Cycling For Charity: 60-Year-Old Ernest Balasingam Keeps Flying

Once the open road calls, there is no stopping Ernest Balasingam as to date he has completed approximately 12 charity rides with 4 different cycling charities since 2011.

Ipoh Echo caught up with the 60-year-old Ipoh boy to learn more about his inspirational journey in cycling for charity and beyond.

To begin with, Ernest’s lifelong passion for sports was sparked off from his school days when he played a lot of sports such as rugby before getting into cycling in 1985 followed by triathlon for over 30 years.

“I did my first charity ride in 2011, after which I saw how the bicycle can be an effective tool to transform lives – through education or creating a sustainable means of transport and ultimately giving people hope,” he recalled.

His recent participation in the Cycle For Cancer ride from Sandakan to Sibu spanning 1200km over 10 days in July saw another bucket list of his being checked.

“Firstly, every charity ride is about meeting new people and learning about their journeys in life. I always believe that with all charity rides, individuals come together to ride as friends but finish the tour as a family. When you spend anywhere between 7 to 10 days with the same group of people, where you eat, sleep and spend anywhere between 6 to 10 hours on the bike, there is definitely a bond which is created especially on those tough days when the body says ‘no more’, you have your teammates around you to pull you through that day,” he shared.

In addition to cycling at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu complete with spectacular scenery, he cited his meeting with 2 cancer survivors/battlers during the ride to be the most memorable.

“What you go through daily in life and also on the bike for up to 10 hours a day are nothing compared to these individuals who are battling cancer 24/7,” he expressed.

Set to be an annual ride, the Cycle for Cancer 2022 concluded with a total of RM250,000 raised by 9 riders.

The Ipoh-based lawyer and corporate trainer who also serves as the organising chairman of AWOL (A Week of Laughter) Riders explained how he juggles it all: “Ultimately it all comes down to commitment and consistency but more importantly keeping the right circle of friends who keeps you accountable to show up for a ride.”

Thus, it is no wonder that he named the people he rides with here in Ipoh, the AWOL group, as his biggest motivation as he keeps moving forward.

“We have a small group in Ipoh where we call ourselves ‘2nd Chance Cyclist’ where most of us have had some sort of health setback. We have amputees, heart patients and DVT sufferers, to name a few. We ride at least 3 times a week together. Our rides on weekdays are about 60km and on weekends it is over 100km. As much as we are a social group, we really hold each other accountable to show up and ride,” the amiable Ernest added.

The AWOL Riders was founded in 2016.

“Many of the core members of our group have been actively riding together for the past 10 years when we were part of another charity called the Tour of Hope. We have riders from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Scotland, England, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, United States and Norway who have ridden with us. As diverse as we are, we are a very united group,” he highlighted.

According to Ernest, its membership is by invitation only in order to ensure diversity from the perspective of nationality, age and personality while the number of riders are usually limited to 25 per tour.

Coming up next in his cycling for charity events calendar is the AWOL Tour beginning September 28 till October 5 – a ride from Phuket to Bangkok covering 795km over 7 days.

“It is our 5th anniversary and the tour was suspended for 2 years due to Covid-19. Now all of us are like kids on Christmas eve, waiting for Santa to come down the chimney!” he enthused.

Speaking of Covid-19, the pandemic has propelled the cycling boom globally among others. Ernest, too, has observed similar renewed enthusiasm for cycling locally: “Prices of bikes and spare parts have gone up as much as 50% due to the pandemic and we are seeing more cyclists on the road today. I believe cycling has overtaken golf as the no.1 social networking sport.”

“With this boom, I think the Ipoh City Council and the Perak State Government should really look at putting in bike lanes along popular routes which people cycle around in Ipoh. Most routes leading out of Ipoh have a road shoulder which is at least 1.5 metres and the authorities should designate them as bike lanes,” he suggested.

In this regard, it is his fervent hope that 2 roads in particular, Tiger Lane and the road leading out of Ipoh towards Tanjung Rambutan and Chemor, be installed with a bike lane or a road shoulder.

Last but not least, his tips for beginners in picking out a suitable bicycle to kick off their adventure are as follows: “You need to first know what sort of riding you are going to do – road, off road, gravel – then make the investment. A fairly good entry-level bike made in China will cost you around RM5000. The Chinese have come a long way in bike building and produce affordable bikes with good specifications.”

For more updates on his exciting journey, check out the AWOL Riders Facebook page.

by Tan Mei Kuan

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