Singaporean braves trucks, blistering heat to cycle 3,900km across Europe in 14 days

Singaporean cycles through 12 European countries to complete gruelling race

Mr Steven Hon is just one of four Singaporeans who took part in the Transcontinental Race this year. He came in 68th.
Mr Steven Hon is just one of four Singaporeans who took part in the Transcontinental Race this year. He came in 68th. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Sleeping at bus stops, almost getting mowed down by trucks, and cycling for hours on end in blistering temperatures - these were just some of the hardships Mr Steven Hon enduredas he cycled across 12 European countries to finish the fifth annual Transcontinental Race.

The gruelling race, which started on July 28, saw almost half - 135 - of the 285 riders who took part drop out. The 49-year-old project manager in the construction industry, however, managed to finish the race in 14 days, coming in at 68th place.

Starting from Geraardsbergen in Belgium, Mr Hon pedalled to Meteora in Greece, covering more than 3,900km - equivalent to cycling the length of Singapore 78 times.

He first heard about the race two years ago, but decided he was not ready for it and decided to take on the "easier" challenge of the 2,300km-long Japanese Odyssey, to prepare himself for the European race.

Before that, the longest distance the cycling enthusiast had covered was 1,200km from Paris to Brest in France, and back.

His daily training involves cycling on a stationary training bicycle at home. On weekends, he cycles up to 150km around the island.

For two weeks during the competition, he survived on a diet of food from petrol stations, such as soft drinks, ice cream and chocolate bars. Only occasionally would he enjoy the luxury of stopping at a cafe or restaurant.

And getting seven hours of sleep in the comfort of a hotel bed was another luxury that Mr Hon allowed himself only once every three days during his journey.

To save time, he slept at bus stops by the side of roads though it was hardly restful. "It's very difficult to sleep outside, as it can be cold and noisy," he said, adding that dogs would sometimes bark at him while he slept.

The more experienced cyclists slept in the woods, he noted. "I'm born and brought up in the city, so I had no confidence in sleeping in the woods."

Three other Singaporeans also took part this year: Mr Wee Soon Aik, who completed the race in about 20 days, and brothers Colin and Jeremy Mah, who were forced to drop out midway through due to injury and fatigue.

The support of his family was very important, said Mr Hon, who is married to quantity surveyor Lily Chua and has three teenage children. He kept in touch with them through phone calls and instant messaging.

"I was definitely worried, especially as he had to sleep by the side of the road," said Ms Chua, 46.

The death of one participant, Dutchman Frank Simons, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident just five hours into the race, did nothing to assuage her fears.

In March, the founder of the Transcontinental Race, Mr Mike Hall, died after being hit by a car while participating in another endurance cycling race in Australia.

Mr Hon also feared for his life while cycling alongside trucks on a highway in Romania, and almost considered giving up.

"I thought to myself, I didn't sign up for this. I didn't sign up to be killed," he said.

However, as he was already three-quarters of the way through the race, he decided to continue. He rested a while before continuing at night, when there was less traffic.

So he persevered,bruised and cut from falling after hitting a pothole, and through temperatures going as high as 43 deg C. "Cycling through Europe in the summer, the heat was very intense. It's not like in Singapore," he recalled.

The heat meant he ended up mailing most of the clothes he had packed for the trip - weighing about 1kg - back to Singapore, he said with a laugh.

Other challenges included cycling through a variety of road conditions - mud, cobblestones and gravel as well as areas where cycling was simply impossible and he had to carry his bicycle.

It wasn't all bad, though. Mr Hon also encountered drivers who gave him bottles of water.

These "nice acts of human kindness" helped him power through to the end of the race.

Although he managed to complete the race, just 14 years ago such a trip would have been unthinkable for him, he admitted. At the age of 35, he was at his heaviest, weighing 98kg. "I was very lethargic, and I felt like my body was too heavy for my legs," said Mr Hon, who now weighs about 70kg.

He took up running for his health, and eventually began participating in marathons, both locally and abroad. However, running began to take its toll on his knees and back.

Two years ago, he switched to cycling, which was less stressful on his body. He has not looked back.

Mr Hon has not yet decided on his next endurance cycling trip, though he has his eye on the TransAm Bike Race which would see him cycling 6,800km from the west coast to the east coast of the United States, and take him through terrain including mountains and deserts.

"It's on the list, but I have to think it through properly," he said with a smile.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline Singaporean braves trucks, blistering heat to cycle 3,900km across Europe in 14 days. Subscribe