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Travel & Holiday

Wheelie adventurous

Cycling holidays are all the rage, with many Singaporeans willing to go off the beaten path
The Straits Times - April 24, 2012
By: Huang Huifen
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Wheelie adventurous Shangrila Adventure organises cycling trips to places such as Nepal where cyclists can cycle up to the Mount Everest base camp. -- PHOTO: SHANGRILA ADVENTURE

Forget coach tours. More Singaporeans are ditching the tourist bus and giving bicycle tours a spin.

Whether leisure riders or hardcore competitive cyclists, an increasing number are going on pedalling holidays, cycling up to 150km a day in places such as nearby Malaysia and Cambodia or further afield in Europe.

Tour operators and bike experts say this has been an emerging trend over the past four years.

While it used to be just a handful of adventure travel companies organising cycling holidays to more rugged destinations such as Tibet, even mainstream travel agencies such as Chan Brothers' bespoke travel agency Chan's World Holidays, CTC Travel, and also non-profit organisation YMCA of Singapore have started offering biking tours, some as early as 2010. They are often more leisurely and combine sightseeing with cycling.

However, cycling enthusiasts Belinda Foo, 47, and her husband Leonard Koh, a 52-year-old doctor, who take part in triathlons in their spare time, prefer to take the road less travelled on their trips.

Last July, they went on their first cycling trip with more than 10 members of their bike group Joyriders along segments of the famous Tour de France route in Vars. They cycled about 13,800m uphill through the Southern French Alps in six days. The trip was part of an annual mass amateur cycling event called Six Days of Vars, which takescyclists through some of the famous Tour de France routes.

'We follow the Tour de France on television every year, so to try some of the routes that our heroes such as Lance Armstrong have struggled on was an ultimate cycling adventure for us,' says Ms Foo. The pair paid $2,000 a person for the trip, which included accommodation, meals, event registration fee and vehicle support.

Indeed, the founder of local cycling organisation JFT Cycling, Mr Jean-Francois Torrelle, has in the last two years seen more Singaporeans signing up for his trips to two back-to-back annual mass cycling events on Tour de France routes - the Etape du Tour and the Six Days of Vars. When he first started in 2004, the 30-odd people who signed up were expatriates. For 2010 and last year's trips, there were 12 and 30 Singaporeans respectively.

Mr Victor Yew, the president of Singapore Cycling Federation, says the cycling holiday trend has picked up in the last four years because the sport has become more popular here.

He says: 'Since Singapore is so small, people will venture overseas for new experiences such as mountainous terrains, scenic views and cool temperature.'

Stockbroker John Cheng, 53, picked up cycling in 2009 and is now hooked on cycling overseas after a four-day cycling trip with 11 friends in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, last April.

'I enjoyed the experience of seeing the countryside, conquering the off-road terrains, crossing a raging river on a swaying bridge with broken planks, and going to places such as temples and quaint resorts only reachable by bicycles,' says Mr Cheng, who paid around $800 for the trip with Thailand-based bike tour operator SpiceRoads. It included accommodation, bicycle and equipment rental, transport and airfare.

The group went for another cycling trip in Chiang Mai last November and are planning another in Angkor Wat next month.

Last year, adventure travel company Adventure Quests introduced shorter trips to Bintan and more recently, Malacca, after realising there is a market for leisure cyclists for trips with shorter distances and easier terrains, says its spokesman Vinnie Tan.

Despite the fact that cycling tours are up to 40 per cent more expensive and longer than regular sightseeing tours, Mr Alvin Low, the director of Shangrila Adventure, says he organises about four to five trips with an average of eight people to places such as China, Nepal, Laos and Cambodia a year, compared to just one Tibetan trip of seven people in 2007. The clientele are mostly in their 30s to 40s.

Chan Brothers spokesman Jane Chang says it has received over 40 bookings across its three cycling tours in Xinjiang, Cambodia and Taiwan since their launch in February. YMCA's second Taiwan nine-day cycling trip departing this Saturday for 30 people was fully booked about a month after its January launch.

But do not jetset with your bike just yet. Cyclists must be trained to be able to cycle 60 to 70km without struggling and be able to comfortably ride up the slopes of, say, Mount Faber, repeatedly, says Shangrila's Mr Low.

Avid cyclists Hing Siong Chen, a general practitioner, and his wife, oncologist Lynette Ngo, both 40, love their cycling trips so much that even suffering broken bones does not deter them.

Since 2007, the couple have cycled in many parts of the United States and other destinations such as Australia, Europe and Bintan. Some of the trips in the US and Bintan were with their two children Chloe, 14, and Clarisse, 12.

Even a biking accident on their first six-day trip along the Pacific Coast in California which resulted in Dr Ngo breaking her shoulder did not halt the jaunt.

'After my wife came out of the hospital in bandages and sling, she went straight to a bike shop to replace her torn tights,' says Dr Hing with a laugh.

'The heady mix of endorphins, exploring new territories and conquering tough routes is what cycle holidays are about,' he says.

BEFORE YOU RIDE...

PREPARING FOR THE TRIP

  • Pack the right attire such as bright-coloured cycling jerseys, padded cycling tights, proper biking shoes, gloves and helmet.
  • For cycling at high altitudes, wear cycling pants and a windproof jacket as temperatures can be freezing. For other places, a waterproof jacket is handy if it rains. 
  • In cold climates such as Tibet, a balaclava will shield your face. And in Cambodia, you might want to wear a mask to keep dust out.
  • Train at least between three and six months before your trip. Weekend leisure cycling in East Coast Park will not cut it. Ride long distances of about 70km and do repeated uphill climbs such as up Mount Faber's 1.6km slope. Do go on- and off-road. Some bike tour operators such as Shangrila Adventure conduct training at Mount Faber or at Desaru, where there are steep 35km uphill climbs. 

ON-THE-GO

  • Put important items such as passport, wallet and mobile phone in ziplock bags in case it rains.
  • Keep about three car-lengths' distance from cyclists or motorists to avoid accidents.
  • Understand traffic rules. Watch out for pot holes. Signal your intentions clearly. Ride a car-door's length from parked vehicles.
  • Drink lots of water or electrolyte drinks to prevent dehydration.
  • Do not hesitate to stop and get on the support vehicle if you are feeling fatigued.

Sources: Shangrila Adventure, Joyriders, CTC Travel, Adventure Quests, YMCA of Singapore.

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