Malaysia Fixie Scene

The blogging has been a little light on for the last two weeks, on account of me being in Malaysia for my annual holiday. While there I was keen to check out the local cycling scene. What I can tell you from my cursory look into the Malaysian bike scene is that there really isn’t one.

My first two days in KL I barely saw a bicycle of any description, except for one glimpse from a train of a guy riding an immaculately turned out fixie. That snatch of vision on the train is a hint to what might exist in Malaysia, because while there might not currently be any cycles or cycling done in Malaysia there is certainly an interest in it.

Below is a picture of the first two bikes I saw in Malaysia. I saw these guys at the Batu Caves, a location worth visiting even considering their dearth of fixies.

First two bikes seen in KL, three days in.

The thing that separates fixies from most other bikes is that fixies, and the image and scene that exists around them, are desirable. They’re a bit like an iPad really, you mightn’t know what you want to actually do with one but you want one anyway.

Taking the vintage thing too far…note the rod actuated front brakes and cotter pin cranks 
I’m told by the locals that bikes are becoming more popular in Malaysia due to the desirability of these bikes. The old clunkers shown above are typical of the kind of thing Malaysians have had on offer till recently. Mention Chinese-made bikes and these WWII era designs are what came to mind for many Malaysian. But there is a fresh wave of bikes coming out of China that are affordable and desirable. We know them well here in Oz, they’ve been driving a wave of bicycle interest for a couple years now. I have little doubt that companies like Mojo, Papillionaire and Jelly Bean are re-badging for our consumption bikes made in China. They knock out good bikes at good prices so the system’s working both for them and for us. And the same forces are at work in Malaysia. The thing is, in Malaysia there exists no bike culture at present, but there is a growing interest in this cool new fixie thing, and the price of entree into that community is the purchase of a fixie.
Fixie hipsters in Malacca.

Apart from the glimpse in KL the only other fixies I saw in Malaysia were the guys snapped above. I saw them twice while in Malacca, sadly never got a chance to chat with them but did snap the photo above as they cruised by. It’s interesting that in a country where I almost never saw any bikes ridden for pleasure there were these guys were cruising aimlessly on their fixies. around the central district of Malacca. Clearly the allure of being part of the fixie hipsterdom was a strong force for these guys. I’m sure anyone who saw these guys cruising on their fixies would would either badly want a fixie or be quite sure these guys are total wankers. Of course, in Malacca you need more than bright orange frames and multi-coloured  wheels to make a scene. Take a look at these guys:
A standard Malacca trishaw.
Cant leave Malacca without shot in a trishaw.
Down in Singapore there is more disposable income than in Malaysia. To give you an idea, the average yearly income in Singapore is above Australia (and we’re about 10th in the world) whereas Malaysians are progressing but still get by on about $300 per month on average. There still aren’t many bikes getting about on the streets of Singapore. It’s practically on the equator and with high humidity and a temperatures that rarely drop below 30C  you really can’t expect to ride a bike, ever, without arriving in a lather of sweat. There are miles and miles of underground malls in Singapore and air-con is almost ubiquitous. Singaporeans, or at least a large faction of them, seem to cope with the heat by pretending it doesn’t exist. They’re not going out doors for long and they’re certainly not exerting themselves while they’re out there.
You do see groups of lycra-clad cyclists riding featherweight carbon racing bikes. There’s a scene there for that. It wasn’t just an ex-pat scene either. Where they ride every day is a mystery to me. I can imagine that anyone who trains in Singapore for very long would get to know the island pretty well. It’s only about 50kms wide and 25 deep. Some days they must say to each other, “Righto chaps, we do one lap of our country today or two ?”
The almost all-pervasive consumer culture in Singapore isn’t kind to fringe or sub- cultures. You dont see any punks, goths, emos, skater boys, sufer dudes, metal heads or skinheads. Probably the only sub-culture that flourishes is the gamers. Singaporean society makes it hard for someone like skaters to flourish because it is so very hard to misbehave in Singapore. Even spitting, jaywalking and not giving up a seat for the elderly on the train are almost impossible to get away with. The idea of finding a curb and ripping it up for an hour or so is a distant and unlikely possibility. Likewise the kind of civil disobedience required to ride a fixie isn’t really possible. The fine for not walking your bike through certain walkways in Singapore is $1,000, and I’m not talking about some laneway in the central city, just general pedestrian areas around buildings and so forth. So that late night attack on an underground carpark could be a costly experience.

