Open Letter to Cyclists of Singapore

Some of you may have already read, I spent just over a month in California recently for work. During that time, I took my bike and threw myself into the local cycling scene. I was training amongst the stunning vistas of Los Gatos, San Jose, Berkeley Hills and more. I was inspired by the pure joy of riding a bike on roads less crowded than those I typically enjoy. And more importantly, I rode under gorgeous blue skies along roads that I wouldn’t see traffic lights for over an hour. It was pure bliss.

During my time there, it was my aim to absorb as much insights on what makes a successful cycling culture, racing scene, and profitable industry. My goal was to bring these insights back to my home, Singapore, and use these to help the scene in Singapore continue to develop.

First, I wrote this piece not to discredit, criticize or devalue what we have in Singapore. I love living in Singapore. This letter isn’t directed at anyone, nor is it meant to be an example of ‘what’s not working’. I wrote this purely to bring back new knowledge, and share this with cycling enthusiasts like me.

So here I go.

Cycling is a valued way of life.

California is known as a global trend setter. It’s why Facebook, Google and Apple are all in California. It’s why Silicon Valley is the cradle of startups. The entire valley runs on a pure desire for progress. Nobody gets bogged down in skepticism, gossiping or ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. This culture extends to the place cycling has in society.

Main roads have ample lanes for cyclists and car drivers. Abreast drivers patiently give way to cyclists. As a result, huge number of people choose to ride a bicycle as their daily transport. Owning a bicycle is a part of life for so many. Shops, restaurants, and work places have facilities for bicycle parking.

It’s a beautiful thing to see a mother and her child ride confidently on their commute to the grocery store.

What can we do in Singapore: We need to find a way to have cycling an accepted part of life in Singapore. Yes we have PCN’s and Safe Cycling Signs, but the vast majority of Singapore isn’t as ‘enabling’. Cycling is a way to a healthier life, and a great form of sustainable transport. I’d love to see a big push for ‘Ride to Work’ in Singapore. Let’s make it a goal to have a massive ‘Ride to Work’ day in 2016

Cycling is a family

Every single rider I pass by the road says hello. Without a fail, every single one smiled, nodded and said good morning, or hello; even the guys that had their head down do TT repeats. The feeling like you have friends on the road is comforting, especially when you’re from out of town. I feel comfortable asking for directions, or chatting with others at the lights.

It didn’t matter if you were on a 30 year old steel commuter bike, or a flash new carbon racer, everyone says hello.

It also means that even when someone isn’t racing, they come along to either help out, or support those racing.

What can we do in Singapore: Start with the small things, wave or say hello every time you pass a cyclist. Next, at the next cycling event let’s all make an effort to get down and support the cyclists, organisers and sponsors. We also each help make events a success by volunteering some time as a marshall, event staff, or officials. In time, the clubs will be the key engagement to the success of events and the community.

Grassroots Racing

One of the greatest pleasures I had in California was getting to a dozen of races in a short period of time. I raced 12 times in a span of 16 days. My age meant that I could race Elite and Masters grade races on the same day.

Each race was organised by a NCAA Club, which meant an abundance of friends, family and racers that would volunteer their time to help run the event. Wives would do registration, friends would do course marshaling, and the club members would be commissaires.

Each race has a beginners category, also known as category five. Here, racers would not only have the opportunity of a less threatening race, but they’d also get the help of the higher graded riders in the field, coaching them while racing. They’re given tips on how to hold a line, or when to brake. These are invaluable lessons that meant even for the kids to go out to have a go.

Beginners are required to complete ten races before qualifying for upgrade points, giving them plenty of time to develop the skills required to race. The beginners race happens on the same day, and same course as the Pro/Cat 1 race. Twelve-year old kids who raced earlier in the day have a chance to see Pro riders up close, which boosts spectator numbers and the benefit for sponsors.

What can we do in Singapore: At our next race, I want to see all those experienced racers to bring along a friend. Show them that they can try an event. It’s not about racing, it’s about exploring what you can do with your bicycle. If we can do that, I’ll take up the debate with organizers to have more beginners options.

Graded Racing

In the United States, all races are done under the NCAA framework, which is their local implementation of the UCI framework. All racers have licenses, and  are governed in a consistent manner. This is similar to other countries, but there is one area race in South East Asia where they could learn from US races – it is the grading of racers.

In the United States all beginners start in Category 5, whether it is an open age group or masters, everyone has to ‘earn their stripes’ by doing 10 races in Category 5. The aim of this category is to first create a grade that helps new racers learn in a safer environment, while developing the necessary skills and experience to move up the grades. It’s all good to have the fitness to race the higher grades, but without the experience and skills, a new racer can be very dangerous on the road. The added bonus is, it also works as a motivation to get beginners to race more regularly, as they aim to build the required points to move up.

The next benefit of graded racing is you know everyone is in the right category. If one rider dominates in Category 3, they move up to Category 2. Or if a racer is struggling in Category 2, they can move down to Category 3. In the end, it makes for more enjoyable racing for everyone.

