Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Urban Cycling: Swallow your pride

At the start of the OCBC cycling tour
Being of Dutch origin, I have cycled pretty much all of my life. I vaguely remember learning to cycle (without side wheels) when I was 5 years old,  and since then it has always been an essential part of my life. I rode urban bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, and OK yes.... motorbikes. I did beat Dutch wind, got frozen and soaked in Dutch rain, and I climbed Swiss mountains. I cycled in snow, rain, hail. I cycled in -15ÂșC, with so many clothes on that  I could hardly move. I cycled, ploughing with my mountain bike through 30 cm of fresh snow, where the inevitable crash resulted in a soft, silent landing. If it weren't for the ice cold melting snow running down my back, the crash was not even a bad experience. 

So conquering Urban Singapore Roads only seemed a logical next step. Less windy than Holland, less mountains than Switzerland, and less cold then pretty much anywhere in the world. What makes it a real sportive adventure however is the combination of 1 million cars, driven by 1 million impatient drivers, on a 710 square km surface area. And virtually no cycling lanes. Total bike control, eyes in the back of your head and willingness, no a WISH to sweat a lot are absolute prerequisites for even thinking of cycling in Singapore.

I finally decided to buy a bike, a foldable bike, a Brompton bike. I am a big fan of the Brompton foldable bike, but I would like to start off with the fact that I am not funded by Brompton by any means. Which I believe is a big injustice. Because I love my Brompton. It is relatively fast: 25-28 km/h average is achievable, once in shape. And it folds into ridiculously small proportions. I put it in the boot of taxis. I take it in the subway. I fold it and put it under the table at the hawker centre. The question 'is that a bike'? comes up all the time. And a demonstrative folding or unfolding puts a smile on many faces.
Folded Brompton
Two Bromptons stowed under the table
The downside of the Brompton Folding Bike is that it is a folding bike. So the coolness factor kind of suffers. It ranks in the 'luke-warm' category at the most. It IS a folding bike. I try to make up for that by wearing a cool helmet and some mean shades. I also practiced an 'I-ain't-taking-no-shit-from-nobody' face in front of the mirror. That did not help though. In order to survive on a bicycle in Singapore traffic you have to take a lot of shit from everybody.

My girlfriend, who is from Singapore, had taught me to swallow my pride when going on the road. "Don't expect to get your right of way at any given time". Also, she taught me that if you go straight on a big crossing with filter lanes for left and right, and stay in the middle lane as you are legally supposed to, the cars that want to turn left will honk at you. Because they have to slow down for you. And they don't like to slow down for you, as there is always a next traffic light to race to. 
When the honking in that situation actually happened to me for the first time, I could not help laughing because of the predictability!

However, things are changing in Singapore. More and more Singaporeans realize that a bicycle is actually a good means of transportation in an urban environment. Clean, healthy and not causing any traffic jam. Also, the Singapore government is building so called Park Connectors. These are separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians that cut through more remote areas and are an absolute pleasure to ride on.

And there is the yearly OCBC cycling tour, where everything from serious road racing to leisurely foldies cycling is meticulously planned. There were some 11000 cyclists this year, and I participated in the foldies ride. It was a fantastic experience, with a strong 'we' feel. Even the expressway was blocked for the occasion. 
For a few hours, I could imagine a bicycle friendly Singapore. A Singapore with cool folding bicycles and non-honking cars.

Until that time comes, I will cycle the Singapore roads with no pride, a cool helmet and a smile to any honking car. 

Cycling on the expressway


  1. nice to have an ang moh blogger :) ...

  2. Your blogs bring on smiles :D Love it!

  3. I love the way you have described the experiences you had. If you are an expat and plan on moving to Singapore, you may want to check out www.placematch.sg. I found it to be very useful in finding a place.