Friday, July 5, 2019

Penang : Penang International Bridge To Bridge Ride

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                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Penang : The Penang International Bridge To Bridge Ride
Penang : Sunday, 30th June 2019
Public Ride Event: Queensbay>1st  Penang Bridge>Prai>Bukit Tengah>Juru>Bandar Cassia>Batu Kawan>2nd Penang Bridge>Bayan Lepas>Queensbay.
Distance: 69.0 km.                   |                    Level: Medium
Time Start : 6:30 am   Time End : 11:15 am (inclg. stops for checkpoints, rests, photos at the bridges & toll plaza etc.)
Duration : approx 4 hrs. 45 mins.

Route Recommendations :
(Please note that cycling is not normally allowed on the bridges and tolled highways)
1. The route goes along several highways and the two Penang bridges which were closed for traffic during the event. On the Butterworth side, it avoided the highway and went onto rural roads, and then onto newer roads of the newer housing development like Bandar Cassia and Utropolis.
2. Good photo opportunities at the main tower spans of both bridges and the 2nd Penang Bridge toll plaza.
3. On the return trip, there are good photo opportunities at the section near Pulau Aman, where nearby are fish rearing farms in the sea; and low-flying planes taking off or landing near the Penang International Airport at Bayan Lepas.
Note: Top-most photo credit: Eng Cheong.



PRELUDE

At the main tower span of the 2nd Penang Bridge during the 2nd Penang Bridge Merdeka Ride eventthe first cycling event crossing any of the Penang bridges.
Every once in a while comes an event that one should not miss, as it gives an opportunity to cycle at a place that is often not opened to cyclists. Five years ago came the 2nd Penang Bridge Merdeka Ride event, the first event on any of the Penang bridges - one of cycling on the newly opened 2nd Penang Bridge, (officially called the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge). Since then there has been several cycling events on this 2nd Penang Bridge.
Fast forward to the present, G Club of Penang together with the Penang State Government has coordinated with the Malaysian Federal Government (or more precisely, with the Malaysian Highway Authorityy) to present an even more attractive event - cycling across both the Penang bridges!

Because of the limited time frame for which the bridges can be closed to other road users, the event was only opened to 3,000 participants. Not wanting to miss the boat, quickly, many of us registered early. This time only participants wearing the event jersey would be allowed onto the bridges, strict measures were taken to ensure that no ghost riders would slip in. As such, the couple of weeks prior to the event saw an online market of trading of event bibs spots. Those who had registered and could not make it selling of the spot to those who were too late to register!
With it's UNESCO HERITAGE charm and it's good food (Penang has been named one of the best places in the world to eat by several international publications), Penang is a place that attracts tourists like bees are attracted to honey. Naturally, we went up a couple of days earlier to enjoy it's old colonial charm and savour the good food; we were not the only one as on our drive up we saw several pick-up trucks loaded with bicycle making a bee-line for the state.

THE RIDE

The route starts from Queensbay on Penang Island, goes along the Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu Expressway (TDLCEE) to cut onto the 1st  Penang Bridge. Landing on the Butterworth mainland side, it goes onto local roads running parallel to the North-South Highway near Bukit Tengah before turning into quieter rustic roads at Juru West and Bukit Tambun West. At Bandar Cassia in Batu Kawan, it wove back onto dual carriageways and then went on the newer roads of Utropolis before getting onto the 2nd Penang Bridge to head back towards the island. Back on Penang Island, it was onto the elevated section of the TDLCEE passing through the industrial areas of Bayan Lepas before ending back at Queensbay.
Cycling Distance: 69.0 km.                   |                    Level: Medium
(Note: this is a public event, both the bridges and major parts of the busy main roads and highways were closed to other road users. Cycling is not usually allowed on the bridges).

6:30am - Flag off at Queensbay.
We had arrived about 20 minutes earlier, cycling from our parked car at Krystal Point. The roads at Persiaran Bayan Indah were packed full of cyclists, all wearing the same jersey but somehow despite the uniformity we managed to recognize friends and called out to each other. It was a slow roll-off, imagine 3,000 cyclists heading to the start-off arch - but all was okay as within fifteen minutes of queueing and everyone had crossed the start arch and were off onto a smooth ride.....

As I rolled passed the flag-off podium, I saw Dr. Lim (one of the organizers) and just had to go say hello to him. I slowly edge my way through the crowd towards him, seeing me, he pulled me up to the podium, and introduced me to, YB Chow Kon Yeow, the Chief Minister of Penang (who was flagging off the cyclists). This is the second time I am shaking hands with him, the first time was at the launch of the Penang Island North Coast Cycling Lanes. I must say that he is a humble and soft-spoken VIP.

