For those unfamiliar with Raziff Jaafar, the man is just as unassuming as his bike shop, situated in a quiet corner in Bukit Jalil, just off the busy KESAS Highway.
It’s easy to discount him as a strong cyclist, if you met him the way I did, clad in a nondescript t-shirt, comfortable shorts and flip flops, with a baseball cap on his head. The former pro cyclist is not one to toot his own horn either, despite his years of experience in the sport.
We met at his shop, that bears a big sign saying ‘Dr Dagoo One Stop Bike Centre’ out front. It’s not a fully stocked retail space like the likes of Rodalink, USJ Cycles, and so forth.
Instead, the shop is just a front for big plans that Raziff has for the future. But who is the man and where did he pop up from? Those who have been in (or following) the local cycling scene over the last two decades would definitely not consider him a foreign or new face.
Raziff’s love affair with cycling began as a tiny spark during his childhood days in school, after suffering a sports injury that pushed him in the right direction. “I used to play football, and a bit of badminton. But I kept getting hurt playing football,” he reminisces over a drink at the nearby mamak restaurant.
“I had a fracture and another really bad injury, maybe I tore a ligament or muscle or something, I can’t even remember. So I couldn’t play anymore after that. But I tested a bicycle for fun one day, and I couldn’t feel any effects from the injury.”
“Sometime later, there was a closed race held to choose a state representative for Perlis. I joined for fun because I had just bought a bicycle. Somehow I finished in the top 10, so they immediately selected me to join the state team.”
It is said that pro cyclists are a different breed of freaks of nature, and it definitely feels like Raziff is one of those similarly blessed. “I could always run actually. In school I always joined long distance running events, I was always top three in the merentas desa.”
Because of this, cycling became a surprise fit. “Cycling falls in the endurance category,” he laughs, shrugging.
“I seem to have the capability for endurance sports, maybe it’s my body type or genetics, I don’t really know. I can pick these sports up quite quickly and adapt very well. So it didn’t take long for me to keep up with and eventually fight head on against the senior riders, the more experienced members.”
But at the tender age of 16, his schooling had to take centre stage and cycling relegated to a back seat, with him only reaching the Sukma Games level.
After graduating from secondary school, matriculation put a further stranglehold on his cycling. It wasn’t until he enrolled in University Putra Malaysia much later, when he realised that he couldn’t give up the dream to represent his country.
“I couldn’t focus. In 2003 I began cycling again, starting from scratch. But by the end of the year, I was already in the Le Tour de Langkawi squad. In between I also represented Malaysia regionally, in major events in neighbouring countries.”
Interestingly enough, then came a period where Raziff stopped cycling. After a good five years of riding at the pro level, he quit completely. Following an eye opening training stint when he was based in Belgium in 2006, he was forced to hang up his clipless shoes.
“I realised then that Malaysia was 20 years behind when it came to cycling. When I returned home I wrote a long letter on what I had observed and learnt there, and sent it to the Youth and Sports Minister,” he admits, laughing again.
Needless to say, the heartfelt plea to end politics, unfair practices and corruption in local cycling ruffled quite a few feathers in the National Sports Institute, resulting in a backlash that saw him dropped.
“That was one of the reasons why I quit. I couldn’t handle the politics, the mismanagement. It sucked, honestly. I like research and learning new things, so before I planned to leave the sport I decided to gain a bit of experience. To see for myself how professional teams are managed properly, what life is like as a pro cyclist.
“That time I spent in Belgium really opened my eyes. The Malaysian riders, we really struggled at the time because we had no channels or social media to express our feelings. It was only two years later that I started to see clubs and teams popping up and more efforts to push cycling. These were all of my suggestions, although execution and funding usage wasn’t exactly done right.”
“I went there after asking the Belgian riders at the Le Tour de Langkawi how they became so strong. They told me: Come to Belgium,” he continues.
“After two weeks I was able to adapt, and I felt a huge improvement in my performance. When I came back after six months I could cycle a lot easier, I won a lot more podium finishes. Exposure is very important. You need a lot more support to do this, proper investment.
“If you want to prepare for a big event like Le Tour de Langkawi you don’t start training a month or two before. You start one, two or even three years in advance, with a proper programme. To race at the high level, you also need exposure. You need to race with the best, and eventually you will reach their level. We just didn’t have proper planning back then.”
Does he regret how things played out? It doesn’t appear so. “There has been progress, but Malaysia is still about 10 years behind the Belgians,” Raziff declares.
“Everyday there are at least three races there, you are spoilt for choice. And these village or local events are of the same high level of performance, better than our Le Tour de Langkawi. Imagine that.”
For the Perlis native who was a pretty decent rider back in his day, the six months he spent living and training there came with the staggering realisation that drastic measures were needed for Malaysian cycling to become a force to be reckoned with.
The good news is, the difference between the local cycling scene then and now is like night and day. “Back then we only had a race every two or three months. It was so boring, training for so long with no events to compete in. It was so sad,” he remembers.
“Now it’s so different, we have events every weekend, sometimes events will even clash. Even though we’re not able to organise daily events like the Belgians, there’s been a huge improvement. That’s one of the reasons why I started cycling again.”
His return to cycling is a funny story of how he jokingly bet to take the sport up again if he made it to the podium in his comeback event, the Johor Masters Century Ride 2014.
Despite a meagre two months of training after years away from the sport, a podium finish came surprisingly easily. Since making an accidental return to cycling, he’s been a busy bee indeed.
After numerous requests to give cyclists proper bike fittings, he eventually set up shop after getting the support of his family. “It’s been two years since I set up Dr Dagoo One Stop Bike Centre,” says Raziff, who has just launched his own brand of carbon fibre bicycle frames, in addition to his own cycling apparel.
“Before this I sold other brands, foreign names. Now I have my own. I also do events, the Cape Rachado Challenge is now in its second year and got such good response that we had to cap the number of participants at 500.”
But what he’s most proud of is setting up his own brand, which is starting to gain pretty good traction. “The factory these frames come from is the best carbon fibre frame maker in China. They’ve actually won a lot of awards for their frames, which are used by riders who compete at the Olympics.
“I’ve tested the frames myself and I’m really pleased with the quality, especially at the price. I’ve gotten really good feedback for the first two batches, which were fully sold. Now we’re taking orders for batch three, which you can pick custom colours for. They should be here by year-end.”
The bikes are also ridden by members of Team PLOMO Dr Dagoo, which Raziff himself founded. He hopes to groom the outfit into a UCI continental team, like the likes of Forca Amskins Racing, Team Sapura Cycling, and Terengganu Cycling Team.
“I want them to have team spirit, to ride together, use the same bikes, everything. I’ll be monitoring their performance to see if they can do well, cooperate with each other and support team success. We’ll get there within two or three years.”
You may see Team PLOMO in their striking blue and white Dr Dagoo apparel and bikes making their mark in local events, quite recently at CIMB Cycle 2018, in which Raziff claimed first place.
Before we end the interview, I have to ask the rationale behind such an unusual name. “It’s my chin, people know me for that,” he laughs again, explaining that it was a play on words for the Malay word dagu or chin.
“I used to be a lot skinnier, so my chin was very prominent back then. And I thought adding a Dr in front would sound even better, like some international shoe brands. So that’s where Dr Dagoo came from.”
Whatever name you know him by, Raziff and Dr Dagoo look like they’re already well on their way to being household names among cyclists.