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What Do You Do on a Bike Friday
Cycling North Sulawesi on a Bike Friday

I own and love, a New World Tourist fitted out with a Rohloff 14 speed hub. It’s been useful for in my effort to replace the use of the car. It’s been on a lot of trains (OK even in peak hour if folded) and out on plenty of shopping expeditions as well as local site seeing around South East Queensland (Australia) and a few organised rides around Brisbane. I really like the Rohloff hub as it makes the gears all neat and clean, but would really like one without the chain tensioner that increases the complexity more than seems necessary.

I’d climbed Mt Kilimanjaro to celebrate my 60th and was looking for a way to celebrate having reached 70 years in reasonable condition, when I spotted Colin Freestone’s Cycle Indonesia website. It seemed perfect as I had spent a lot of my final years of work travelling through Sulawesi but never had the time to look around as a tourist. I selected the North Sulawesi trip with 10 days cycling from Manado to Gorontalo,  as the timing fitted with my son Greg wanting to join in the fun. I set about some serious training in August 2011 for the trip starting in late January 2012. The Bike Friday took it OK but I had some misgivings as the local hill climbs did not seem to get any easier for a couple of months. Eventually I thought I would be OK for the Sulawesi ride.

Come January, we were fully committed so I bought the recommended Samsonite suitcase and practised packing the bike into it. No problems, and the weight sat neatly a couple of kg below the maximum allowed on the airlines. I flew from Brisbane to Melbourne to meet up with Greg and we flew Garuda, the Indonesian airline that gives free excess baggage for bicycles. Greg had a standard size bike in a special travel bag, but it was much more bulky and needed special collection at intermediate airports etc.
We arrived in Manado at about midnight and I was delighted to see Colin’s Bike Friday Gnu sitting up right out the front of the hotel looking as if it owned the place. The next day was reserved for introductions to the team of 6 riders, inductions and bike preparation. Not too long required for mine. It seemed to be in perfect condition after the long multiple flight segment trip, however on the test ride, I found the bell spring had been overstretched so it had to be replaced with a brand new Indonesian one. It’s impossible to ride in Indonesia without a bell. After the first day I realised I’d really have liked a claxon of some sort to compete with the variety of horns and musical devices on the local cars and motor bikes.

Setting off into the dense multi-type vehicle traffic held some fears for me. However cycling on Indonesian roads is so much more friendly than in - at least my part of - Australia. The smaller the vehicle the more priority it seems to get, and as long as we kept aware of what was happening around us we always seemed to be given room. Maybe the Bike Fridays had an advantage in this with the smaller wheels and nimbleness. The local people wherever we were, were very friendly and were apparently delighted to see us, as riding was one continuous greeting, shouts of joy or waves. Vehicle speeds rarely exceeded 40 km/hr and that was clearly an advantage for cyclists. Surfaces were mostly good but there were a few times when I wished for bigger diameter wheels. Some of the potholes (fortunately always avoided in my case) could swallow a 20 inch wheel with or without the chilli that was a feature of all our meals. We also met a few bone jarring rough surface sections and it was here I had my one instance of the chain jumping off. Removal of one link by our friendly trip mechanic increased the chain tension and it never happened again. Most of the derailleur fitted machines had continuing chain jumping.

700 km, several thousand cultural experiences, and several thousand metres of climb later we arrived at Gorontalo, our destination. We’d all found the going quite tough, particularly on the steep parts when the sun was out and shining brightly. We also had some tropical rainy days that were much appreciated and cooler, but dampened our enthusiasm for the downhill sweeps as well as rinsing the sweat from our clothes.
I think it is fair to say the two Bike Fridays were often to be found toward the back of the pack, particularly on the steep uphill parts, and there were a lot. I think it is also fair to point out the Fridays were ridden by the two oldest members of the team, probably by an average of 25 years.  By some trickery though, the New World Tourist and I managed to arrive first at our final destination.

Norm Morwood