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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Growing love affair with 2 wheels

S'pore not friendliest place for cycling but locals are taking to it for work and leisure
The Sunday Times - February 26, 2012
By: Chan U-Gene
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Growing love affair with 2 wheels -- ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Jeanette Lui does it to see the world at a slower pace. Charles Feng does it to get to work. Douglas Yeo loves the kiss of the wind on his face. Emily Low just wants her family to have fun.

'It' is cycling, which is enjoying a boom in popularity. In 2001, less than 80,000 Singapore residents picked cycling as their favourite sport in a national sports participation survey. An identical survey four years later saw the number increase to nearly 110,000.

The latest survey - due later this year - is likely to yield even more impressive figures.

Low, 43, whose family of four started cycling together three months ago on a weekly basis, said: 'Cycling is such a great sport. You can do it in a leisurely manner because it is low impact, unlike running. Or, you can also do it as a test of endurance.'

There are many reasons why people cycle, and here in Singapore, the love affair is gaining traction.

The evidence is compelling. Day and night, roads and pavements from East Coast Park to Jurong have become playgrounds for an army of bikes. Some are expensive carbon machines, others are made of humble aluminium, but they are all powered by the same thought - the joy of swallowing up an open road on two pedal-powered wheels.

'It gives me a rush to be one with the traffic on the road,' said auditor Feng, 28. 'But unlike the cars, I am manually powered - by my enthusiasm.'

There are some drawbacks - the running battle with motorists and pedestrians for space, the inevitable falls that result in scraped knees and sprains, and the cost of buying a decent bike.

Growth in numbers and events

Yet, the numbers are growing, both in terms of the number of cyclists and the number of cycling events.

Ten years ago, mass cycling events like the National Runway Cycling at Paya Lebar Airbase were uncommon. Today, there are at least 10 events on the cycling calendar, including the biggest of them all - the OCBC Cycle Singapore, which comes round again next weekend.

This year's edition has attracted almost 11,000 cyclists - a two-fold increase since the inaugural event in 2009. According to event organisers Spectrum Worldwide, more people are cycling, and they are doing so over longer distances.

At the OCBC race, the 59km Super Challenge category featured just 203 riders three years ago. Come 5.30am next Sunday, there will be 1,300 of them taking up the challenge.

Group attraction

But mass events are just the tip of the iceberg. Cycling groups - which offer camaraderie, advice and a sense of belonging - have sprouted all over the island.

Hawker centres are favourite meeting points for these serious cyclists, including Joyriders, Singapore's largest group which boasts over 1,300 members.

Their meeting point is the iconic Longhouse foodcourt in Upper Thomson Road, where dozens of gleaming, two-wheeled machines begin their journey every weekend.

There are also mid-sized groups - such as Dawnriders and Newmoon KHCycle - which have over a hundred members, and many more small groups which count no more than a dozen riders.

Websites like togoparts.com and social media are favourite tools for arranging mass rides. No matter who you are, where you live, or when you want to ride, chances are, you can find a group to pedal with.

Singapore Cycling Federation president Victor Yew notes that the growth is mainly among those from their mid-20s to late 40s.

He said: 'Over the last five years, the number of cyclists has increased several fold. While there are no census numbers to put a quantitative figure to the increased popularity, the sight of a cyclist on the road, mountain bike trails and the BMX track at the Tampines Bike Park is certainly more common these days.

'The increase has certainly been more significant in the leisure groups, for the simple fact that cycling is a very social sport.'

He added that one thing that makes the sport so attractive is that it is 'a great equaliser'.

He explained: 'You have CEOs riding in the same group and line as a hawker stall owner and likewise for a student from ITE bantering in the group ride with an accomplished professor.'

Boom in business

The swelling number of cyclists has also been a boon to local bicycle businesses.

Turnover even at smaller shops such as Swiss Valley has picked up. Owner Andi Wahyudi has gone from selling 10 bikes a month in 2006 to about 30 a month last year.

Wahyudi, whose European road bikes cost between $1,900 and $15,000, estimates that an average customer spends about $3,000.

One of the biggest cycle stores here, Treknology Bikes 3, sells about 20 bicycles daily across its three outlets, according to marketing executive Sham Jani.

He estimates that about 30 per cent of its 3,000-strong customer database are expatriates. The 'more serious' cyclists, he said, have no qualms spending up to $17,000 for a bike.

Apart from the health benefits of keeping physically active, the lure of flashy upgrades and new technology, national cyclist Darren Low believes, adds to the attractiveness of the sport.

Said the 2011 SEA Games individual time-trial silver medallist: 'People like gadgets. The more they get into it, the more they spend. Besides the bike technology, you get to wear nice things like sunglasses and pro team jerseys. And you feel good about it.'

Additional reporting by Alvin Chia and Lester Wong

GETTING STARTED

Buying a bike

 

  • Getting the right fit is key, if you want to avoid injuring your knee, lower back or shoulders. Many bike shops offer a bike-fitting service, which helps to shortlist a bike and make adjustments to suit your body type.
  • Get on the right type of bike to suit the terrain you want to ride on. Mountain bikes, for instance, are cheaper but are best suited for off-road riding.
  • Think about how often you want to ride and your budget. Expensive bikes are not necessary if you do not ride regularly, though they can give you a competitive edge if you want to join a serious cycling group.

 

When cycling

 

  • Be safe. Wear a helmet, bright-coloured clothes, and install front and back lights.
  • Practise defensive riding, and be careful if you are cycling on wet terrain. Be alert to avoid causing accidents.
  • Look for a group of cyclists who can guide you through some basic riding skills and learn hand signals when riding in a group.
  • Try out straight and flat routes, such as Changi Coast Road, for a start.
  • Do not speed. Focus on proper riding techniques first.

 

Maintenance

 

  • Use a hose to wash away rainwater, mud and sand particles after each ride.
  • Oil your chains after every wash.
  • Send your bike for servicing at a bike shop every 3,000km, or roughly every six months.

 

Sources: Joyce Leong (Joyriders), Paul Lee (Cycle Siow group), Smiek Ng (president of Newmoon KHCycle), Sherman Yeo (Treknology), Tay Junction, Francis Sin and David Ng (members of Newmoon KHCycle group), Darren Low and Timothy Lim (members of the OCBC Singapore Continental Cycling Team)

 

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