The main highways in Malaysia are often filled with motorbikes, cars with barely-there lanes for bicycles. Heat is a mainstay in Malaysians lives - we spend all our time in cool places such as shopping malls, and rarely can imagine working up a sweat to cycle in the Malaysian unforgiving heat - the eternal struggle of every local over here.
But let me tell you that cycling in Malaysia is possible - the parks don’t count as it is not as fun as climbing pure stretches of asphalt and stopping every now and then to cool with a sweet cup of ‘Teh Tarik’ and a plate of Nasi Lemak and Roti Canai. I have not even covered all the places in Malaysia, and as someone who is fairly new to bicycle touring and cycling (2 years in), I will continue updating this list as we go along.
But for now, let me walk you through the uphill and downhill pursuits of cycling in a tropical country like Malaysia.
Cool cycling routes from Kuala Lumpur, the city centre
#1 Bukit Tunku
Amidst the concrete jungle in Malaysia, there are places to cycle in Kuala Lumpur even if that involves cycling in a posh neighbourhood, with large sprawling estates and green foliage in the backyard.
Bukit Tunku, also known as “The Beverly Hills of Kuala Lumpur” is a quick favourite for many urbanites in Malaysia and weekend cyclists to come together. We are used to the city heat and it comes as a blessing to be able to find green breaks in Kuala Lumpur. The ride to Bukit Tunku is not steep (average 3% gradient) and it gives you a taste of cycling in Malaysia.
This ascend gradually connects to Jalan Duta, Mont Kiara and Segambut as well as Dataran Merdeka, Bank Negara, Mont Kiara and Chow Kit. Start your climb at Sekolah Indonesia in Bukit Tunku and make your way to the familiar routes of Bukit Tunku.
On your way down, stop at the neighbourhood’s favourite cafe called Kenny Hills Bakers. They’re known for their warm baked goods and cafe lattes.
#2 Batu 18 Hulu Langat
You can live all your life in Kuala Lumpur and not know about the hideaway trails nestled far away from Kuala Lumpur’s hustle and bustle. It was only through cycling that I discovered these trails and it has quickly become a known trail for cyclists to convene and start their weekend rides in Hulu Langat.
A 40 minute drive from Kuala Lumpur will take you to Batu 18 Hulu Langat, just 30km from the city centre. You can park your car around Batu 18 police station and you’ll see a lot of cyclists in these areas. It is the perfect slow and gentle ride to visit the Kampung life in Hulu Langat. Riding past clucking chickens, the morning breeze and the nippy mountain air will transport you to the innocence of the countryside.
After your 9km gentle ride, you’ll arive at a T-junction where you can choose to ride uphill to Genting Peres on the left which takes you to the border between Selangor and Negeri Sembilan or opt for a gentle ride to Semenyih Lake on the right and onwards towards Sungai Tekala, a recreational picnic site. It is particularly exciting to roll down the hills on your way down from Genting Peres after a hard climb. It can be pretty hot by the time you reach the dam, so my only suggestion is for you to start earlier as it can easily take half a day to complete your ride, if you’re slow like me.
On your way down, indulge in some local kuih at the infamous Bahulu Clasiq cafe - their nasi lemak, local teh tarik and kuih is the perfect kind of delectable after a sweaty day out.
#3 Genting Sempah
If visiting the cool Genting Highlands of Malaysia is somewhere down on your list, the journey to Genting Sempah might be a better activity as you get to reach the foothills of the highlands on a two-wheeler, pause and see KL from a different viewpoint.
A famous route among cyclists, Genting Sempah is known as the ultimate training ride before attempting any other challenging terrains in Klang Valley. The entire stretch is 17km long and starts from Hospital Orang Asli Gombak, Jalan Gombak right up to R&R Genting Sempah, the mountain pass on the border of Pahang and Selangor state in Malaysia.
It is often used as an alternative route to get to Janda Baik, Bentong and Bukit Tinggi. The entire path is shaded and you won’t feel the heat as much as cycling on the open roads, but you’ll be sharing the road with other cars and trucks but it is often not busy in the morning. The gradients starts at 3% but there are few short stretches where it reaches up to 10% and 12%.
#3 Fraser Hill
Situated in Pahang and once a colonial hill station by the former British colonial forces, Fraser Hill remains a highland resort for many Malaysians who want a taste of scones and British tea surrounded by greenary. It was discovered in the 1890s by the British who loved these lowlands and how it provided a welcome respite from the heat.
The cherry on the cake is the road that they built and turned it into a haven for cyclists. I visited Fraser Hill recently and went here on my birthday ride - it was one of the best rides that I had done. You can drive from Kuala lumpur and park your car at Fraser Hill Curry House.
Starting off, you pass by Kuala Khubu dam and slowly ascent to a gradual 40km climb which snakes through Malaysia’s rainforest. The theory of slow travel is best applied here where you feel unhurried and take time to notice the critters, and monkeys climbing from one tree to another.
There’s no traffic on the roads and the path leading to Fraser Hill is a one-way road. The long arduous climb ends at The Gap before you take on another crazy grueling climb where the last 8km gradient is atleast 12%. I didn’t make it to the top but with enough breaks, it is absolutely doable to persevere and reach your final destination.
Cycling in Penang
There’s the beaches, the George town heritage trail, the awesome food and the multi-cultural part of Penang that makes this the perfect place to cycle in Malaysia. Currently in the works are the government’s masterplan to create a cycling lane along Penang’s coastal fringes - but while that’s in the process, other cyclists have found ways to incorporate various routes to explore this island on a two-wheeler. Most of the routes begin from Penang esplanade and there are countless routes that will take you past the city’s colonial past.
Cycling in Perak (Taiping and Ipoh)
Much has been said about Ipoh’s white coffee and about Taiping’s century old rain-trees, but not many have cycled past Perak’s charming old tin-mining towns. The best rides are the city rides; probably best done in the morning or evening to avoid the insane heat.
In Ipoh, traverse down Ipoh’s concubine lane and the Kinta riverside where you’ll see the stark contrast between the old and new Ipoh.
And in Taiping, grab your bicycle and visit Taiping’s iconic Lake Gardens filled with glorious 100-year-old raintrees. It is also known as as one of the top three sustainable destinations in the world.
Where to rent bicycles in Malaysia?
There are couple of places where you can rent your bicycles from in Kuala Lumpur as your starting point - but if you’re here for a long period of time, I suggest purchasing it from bicyclebuysell and selling it off at a later point. If you’re in need of a car rental service so you can drive independently to all these places, have a look at Socar.my; rates are at about RM8 (approx USD2) per hour.
The Basikal, Bangsar: Probably a decent place to rent a bicycle for a quick ride out in the city or for a few days / weeks.
Foresttrek Cycle Centre: A bit far from the city but you have the full range of bicycle services over here.
2Escape / USJ cycles: If you already have bicycles, and need some fixing or bike repairs - these shops have the widest variety of gears, accessories and services.
The advice that I would give to fellow adventure-seekers: just do it. I know it might sound crazy, and the heat might be off-putting but these cool places to cycle in Malaysia can be quite an eye-opening experience. You’ll pass by forgotten towns, see things that is not possible to see in a fast-moving vehicle and embrace the tropical surroundings.
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