Having said that the image and desirability of the fixie is still there. Mostly it’s seen as a marketing tool, in the same way that so many people in Oz buy from surf outlets but never actually surf. (I see we have an MX range now. Can’t figure out what makes an MX t-shirt different from a surf one. Is it the cotton blend?) Krumpler is doing very well in Singapore, with at least two stores. More to the point Manhattan Portage. Krumpler seem to be selling based on design and quality whereas the Portage people definitely lean on the fixie thing (but I’m not disparaging their design and quality). One of the few fixies I saw in Singapore was in a Manhattanan Portage store with messenger bags draped artfully over it.

Manhattan Portage messenger bag

In the very cool and narrow Hadji Lane boutique designer shops line the street with Singapore’s only real taste of the cool and non-mainstream. Local designers are represented there and an eclectic mix of objects and clothes from overseas designers. It’s strictly girly shopping so I went back to Little India for a biryani while the girls shopped but I did later discover they had a Tokyo Bike shop there. 

Tokyo Bike SS

They were packing up the shop when I got there but I did get the manager to  answer a few short questions. They’ve only been open about 2 months but the manager was reasonably happy with bike sales to date. The Tokyo Bikes are beautifully finished and they have a small range of sensible but desirable city bikes, including the SS above. Tokyo Bike use a 650 size wheelset because they believe that gives them a bike that is better for first timers and city commuters, a nice compromise between the 26″ and the 700. There were some battle hardened test bikes there but my arrival wasn’t timely so I didn’t push for a ride of a bike that was so obviously being put away for the night. Both test bikes in the shop were well scratched, whether a sign that the lustrous Tokyo Bike paint job isn’t as good as it looks or just an indication that the local riders are a little inexperience and perhaps somewhat ham fisted I can’t tell. I’m leaning toward the latter without evidence mainly because the bikes looked so damned nice I just  want to believe it.

Photographing bikes is climbing to the heights of food photography. Not unusual to see a bike artfully posed these days. This model is one for the girls.

By far the most common bike in Singapore was the venerable Flying Pigeon. Wiki tells me that  Flying Pigeon dates back to the 1950s and most of the bikes on the street of Singapore looks like they’d rolled off the assembly line on day one of the factory opening. Hard to tell though because some of these Chinese bike manufacturers haven’t updated their designs in aeon’s. Below is a picture from the wiki entry. It’s shows a bike very typical of what I saw in Singapore, except without the rust and care-worn charm.

Is Flying Pigeon a good name for a bicycle? What about Walking Rat? Limping Lemur? Swimming Otter?

Lets hope the Malaysian and Singaporeans get into the fixie thing big time. For starters they’re never going to know how good it is till they give it a go. More importantly for us, we’ll have millions of consumers joining a competitive market to help drive down prices and make the unbelievably good fixie deals we get now even better. 

6 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Can’t help it. I sympathize your ignorant. My guess is that you did not really do your job while visiting Malaysia. Please go here, http://www.facebook.com/cyclingmalaysia. Look at the number. This is just a group of cyclists we have. The actual number of cyclists and bicycles is much more than this. Want to know the fixie scene, go to “album” and look for “Critical Mass”. I feel sorry to read your misleading article.

  2. Gold Coast Single Speed

    Thanks to anonymous for the link to the Facebook page. It’s good to see there’s an active cycling scene in Malaysia. I must say they reported the Tour de France every day in the Straits Times (something I was eternally grateful for, imagine going on holiday the one year an Australian wins the tour!) and sometimes reported their own cycling results. Particularly great to see some coverage on Fixies on the front of “Cycling Malaysia”. Here’s the thing though, when I go anywhere on the Gold Coast I see bikes and bike shops. When I’m in Melbourne fixies are like vermin. I doubt there are as many rats in the sewers as there are fixies on the streets of Melbourne.You see them everywhere. My experiences in Malaysia were quite different, so all I can say is that while there might be people riding bikes in Malaysia, and I’m sure there are, and I’m confident it’s growing, you don’t actually see them on the streets. For instance in the beautiful island of Penang with a population of 1.5million I never really saw anyone riding a bike. My first day there I saw only one bike, that one ridden by a guy in his 70s with his wife on the back. They looked pretty sweet riding along together. But they were singularly the only people I saw riding (not counting cyclos) that day.

