Success after the fourth attempt!
I have been cycling in Bali regularly for the past 5 years having been introduced to Wayan and his team at Bali Cycling. Bali is not the kind of place you would want to ride extensively without people who know the area well as its not an easy island to navigate just using maps or even gps as road conditions change all the time. However it is worth letting everyone know that there is obviously a major road improvement programme underway at the moment and we are seeing far more newly resurfaced roads or where not resurfaced, there are notices of projects about to start or underway
We steer clear of Kuta, Legian, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua etc but once outside those areas, road biking on the island is excellent
We discovered the road to Munduk and Asah Gobleg a few years ago on one of our early cycling camps. We were driving back from Lovina to Canggu via Bedugul. I said to my fellow cyclists “thank goodness we didn’t have to ride up this hill – I could never do it”. My assumption that cycling up that road was an impossibility was treated as a challenge that was surmounted (by some of my fellow cyclists but not me!) within months. That was about 3 years ago and it was only last week that I finally earned my lunch at the top
Of course this is by far the best time of year to be cycling in Bali as the mornings are really cool (around 21 deg and low humidity) which is very pleasant by South East Asian standards that we are used to. Our previous attempts have been to cycle all the way from Canggu to the start of the climb which is a bit of a long warm up as the section from Antosari to Pupuan is a very decent climb in itself, something like 1000m of climbing over 60km before descending to the start of the Munduk climb, so I would recommend driving to Antosari on the west coast, or better still staying there overnight for an early morning start to catch the best of the weather and clearest views at the top
Antosari to Pupuan is already a spectacular journey – all the sights, sounds and smells of classic Bali all the way – beautiful rice terraces, mountain views, villages, temples, Balinese ceremonies etc, and, for the benefit of cyclists, great road surfaces, very little traffic and ample supplies of chilled drinks all the way. Pocari Sweat is one of the most popular drinks amongst the locals which is very convenient indeed as you can get it at all the little warungs (and plenty of local organic fresh fruits, bottled water etc etc)
On the other hand, cycling with Wayan is excellent as he keeps his car loaded with all the food and drinks needed to keep going – the perfect moving aid station
So now we are perfectly warmed up, fed and watered for the great 30km ascent. Having attempted this climb several times before, I just had blurred recollections of the first 10-15k or so being pretty manageable, then steeper climbs starting one by one, ok so far, then at some point turning a corner into a brick wall of a climb, then grinding to a halt or literally slowing to 4kmh and tipping into the grass verge. Be warned that once you’re off its pretty difficult to find a starting point for a long time. Anyway this time I had 20 cols of the Pyrenees in my legs (none of which match the greater gradients of Munduk!) so if I wasn’t ready to have a good go at it this time I don’t know what else would be needed (other than being a bit younger!). Basically you have to be ready to ascend something like 12 2-300m stretches of 13-15 per cent gradients with easier sections in between each over a total of around 8-9km. Take one tough section at a time, don’t look up other than getting a rough idea of how far each climb is with one quick look at the beginning and start grinding sometimes one stroke at a time. There are a couple of climbs that are preceded with sections that give you a bit of a run-up to the next tough part but there are very few giveaways! You just need everything you’ve got both physically and mentally and there’s just about enough respite in between each section to get you through the next
My concentration was broken by seeing one of my fellow (and stronger) cyclists walking one section which turned out to be about the last really hard one that was probably only 150m long so that caused me to stand down but luckily right next to a small but flat driveway, one of the few possible stopping places where you can also just about start again!
We rarely see other cyclists but in the beauty spots there are plenty of tourists taking in the sights so there are always French, Italians and Germans who are perfectly used to seeing cyclists in agony, offering their support and of course plenty of Balinese doing the same but probably wondering why we don’t invest in an engine to propel our two wheels!
Anyway it’s all worth it in the end. The last 3k or so are somewhat kinder and even offer some flat sections, then a small incline to one of the finest lookout points you could wish for after a morning’s exercise! It’s the most welcoming café in the world serving the best chicken noodles you’ve ever tasted! The views across Lake Tamblingan and Lake Buyan are spectacular and well earned
On this occasion we did things the civilised way and drove back to Canggu but if you want a 12-hour day, feel free to ride home aswell. It took us a total of 5 hours from Antosari to the top of Asah Gobleg (1300m) which was enough for one day (especially as we had done the 1700m of Kintamani the day before and a 45k moderate climb up to Jati Luwih (followed by 45k home) the day before that (by the way those are two great cycling trips worth doing)
Asah Gobleg (we call it the Munduk climb as that’s the main village on the hill) must be one of the greatest road cycling challenges in the region on really good road surfaces and there’s no one better to encourage you to the top than Wayan and his merry men who are all excellent cyclists. It’s amazing – they smile all the way up to the top – I don’t know how they do it!
It would be great if more enthusiasts get to know how good the riding is in Bali and also the availability of such good support from Wayan and the gang so to anyone reading this please pass the good word and I will be more than happy to provide any more advice from my experiences of the past few years
Written by Neil Franks 6th September 2009