Avid cyclist Elena Mei Yun is carving a niche in the cycling tour industry.
(Pix courtesy of Elena Mei Yun)
Elena sees cycling as a great way to enjoy the surrounding area.
A diminutive figure, Elena Mei Yun is an expert at conquering the streets with her trusty bicycle.
The 29-year-old lass from Sabah runs Bike with Elena, a cycling tour series in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and selected towns outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Elena started cycling around the age of 8 when her father taught her to ride the bike for the first time.
“I like cycling because it makes me notice the small things along the way,” said Elena.
Her motivation to start her biking tours stems from her love of the simple life.
And indeed, the joys of simple living was what this writer experienced during the ‘Hidden Secrets of Sungai Janggut’ tour, one of the several packages on offer by Elena’s cycling outfit.
The tour, covering about 40 km in total, takes bike riders to small lanes, kampung houses, and areas rarely explored by the general populace.
With five of us in total, the group enjoyed the excursion immensely.
The party made a visit to a morning market, a small sundry shop, a traditional house of an elderly Malay couple and enjoyed a claypot asam pedas (hot and sour gravy dish) lunch.
Elena is seen here with a ‘host’ during the Sungai Janggut ride.
“Unplanned discoveries, events or people you meet along the way make the journey so much more interesting and memorable. For example (in a previous trip along the same route), our group stumbled upon a village wedding and got invited as guests. My group included some Germans and we were invited to stir the big kuali (giant wok), and try various Malay kuih (cakes) and sweets. We even got to renjis (traditionally bless) the bride and bridegroom,” said Elena with a light in her eyes.
Bike with Elena cycling tours were first established in April last year (2016).
A modest outfit, there are about 4 to 5 freelance guides working for her at this point in time.
Prior to setting up the tours, Elena was a researcher who cycled to the University of Malaya from her home in Petaling Jaya. She decided to cycle 10 km a day rather than get stuck in traffic.
Enjoy local grubs such as this ‘asam pedas’ when you go on a cycling tour with Elena.
“I made this my daily routine, and the inspiration for my bicycle tour business came to me during the day-to-day commute.”
“As I was cycling I encountered lots of potholes on the roads. I got to thinking that the only way to improve the infrastructure is when there is money to be earned or return of investment through the use of the infrastructure.”
Elena’s initiative helps make Klang Valley a more exciting place for tourists to explore. As of now, foreigners comprise the bulk of Elena’s customers, and the most popular tour is ‘Hidden Secrets of Kuala Lumpur’.
The tours, of which Elena acts as a head guide, comprise a maximum of 6 cyclists and are conducted based on the number of sign-ups. “Sometimes the tours happen twice a week and sometimes none at all,” she admitted.
Cycling off the beaten path is a fun way to enjoy sightseeing.
Advertising and promotion, coupled with the maintenance of bicycles, comprise the bulk of her company’s expenses.
To set up a cycling tour business takes love and commitment.
“You must love what you do. There are days when it gets hectic and days when it is quiet. You’ve got to weather the storm and keep pedalling even though people tell you it is not worth it. Only then will you know you are heading the right way.”
Changing the perception of riders, mostly tourists, marks the most challenging part of organizing the trips.
Cycling is safe as long as traffic rules are observed.
“People tell tourists it is dangerous to cycle in KL. To me, the moment you step out of your house you’re already taking a risk. If you cycle slowly and be aware of your surroundings, you would be able to enjoy your ride. It is people’s mindset and a matter of perspective. People have to see cycling as a fixture of everyday life, not a sporting event,” said Elena.
Elena also highlighted the conflicting government policies on sustainable management of the city.
“How do you cope with that and bike tourism? Lack of infrastructure and smart mobility is always an issue with any country. The city will be liveable only if cycling is incorporated into government policies and integrated with public transportation. When cycling is accepted in our mindset as part and parcel of public transport, then it will be safe and a joy to cycle around the city.”
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