Taking a peek at how Skoda Singapore’s clever cars provided the bedrock for Charity Bike ‘n’ Blade 2019
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Skoda may have a rich motorsports history, but that’s not the only sporting endeavour it has a high-profile presence in.
As we just learned last week, Skoda is the main vehicle partner for the Tour De France and many other bike events around the world besides, providing crucial logistical support for the organisers and also physical support for the riders themselves.
This is of course a natural fit for the company, seeing as it first started out as a bicycle maker in 1895, before moving onto making motorcycles, then cars.
Closer to home, Skoda Singapore is also the official car partner of Charity Bike ‘n’ Blade, a passionate group of cycling enthusiasts who raise funds for charities through the sport they love.
Founded in 2005, 2019’s Charity Bike ‘n’ Blade ride is the 12th iteration of the event, and took place from 6 to 9 September. With Ipoh as a homebase, 50 cyclists tackled this year’s itinerary, which comprised of a ride up Cameron Highlands (65km in distance, and 1,400m in elevation), as well as a 165km ride in the countryside surrounding Ipoh. In total, the group managed to raise S$215,000 to date for The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home.
This year was Skoda Singapore’s second supporting this event, and it provided six vehicles: two Skoda Octavia sedans, a Skoda Octavia RS245 sports sedan, a Skoda Karoq midsized SUV, a Skoda Superb big sedan, and a Skoda Kodiaq big SUV.
Each of them had a crucial role to play in ensuring the safety and well-being of the cyclists, as well as the smooth running of the event.
Every support vehicle carried cartons of water and 100 Plus, as well as bananas and energy gel, to help keep the riders going along the route. They were also equipped with bike racks and first aid kits, and vacant rear seats so they could pick up riders and their bikes if they could no longer continue.
Some vehicles though, had another, primary role to play: lead car, pathfinder, and sweeper vehicle. To get a better understanding of the intricacies involved in providing car support for a large cycling event, as well as how Skodas are ideally suited to the task at hand, we spoke to their drivers after the Cameron Highlands leg to gather their insights of their roles and the challenges they faced:
If there’s one thing we loved about Skoda’s hottest number, it’s its crushingly effective cross-country pace. Thanks to its limited-slip front differential, traction out of corners is practically unbreakable, and the 245hp of its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine is near to the maximum you can realistically deploy on the public road.
This is useful as the lead car needs to co-ordinate the other support vehicles and direct them to where in the whole big line of riders help is needed the most; if it needs to assess a situation at the back of the pack, then the extra performance of a car like the Octavia RS245 is ideal for it to then shoot back and resume its position at the front of the pack.
Other lead car responsibilities include controlling the pace and keeping the peloton tight in areas where there’s heavy traffic, to minimise disruption to other road users and also to keep the riders safe.
“As a support car I think it’s great, because in this role you often need to turn around quickly, and in winding roads like these the roadholding is very important,” said lead car driver Mr Wong Ting Ling (above).
Mr Wong used to be an avid track driver at the Pasir Gudang and Batu Tiga circuits in Malaysia, so you can be sure he knows how to appreciate a fast car.
“The Octavia RS has very good roadholding, so around the bends it’s very stable, and it’s very well balanced even though it’s a front-wheel drive car. But of course you need to be competent to handle it as well.”
Apart from comfort, the Skoda Superb has tonnes of space. We would know – the rear seats were the most coveted ones on our journey from Singapore to Ipoh and back.
In a support role, the Superb’s limo-like length and gargantuan 625-litre boot made it perfect as the event’s pathfinder vehicle.
You could liken its role to that of an advance party – it travels the route ahead of everyone else, setting up directional and distance markers for the cyclists to follow.
“For those locations where we can’t simply tie them to lamp posts or trees, we need to attach them to gala poles and stick them into the ground,” said Mr Henry Teo (above, middle), who has over ten years experience as a support driver.
“Because of the tremendous amount of things I need to carry, my vehicle needs to have a very large boot. Sometimes I’ll need to bring as many as 36 signboards, which are each about 90cm long by 60cm wide,” explained Mr Teo. “Then there are the galas, which are about two-metres long each. “
Thanks to one particularly nifty feature of the Superb’s though, that’s no hardship.
“In most cars, once I put the poles in there it usually reduces the seating capacity, because the seats need to be folded down,” continued Mr Teo.
“But the Superb has a brilliant design feature, the pass-thru hatch in between the rear seats. It’s really a fantastic design for anyone who needs to carry long objects, which means I can still carry passengers. And the Superb is so spacious, the poles don’t even touch the rear of the central console compartment!”
The Kodiaq is the largest Skoda in the lineup, which means it trumps the others in one area: road presence. That trait comes into its own at the rear of the pack, where the Kodiaq plays double duty in arguably the most important roles, as the Safety and Sweeper vehicle.
“I have two key roles,” explained Mr Jimi Tan (above), who is also one of the co-organisers of the event. “First, as the safety vehicle, I will stay behind the last rider and act as a shield for them against traffic. Safety is paramount, and sometimes motorists can drive quickly and get too close to the riders, so I’m there to warn drivers and block them if necessary. The Kodiaq is bright white, it’s big, and it has the bike rack for added height, so it’s very visible.”
That height and road presence was a huge boon on the tight roads that wind up Cameron Highlands. “Further up the mountain, on certain curves there are tall barriers, so drivers of lower cars might not be able to see that there are riders ahead, but they will certainly see the Kodiaq,” Mr Tan recalled.
“I will also stay behind as I’m the sweeper – most of the time I do this role. So if anyone encounters any issues, it is my job to check on them and see if they can continue,” said Mr Tan. “Sometimes they just need a break and want to continue further on, so I will call one of the other cars to temporarily take my place while I drop them off further up the route.”
“If riders are too slow, I will have to ‘sweep’ them so we can keep to our schedule. That’s why we prefer the rear cars to be larger ones, and also because we’re clearing up the signage and route markers as we go along.”
“The Kodiaq also suits me very well because I’m tall, so it’s easy to get in and out. But it also makes it convenient to talk to riders alongside at eye level. Sometimes riders will move around and start cycling side by side in a pack, so the height makes it easy for me to remind them ‘hey guys, single file please’,” he said.
“One of the important things a support driver needs is to understand the mindset of a cyclist in terms of safety, and that reflects in my driving behaviour. So for support vehicles it’s all about safety, knowing your positions, having a feel for the riders, and keeping constant communication with the other support cars.”