Roads to Ride: Genting Highlands

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

If there was ever a bike race with the wrong name it’s the Tour de Langkawi. Langkawi is an archipelago off the coast of Malaysia and the bike race normally visits the largest island for one stage before touring the mainland for the next 10 days. It’s the equivalent of a Tour of Corsica that rides around mainland France.

The race is usually decided by finish to the Genting Highlands, a name that’s famous with cyclists as a summit finish but for everyone else, an Asian mix of Disneyland, Alpe d’Huez and tropical humidity.

The Route
There are several ways to the top but this is the classic route starting from Gombak, 15km north of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and to the east of Selayang. Federal Route 68 heads north-east. At Genting Sempah the road to the Genting Highlands is on the left but you must ride on before doubling back and then follow the signs the for Genting Highlands with the road heading north. Continue until the large Goh Tong Jaya roundabout and follow more signs for Genting Highlands. Some reports say the gradient reaches 25% but that’s only on the inside of some tight bends, otherwise it is a tough 10% but not insurmountable.

The Feel
Some climbs are hard because of their gradient but there was an effort involved before riding just to work out the best route. You don’t need to be a mountain guide to find the Galibier but Genting offers a variety of routes. Even selecting the classic Tour de Langkawai approach leaves choices because there’s a tarmac palimpsest of overlapping roads, an elevated expressway and a winding road below. Avoid the Karak Highway, an express route.

Once the route is picked and the directions memorised the start is easy. It’s a scenic old rode from British colonial times and the traffic still drives on the left. In order to travel and exploit resources the Brits built a network of roads and you begin on the old road with with most of the traffic siphoned away by the newer Karak Express which snakes over the road at times. You can hear and smell the traffic rumbling overhead on its engineered road while you take a simpler way up.

It’s quiet. The tidy verges have kids dressed in European soccer shirts playing on rusty MTBs, presumably corroded by the steamy hot weather. Monkeys scavenge along the road, is it wrong to gift them a chunk of food from your pocket? Then again there are so many banana trees growing wild you needn’t bother. The vegetation is lush and dense. The gradient is relaxed, 3-4% for a lot of the way here.

After Genting Sempah – where the profile above starts – the road changes. Gone is the winding road, goodbye colonial legacy and hello 21st century Malaysia. You navigate huge junctions and select the multi-lane highway with a 10% gradient that’s loaded with traffic. The air is full of fumes from trucks and comfy aircon coaches labelled Bas Ekspres ferry tourists uphill. There’s not much room for the cyclist, a coach going uphill has to pass you and stick out into the second lane and if the drivers are courteous there’s just not much room on the road. There’s a downhill section soon after.

Brit-style buildings mark the start of the final 10km road to the top (via Flickr’s Farhan)

After the large Goh Tong Jaya roundabout you turn right for the final part of the climb and to the Genting Highlands proper, passing a checkpoint with a colonial vibe thanks to its wooden timber frame. Still almost 10km to go and a steady 10-12% gradient that’s hard going but worse, you’re buzzed by traffic. A lower gear, a lighter bike? No, I wanted narrower handlebars here as the passing traffic was making my shoulders involuntarily hunched together as if to leave more room for passing vehicles. There’s room for the cyclist at times with a small side lane but be prepared to share this with other two-wheelers from wheezing scooters to whizzing superbikes and it often gets too narrow to use. There are some steep hairpins here but they’re wide – Gulliver does Alpe d’Huez – but the traffic can pin you into the inside, forcing you to take the steepest line meaning an awkward 20% or more.

Sunshine on a cloudy day (Photo via Flickr’s Andersondotcom)

Arriving at the Genting Highlands is confusing and dazing and the psychedelic Hotel First World dominates. Once the world’s largest hotel it is the place to head towards but it gets a bit like Alpe d’Huez as once you’ve done the climb proper navigating your way through the resort to any “finish line” is anti-climatic. There’s now a wide choice of roads to take. Also just as the Alpe has ski lifts, the Genting Highlands can be accessed by a cable car and there are rail upon rail of rollercoaster rides around.

Overall it’s a hard climb that’s steep and long, comparable to a pass in the Alps by the metrics. But this is more Lautaret than Alpe d’Huez, a superhighway rather than a remote pass. This isn’t the most pleasurable of rides, the start is great but there’s heavy traffic higher up. Sartre wrote “l’enfer, c’est les autres“, that hell is other people. You don’t want to knock everyone else heading up the hill to enjoy themselves and in riding yourself you add to the traffic, but this is a crowded place that can’t be ridden every day nor at anytime.

