Borneo Biking

Chris Philipson is a typical Scottish adventurer, a little bit in the mould of Mark Beaumont! He has scaled unclimbed peaks in Afghanistan, and ridden his bike through China and Tibet. He works as an ecologist, making regular trips to the tropical rainforest in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo, and has recently taken his mountain bike out there to get some trail riding in between working.

Scottish adventurer

Where are you exactly?
In Borneo, which is in Southern Malaysia. It’s a two-hour drive from a place called Lahad Datu along a logging road to the field station where I go to work a couple of times a year.

What are the trails like?
There used to be a rough trail, great for technical riding, but it had been levelled, making it more like a fire road. Something like half way between fire road and singletrack.

This year it hadn’t rained for six weeks, so we had the driest conditions since 1996, but normally it is well muddy. When it rains, it comes down pretty hard, a bit like monsoon rains, which makes it insanely muddy.

What kit do you use out there?
In early 2009 I used 2.3inch Fat Alberts, which are great fun to ride but hard work on climbs. I went back in late 2009 after I had been touring in China and Tibet on Schwalbe Marathons, which were pretty lame on the trails. But this spring I brought some 2.2inch Nokions which were ideal. Unfortunately though I got a pinch flat on my front wheel at the beginning of a downhill. I was about as far away from the field station as I could be! It would have taken me 15 minutes to ride back, but instead it was a 2-hour walk back in the dark.

My bike is a Kona Explosif which is a steel-frame hardtail- it works well for generally everything. The Hayes 9 disc brakes are pretty tough and my Rock Shox Reba Team have adjustable 85-115mm travel. My favourite jungle ride is pretty much up and down, so I use them at 85mm for the climb and then put them back out for coming back down.

The only specific bit of kit I have bought for Borneo is a Hope sealed headset. My last headset rusted after three weeks in the humidity and clay-type mud, which just wears everything away.

You just have to be vigilant about maintenance – washing the bike after every ride and re-greasing it. I use spray grease inside the tubes as well.

What kind of beasties do you have to contend with?
One time, my friend came to a stop, thinking he had a pinch flat. He checked his tyres but they seemed fine- then he turned round to find a cobra reared up behind him in the road! There are loads of leeches but you can usually get through a ride without getting them on you.

You also see elephants in the jungle, but I haven’t come across them while on the bike- that could be a bit scary. You’d probably come upon them suddenly, round a corner, which could frighten them and they might charge you. We also get orang-utans, who are usually pretty shy.

Also- termites attacked my iPhone! I dropped it at the research station before going to bed, and the next morning I couldn’t find it. On the way to work I found a massive swarm of termites on the ground, and had a look at them… wait a minute! That’s my phone!!! I had a rubber protective cover which might have attracted them. They were in the USB ports and everything, but luckily it seems to be fine.


Anything you don’t like about being out there?
It is a bit hot and sweaty. I have been putting on pounds again with bloody Malaysian food, which is all deep-fried. Annoying. Keen to get back to spring road cycling to keep it in check!

– that’s the way Chris, don’t forget the road. Cheers for the interview brother.