KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 — Cycling enthusiasts and athletes have called attention to the issue of basikal lajak or children drag-racing modified bicycles on public roads, highlighting the dangers behind what some see as a harmless pastime akin to regular riding.
Malaysia’s top triathlete and serial Ironman competition winner Shahrom Abdullah told Malay Mail that he previously received requests from parents at his bicycle shop in Cheras, asking him to modify their children’s bicycles according to the trend.
This included removing safety equipment such as the brakes and reflectors, he said. Shahrom said he refused every request.
“These lajak bikes have no safety features and are done with extreme modifications. I had a lot of people not just the kids but parents coming in to ask me to take the brakes out, lights out, tighten certain joints and so on.
“I tell them I don’t deal with that sort of stuff. They would then go to other shops that were more obliging. Can’t blame them as they took that opportunity to earn a living but, in terms of safety, they don’t care,” he said when contacted by Malay Mail.
Rupert Chen, another Malaysian triathlete and long-time Ironman competitor, stressed that there needs to be rules or laws to govern the burgeoning phenomenon to ensure safety is prioritised.
“As long as [cyclists] are following the rules I have no problem with it but don’t endanger yourself or others.
“Wear some lights and have the brakes on, please, and don’t ride on open roads or highways, said Chen, who coaches Malaysia’s triathlon and duathlon athletes for the upcoming SEA Games.
“Also a very important point is that when you ride you must think about other road users too. Try to ride on the shoulder or curb of the street, not on the main road. Always be aware of your surroundings and think about other riders,” he told Malay Mail.
Basikal lajak refers to usually fixed-gear bicycles that have been heavily modified, which also includes shortened handlebars and stem, and plastic sports rims. They can easily be bought or modified in local bicycle shops, and even through online shopping platforms.
The bicycles are frequently ridden by teenagers and children, who race downhill with each other along public roads and highways where or when there is little traffic. After reaching high speeds, the riders usually take the “Superman position”, with their abdomen on the saddle and the legs extended backwards, preventing access to the pedals.
The issue of basikal lajak’has resurfaced after driver Sam Ke Ting was charged with reckless or dangerous driving, after she hit eight out of the dozens of teenagers who were racing using their basikal lajak on the Johor Bahru Inner Ring Road highway in the wee morning of 2017.
She was previously acquitted and discharged by the Johor Baru Magistrates’ Court twice in October 2019 and October 2021 — the latter after the prosecution had appealed the decision.
On April 13, the case went to the Johor Baru High Court after yet another appeal by the prosecution, and she was then sentenced to six years in prison.
Sam has since appealed for a stay of execution and leave for appeal which was granted five days later by the Court of Appeal. She was released with a RM10,000 bail.
The case received attention after many questioned the rationale behind the decision when she was reportedly driving according to the law on the night of the incident, while the deceased teenagers had committed traffic offences with their racing.
Johan Sopiee from the Bangsar Cycling Group said for cyclists, it is paramount to always be courteous and aware of their surroundings, and observing traffic rules such as observing traffic lights, stopping where possible and moving when they should instead of holding up motorists.
“If we want to outlaw them I don’t know if it’ll work as it didn’t really work for the ‘mat rempits’. Then if you stop the lajak they may do other things. So it boils down to supervision and parenting,” Johan told Malay Mail, referring to another phenomenon of riders and racers of illegally modified motorcycles here.
“It’s easy for children to be influenced by their peers and fall into vices like doing drugs and other bad stuff. Hence for minors it is important for the parents to play a bigger role but for poor families, disciplining their kids may come as priority number three or four when you’re busy trying to earn a living and put food on the table.”
Shahrom also said that the basikal lajak issue may be a symptom of bigger social issues such as boredom and hardships at home.
He shared Johan’s sentiments, pointing to how teenagers may be victims of peer pressure and lack of supervision.
“While I feel it’s not wrong to have or own a basikal lajak, I do not agree with riding it on the open roads.” he said.
Local cycling legend Kenny Kwan Kah Yong said he sees plenty of talent and fearlessness in basikal lajak riders that should instead be nurtured — suggesting that easy and open access to parks and spaces would have helped provide an avenue for them.
“Raw talent with no guidance is wasted. These kids look directionless, clueless and have zero supervision hence they may not know better,” said Kwan, who has cycled in many disciplines for almost three decades.
“How nice would it be if we had races, special areas to compete and play which are away from the streets. In order to do that it all centers around proper education which I feel some of the kids are lacking,” he said.
“I hope the community and villages or anyone with the ability to do something about it please take care of these kids and give them the guidance they need,” Kwan added.