    If anyone in Malaysia or anyone who has some experience cycling in Malaysia would like to add some more comments please feel free. Especially people who sympathize with my ignorance.

  3. Anthony & Sharon

    Hi! Stumbled upon your blog while searching for bikes in Malaysia.

    Both you and “Anonymous” are partly right – there are pockets of cyclists in Malaysia, particularly the island of Penang where not a day went by that I didn’t see a group of cyclists rambling about the island. It’s a great place for cycling – really great hills, beautiful scenery, and the whole island can be circled in a (long) day. But when I lived in Kuala Lumpur I rarely saw cyclists, and they are nearly non-existent in Johor Bahru where I now live.

    Cheers.

  4. Gold Coast Single Speed

    Thanks for your comments Anthony and/or Sharon. I didn’t get to see much of a bike scene in Penang but then again I didn’t see much of Penang. I was terrible sick while there (a bug I took with me from Oz) and stumbled around the island in my own personal fog. I rarely got beyond George Town. I’d love to re-trace my steps with better health and eat more of that island’s incredible food. Cycling and eating my way through Penang would be my ideal holiday. My time in George Town (and Singapore) have given me an abiding dislike of the local Indian food here on the Gold Coast, such was the quality of the Indian fare. The Malaysian food was generally excellent (whether Indian, Malaysian or Nonya or Portuguese/Malaysia or some other amazing combination) and I still start my day with a (slightly bastardized version of) nasi lemak.

    No doubt the truth does lie somewhere between my limited observations and the views of anonymous, which were no doubt polarized by my own remarks. It’s good to see there are passionate cyclists in Malaysia ready to defend their scene. I suspect a good bicycle is a more highly valued commodity in Malaysia than it is in Aus, where we can sometimes take things for granted. Cycling is the single best way to get about and anyone who owns a bicycle is okay by me, even when, or maybe especially when, they’re sympathizing with my ignorance. If more people could sympathize with my ignorance it would certainly make my work life more enjoyable.

  5. pao

    Hi James,

    I stumbled upon your blog when looking up information about fixies. I am probably a little late to comment on this post but I think I can understand your POV and also Anonymous’ POV as I am Malaysian and have been in Oz for a few years. First and foremost, I’m glad you had a good time in Singapore and Malaysia 🙂 I see that you’ve enjoyed the food there! That’s the most important thing I think 😉

    Well, onto the fixie/bike thing. Cycling on the roads in Malaysia is not very popular I think, because the roads and the mentality of its users are not cyclist friendly. Also, I think Malaysians and Singaporeans would prefer to travel in air conditioned comfort since you’d sweat buckets in that heat and I can’t imagine that smell in an office! I think we Malaysians have been conditioned to a certain lifestyle of comfort which has been closely associated to the air conditioner. Maybe 15 years back bicycles would’ve been more common (not fixies though) as cars would be more costly then. But since they’re more affordable now why would anyone want to sweat to travel to lunch with a friend?

    You are spot on about Singapore’s strictness. It is an offense to consume chewing gum! A very structured country, it is.

    While the biking scene in Malaysia may be active, I think the size of it is ofcourse, no where near what it is in Australia. It is a common mode of transport in Aus, but more of a hipster/enthusiast thing back in Malaysia. I would love for this scene to grow, but the mindset of the people has to change, if not we’re going no where. I intend to bring my fixie with me when I return..but I’m debating if the money spent will be worth it.

    Ps: Your comments about the heat in Singapore tickled me as that is *exactly* how I feel during winter when I see drunk people in minimal clothing prowling the streets.

    1. James Pollock

      Hi Pao. Thanks for your comments. It’s interesting to hear from the experiences of someone who lived there. I’m jealous of your access to amazing good. Returning to Australia from Malaysia and Singapore was something of a let down in terms of eating. It’s a pity because there are no two things that go together quite so well as cycling and eating.

      I hope the scene opens up in Malaysia but as you say the weather will always be working against it. I get a lot of hits from Malaysia though so the interest is there and will hopefully grow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.