“What are you getting yourself into?”
Such was the words of my father when I told him I was participating in Bikesystem’s 500 km ride event. The words that came back to me, in my own voice, when I ground the pedal to the north of the island, under the heat of equatorial sun, alone.
But I had been expecting to join the ride, ever since it was a mere casual talk. I’ve recently grown interested in long rides, as a means to experience the landscape in an immersive way. My longest ride, however, was only 200 km, as it was the distance I could comfortably complete in a day. Longer distance means considerable time riding at night and sleeping along the way—the skil I deemed too risky to learn alone.
An ultra event like this provided exactly the learning opportunity I was looking for.
December 27th, 2021, 4.45 a.m. It was raining. I put on my rain jacket and rode from my parents’ house to Bikesystem, where most of participants already gathered; the spirit of enthusiasm and camaraderie filled the air. I looked at the faces of those who would share the same long road ahead with me, and I couldn’t help feeling I was lucky to be able to participate.
Not long after I arrived, event coordinator @aryoioio officially started the ride. Yet, many stayed around for some more time.
It was @pedaleatrepeat & @giszagabriella who first left the starting point at 5.30 a.m.; I decided to go with them. It was easy to keep up with them during the descent to the south. When the terrain began flattening in Alun-Alun Bandung, though, the gap of our pace became clear; when the road began slightly climbing toward Cimahi, I let them leave me behind and settled at my own pace. I could try keeping up with them, but then I’d exhaust myself early; a foolish thing to do, especially with hundreds of kilometres still waiting ahead.
I kept reminding myself that a long ride is the game of a turtle, not a hare. In fact, I had planned to make stops and take pictures whenever I wanted to. Starting early gave me comfort to do so; even if I ended up being too slow, I’d simply caught up with the late riders, instead of being left too far behind, alone.
Known as alternative, much less popular route from Bandung to Jakarta, Cariu is the region I’ve heard many times before. The ride, however, was the first time I got there.
It was on its early climb I caught up with @ifahasna, escorted by @storyonsaddle. I passed them, but we ended up kept bumping to each other, because I kept making occasional stops along the way. I was genuinely surprised by the region’s beauty; the picturesque view of flowy rocky rivers and layers of mountains, reminded me of the paintings I used to make when I was a kid—infusing the sense of awe with a pinch of nostalgia.
There’s a good reason Bandung cyclists rarely rode there, however. In their silence, broken down and overturned trucks along the road told the tale of its challenging terrain. To be fair, though, I’ve ridden more challenging routes in Bandung before—even with 42x46t smallest gear, I rarely found myself out of depth there. The fact that there was no easy way to go back to Bandung from there means the route is best reserved for beyond 200k ultra rides like this one.
Alas, the beauty and the challenge of Cariu fell behind as we passed our first 100 km mark and continued forward…
“Is everything okay?”
I asked the question for the first time when I bumped into @fueledbybiscuits and @alfalent_sammuel right after we left Cariu. By then, they had just finished repairing @fueledbybiscuits’s punctured tire. Seeing everything was taken care of, I left them behind, knowing too well that they’d pass me again soon.
The second was when I bumped into @permana_melisa, who was taking refuge on a roadside warung with @antonwangsawiguna and @lisna_tomy. Apparently, her cleat was clogged with mud from Cariu’s repaired road segment, causing clipping issue. Seeing that, once again, everything was taken care of, I bode them farewell and continued my trip.
The third was when, once again, I bumped to @storyonsaddle and @ifahasna, who were doing roadside repair with few other cyclists. There was a problem with @storyonsaddle’s Enve wheel; repairing puncture wasn’t as simple as it should be. It was here I decided to stay, to see if my Lezyne Matrix tire lever could help with the stubborn tire/wheel combo. Unfortunately, after a snapped tire lever, and three wasted inner tubes, @storyonsaddle had to be evacuated. @ifahasna continued the trip with the fast boys while I, once again, settled at my own pace, and making stops along the way whenever I wanted to.
As I spun along the road at constant pace, I was thinking how I was lucky that I was free of mechanical trouble; that the bike I was riding was highly reliable. And then it dawned on me: what if my turn was simply still waiting around the corner?
“If only it was raining.”
It was rainy season, but the sky was blue, and the sun was shining in all its glory, through scattered clumps of clouds. Spinning along the long, boring flat city road under the blistering equatorial mid-day sun, I could hear the words of my father—the words that came back in my own voice—grew stronger and louder in my head: “what are you getting yourself into?”
Wishing for the rain was logical; experience had shown me that I was significantly weaker, and slower, under intense heat. Looking at the heart
rate number, however, I realized I wasn’t overheated and dehydrated like usual. Something else was at play: the legs just seemed to refuse to put down power. Maintaining 20 kph was embarrassingly a struggle.
