Kuala Lumpur is a great destination for many things—the wide variety of local food, the amazing Petronas twin towers, the sights and many more. It is not the best place to be if you’re an avid cyclist.
The number of cyclists has grown in the last couple of years as more people recognize the health benefits of riding, without putting excessive strain on your body. It hasn’t reached the point where a lot of people ride to work, however.
Many people I have talked with cite the hot weather and the lack of showering/changing facilities in their offices. You’ll also be sharing the road with rush-hour traffic and high levels of carbon monoxide pollution from the cars and motorcycles.
The Malaysian government even created a dedicated cycling path in 2015—a 5.5km route linking Merdeka Square to Mid Valley, with plans for more routes—and made the first and third Sundays of every month car-free days in Kuala Lumpur city.
The car-free days are still effective now, but the bike path and plans for future routes seem to have disappeared. As at March 2017, the entrance to the bike path at Merdeka Square was closed for what the security guards there said were “construction works.”
It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever ride in the city or to neighboring areas. It just means you do so at higher risk—competing against four-wheeled vehicles for road space will not play to your advantage on a two-wheeler. Here are some of the options you currently have for cycling in KL.
You have those two days in the month when cyclists are allowed free roaming—technically, it’s a 7km predetermined route—around Kuala Lumpur city between 7 AM and 9 AM. Mind you, ‘car-free’ does not mean there are no cars at all. It just means that some roads are closed off for cyclists only, and some other essentials routes have to be shared by cars and cyclists.
One of the sponsors of the car-free days, OCBC Bank, also offers 140 bicycles for rent free of charge in case you’re interested in riding and don’t have a bike yet. You can continue cycling past 9 AM, but you’ll be back to sharing the roads with cars. The traffic is usually still light till around 10 AM, so it’s manageable.
You might want to try riding in the early hours of the day if two days in a month don’t seem like enough exercise for you—think 5 AM to 7 AM—before the traffic gets extra crazy and the suns gets out (if it does). I’ll recommend doing this, especially on weekends, as the traffic does not build up as early as on weekdays.
Riding in a group is safer than riding alone. Find a group that knows great routes around the city—I’m still looking for a group—and join them on rides. If you’re in or around Damansara Perdana, then you’ll want to check out Cyclery, they run the best cycling shop or group I’ve ever met—friendly and welcoming.
Cycling in KL: Head to a park
Several parks allow cyclists to ride around—mostly leisurely. If you have a car, just head to any of them and cycle. You can also get to the parks on a train. Train operators now allow cyclists to bring their bikes on board, with a few terms and conditions. Putrajaya is also a famous cycling destination. However, that’s out of the city and defeats the purpose.
Either way, if you want to get more out of cycling in Kuala Lumpur city (or to neighboring areas), plan your ride ahead. There are many websites and apps available to help with that. On the web, I use Strava and Map My Ride to plan and create my routes.
Just set them to avoid highways, and you may be able to go cross country on back roads alone. If you plan on riding inter-city, getting on a highway may be inevitable. The time spent on those will be limited to a minimum if you plan correctly.
On mobile, I use MAPS.ME and OsmAnd. If you already have a route planned and mapped out, upload the .gpx file to OsmAnd and it will give you directions to where you’re going. For days when you want to be adventurous, just set your destination on either of them and go. As with all GPS devices, always be cautious when following directions. Both apps are great but they have the tendency to create routes in closed and blocked roads, parks and private properties.
Make sure you follow road rules and regulations, have adequate lighting (especially rear lights) whether riding in the daytime or at night, have some money in case you get lost and need to hail an Uber or Grab back to civilization (happened to me), have spare tubes, water, and all the other necessities.
You’re ready. Go forth and discover Kuala Lumpur city. And let me know how it goes.