The national riders you barely hear of

This weekends’ MAD Enduro World Series Qualifier at Bukit Kiara’s Mountain Bike trail will be featuring the who’s who of the Malaysian mountain biking world. Joined by participants from across the region, the MTB event is one of the highlights in the Malaysian mountain biking event calendar. It pits not only local riders against each other but against riders from across South East Asia (SEA) and beyond.

Since this is like a mini SEA game for mountain bikers it’s only right that you will see national riders coming out to take part in some of that shredding fun. The timing of this event is perfect for them because at the end of the month, they will be heading off to the Philippines to participate in the 30th SEA games and this will be their best chance to test themselves against the best of the best that Malaysia has on offer which in turn will give them great preparation before heading off to the games.

We managed to get some sit downtime with two of these national riders. One can be considered as a veteran and the go-to guy for riding advice and bike-related queries, whilst the other is a female and a surprising upcoming star of the Malaysian MTB world.

 

For those who have been riding the Malaysian trails long enough or needed their bike attended to, surely the name ‘Ijat’ would be all too familiar. For those who don’t, Nor Shahriel Haizat Ahmad Nazali is Ijat’s real name. Born and bred in Selayang, Selangor the 28 year old has been surfing the trails since he was a kid. He recalls, ever since he first laid out his eyes on mountain bikes, he has never wanted to do anything else. Perhaps the fact this father was also a trail and MTB fanatic might have also influenced him.

“ The world of mountain biking was introduced to me by my father. He would regularly head out to the trails on Sunday mornings and all I wanted to do was follow him there. He never really wanted to bring me out haha, I was considered a nuisance as all he wanted to do was ride with his friends and I would have only slowed him down. But after a long time pestering him, he brought me along anyways and the rest was history. My dad was also the coach of Selangor state so it helped having a dad who was a coach as he probably gave me a lot of help sharpening my MTB skills.”

It was lucky that Ijat’s dad eventually brought him a long for those rides because Ijat grew to become one of the finest mountain bikers Malaysia has. Through this skills Ijat also gave something back to his dad and now he and his father have two BMX pump track. “As I got better at mountain biking I started to enter some competitions and started winning. The award for the wins was sometimes cash. I would sometimes give some of that cash to my dad to help grow the pump track that my dad had built at the time. It was just a small pump track that my dad created around the area of our home. Slowly but surely the pump track became lively and bigger. MPS ( Majlis Perbandaran Selayang) were so impressed, they gave us an opportunity to create a second one and now we manage two pump tracks.”

The youngest of three siblings, Ijat was all guns loaded for any cross country competition but his taste for downhill mountain biking which he will competing in at the upcoming SEA games came from the place where Mad Enduro will be taking place this weekend. “I started having a taste for Downhill Mountain biking after seeing my father and his friends doing it at the Bukit Kiara trails. This is where I also met a lot of the current veterans of Malaysian mountain biking. I was hooked and started to enter more ‘haram’ downhill races and somehow out of all of those races I managed to get spotted and became part of the Selangor state team. The rest was history and I started to enter SUKMA games as well as managed to represent Malaysia on the international level. I entered a lot of races in Indonesia, China, Thailand and many more. I started to get podiums placings everywhere I went and I felt blessed that I could get on the podium when pitted against other countries.”

One of the races that Ijat entered was the Indonesian MTB race series and he must have turned some heads whilst doing it because in 2011 he was offered to be part of the Polygon factory team. This was at the time where even the famous Polygon UR team had not existed. Only three years later the team was assembled. When the team was assembled, the factory team was disbanded and Ijat would be handed over to Polygon Malaysia to represent them as they see fit. “After a long time racing, I wanted to take a break and this was when I asked Polygon whether they had something more for me not as a rider. As Polygon owns Rodalink they said why not work at the shop as a mechanic? I accepted and this is where I sharpened my mechanical skills. Now I have best of both world, as the deal with Rodalink  allowed me to go racing anytime I wanted so in my racing downtime I could help others fix and upgrade their bikes and give them a helping hand if they wanted it. I have seen Polygon bikes progress so much as I have been with them since day one. Their bikes are just becoming more and more efficient and good at helping out riders excel when out there.”

Ijat is true to his word of helping others. You only need to ask 19 year old Siti Natasha Mohd Basri on how Ijat has helped her from becoming a regular person to an upcoming female MTB star. “ I look up to Ijat so much and he is one of my idols. He also always given me advice and when he does pass his wisdom it seems to translate well when I am on the bike. When I was given the opportunity to start a path down the MTB world, Ijat was there since day one,” said the youngster.

More commonly known as Tasha, the youngster will be heading out to the SEA games for the very first time. She will be competing in the downhill segment something that she has only recently excelled in. “I started off with BMX and only at the Perlis SUKMA games in 2014 I entered my first downhill event.”

The girl, also from Selayang started her adventure on bicycles just as a normal kid would, hanging out with friends. At 14 she mostly had male friends, and they were all on bikes. They would all actually hang out and run around the pump track that Ijat’s father built. She must have showed some extra pazaz amongst all of the people there as she was quickly spotted and asked whether she would like to try and pursue a career in cycling. “Abang Ijat’s father asked me whether I wanted a coach and that whether I would like to enter the next SUKMA games (2016), I said yes straight away. I managed to get a bronze medal and I was coached by Abang Ijat and his father,” said the shy teenager.

When we asked her whether she gets scared doing this slightly extreme sports she answered, “in the beginning I did”. “At first I was a bit shook, but the advice that was given to me by my coaches has helped me a lot. At the BMX track we could do a lot of things and I just tried to do all the tricks and skilled moves. The more tricks I did, the more comfortable I got. I fell a lot in the beginning but that was one of the ways I learned how to be better on the bike, do or die!! Haha.”

Her parents were also very supportive of her choice to pursue this and they would always come and watch her compete. It’s quite rare for Asian parents to let loose their female offspring into the BMX world, but Tasha said that they have been supporting her from the get go. Tasha who is the youngest of four siblings thanks her parents for being so supportive and without them she could not have done it. Tasha who just completed her Sijil Tinggi Persokolahan Malaysia (STP) wants to focus on her biking especially on the upcoming SEA games and SUKMA 2020, but in 2021 wishes to continue her education in sports science.

This is very wise from such a young head but who can blame her for wanting to focus on biking more at the moment, after all she is one of the only Malaysians ever to be chosen to go to the UCI World Cycling Centre in Switzerland. “ When I was 16 I managed to get a gold medal in SUKMA Sarawak and after that I manager to get the opportunity to go to WCC in Switzerland. It was the first time I had been to Europe and it was scary at first because there was only two of us who went there, alone without any representative. It was an adventure and a heck of an experience. In those two weeks we were there, we learnt a lot from the UCI and I aim to use that knowledge back here or wherever I go. It’ll come in useful in the upcoming SEA Games as the competitor from Indonesia and Thailand look mighty skilled. But Inshallah, I believe I can beat them. I want to do well as this is also my first big games. I feel a bit of pressure but I don’t want to think too much about it as it’ll affect me”.

It’s a breath of fresh air to speak to two MTB national riders as it always seems that the lime light is always on the roadies. These MTB national riders deserve more credit and exposure because what they do requires a lot of skill, might and bravery. If you’ve never seen MTB national riders, you can catch them at this weekend’s MAD Enduro and you can also wish them the best of luck for the SEA Games competition.