?

Place called Cameron Highlands, which was one massive climb. You can go two different ways up. We came from the north and that was sort of the truck route up, where all the trucks go to deliver stuff to Cameron Highlands, which is sort of the resort at the top. And then the descent down was a super quiet, sweeping Road.

I think riding it the other way to what we did would be incredible. That would be the way you'd want to do it, and then the descent which is a much wider road which wasn't an option, but next time.

You mentioned taking a days worth of snacks. But how did you keep fueled on the rides as obviously they were really long days in the saddle. How did you deal with that?

I always take a bit of proper cycling nutrition with me at the start of a trip and then after day one, it's all gone. So then you just look for jelly sweets. That's pretty much the only thing I go for when I'm in a gas station and then because of the heat we were craving salt as well. So packets of crisps, which turns out really hard to open in Malaysia.

I was gonna ask you about mishaps but I think you've already mentioned the hole, but anybody else have mishaps that maybe were missed out of the YouTube videos?

No, I don't think we had any. The worst mechanical we had was Ben's brake making a funny noise for nearly the whole trip and then on the penultimate day, he was just like "squeezed my caliper and forced the piston out and now it's fine." Thanks, so we listen to that for nine days for no reason, cool!

What about efficiently packing gear, with you being out there for that long I imagine you need a lot of kit?

You only need two T-shirts and two pairs of pants. Really only one set of cycling kit, unless you think you're gonna crash. I took five Attacus jerseys because they were new and I was excited to wear them, but you only really need one and you  shower with your kit on, wash it, and then scrunch it up in a towel to dry it and it's always dry in the morning. It's soaking wet outside because it's humid. So depends where of course, if you're going to a cold place you probably need to figure out a more regimented routine for kit washing, but in a hot country you can get away with very little.

You spent a lot of time on the bike, but obviously you've got every evening and dealing with being in different places each night, how did you do getting enough food in the evening?

All of the food is very compatible with cycling there's a lot of carbs. There's a lot of rice in the mornings. Despite thinking it's gonna be like noodles and rice for breakfast. I'm not gonna get into that and I'm gonna crave toast.

The answer is it's actually the best breakfast food. They have this thing called Nasi Lemak, and I think Nasi means rice and it's essentially rice, a bit of spicy sauce, peanuts, egg and it's just the best thing you've ever eaten for breakfast. I might just start eating it here.

Some of the places we stopped for food looked a bit rough around the edges. As a general rule the worse the better it was, so don't be fooled by fancy looking establishments because the food there wasn't always that good and the other places were great.

What about the most unexpected thing that you pack that turned out to be a lifesaver?

My beard trimmer, Ben's used to be a barber so we all got haircuts every now and then we shaved Laurence's head fully so he was super aero so he could sit on the front and just go.

One thing that I'm just really curious to learn for myself is, how do you approach planning a route? Because obviously I'm assuming you don't really know much about the area, if the roads are hard to ride or could be like you said like, a truck lane. Maybe that would be a bit scary, so yeah, how to go about planning a route?

Always Komoot, which is an app (not sponsored!) They have sponsored work in the past. They're notorious for sometimes leading you into gravel, which we always use gravel tires. I don't think this exclusively Komoot, it's the maps that are behind the scenes that quite a few different apps use. I think it's like an open source map system and we always ride gravel tires just in case, especially if you're in an unusual location.

But plan things on Komoot. You can do it just before you ride, A to B, and then it will plot you a route based on the most used cycling route. So it'll keep you off main roads as much as possible and then it's always worth checking it and using Google Maps, drop the little yellow man and do a street view and look at the road surface and what the road looks like because sometimes it would try and take you off a main road when the main road might be quite good and there's a big shoulder. So sometimes it's appropriate to just get a bit of ride done faster instead of going around the houses, but you can choose and it is very easy to adjust your route as well in that app. So that would be my recommendation.

It's pretty much the only one I've used regularly for these trips and it hasn't let me down other than a bit gravel every now and then.

Did you literally do it day-to-day?

Yeah, we got in a truck and went to Georgetown which is the starting location in the North and then we woke up that morning and looked where we're going, yeah.

All the best things happen when you don't plan it, I promise.

What did you think of the new Attacus kit?

Very nice. I like all the neutral colors. Everything goes together really well, the pocket bib shorts, the adventure bibs, you can't go wrong. I like packing stuff in pockets in everyday life, and having them in the same place and in cycling kit is a winner for me.

Last but not least. What's next, anything on the bucket list?

There is 2 more trips this year if all goes well, both of them are in hot places .That is all I can reveal!


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