The History
The Tour de Langkawi has run for 19 years now and with 2014 race it has climbed up to Genting Highlands 18 times. Compare that to just 13 visits to Langkawi and perhaps the Tour de Genting is a more fitting name?

Local climb
Cycling’s far from the national sport in Malaysia but I saw a good number of people out for a ride and the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, “KL” to the locals, had posters up for an urban cycling event in downtown KL as the government wants to get more people riding to counter pollution and traffic snarls.

The overdevelopment at the top is remarkable but the climb itself is more scenic and the beauty of this climb is its proximity to KL. I can’t think of another national capital so close to a big climb like this; at least with links to a pro race. The Vuelta uses mountains not far from Madrid and inland from Rome are some great roads of the Giro but none begin from the city suburbs. This means KL offers a substantial climb within a short ride.

The theme-park aspect means it is a tourist destination but there are other things to do in the area. Alternatively head for the Cameron Highlands further north which offer more climbing, a greater variety of roads and less traffic overall.

Road You Can’t Ride?
There’s been a recent grizzly bus crash and one article says a safety review by the police means cyclists can no longer ride here. I’ve only read one report so don’t know if this is confirmed and an email to the resort has yet to get a reply.

Part I – Alpe d’Huez
Part II – The Ghisallo
Part III – Mont Ventoux
Part IV – Col de la Madone
Part V – Col du Soulor
Part VI – Passo Dello Stelvio
Part VII – Mont Aigoual
Part VIII – Col de la République
Part IX – Croce d’Aune
Part X – Strade Bianche
Part XI – Col d’Eze
Part XII – The Poggio
Part XIII – Arenberg Cobbles
Part XIV – Col du Tourmalet
Part XV – Côte de La Redoute
Part XVI – Col du Pin Bouchain
Part XVII – Puy de Dôme
Part XVIII – La Planche des Belles Filles
Part XIX – Col du Lautaret
Part XX – Col du Palaquit
Part XXI – Champs Elysées
Part XXII: The Col du Galibier
Part XXIII: The Lacets de Montvernier
Part XXIV: Hautacam
Part XXV: The Schelde Bike Path
Part XXVI: Col de Marie-Blanque
Part XXVII: Jebel Al Akhdar
Part XXVIII: Genting Highlands

Micky D March 4, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Thank you for the write up on my local climb. It is indeed a luxury to have one of the worlds toughest climbs at your doorstep but it is a shame it is not regularly accessible. I can confirm the owner/operator of the Genting Resort has been stopping cyclists from continuing past the guard house since mid 2012 apparently citing safety concerns but they make a special exception for the TDL stage and have also allowed the odd organised group up with prior permission. As you note, the top half is not terribly enjoyable due to the traffic. It is like going to the gym to do leg presses for an hour and having to listen to bad music. However, not having full access to Genting doesn’t seem to bother the locals much as there are plenty of other options around KL that have little traffic and meander through the tropical jungle.

Joe K. March 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Ah hah! INRNG, by posting this write-up at this time concurrent with the Tour de Langkawi, could it be that you are giving us a clue as to your identity–perhaps a member of the press corps, perhaps journalist reporting on-site at the event? Oh, how you tease us!

Francisco March 4, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Anonymity helps define the voice and range of this blog. Let’s not ruin a good thing.

will March 4, 2014 at 9:19 pm

indeed. best cycling blog

Fletch March 4, 2014 at 9:22 pm

He says when he did it the traffic was bad so that says the road wasn’t closed for the race. But you can’t ride up at the moment due to safety fears.

So that says to me the ride was done some time ago but the post timed to coincide with the race when peoples interest is peaked.

Better sleuthing next time!

SPJ March 5, 2014 at 10:12 am

“the post timed to coincide with the race when peoples interest is peaked”

+1, the man (or woman) is no fool.

The Inner Ring March 5, 2014 at 11:20 am

It was an effort to make it relevant. The next instalment will be about Mont Brouilly, the final climb of Stage 4 on Paris-Nice:

Shawn March 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm

The profile is almost as colorful as that resort hotel!

Will A March 4, 2014 at 6:37 pm

“I can’t think of another national capital so close to a big climb like this; at least with links to a pro race.”

Bogota?

The Inner Ring March 4, 2014 at 8:19 pm

What’s the race? There is the national tour in Colombia but it’s not a big pro race and sadly has a lowly status on the UCI calendar.

