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Cycling Singapore: Barking at Monkey's
5 Mar, 2003
Jon Bridges recently went up to Singapore for work. Not content to go without his usual weekly ride he did his research and found himself a bike to ride up there. Below is his account of the ride.

Turns out there is a group of Aussies and Nzers in Singapore called the Australia New Zealand Singapore Association Cycling Group or something like that. I found them through their website ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anzascg/ ). They have regular training rides, and they join other locals going on rides. I put a notice up on their noticeboard before I left NZ to ask what ride I should go on, and ask if anyone knew where I could hire a bike... And I got about four really friendly responses, all suggesting rides telling me times and places to meet, and a couple recommended a bike shop to go to Treknology Bikes on Holland Grove Road.

So I put my helmet, bike clothes, pedals and shoes etc in my pack and took off for Singapore (I wasn't just going for a ride I had another job on there being part of the "entertainment" at the annual NZ ex-pats Waitangi Day Ball) Singapore is hot, let's get that sorted right now. It's 32 degrees at least each day and humid. Actually really nice as long as you get a swim each day! Come Saturday I was missing my regular Ibike ride and decided to put in the effort to go and hire a bike. I phoned Treknology and spoke to a woman there who confirmed that I would be able to hire a 'road bike, yes'. I was a bit concerned because of the language difficulty. English is the official language of Singapore, but most people there speak it as a second language, so there can be some slight difficulty mainly with accents and idioms. In fact I learned by the time I left Singapore not to worry, people can always understand you perfectly well.

Finding an address in Singapore is not always easy. One difficulty is that a lot of street names actually refer to more than one street. For example the bike shop was on Holland Grove Road, but all in the same little area of the city, there is Holland Grove Ave, Holland Grove Cres, Holland Grove Terrace, Holland Grove Lane, Holland Grove Close,Holland Grove Grove and simply Holland Grove, not to mention Holland Road, Holland Ave, Holland Lane etc. The good thing is that they form a little suburb so taxi drivers know if it's got Holland in the name it will be somewhere there off Holland road. The bad thing is that if you don't get the name right, if you say "It's 24 Holland something" you can forget finding it. Luckily I was very conscientious and got there. It turns out it was near "the cool store" whatever that is. Both taxi drivers said "yes, near the cool store", so it must have been a hell of a landmark. At the bike shop I was shown the bike they had to hire. It was an old bike they were selling. It had a sign on it "Trek $450". I think it was the first Trek that the Trek people ever made. It was vintage maybe 1990 aluminium but not oversized it had downtube shifters and it was as heavy as a duvet cover full of mud. Most frighteningly it had a huge black gel saddle on it that you could have played a game of four-square on. I was scared of that bike. I asked the really nice man there if he could just change the saddle for me and I'd pay the thirty five Singapore dollars for the day (not bad when you realise that $35 singapore is about $35 NZ). He said he could not change the saddle on it unless I wanted to buy a saddle. For a bit I almost had him convinced to swap it for the day for me with a saddle off another bike they were selling, but then he vetoed that idea too. Fair enough I suppose. In the end they put the seat and handlebars up for me. When I gave the man my pedals to put on he looked at me with a new look and said "these pedals are worth more than that bike". I just said "yeah" but I thought to myself that I didn't actually have any crappy pedals on me to go with the bike! Actually I was really chuffed to have got a bike at all with only one phone call and one visit, and I managed to find my way back to the hotel with only one accidental detour.

Next morning, 8am Bo Rand turned up at my hotel. The German husband of a New Zealander, Bo had been at the function and had invited me to come on his regular Sunday morning ride. Most of the riders in the Aus-NZ group were at a race that morning and I decided that given both the state of my legs and the state of my hired bike I'd give that a miss! We rode out to the meeting place at a gas station on a big road somewhere. About thirty guys were there to meet us. They were mostly locals guys of Chinese, Indian or Malay descent with a few ex-pats thrown in. There were all kinds of bikes from a Colnago CF3 to a Cervelo time trial machine, a lot of Treks. I think it was the first ride I've ever been on where nobody had an Avanti. It was very weird. One guy had a camera and we all got together in the sunlight and the heat for a photograph. I think they were all laughing at my bike, but nobody said anything, even when it became clear to everyone that yes, my brakes were going to squeal like that all the way around the island.

