Catering to a growing demand for bicycles

Apart from meeting corporate leaders who are clever at making money, as a business journalist, I also deal with scientists collecting data at oil palm fields. Most scientists are in tune with the commercial world but there are also a handful who are penny wise pound foolish. On top of that, they also like to talk big but are not able to step up to the plate. Frustrating, huh?

At times like this, a leisurely ride in the estate under the cool canopy of oil palm leaves makes me feel there are brighter days ahead. As the gentle breeze blew past me, I remembered words of comfort from a friend -- in times of crisis, there're opportunities. That prompted a story idea in my head and led to this interview with bicycle retailer Edwin Ng.

As recreational cycling starts to regain its popularity in the Klang Valley, Joo Ngan Son Bicycle Specialist taps into the heightened demand with a third store. OOI TEE CHING speaks to former national cyclist Edwin Ng about the booming sector.

"WE will be opening our third outlet and it'll be called Volt - Your Cycling Companion," said managing director Edwin Ng, a former national cyclist.

In an interview with Business Times in Petaling Jaya, Ng said in today's fast-paced world, parents are realising that they need to spend more time with their children. "One of the ways to tighten family ties is to engage in outdoors activities together, such as cycling." 

Edwin recalls cutting his teeth in cycling in the 1980s by taking part in BMX competitions. It was also then that he started helping his father, Datuk Ng Joo Ngan, run the family's bicycle shop. 

Back in the 1970s, the elder Ng was an Asian Games gold medallist and king of road cycling. Like his father, Edwin was also talented at competitive cycling. 

In 1994, he earned the Future Sportsman of The Year award. By 1998, he had bagged more than 20 gold medals from local and international races. At the 1995 World Championship in Bogota, Colombia, he smashed the national record in the 1000m individual time trial.

However, Edwin was forced into early retirement because of injuries to his wrist, shoulder, hips and left eye during high-altitude training at Genting Highlands.

Undaunted, he channelled his passion for bicycles into retail.

In 2007, Edwin opened his first outlet as Joo Ngan Son, an obvious reference to his father Datuk Ng Joo Ngan. He bought stocks worth RM760,000 in his father's business. "I didn't borrow any money but I paid my dad bit by bit, over the next three years," he said.

Edwin is in a unique position as he has first-hand experience in competitive cycling, having been Malaysia's top cyclist in 1995. At the same time, he also has first-hand knowledge in being at the sharp end of bike retail. "Customers are key to us and always will be. We cater to mountain bikers, roadies, spinners or even recreational bikes like tandems for the family. Ultimately, success in any market is down to how well we can offer what they need," said Edwin. 

"The best part of being in the bicycle business are the friendships that I have made," he added. True enough, as he pauses, his phone rang. He promptly excused himself to have a friendly chat with a client on a list of preparatory steps to undertake in a tournament.

Edwin notes that the appetite for cycling among urban Malaysians is growing. Nowadays, potential customers are being offered a wider spectrum of two-wheelers compared to 10 years ago. Bicycle shops need not be the old small mum-and-pop style shops, especially when the top range bicycles are costing tens of thousand of ringgit. Concept stores are opening to push cycling out to a wider audience.

Edwin positions his Volt - Your Cycling Companion concept store as a one-stop-shop for those who are passionate about cycling, including for commuting, mountain biking, racing, leisure touring and endurance training for triathlons. "The retail environment is becoming brand-orientated. More and more consumers want to frequent stores that offer quality products and friendly consultations on maintenance and repair," he said.

In his four-year stint in bicycle retail, Edwin has had clients who wanted bicycles for everything, such as commuting, recreational and racing and even one for the maid to run errands. 

But a one-size-fits-all does not exist. So, how does one go about choosing a bicycle?

"First, you have to decide on your budget and then, the features you want. Do you like to race or do you want to have multiple gears and panniers to carry all your food and beverage rations?"

Since a cyclist typically pedals 90 per cent of the time, he says saddle choice, ride comfort and sitting posture are important. "The bike has to fit the rider ergonomically."

Currently, anyone who buys a bicycle is able to deduct up to RM300 in their income tax filing. But Ng feels the government can do more to encourage healthy lifestyle among Malaysians. "It will be good if the government considers waiving the limit on income tax deduction for sporting equipment," he said.

Bicycling is good for physical and mental health because, in the long run, one can save money on healthcare and medical insurance. "The bicycle is a simple solution to a whole host of problems," he says. 

Last year, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek endorsed the World Car-Free Day on September 22 and urged the public to do their part. 

In promoting a healthy lifestyle among Malaysians, Shabery had said proper bicycle lanes should be incorporated into city planning. He also encouraged bicycle rental services where the public could rent a bicycle from one spot and return it at another. "This will help alleviate the parking problem."

This was written by my colleague Chai Mei Ling. It was published on 2nd October 2011.

