The idea of Singapore usually conjures up the image of sprawling skyscrapers, never-ending traffic jams and a sea of people moving en masse. Not exactly a place where you’d find a community of passionate bike riders. But there is − and I’m part of it. This is me: I’m an undergradbetae business student − that’s my alter ego. Racing bikes is my passion.
Singapore is a small island nation − measuring just 50km from East to West. We are a city state, which means you can expect cars, traffic and people. Yes, being so densely populated, it is difficult for cyclists to get in the miles on our small island. But come the weekends, the roads empty and become the Singapore cyclists’ natural habitat. For the more dedicated riders&mins; the non-weekend warriors for whom Saturday and Sunday simply won’t suffice − groups depart at 5am from different meeting points across the island. It is not uncommon to hear of riders rising at 4, making the 5am group depart, completing a 2−2.5-hour loop halfway round the island before joining the mad-rush to work with the rest of the office crowd.
Cycling is a relatively new sport in Singapore, with local racing roots going back to the 1960s. For the keen racer, it is a tough sport to pursue. Hence, racing remains a rarity due to the space constraints imposed. Opportunities are hard to come by, and we leave no chances during preparation to put on a good showing.
Many of our top riders travel overseas for extended racing stints. Many amateurs are more than willing to make a trip across the border, to Indonesia or Malaysia to get some racing in their legs − passion for the sport runs deep there. And that too, is where my background and experience lies.
A bit about myself
I first left Singapore for an extended period to race when I was 19, straight after finishing my National Service. I spent 2 months in Melbourne, joining their summer crit racing season and it taught me a lot about bike racing. It served to stoke the fire, which led to travelling further afield to spend the past 2 summers racing in the Netherlands and Belgium.
I first begun at the amateur level, staying at a friend’s place in Veere, the Netherlands, before joining the Goes-based Elite team, Z.R.T.C. Theo Middelkamp in 2016. Getting used to the speed of the Elite Z.C. peloton races was tough, but having a group of welcoming Dutch boys around me softened the learning curve.
Some people say that ‘home is where the heart is’ and I must admit that from time to time, I feel that I have left a part of myself back in Europe. It is a place that is a long way from home, but I hope to visit from time to time, to rekindle the spirit that drives my love for the sport. In fact, I am in the midst of planning a month-long trip back to Europe to race, during my last summer at university. Fingers crossed that it falls into place!
Our roads − Back to the Island
Despite being a modern metropolis, we thankfully have a selection of nice roads in Singapore where we can ride and train. They are not completely free from Singapore’s large population, but find them on a quiet day, or even during a tranquil hour, and they’re a real treat.
There is only one note worthy climb on the island: Mount Faber. At a mere 1.2KM with an average gradient of 6−7%, it’s unlikely to be considered a ‘mountain’, but it definitely provides some spectacular views of our city’s skyline. (Provided the sky is clear enough!)
Another typical Singapore cyclist’s haunt would be Mandai. As one of the roads that skirts around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve — the largest nature reserve on the island, sitbetaed in the geographical centre of the island, which has several reservoirs, a zoo and nature parks − it provides some spectacular views and rolling terrain. Somewhat predictably, it’s a major draw for riders.
You want to time a ride to Mandai when traffic is at its quietest. Think pre-dawn on weekdays or weekend mornings. If you’re early (and lucky) enough, you might even be able to catch the roads shrouded in mist, giving that much sought-after cool breeze that’s usually absent in our otherwise hot and humid tropical climate.
We might not have the scenic country roads that our land-abundant neighbours have, but we make do with what we have; viaducts, coastal roads and industrial b-roads are a typical Singaporean riders’ playgrounds.
The unmistakeable Singapore skyline provides a backdrop for most of our rides. Being such a small nation, it is not uncommon to transverse the island a couple of times a week.
The beauty lies in not just the scenery and all-year-long summer weather, but the friends we make on the road. Our cycling community is tightly knit, with riders frequently joining multiple club rides. Big group rides are a common sight on weekend mornings, and it is heartening to see so many cyclists out there on a ride with their mates!
Inculcating a cycling and racing culture
Progress towards turning Singapore into a cyclist-friendly city has been very encouraging in recent months. With initiatives such as Car Free Sunday, where major roads in the Central Business District are closed to cars for the whole morning on the last Sunday of the month, things are certainly moving in the right direction.
Racing has been picking up as well, with the OCBC National Rankings and Points System put in place to encourage competition amongst racers for the various road racing events held by different event organising companies.
As a build-up for the Singapore National Time Trial Championships, I joined a bunch of riders from the Singapore National Track Squad in the OCBC Cycle TTT organised by a local events company. The race was held at the soon-to-be-opened Tanah Merah Coast Road, right by the sea.
Held over an out-an-back U-shaped course over freshly laid tarmac, it served up a fast day of racing. We entered the Men’s Open category, seeing our team of 4 completing 2 laps, making for a 40KM full-gas effort.
By now you might probably recommend that I take some math classes − as there are only 3 of us in the photo?! Yes, as is with racing (and perhaps murphy’s law), mishaps are bound to occur. Embarrassingly, we were late to the start line. Further compounding the sitbetaion, one of our teammates, had issues with his front wheel. We sat up and waited for him to come by, losing valuable time. He eventually joined us, but had a puncture 5km in. This left us with 3 men for the remaining 35km. Our start couldn’t have been less ideal.
We worked well as a team, rolling turns at 45−50KPH − not a bad pace for a slightly breezy course, which was exposed to the coastal winds in certain sections. Preparation and training was not optimal: It−s not easy juggling university coursework and building up form for upcoming races. I cramped mid−way through the course and could not contribute as much as I would’ve loved to. Rolling through with those fast trackies was all I could manage, just keeping it smooth.
Despite the poor start − losing nearly 2 minutes − we clocked a time of 54:18 for 4th position, less than 20 seconds off the first place. Not too shabby considering the mishaps of the day. No doubt, my team and I were disappointed at the results − but hey, that’s bike racing. We live to race another day and most importantly,
I hope this provides a good snapshot of things happening in our little red dot, and I am looking forward to telling everyone more about life as a cyclist from Singapore.
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