Pouring sweat from every pore I had just finished a 30 kilometre ride through Singapore starting at the top of the city state’s famous Orchard Road. For reasons only known to myself I’d joined a group of morning road warriors to sample Singapore’s cycle friendliness and while I felt rather soggy and exhausted, it was a real eye opener.
Thunderous bird calls filled the air and of the few cars around, our group of twenty was given plenty of space to ride boldly down this famous boulevard chatting away while moving up the gears letting our legs and lungs steadily meet our power needs.
Although I am woefully lacking in riding fitness, I succumbed to the full lycra outfit and have recently bought a bike so this ride with the ANZA Cycling Club was to test the idea of group rides. While I can’t say the ride was without pain, some of the pain due to an embarrassing lack of speed, I can really understand the emotional and physical momentum you get by riding together.
There was instant camaraderie from people I’d just met and a level of encouragement and sympathy that was generous to say the least. While I poured sweat, they barely puffed.
Exploring the CBD and outskirts on my bike was an unexpected joy on roads I’d driven and taken taxis through without seeing so much.
New golf for corporates
Some say cycling is the new golf for mostly male corporate types. Others say it is simply the ideal fitness choice for ageing bodies combined with the easiest networking opportunity. Either way, the boom in cycling here in Singapore adds another layer of lifestyle for expats and regular visitors alike which for many reasons cannot be matched anywhere in Asia.
The Singapore government continues to invest millions of dollars into the PCN, Park Connector Network, which is gradually connecting tens of kilometres of existing tree-lined parks and cycling paths across the whole island to create a blissful family and casual ride especially on weekends.
If you think smooth roads and government investment are not uncommon, let me add that the local traffic authority (LTA) has a dedicated ‘Hazard Reporting Number’ (1800 225 5582) where cyclists can call to report potholes and the LTA will come and fill them within a few hours.
Call me soft but this is surely cycling nirvana when potholes don’t need to be dodged and where there is little worry about punctures.
Easy and breezy East Coast Park
Casual rides can be found all over the island but my pick for the visitor is East Coast Park (ECP) because of its easy accessibility to all CBD hotels. Stretching all the way along the coast for about fifteen kilometres the ECP is a long, breezy stretch of cycling and pedestrian paths. Tree lined and shady you can enjoy the ride and people watching all day long. The city traffic noises are minimized on your left while on your right you enjoy seeing the sand, the water and sounds of small waves. If you need to stop for a drink or a rest, you are in luck. Cafes and restaurants are available at two main sections along the way. For atmosphere, you’ll enjoy seeing people running, walking, standing, talking, rollerblading, skate boarding, doing chi-gung, scootering and more. On the weekends, this is a mecca for outdoor activity.
No bike, no excuses
Visitors to Singapore are spoilt for service too. Along the East Coast Park are locations where bikes can be rented. And in a sign of the times Spinlister.com is the travelling cyclist’s version of Airbnb. Yes, you can rent a bike from a local at a negotiated rate on-line!
Cycling clubs are abundant in Singapore and most have websites explaining their particular cycling fortes and favoured routes: “Fat Boys Cycling Club”, “JoyRiders”, “Barbarians”, “International Gerbils”, “4T2”, “West Coast Riders”, “Geylang Cycling Club”, and more competitive racing teams such as “Allied World” (linked to Anza), “Specialised Mavericks” and “Matador Racing.”
The Singapore difference
According to my cycling buddies from ANZA Cycling (http://www.anza.org.sg) Singapore offers a wonderful array of sights and smells as you ride that you don’t find in many places around the world.
“On a 60-80km ride around the island you might see monkeys on the roads, wild boars chasing the group and pythons,” ANZA Cycling president, Megan Kinder says.
Started in 2001 and now boasting close to 500 members comprised of 31 nationalities, ANZA follows a “no drop” rule according to Kinder. What this means is no rider gets left behind.
She says one of her favourite rides is affectionately known as “flavours and fragrances” because as you ride through the farming area of Kranji you “move through a wave of chocolate smells, followed by the strong scent of cloves then comes a section of nastiness followed strangely by a corned beef smell. It’s a little mind bending but it’s a reflection of what is grown, what is processed and what is made out that way.”
While I joked that cycling seems to be the new golf for corporate types and that I was fast becoming a ‘MAMIL’ (middle-aged-man-in-lycra) that I once loathed seeing at cafes on the weekends, Megan confirmed that “fitness and networking are the two main reasons people join the club because you get to know a lot of people really quickly so the social aspect can easily blend into business.”
Early morning rides beat the heat
The heat is avoidable by riding before sunrise and this seems to be the key to regular cycling in Singapore. While it is muggy the roads are quiet almost up until 8am when it gets quite busy. And the key local tip is that most regulars take two bottles of fluids with them on any ride just to stay hydrated.
In recent weeks I’ve ridden with a visiting friend (who brought his bike from Sydney) all the way along the ECP around the back of Changi airport down to Changi Village for a morning iced coffee and then taken the Loyang Avenue route back through the ‘heartland’ suburbs of Tampines, Bedok and Kallang into the CBD. It was a bit of an odyssey at three hours and a rather leisurely 65 kilometres but it was one of the best ways to see and experience a different Singapore.
On your bike, you’ll get to see, hear, smell and explore Singapore in a more satisfying way - a sleepy early morning Singapore, before the lion awakes.