Elena Yun starts her day quite differently compared to other Malaysians. Instead of donning corporate attire, her work clothes are a neon-green, moisture-wick T-shirt, paired with comfortable bicycle shorts, a messenger bag, and a helmet.
Formerly a lawyer at a firm downtown along Jalan Raja Laut, she used to spend hours in frustration due to the grueling commute through rush-hour traffic. Instead of resigning herself to fate, she decided to cycle to work. She used to leave as early as 8.30 am, taking about an hour to cycle 12 km each way from her home in Petaling Jaya to downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Though it was physically taxing at first, she felt happier riding her bike rather than driving. “I remember feeling so stressed and frustrated because of the traffic jams, but all of that pretty much went away after I started cycling. When the wind blows across my face, it feels like my troubles go away with it too.”
It was through this experience that she found the inspiration to start Bike with Elena, her own bicycle tour business. Originally, she started with only two bicycles and one tour around downtown KL, which she did part-time on weekends. One year later, she transitioned to a full-time cyclist, adding eight bicycles and three other tours. One route cuts through the Little India district in Brickfields, another does a full circle in the federal capital of Putrajaya, and another around the countryside of Sungai Janggut in Kapar. The common theme among her tours is finding hidden secrets — venturing to seemingly ordinary places that people might otherwise never tread on, let alone give a second look, and discover the unique stories behind these places.
Not surprisingly, the most popular route is the one in Sungai Janggut. On this route, Elena takes her participants through a distinctively Malay countryside, dotted with traditional kampung houses supported by stilts, many of which were built decades ago.
"The visitors love the kampung life, and what appealed most to them was the peaceful, serene environment, the delicious Malay food, and the kind hospitality from the villagers," Elena explained.
On one occasion, she and her cycling group were even invited to attend a traditional Malay wedding happening in the village during the tour. For Elena, such coincidences add color and depth to her tours. They strengthen her resolve to connect her participants to truly local experiences that are, more than often, hidden from plain view.