Shortly ahead, near Jalan Batu Uban 4, just before the ramp going up to the 1st  Penang Bridge, another bottle neck. This time it's a queue to get pass the officials who are checking to ensure that only those wearing the official jerseys were allowed through. I saw a couple on a tandem, only the front cyclist was wearing the jersey. I wondered whether they were let through? Later I heard that after some delay they were allowed in.
Well, inching towards the checkpoint was a good time to look around and try to catch friends attending this event too. I caught sight of Patrick Teoh (the Voice) and other friends.
Here too, the organizers ensured that only those wearing helmets were let through. I was wearing a soft cap but fortunately had brought my Spin foldable helmets from Taiwan along and quickly wore it. A friend totally forgot his helmet and the poor fellow was turned away.

7:15am - We were onto the bridge proper and it was devoid of cars, motorcycles and other motorized traffic. Yahoo!
On both sides was the sea but we could not see faraway as it was a hazy morning.
Opened in 1985, this 13.5-kilometre dual carriageway toll bridge connects Perai on the mainland side of the state with Gelugor on the island, crossing the Penang Strait. The bridge was the first and, until 2014, the only road connection between the peninsula and the island. The bridge is the second-longest bridge in Malaysia and the fifth-longest in Southeast Asia by total length, with a length over water of 8.4 kilometres. Before 1985, transportation between the island and the mainland was dependent solely on the state-owned Penang Ferry Service that runs between Butterworth and George Town.

Fifteen minutes later we rode up the ramp onto the centre span of the bridge; it's towers looming high above us and the cable-stays reaching down like a spider's web to grab onto the arms of the bridge.
Then a point struck me.... Hey! This IS the first time that people are cycling on this bridge.... AND Hey! I am one of them 😁😁😁.

Here, many stopped to have commemorative photos taken .....

..... while others just relaxed and let the moment sink in.

We rolled down as the bridge swung left towards Perai, it's stilted legs standing firmly anchored in the sea.

We were now on a good, comfortable rhythm and I looked around to observe my fellow cyclists. Some came looking very good in attractive colourful bicycles..... yes, that's a way to make one stand out among the uniform crowd .....

Others wore colourful helmets, or even helmets with cable-tie plastic feelers. This fellow went on step better, had a "wig" over his helmet.

And this lady seem to be out for a casual Sunday ride. When I asked whether it was nasi lemak in the box on the rear rack, she just laughed out.

We came in all sorts of bicycles - mamachan bikes, racers, mountain bikes, road bikes, tandems and even these tiny wheeled Bromptons.

Down below, a coast-guard speed boat seemed to be chugging along parallel to the bridge, perhaps they were there just in case anybody fell off.

Even at this early juncture, there were casualties - several bicycles had punctures, some had gear problems, etc.
7:45am - we rode in the opposite direction pass the toll plazas that led to the 1st  Penang Bridge; it was an uncanny feeling as usually one would be driving pass this place.

But instead of going onto the North-South Highway, we went up and down a ramp that led us to Jalan Perushaan, a road that ran parallel to the highway. Although not a highway, it was a busy road too. This was at the Bukit Tambun area, a place renown for good seafood.

But the organizers had planned the route well, at Juru we veered off that busy local road and was onto much quieter rural roads.

But soon we were back onto dual carriageways at Bandar Cassia. Although the roads here were wide, they were light in traffic, perhaps it was because it's a Sunday.

Here I met this lady; she and a big bunch of her buddies had booked a bus at RM300 per pax to come all the way from Kajang to attend this event. "Isn't RM300 a bit pricey," I asked. "No, we are having the bus for three days, other then attending the event, it's taking us around for sight-seeing and food trips!" "Wow!"
I think  bus-loads of Singaporeans came up too.

Soon we found ourselves within Utropolis, it's an area newly developed by the main sponsors of the event, Paramount Corporation. Ahead we stopped at KDU Penang University College (a subsidiary of Paramount Corporation). This was the official rest and watering stopped. The college staff helped topped up our water, and gave us complimentary bananas. We on our part did our toilet duties at several temporary toilets lining at the car-park; better do it now as there were no toilets on the bridges 😵.

The late morning hot weather was taking it's toll on many of us. On top of the heat, a couple of steep ramps really pushed some to their limits, and we started seeing people suffering from leg cramps.