I remember when I was the King on two wheels

IT all started some 50 years ago at Jalan Kuchai, Kuala Lumpur with a simple dare. Datuk Ng Joo Ngan was then 15, scrawnier than most boys in the neighbourhood, was always a target when the rest wanted to show off their prowess in anything.

His brother's friend, a cycling enthusiast, challenged Ng to a race. At stake were a bowl of noodles, RM10 and bragging rights. Ng lost to the other boy, who was a year older than him.

"My brother, Joo Pong, who is also a year older, is a very good cyclist. His friend naturally never challenged him, but always chose me as a target. I was annoyed to be taunted all the time. Plus, RM10 was a big sum then," says Ng.

The teen then decided to equip his ordinary bicycle with a racing handlebar. He also woke up at 6am daily to train for a week, cycling some 3km a day.

His determination was worth it -- he beat the friend in the next race, regained his pride, and learnt that almost anything was possible with perseverance and hard work.

"I thought to myself -- I've never been interested in or picked up cycling, but if I could beat my brother's friend, who had been cycling for two years, after having trained for just a week, I could probably beat my brother should I train harder." 

He continued training on his own every day -- sometimes joining his brother in races -- and within a year, made it to the national cycling squad at the young age of 16. Three years later, the 19-year-old represented Malaysia in the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok, coming up up fourth in the team time trial.

The following year, Ng hauled in three medals -- two bronzes and one silver -- in the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, now known as the Southeast Asian Games. The cyclist continued to make his mark in subsequent tournaments but his biggest break came when he represented Malaysia in the 1970 Asian Games, also held in Bangkok.

He secured a gold medal in the 200km road race -- a feat that has yet to be replicated by any Malaysian, even in later years when the event's distance was reduced to 187km. In the same year, he became the overall team and individual champion of the Tour of Jawa, and the national champion for the track and road race in Seremban. 

In 1971 Ng was crowned as the national champion for the individual road race of the Tour of Malaysia, which covered 1,020km over a span of eight gruelling days. 

He was also named Sportsman of the Year 1970 and received the award from then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak.

"I never expected to be rewarded. During races, I never thought about glory or rewards. There's only one thing on my mind -- to do my absolute best," said Ng, who admits to being a highly competitive person.

But a competitive streak alone wouldn't have cut it. Ng led a highly disciplined and regimented lifestyle. 

He would wake up at 5am every day, train for hours, and by 7pm, retire to bed. Success, he says, doesn't come without sweat and tears. "Up until now, I believe in training. Without training, one cannot be a champion."

Ng demanded the same commitment from young cyclists when he subsequently moved on to coaching after the Asian Games. 

He started off with the Kuala Lumpur Cycling Club, before eventually training the national squad. "I wouldn't allow my cyclists to buy a motorcycle or car, because I didn't want their focus to deviate from cycling. And I'd go from house to house in the evening to check if they were at home. They were not allowed late nights."

Among cyclists under his tutelage were M. Kumaresan, Tsen Siong Hong, Nor Effandy Rosli, Teoh Chen Hai and Ali Hassan.

Ng is proud of the fact that his cyclists have garnered over 50 gold medals at international events. His enthusiasm and love for sports also rubbed off on all his five children.

Eldest son Edwin is a former national cyclist who now runs a branch of the family's bicycle shop in Damansara Uptown, while daughters Jillian and Jacqueline specialise in synchronised swimming.

Ng is happy his children share his love for sports. "I never forced them. Whether the interest or commitment is there or not depends on them."

On how the cycling scene has changed over the years, Ng says while it has become more competitive, cyclists also have it easier these days.

Today, sponsorship is a norm, bicycling technology has advanced a lot, and cyclists are paid a salary, he points out. "It's true that bicycles are much more expensive now, but the technology is way ahead of what we had. Those days, there's no such thing as aluminium frame, they were all steel. I remember the bicycle I used in the race with my brother's friend had only one gear and cost RM75." 

Last year, another feather was added to Ng's cap when he was conferred a "Datukship" during Federal Territory Day. 

"During the first few months, I felt uncomfortable when people addressed me as 'Datuk'. It took me quite awhile to get used to the title," he says, adding that he is grateful that the government is appreciative of the efforts of former sportsmen.

"My son asked me to get a nicer car, dress up nicely, wear long pants and such, to go with the public image. But that's not me. I can't ditch my sports shirts and shorts," laughs Ng.

Ng, now 64, has been cycling for almost five decades, but he does not have any plans to "retire". 

Looking fit with a build that puts men half his age to shame, the grandfather of one still coaches at the KL Club and cycles with friends and clients. He has also been running the Joo Ngan Professional Bike Centre in Ampang for more than 20 years, happy that he can help spread the joy of cycling around.

"If I really retire, if you ask me to sit down at home....cannot lah, I cannot do that. I will cycle until I can't cycle anymore."

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