A fit nation is a strong nation, so goes the saying. And one great way to build stamina and strength is through cycling.

Gus Ghani caught the running bug in 2011 while participating in a mini triathlon. The freelance writer-cum-fitness coach had always been a fitness buff and wanted to explore different activities.

So he decided to sign up for a half marathon… without training!

“Prior to that, I don’t think I’ve ever ran past 3km! But I finished it, though I had to sprint the last bit to beat the cut-off time for a pewter medal,” says the 50-year-old.

It was from running that he noticed many runners also cycled, and it reminded him of his carefree childhood days of pedaling around with his chums in Penang.

The lads would race around the neighbourhood, and for the sake of little thrills, also indulge in naughty antics.

“We got on well with all our neighbours, who were from different ethnic groups, and every opportunity we got, the kids would take the bikes and cycle out.

“Despite our varied social backgrounds, cycling united us,” he remembers.

In fact, patriotism and national unity are the prime goals of Ride for Malaysia, a cycling event organised by the Star Media Group and rising property developer Sunsuria Berhad, which will be held on July 30.

Faizal cycles an average of 12km to and from his workplace every weekday, and confesses that he would go ‘mad’ if he doesn’t cycle for one day. Photo: The Star/Low Boon Tat

Recollecting those happy days, Gus bought himself a secondhand road bike for RM500 and joined a group cycling expedition to Genting Highlands, Pahang.

He says: “It was a killer going uphill, but we had so much fun huffing and puffing away.

“I noticed that cyclists are a different breed from runners. Their approach is different – they will stop to help you out if you have any problems.

“I suffered from saddle soreness, but I was so hooked that I signed up for a 24-hour race immediately afterwards!

“I haven’t explored many places in Malaysia, and so I want to do it via cycling to get to know my country better.”

He adds: “Cycling has also improved my stamina and increased my leg muscles, which helped in my running.

“Now I can’t imagine my life without it, so I invested in a medium-range bicycle.

“Sometimes, I also ride to a running event and use my bicycle as a warm-up and cool-down tool. Cycling definitely has plenty of health benefits.”

He shares: “In the initial stages, I was a bit gungho and participated in a lot of races, but now I pace myself because I want to run and cycle as long as possible.

“I’m a late starter so I don’t want to be burdened with injuries.

“Life begins at 40 and the fun starts at 50!”

A major study published in the British Medical Journal last month suggests that the health benefits of cycling to work were greater than walking to work.

Researchers looked at 263,450 people with an average age of 53 and found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall, compared to commuting by car or public transport.

In addition, cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer.

They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer.

Whittling the waist

Another way that cycling creates a strong nation is by building up the health of its people in general. This includes reducing their risk of non-communicable diseases, and their waistlines too!

For as long as he can remember, Faizal Sohami’s waist always kept pace with his age.

At 40, it was 40 inches (101.6cm), and at 42, it was 42 inches (106.7cm).

At 115kg of weight and standing at a height of 1.75m, Faizal was obese.

Shopping for clothes, especially trousers, was a challenge.

He had begun to waddle and he knew he had to do something about it.

“I had two bicycles hanging at home that hadn’t been used for a while, so I decided to put them to use.

“I started cycling with my 14-year-old son,” recalls the 47-year-old sales manager.

Faisal and his son would cycle on alternate nights, beginning with 5km, and in time, extending to 30km.

It also allowed father and son time to bond, and the duo were beginning to enjoy these sessions.

Pretty soon, they were making friends with fellow cyclists of all races and the community would unite to tackle longer routes.

Faizal would also add in some walking whenever he could.

He says: “My weight didn’t come off that much, but I saw myself getting fitter.

“It wasn’t until I started having to pay more tax three years ago, leaving me with very little for fuel and toll, that I took the plunge to cycle to work and purchased a folding bike.”

Faizal’s office is near the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, while he lives in Shah Alam, Selangor. The distance is about 42km.

Initially, he’d drive his younger son to kindergarten in Petaling Jaya, then cycle to work from there via the motorbike lanes on the highway.

After doing this for six months, he saw his weight drop by 5kg and his waist whittle down by 5.08cm.

It wasn’t substantial, but Faizal was feeling great.

“In the past, by 3pm, I would feel lethargic, but not anymore.

“Even if it rains, I will continue to cycle, unless it’s a really cold day.

“When I get to the office, I shower at the gym to freshen up.

“I also added in weekend cycling with my family.

“The sport has become addictive and I’ve started taking part in a lot of events.

“I don’t go for medical check-ups so I don’t know much about my health, although when I’ve gone to the clinic for a fever, the doctor tells me I have borderline blood pressure.

“My breakfast is usually roti canai, but since I developed an allergy to gluten, I’ve switched to nasi lemak!” Faizal says with a laugh.

These days, he drives to the Subang Jaya KTM Komuter Station, takes the train to Bank Negara and cycles 6km to his office.

Once he clocks out, he rides back to the train station.

Every work day, he covers a distance of 28km. On weekends, the distance is easily tripled.

Faizal is proud that his waist has trimmed further to below 38 inches (96.5cm) now; he weighs 105kg and has acquired muscles.

His energy level has also gone up, he cuts a tidy figure and he saves on fuel.

“If I don’t cycle for a day, I feel like I’m going mad!

“My wife is not happy I’ve slimmed down because more women are looking at me now!” he says with a laugh.

Cycling can certainly help improve the fitness, health, and even, the sense of community among Malaysians.

And so, as we march towards celebrating Merdeka Day, let’s remember that a healthy nation is a strong nation.

Ride for Malaysia will flag off at 6.30am on July 30 from the Celebration Centre at Sunsuria City. There is a Fun Ride of 30km along nearby scenic routes (for individuals aged 16 and above, entry fee: RM60). There is also a Family Ride of 5.5km. The entry fees are RM40 (adults aged 18 and above) and RM25 (children aged 7-17). Register at http://sites.thestar.com.my/rideformalaysia.