OUR country has around 150,000km of road networks that connect the biggest cities to the most rural corners of the nation.
It is quite an extensive system, and most of it, of course, is well paved and maintained.
For those in search of an adventure, though, Borneo is one of the last bastions where bits of unpaved trails can be found.
We recently joined the Sabah leg of the KTM Malaysia Owners’ Group (KMOG) Borneo tour.
Our journey started from Kota Kinabalu, and over the course of five days, we visited the Tip of Borneo, rode in the shadow of majestic Mount Kinabalu, traverse the winding corners of the Crocker Range and board a ferry to Labuan island.
We encountered challenging bits of unpaved roads, testing our skills in handling the KTM machines.
We rode a KTM Adventure 1050 throughout the journey.
The Tip of Borneo
The journey started, ironically, with a journey by coach to the Tip of Borneo. A total of 38 KTM machines were shipped to Sabah from the peninsula in a container. Rough seas delayed their arrival in Kota Kinabalu.
With no motorcycles to travel on, the KMOG committee, at the very last minute, secured a coach to ferry the 45 participants to the tip.
Located in Kudat, the Tip of Borneo is the northernmost part of the whole island, the third largest in the world. It is the transit point to Pulau Banggi further north.
The Tip of Borneo offered wonderful views of the meeting point between the South China Sea and Sulu Sea. Being a bright sunny day, it was blue skies and seas for as far as the eye could see.
As it was the northeast monsoon season, big waves could be seen crashing on the shores below.
We returned to Palace Hotel just in time to see the last of our KTM motorcycles being unloaded.
The ride started immediately, just after sunset. As the sun disappeared behind the horizon, 38 V-Twins rumbled to life and began their journey from Ranau to Tamparuli.
During the day, the climb to Kundasang would be scenic. But in the dark of night, though, with only the headlights of our motorcycles lighting up the way, there was not much to see.
Barely hitting 90kph, we managed to cover the journey in less than two hours before arriving at the Mount Kinabalu Heritage Resort and Spa.
The foot of Mount Kinabalu
The arrival of dawn unveiled the majestic sight of Mount Kinabalu.
The Mount Kinabalu Heritage Resort and Spa has built strategic platforms for guests to view the mountain, and the riders spent a good hour or so taking photos, with the sunrise mountain as the backdrop.
Content with their pictures, the group pushed off from the resort about 9am. The next destination was Sabah Tea Garden, some 36km away in Ranau. The farm was the only organic tea farm in Borneo, and is claimed to be one of a few in the world.
After the tea farm our next stop was the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Sepilok is a renown sanctuary in the 4,294ha Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. First established in 1964, it housed as many as 80 orang utans, which roamed freely in the surrounding forests.
The final stretch of the day was the ride to Sabah Hotel in Sandakan. The convoy regrouped for dinner before turning in early.
The next day would be the toughest yet, a 650km haul from Sandakan to Keningau.
Off the paved track
We woke up fresh before dawn to tackle the Sandakan-Keningau leg.
Leaving Sabah Hotel, we maintained a comfortable pace and reached Tawau, 318km away by 10.20am.
We caught the restaurant owner, who was just opening his doors for the day, off-guard.
However, we still had a good meal. After lunch, it was back on the road.
We had not journeyed far before dark clouds rolled and the air temperatures began dropping, a tell-tale sign of rain ahead.
Sure enough, the sky opened up and drenched the riders. We were all soaked by the time we took shelter at a petrol station.
Having refuelled, we decided not to wait the storm out, and rode into the downpour.
The marshals guided us through a small village. There were two KTM 990 Adventures in the group, which had smaller fuel tanks. We needed to refuel the pair at a remote Petronas station in Kalabakan.
From thereon, it would be another 256km to the Mee Woo Resort in Keningau. This was the most challenging segment of the journey.
We would be riding across lower Sabah, through its most remote region, from the east coast to the west. In fact, we would be riding through the famous Maliau Basin conservation area, known as Sabah’s Lost World.
There would be no petrol stations along the way. Heck, there wouldn’t be any road either on some parts of the journey.
While a majority of the route was paved, intermittent sections consisted of loose gravel. It was then the adventure credentials of the KTM could be put to test.
The pack attacked the off-road sections with zest, barely slowing down. The KTMs slipped and slid, but mostly kept upright as we made our journey westward.
Having survived the off-road sections, we were again greeted by a downpour, about 50km from Keningau.
Thoroughly soaked, we stopped at a small coffeeshop to warm up. We finally arrived at the Mee Woo Resort after sunset for dinner.
By the time we reached Perkasa Hotel in Keningau, we were pretty much beaten up.
We did our best to lay out our gear to dry, then turned in for a good night’s sleep.
Misty Crocker Range
The marshalls mercilessly had us up and ready by daybreak again the following day. The day’s ride would take us across the Crocker Range Park, the notorious section of winding road famed among bikers in Sabah.
In some ways, the route, which was actually named Keningau-Kimanis Highway, is to Sabah bikers what Genting Highlands is to peninsula motorcyclists.
Consisting of a serpentine stretch that rose above the Crocker Range, it had very steep gradients ranging from 10 per cent to about 25 per cent, making it one of the steepest stretches of highways in the country.
There was a lookout point where riders could get coffee while enjoying the view.
Having taking the prerequisite photos, we proceeded to Kuala Penyu.
From there, the group boarded a ferry to the duty-free haven of Labuan island, before checking in to the Billion Waterfront.
We had to leave the convoy at this point, and the KMOG members would continue on their epic ride to Kuching, Sarawak, traversing a total of 2,600km over 10 days.