Words by Steve Thomas
It’s not that often that I’m out and about before 6am, but it was ”OCBC Day”, the Sunday morning of Singapore’s biggest mass participation cycling event; something I just had to see.
Just to be clear; I’m not a Singapore resident, and was just passing through to shoot the OCBC Pro Criterium race for a couple of international magazines, and was tagging on some mountain biking to make a viable trip of things. Sunday had been planned as a catch-up day for my work, but having heard that there were 10,000 people due to take part in an inner city bike ride had me curious and bemused – 10,000 people, on bikes, in Singapore? They had to be joking, right?
It was only just getting light, but my bleary eyes were blinded by the masses of red OCBC T-shirts and the glinting dawn smiles of the cyclists. It didn’t seem to matter which distance they’d chosen to tackle, what kind of bike they had, or what shape they were in; they were all here to achieve something personal, and it was on two wheels. It’s not often that you come across such occurrences, and it’s really heart warming to see, and bodes well for Singaporean cycling in all of its incarnations.
The OCBC event had been a huge success, that’s for sure. But, having been at the crit the evening before, and having watched much of the Sunday ride too, I couldn’t help but wonder where the crowds were; after all, these events are a huge spectacle, and yet there were seemingly more participants than supporters, the flip side of how events usually work.
Over the next couple of days I was introduced to the cycling delights of Singapore, and I really must say that I was taken aback by the great (even if confined) facilities that you have here; there are cities with better bike lanes around, but few which have such easy access to green areas like the Ketam Bike Park.
I’ve pondered over my Singapore visit many times, having seen surprising “extremes” at the OCBC event, and such a thriving and active cycling community. But what does seem to be out of proportion is the support network – which is not uncommon, but is crucial for developing cycling facilities, dealing with bike politics and promoting the sport.
There are enough mega-buck bikes and high-end retailers out there, and clearly a lot of bums on saddles, yet there seems to be the vital element of “putting something back in” missing. Imagine the difference that a capable and active organisation would make to issues like the encroachment on trail networks, the creation and funding of cycling facilities, and the politics of making Singapore a better place for all cyclists. These issues seem to be somewhat under-addressed right now.
It may sound idealistic, but hey it is achievable, and it would appear that it’s essential in the long term; just look at the charitable Sustrans organisation in the UK for a lead. If you had to pay an extra $5 for your next helmet, or pay $2 to ride at Tampines, in the knowledge that it would help keep the trails open would you do it? Would half a day of hard labour every couple of months on the local trail be too high a price to pay to ensure the trails remain in good shape?
It’s just a thought.