I looked around each time I rode through a convenience store, hoping to find fellow participants for a chance of small talk and quick rest. Yet I found no one; the distance gap between us had lengthened significantly, it seemed.
Things got worse shortly after I left Rengasdengklok, around 190 km mark. The sky was cloudy, the air was cooler, my average speed was improving, but my stomach felt like it was inflated from the inside. It seemed my fueling strategy involving simple sugar intake began taking its toll, that just the thought of eating more made me nauseous. As I kept pedaling, I decided to ditch the rigid fueling strategy and listen to what my body wanted.
It wanted something savory.
Fried chicken was what came to mind first; it was what I was scanning around along the road. On a convenience store stop, however, a roadside stall made me realize that gorengan was a much more elegant solution: it was cheaper, lighter, and easier to eat—even possible to chew on the go!
It was unbelievable how much a small piece of gorengan could do; it got rid of nausea and lifted my spirit in an instant. I looked at the cloudy sky and laughed. There was 100 km remaining until the first checkpoint, but I was optimistic. I put on the earphone, turned on the music, and hit the road again.
Into The Night
“It’s 70 km to checkpoint 1; about 3 hours with our current pace.”
We had just finished our dinner on a roadside eatery just before Pamanukan. By then, the night had fallen, and I was riding with the trio of @permana_melisa, @antonwangsawiguna, and @lisna_tomy, who were being very kind to invite me to join them.
We had kept bumping to each other since afternoon. The first one happened when the group overtook me just after Rengasdengklok. “Come along!” they shouted at me. I tried to follow them, but struggled to keep up; I let them leave me behind and settled at my own pace again, alone.
We met again on a convenience store later; they were halfway of their break time when I arrived. Right after I finished buying supplies and gorengan, they finished their break dan continued their way. Once again, I took my break time, and continue riding eastward, alone.
The sun had already set when we met for the third time; I saw them on a convenience store’s parking space, and they called me. “It’s getting dark now,” @permana_melisa said to me. “Let’s ride together.”
Just like my previous long ride experience, I gained my power back at night; keeping up with the group at 25 kph became possible. The fatigue on my legs remained, but cooler air of the night should make spinning the remaining distance easier.
Or so I thought.
The four of us left the eatery with good spirit. We spun the crank consistently. The flat road means we had to keep spinning, continuously, almost without a break. My breathing was constant, so was my heart rate number; the fatigue on my legs, however, kept building up, and turned into fleeting pain…
Imagine my surprise when I glanced at my watch, to find only 10 minutes had passed since we got back to the road. Suddenly, 3 hours felt like forever; the end of the road seemed like a gaping void, a black hole, that stretched space and time to infinity…
To be honest, we had few options. Yet, somehow, without talking, the four of us agreed: just keep pushing the pedal and get to checkpoint 1 as fast as we could…
“Just wanna tell you… I’ve just reached checkpoint 1. And I miss you.”
It was 11.44 p.m. Kids were already sleeping, as expected; only my wife staying up late, answering my video call in the dark. Listening to her voice was comforting.
What seemed like forever finally came to an end; greetings from @aryoioio and @gynaecialamsu at Indramayu’s city center, km 310, put our legs at ease. We parked our bike; we stood up, we stretched, we sat down on solid ground and let our legs get the rest they deserved, while having our brevet card stamped. It turned out we were top ten finishers at checkpoint 1; there were still 13 riders behind us.
I was prepared to sleep on a mosque’s floor, but ended up following the group to nearby guest house. The 2 km ride to get there was cakewalk compared to what we had been through for the day. With limited rooms available, @permana_melisa asked me if it was okay for me to get a room at the second floor, with no water heater. I couldn’t say no: a clean bed and clean water were more than I had expected, I really couldn’t ask for more.
After a bath and significant refueling, I finally could lay down on the bed. It was 00.45 a.m. by then; I was told that I’d share the room with @joshuasitompul_, but my roommate hadn’t shown up yet. As I was drifting slowly into the realm of sleep, I could sense the pain was still throbbing in my legs. I wondered: yes, the legs survived all the way to checkpoint 1 that day. But how would they deal with 200k of hilly, climbing ride, next day?
Day two started out great.
I woke up at 4.30 a.m.—exactly the time @joshuasitompul_ knocked on the room’s door. Legs were surprisingly fresh after only 3 hours of sleep—the protein shake and multivitamin pill combo seemed to work better than expected. I prepared early; when I learned that others were staying for guest house’s complimentary breakfast, I bode them farewell and left early. Heat has always been my kryptonite; starting early would give me an edge, to a degree.
The ride began relatively uneventful. The long flat road took me to Cirebon in 2.5 hours. With long hills ahead, I treated myself with a bowl of chicken porridge and side assortments. The sun was shining bright when I began riding through Majalengka hilly road; I found it much more bearable than the flat, seemingly endless road from the night before. I took time to eat properly in each stop; I even took a short nap at a riverside rest area just before Nyalindung. Yet I met no others along the way. It seemed I was far away from the front pack, as well as from the next group behind me.