It was hot, but not sufferingly so. The only difficulty was sweat dripping down into my eyes. They were actually stinging from it, and there was nothing I could do about it. We swung along the wide roads out towards the countryside. How smooth were the roads? Have you ever ridden along a babies bottom? It was like that for the whole 65 or 70kms! The traffic was interesting, very different to here. Most of the roads are bigger than ours, it is a city of 3million people so the main roads are large, and when they ran out of room they had built overpasses that basically put another motorway on top of the existing one. The whole city is high-rise in order to fit everyone in, and it is all lush and green everywhere you look. The driving is a little bit crazy not Bangkok crazy but still a bit crazy. At the same time the driving is really friendly there is no road rage. There is nobody honking at you to get out of the way, there is no-one cutting back in really close after passing you, nobody intentionally trying to intimidate you. But at the same time someone could hit you accidentally by not even seeing you in the mayhem, so you take care.

My favourite part of the ride, though, came a few km's in when we had to slow down because there were Monkeys on the road. Monkeys who sort of hopped off the road as we approached and then watched us from the verge as we passed. We rolled past about 4 groups of them, and the locals took to barking at them (actually barking at them like dogs) to keep them from coming on to the road. Naturally I joined in on the barking. Never pass up the chance to bark at monkeys! They were dirty grey monkeys with snouts and close-set eyes, and we were thirty people riding past with our pockets full of bananas. It was a disaster waiting to happen! I wanted to stop but nobody else seemed to be that keen. I knew if I did stop I would get left behind by the group and have no choice but to live with the monkeys as one of their own, but I also knew that I would never be their king because they would laugh at my bike and ostracise me because of it. Monkeys hate downtube shifters their arms are too short to easily reach them no monkeys competed in cycling until the introduction of STI.

We rode in and out of countryside and city. There is very little farmland on the island of Singapore it is too small for that. There is jungle that surrounds a huge system of reservoirs in the centre of the island, but most of the island of Singapore is taken up by the city of Singapore. We rode past the military training facilities. Signs on the fences warn you that you will be shot if you go in with a picture. You know the picture of two kids crossing the road on the school signs here? Imagine those same two characters but one is shooting the other one, who is falling back dead.

It wasn't windy, but it became clear that we had a lot of different levels of riders on the ride because when we looked back after a couple of little rises (just rolling stuff there are no real hills around) the group was all busted up and never came back together. A couple of the riders at the front had put in little 'attacks' and I think the best riders were all at the race that day. We rode a circuit around the island to the east of the central reservoir and up to the North, almost to the causeway that goes across to Malaysia. We say the Malaysian city of Johor Baru across the water as we headed west across a dam called Kranji that separates the reservoir from the sea, then back down to the city. Towards the end there were only four of us left at the front A Singaporean called Lien, A South African called Paul who was upset at the way we had beaten them at cricket (imagine how he feels now!), Bo, myself, and an American woman on the Cervelo. It never turned into a race but Bo showed me the streets where the guys normally sprint.

We ended at the ride as my bike squealed loudly to a stop at a Gas Station with a Star Mart. Exactly like the Star Marts in New Zealand, except with three quarters of the drinks etc they sell being completely different and half of the remaining quarter being just slightly different. I had a Gatorade with a twisting spout thing that I'd never seen before. We waited but the rest of the gang never came. I think they may have stopped to watch the race. Maybe they all joined in the race? Maybe the monkeys got them or they were shot.

This is a long description of a relatively short ride, but it was definitely worthwhile taking my pedals and everything over and making the effort to ride in another country, and I would recommend it. Singapore was pretty easy to ride in plenty of local riders, English speaking, smooth roads, easy geography, nice weather. It was a highlight of my five days there, and while I enjoyed doing the normal tourist things this was a bit special, and I saw wild monkeys.
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