Chris March 4, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Near Bogotá, there’s the Alto del Vino. Not sure how often it’s been used in a race, but I think it’s the second longest climb in Colombia (~40 km at 5.15%). The odd thing with this climb is that it goes *up* towards Bogotá before descending for a bit into the plateau where the city is located. The climb from Bogotá towards El Vino is significantly less impressive but very popular with the local cyclists

http://altimetriascolombia.blogspot.com/2011/08/alto-del-vino-desde-la-vega-la-sabana.html

will March 4, 2014 at 9:18 pm

wow, great stuff. thanks

One day ….. ;)

Panda March 4, 2014 at 10:21 pm

By coincidence (?) yesterday SBS put up a blog on the same ride but notes that, as Micky D says, you will get turned back by security at the checkpoint without special authorisation.
http://www.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/steve-thomas/blog/128800/getting-up-genting

Bundle March 4, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Nice story. One of the best of this series, I think.

RayLai March 5, 2014 at 4:33 am

They only allow cyclists to go up once a year, on the day of the Tour de Langkawi. On other days the climb from Gohtong Jaya to Genting Highlands is closed and the police manning the station will stop you. This is probably due to the traffic as mentioned by the author as there is 24 hr traffic up frequenting the casino.

The descent is the most dangerous part of the entire ride and thoroughly not recommended for any cyclist.

The 2014 Tour de Langkawi riders rode up the descent (the road splits into 2 one way roads, with the ascent having better views and a more meandering route) which seemed steeper and with multiple switchbacks. I definitely prefer the ascent.

Adrian March 5, 2014 at 7:47 am

A climb very close to my heart! I lived in KL in ’97 and ’04 to ’08 and tackled this climb from the Jalan Genting Lama (Old Genting Road) side many times and even took the time to produce the climbbybike profile used in this article as a way of recording my memories! I recall many characteristics of this climb that European climbs will certainly not offer such as the noise from the roadside jungle, the occasional snake, high humidity, fallen trees on the descent following a tropical storm, the Chinese pagoda near the summit. One of the only times I ever felt cold in Malaysia was on a rainy descent from Genting!

Another tough yet beautiful climb in Malaysia is Frasers Hill – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraser's_Hill – this can be tackled in a days ride from KL and is more pleasant than Genting all the way up from either direction.

Nick March 5, 2014 at 10:17 am

“still” drive on the left? That’s normal in SE Asia, including in such noted former British colonies as Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. Perhaps you meant “not having been ruled by the French or a Communist dictatorship, they naturally don’t drive on the right”?

azj March 5, 2014 at 11:17 am

Why le tour de langkawi ? Not le tour the malaysia… malaysia already have jelajah malaysia. Uci 2.2 . The race initially a way to promote langkawi and malaysia… and a lot of foreigner know about langkawi or tioman or perhentian but not malaysia….. b.t.w if you in malaysia following le tour de langkawi.. see u in terengganu… final 3 stages will finish there… in my hometown

DaGoose March 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Finally I’ve ridden one of inrngs road to ride. I never thought I’d get the opportunity living in SEA and Australia! Since moving to KL 3 years ago I’ve always wanted to do this climb and on Sunday I had the opportunity. I suffered immensely mainly due to stupidity. I couldn’t continually push a 39/25 all the way up. I guess I’m not a man. As recommended by Steve Thomas’ in the last paragraph of his CC blog, a compact and a 28 would have made the experience a lot more enjoyable.

PedalRon March 6, 2014 at 1:12 am

Jeez, I thought that lead photo was a Lego set at first glance!

Andy March 6, 2014 at 1:32 am

Also in Bogotá but on the other side of the city is the climb from Choachi/ Fomeque. Maybe my favorite ride in the world…

A cat 1 climb takes you from the city, then you descend really as far as you want before turning around and climbing back to Bogotá. It’s definitely possible to make this a 40 km climb. I normally do 30 km. Between the two climbs it’s a 100 km ride with 50 km of climbing.

Absolutely stunning road and scenery, very little traffic. For me it’s much preferable to Alto de Vino. Really very nice to have many nice climbs all around the city.

Pete March 6, 2014 at 11:48 am

Thanks for commenting on this great race. Malaysia makes a big effort with this HC category race. It is a shame it does not get more coverage.

Steve Potts March 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I lived in KL for a couple of years. I never rode to Genting but the drive up was hard enough on our little Perodua!
The traffic is awful – I saw several crashes when I lived there, one on the Genting road where a minivan had hit the central reservation and there were literally litres of blood on the tarmac. If you are going to ride it, take care.

Steve

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