The rain came down exactly when I was tackling Nyalindung climb. Rain, finally! Soaking myself wet was refreshing; it gave me the strength to climb with confidence. When my body began shivering in Sumedang, I changed to dry jersey from first day, and layered with rain jacket. Night descended when I was climbing Cadas Pangeran along big trucks, but I felt fresh. When the climb lessened, I checked my watch. It was 7 p.m. At current rate, I’d finish at 9; perhaps I could see the kids before they go to bed…
As I pushed through the climb, I could imagine the kids waiting for me on the front porch, I could hear them calling me in loud voice… and it gave me the strength to push harder and harder.
That was when, out of sudden, the bike got wobbly.
“God, please, no…” I checked the tires. The front one was squishy, like a balloon from the kid’s yesterday party; the bubbles escaping a hole sounded like a mockery. My hope of seeing the kids before bedtime deflated; the mechanical trouble I kept avoiding, finally ambushed me in the dark, with a big grin.
At The Finish Line
42 hours and 15 minutes.
That was the time I took to finish Bikesystem Rides 500. Still well under the cut-off time, but not groundbreaking either.
It was around 30 minutes to midnight when I finished at Bikesystem, and greeted by others who had finished earlier. “Just to clarify,” @ifahasna said, “was it you calling us back then?”
I did call two passing groups when I was stranded with punctured tire. I had practiced dealing with the quirks of my own wheelset before. But fatigue, darkness, and rain all conspired to complicate things; I ended up ruining both the old and the spare tubes, and I still couldn’t find the point of the leakage.
I did call two passing groups, but none stopped, and I understood: I was hidden in the darkness, my voice was muffled by the traffic, and with only 35 km remaining, everybody had their eyes fixed on the finish line. I also understood that being stranded alone, was the risk of participating as a solo rider. There was nothing to blame, nothing to apologize; it was just the way fate had it.
I did finally get a help; my wife called my brother-in-law, who happened to live nearby. We managed to identify the culprit: a small piece of stray paperclip. We patched the old tube, and got the bike up again for the final stretch. It came with significant time penalty, however; my wife said I was stranded there for at least 2 hours and 48 minutes.
At the finish line, though, none of it mattered anymore. All the hardship we’d been through fell away, and we all shared laughter together. @aryoioio congratulated me and handed me the finisher patch. But we all know that the prize isn’t the patch itself; it was the experience, the story, and the friendship along the way. I could still hear my father’s words, but it was nothing but a faint, distant voice by then. Nobody said ultracycling would be easy, but I know, for sure, I’d do it again.
Special thanks to Bikesystem for holding the ride event, and gave me the opportunity to experience a glimpse of multi-days ultra cycling. It was an experience I’ll never forget!
A Quick Note About The Bike
It is said that the best bike is the one you don’t have to think about when you ride it; the bike that seems to disappear beneath, as it works in unison with your body. I’ve heard it a long time ago, but only after a 500 km ride, I can truly appreciate the meaning.
It’s easy to get lost in the lust for changes and upgrades, when one is scrolling through the world wide web from the comfort of his/her couch. Out on the road though, only what works and what doesn’t that truly matters.
I’m happy to say that it was exactly what I found out with my Surly Midnight Special on this ride; even after a 500 km ride, I didn’t find a single thing that feels wrong, that needs changing, about the bike. If anything, I feel it was my own lack of finesse that limited the bike from reaching its full potential.
Fellow cyclists often asked (or questioned) about the bike’s 650b x 47mm tires, which seemed unnecessarily slow. Yet I never felt I was held back by the slick balloon tires during the ride. While it’s true that wider/heavier tires wouldn’t accelerate as quickly as narrower/lighter ones, they work just as fine at constant speed of ultracycling (note: it’s tire’s suppleness and tread that matter). On the other hand, wide tires provide tons of comfort, which is paramount on long rides. I remember I had a laugh when others slammed their brakes before a broken road segment, while I simply bombed through with abandon…
The second oft asked question was about the bike’s 1x gearing. Indeed, during flat road training—which involved maintaining specific heart rate and cadence value—the 11-46t wide-range cassette felt gappy. Yet during the 500k ride, I never even once wished I had a higher gear, a lower gear, or specific gearing combinations in-between; the gearing felt all natural, with nothing lacking…
I can’t say I wouldn’t change anything about the bike in the future. But knowing that the bike works perfectly as it is now, gives me comfort and confidence to ride further.
So… cheers for more cycling adventures to come!
Cycling Trip Stats:
- Distance: 506.6 km
- Total Ascent: 3,824 m
- Max Elevation: 878 m asl
- % Unpaved: 0%
- % Singletrack: 0%
- % Rideable time: 100%