Gran Fondo New York Samosir

After a successful maiden Gran Fondo New York Bali on Feb 4, the pressure was on for the folks at GFNY Indonesia to deliver on the promise of yet another race route with stunning scenery and tough climbs.

GFNY Bali 2018 was truly a “great ride” in the grand tradition of gran fondos, just like its predecessor the year before on the sister island of Lombok, attracting 1,400 participants. There’s no denying that Bali, a popular global tourist destination, pretty much sold itself. Not much was needed to promote the location, even with the threat of a possible volcanic eruption looming prior to the race.

Samosir however, would prove to be a different story. The island had a lot going against it, the first being it’s hard to reach location in the middle of majestic Lake Toba.

This meant there was no direct flight to the island itself, while the newest and nearest airport was still an hour’s drive away. This is not even counting the journey to the northeast side of the island, where the host hotels were situated, as well as the start and end point of the race itself.

For the connecting flights to Medan’s main terminal, the long airport bus transfer was followed by an open air ferry ride - the only enjoyable part of the journey. For the organisers, Samosir presented a real logistical nightmare.

Add to the mix the fact that the name Samosir itself is not as well known as the tranquil waters of the caldera that surrounds it. Known as the largest crater lake in the world, Toba also made headlines a month earlier for a ferry capsizing, in which the overloaded vessel was never recovered from the dark depths. I wasn’t aware of this, until accidentally alerted to the tragic accident by the boss a day before my flight there.

And once on the island, you’ll find there is not much development, which could mean a tough time for the traveller expecting all the modern amenities that you find at other more established travel destinations.

Despite all these factors, the race managed to attract nearly 580 participants from 24 countries. It is a testament to their love of the sport, that these cyclists will bear with the troubles of travelling to far and remote places just to ride in a beautiful location.

“We are very lucky to even get this number,” admits Axel Moeller, who heads the GFNY Samosir organising team. “I don’t think that we got less participants because of the recent earthquakes in Lombok. It is very difficult to get the riders to Samosir - it is far away from the airports.”

Upon arrival I ask Tenne Permatasari, his wife and GFNY Samosir organising team leader, how things are going. “Okay. A bit busy,” she smiles apologetically, and is soon distracted by something else she needs to attend to.

Upon setting foot on the banks of Samosir, the troubles of travel melt away in the face of the sheer natural beauty of one of the most visually arresting islands in the Indonesian archipelago. In fact, the race route takes the participants through parts of the island with some of the most breathtaking views.

From lush paddy fields, to the gorgeous vistas of pinewood forests and Toba itself, the natural panorama definitely proved a distraction from the challenging ride. After relatively flat sections, the two routes also force you to climb, featuring a number of steep slopes and sharp turns.

The Medio Fondo route covered a total of 108km, with an impressive elevation gain of 1,136m. Meanwhile the Gran Fondo route covered an even greater distance of 152km, with a higher elevation gain of 2,002m.

Both routes make the most of a terrain that is the byproduct of a gigantic volcanic eruption some 70 thousand years ago. For the geographically challenged, Toba alone is 1,000km² bigger than Singapore.

Both Medio and Gran Fondo routes also presented the riders with an insight into the ornate Batak architecture, by riding through the villages of TukTuk, Batu Hobon, and Pasir Putih Tadarubun.

The Batak are often considered to be isolated peoples, and the uniqueness of the Batak Toba are reflected in their iconic curved roof homes and graves or tombs, something best seen by bike.

As the heart of Toba Batak culture, the location of GFNY Samosir also allowed the race to play double duty as a part of the Horas Fiesta Samosir 2018 Agenda, presenting music and traditional cultural performances by the locals at the water stations. It comes as no surprise that the event was strongly supported by Wonderful Indonesia, the country’s official tourism body.

Faced with a plethora of choices in such a geographically and culturally diverse nation, the organisers must have faced a tough time deciding where to hold the race.

“We chose Samosir because the landscape is unique in the tropics,” Axel explains. “Samosir, Lake Toba could also be a lake in the Alps in Europe. In addition, there is also the unique climate, due to the altitude. The lower temperatures are ideal for a bike race.”

The night before flag-off, we come across him stealing a quiet moment, ordering a beer at the bar. We joke that we will join him for a drink tomorrow night instead, after the race and the festivities are done, and the Cycling Plus Malaysia media team is officially off duty.

It is an early night for us and the participants, who need to rest up for the tough challenge ahead. “Yes, yes, you are right,” he laughs. “But tonight is also good! There is the anticipation for tomorrow, after the race, it will be different. Everything will be over.”

It’s a prophecy of sorts, as he later confirms that there will not be another race in Samosir. It’s a real shame too, since the small numbers mean not many cyclists had the chance to experience what the island has to offer.

Against a spectacular landscape, brutal mountain climbs, cool weather and lack of motorised vehicles, GFNY Samosir was truly a race to remember. As you cycle around Samosir island, “horas!” is the customary greeting from the local children, translating to ‘good health' or more aptly, 'goodbye'.

Team Sapura Cycling’s Aiman Cahyadi finished fastest overall in the Gran Fondo 152km category, while his wife Yanthi Fuchianty claimed the women’s title. In the Medio Fondo 108km category, Ebben Ronald Siregar and Lilian Rasmussen won the men’s and women’s title respectively.

*This event was photographed with the Leica D-Lux

Extremely fast and versatile zoom lens. The D-Lux features the Leica DC Vario-Summilux 24-75mm (35mm equivalent), f1.7-2.8 ASPH lens produces bright and crisp images. Also able to quickly switch between prime lengths - 24, 28, 35, 50, 70 and 75.

Adaptable micro four-thirds sensor. The D-Lux has a 16MP sensor but utilizes 12.8MP for quick and lossless switching between different aspect ratios, so it has larger than average pixels than other compact cameras that leads to beautiful colours and details. UHD 4K videos captured at 30p look amazing.

Bright and adjustable EVF. The clarity of the EVF is bright, clear and sharp as a tack, even when shooting under bright sunlight. It has a B&W EVF function which changes all displays to B&W. Leica says this will give better results using manual focus.

Intuitive controls and solid build. Fully manual controls include focus and aperture control on the lens, and exposure comp and shutter speed dials by the shutter release. There is also a dedicated record button for video.

Leica D Lux




Intuitive controls and solid build. Fully manual controls include focus and aperture control on the lens, and exposure comp and shutter speed dials by the shutter release. There is also a dedicated record button for video.