Many of us just had to stop at the toll plaza leading to the 2nd Penang Bridge. It's another opportunity not to be missed; when again can one have such a photo taken in front of the toll gates devoid of any cars!
Here I am looking very good in the event jersey.... but I am not the only one looking good, the design of the jersey made everyone look good, looking like they had perfect V-shaped bodies.

As we continued, me as usual, with my casual cycling and much photographing was somewhere at the rear of the pack. Two pickup trucks drove by, these were the "sweeper" trucks. From one of the trucks, Dr. Lim was shouting out, encouraging the stragglers to speed up towards the 2nd Penang Bridge as it would soon be opened to the public.
He saw me and hailed, "Jo, be quick otherwise it's up the truck!"

Sure enough not far behind were the sweeper trucks. Due to the restricted amount of time that the bridges were kept opened for us there was a cut off time; anyone who can't make it to the 2nd Bridge or finish cycling on it within the cut-off time were promptly invited up these trucks (provided by Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang, the Penang Island City Council). Already, there were many up in the trucks - most of them were casualty of cramps or tiredness. I cycled furiously (which is not that fast for an old man like me 😆) to stay ahead of those "evil" trucks!

9:50am - We're on the 2nd Penang Bridge, neon signs indicated that both this and the first bridge would be closed for traffic! Great! We have this bridge all to ourselves... for the time being anyway.

The 2nd Penang Bridge is a much longer bridge, on plan view, it is not a straight bridge but weaves through several bends. As such from one end it was possible to see it bending left towards Penang Island..
Opened in March 2014. it is officially known as the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, it connects Bandar Cassia (Batu Kawan) in Seberang Perai on mainland Peninsular Malaysia with Batu Maung on Penang Island. It is the second bridge to link the island to the mainland after the first Penang BridgeThe total length of the bridge is 24 km with length over water at 16.9 km, making it the longest bridge in Malaysia and also the longest in Southeast Asia.

On the sea towards the left of the bridge were many floating fish farms, their numbers seems to be increasing year by year, and now they dot far away into the sea. These aquaculture fish farms breed tiger groupers, kelong prawns, other fishes and even lobsters are in the pipeline.

It's the hot season now, and although it was just 10:00am, the sun was shining brightly down on us - these two smart cyclists stop for a rest, squeezing themselves into the little shade provided by the concrete road median divider.

Others, especially the ladies, just covered themselves up with face masks, arm and leg sleeves. This lady had hardly any part of herself exposed to the sun, only the tip of her fingers saw the sun 😄!

Fortunately for us, a strong tail wind helped us along this long unshaded bridge. Often the wind-socks were being blown horizontally. This was unlike the previous day when strong crosswinds lashed onto cars, making them veer to one side.

10:40am - Another photo stop, at the tower span of the second bridge. For Goofy (my bike), it seems the sky seems to be the limit.
For some reason, this tower span was not at the middle of the bridge but was closer to the island, about two kilometers from it's shore. This south-eastern part of the Penang Strait is rather shallow (often just 1 to 3 meters deep near the bridge); perhaps the water is deepest where the tower span is.

After that it was a smooth coasting down towards the island; ahead of us the many new high-rise buildings at Bayan Lepas indicated the booming economy of the state.

The smart cyclists (who had taken shady refuge at the median) had caught up with me. On their helmets they were flying their state flags. Hey! They are from Johor. I could recognize the flag as I had just cycled there a few months ago.

Back on the island, we were cycling on the elevated Bayan Lepas section of the TDLCEE. Normally I would cycle at the parallel roads running below this elevated highway as this highway usually have fast zooming traffic. Today it's closed just for us 👍.

The elevated highway gives a great view of the surrounding area; looking down at the crossing over Sungai Ara near it's mouth, can be seen many private piers with fishing and tour boats. This looks like an interesting place, I will definitely have to find someway to go inside and explore this river side in the future!

And a roar from above had me stretching my neck to see this plane flying overhead, it had taken off from the nearby Penang International Airport at Bayan Lepas.

11:15am - Almost five hours after the start, and with an loop around the Queensbay commercial precinct, we ended at the START/FINISH arch. I had been slow, and others having finished earlier, had already collected their finishers' medals and other goodies, had taken their nice briyani curry rice, and were now busy snapping unforgettable photos of themselves.

KUDOS, EVERYONE.
GIVE YOURSELVES A PAT,
YOU HAD JUST COMPLETED A UNIQUE RIDE
ACROSS BOTH THE PENANG BRIDGES!

(For more photos of the dayClick Here)
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