What can we do in Singapore: We have a re-energised Singapore Cycling Federation committee, and they are keen to improve cycling here. During the announcement of the talent program and race series, I had the new committee announce the goal of having a Singaporean qualify for the Olympics in 2024. But the only way we can have a fair playing field, that encourages participation, advancement and sportful competition is a consistent way to grade races. This should include from beginner levels, through to pro. By having a consistent framework, riders will be able to go from race to race knowing what they’d need to learn, or achieve.

Local Engagement

Almost every race has ample support by local business, local government and the local club. This meant that the community around the location of each race is engaged. Cafes and local businesses actively supported the event as they enjoyed a lift in business on the day of the race. Local businesses were given an opportunity to gain exposure by supporting the event where it fitted their line of business. And best of all, local government were involved in ceremonial aspects, either as a race starter or presentation to the winners. It was great to see, and all those involved loved the carnival-like atmosphere the event would bring to a location. It also meant that the local government helped with any regulation or process requirements in getting the event approved and supported.

What can we do in Singapore: We continually face the challenge of finding race venues, where road closures and local community engagement remain a challenge. Events should be a celebration of the local community, we should be working with local ministers to celebrate their communities. Have ministers present awards or start the race. Engage local businesses for catering, event support, logistics, etc. By engaging a local community we can build events that communities will be proud to support, proud to have in their streets. Let’s see a local minister race.

Conclusion

Cycling as a sport and a way of life is still developing in Singapore. With the support from community, government and local business, we can transform Singapore into a country that embraces the bicycle as a means of sustainable transport, an instrument for outdoor activity and a national level sport. But only together can we create this exciting future.

In the coming years, I will aim to make an annual trip to places like California to continue to learn first hand cycling in other countries, and bring those lessons back to Singapore. If anyone is keen to join me, let me know.

This is an ongoing dialogue that needs everyone’s input. Share your thoughts in the comments below. Feedback, thoughts, ideas, and volunteers are all greatly appreciated.

Keep pedaling.

18 thoughts on “Open Letter to Cyclists of Singapore

  1. Scott
    I came from racing the same races that you just did in NorCal so I can really understand your frustration.
    I discussed almost the same ideas about grading and more CATs for racing with Singapore Cycling Federation about 6 months ago. Pretty much verbatim to what you said… Their response was that it was too logistically challenging to have racing all day but if there was a demand for it then they would try to make more room. But that’s the catch 22, there won’t be demand with the current race categories.
    I really believe what is stopping a lot of riders (especially women with a single category) becoming racers is the prospect of having to race against people like Vinny, Bastian or Pierre in their first race.. it’s just not fun.
    Having a grading system in Singapore that is based on a handful of races does not really do much for the weekend warrior as they will never get any points… perhaps if cycosports & dirtration etc submit their results to SCF it might be a start.. but do SCF want to administer this?
    Then there is the issue of forcing the sandbaggers in CAT2&3 to upgrade… but that’s another issue entirely….

    Anyway that’s my 2 cents to an issue that is bigger than cycling and you are just scratching the surface.

    Martin

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  2. Great article Scott, and inspiring. Planting seeds of change now will pay dividends later on. The Sing government are starting to make steps in the right direction but it’s hard changing a generations mind set

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    1. Chris, I agree it’s a challenge to fix overnight. But that’s no reason not to start. Even if this creates a small momentum in the right direction, I’ll feel I’ve met my goals. I’d love to find more members of the government that are supportive of the cycling community and cycling as a way of life. Would love some introductions if you know anyone

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  3. Hi,

    I’ve followed your blog with much interest over the past year. Maybe someone can bring attention to places in Singapore available for races? University campuses (NTU, NUS’s Utown) can provide good circuits for criterium races. Industrial areas like Biopolis are also rather traffic free at night so it might be more palatable to close these roads for a few hours at a time.

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    1. That would have to be the best recommendation I’ve had all day. We should launch a crowd sourcing way to find venues. When it comes to venues, it also helps to have a contact that managers the venue, so we’d love to get in contact with people that own or manage large private properties that might suit a circuit. Do you have any you’d suggest? And please share with fellow cyclists and encourage them to suggest venues.

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      1. Hi,

        Unfortunately I don’t know anyone who manages such venues, but congrats on being able to hold the carpark climb and Seletar circuit race, these are great big steps towards building more excitement about racing in Singapore. Thanks for that!

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      2. Thanks for the support. It hasn’t been easy, but we have the first two confirmed. Now we need the support of the community, to sign up and have or go, or register as a spectator. Only through participation will we convince more sponsors to come onboard. Please, please, please register and share the event with others

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  4. I think we do have a small community of committed cyclists and it’s growing.

    The problem is bureaucracy and phobia to spend money on something the govt believes will not generate money unless it helps to boost their reputation.

    For example, the PCN. In a some areas, instead of doing proper trails and routes, that can make cycling enjoyable, they just follow the contours of the walkways or around existing planted trees and fixtures; instead of shifting the trees and fixtures. Even worse, there are cycling paths that converge into walkways or vice versa. And we not only have to look out for pedestrians, but also the rising numbers of electric bicyclists.

    Here, cyclists have a bad reputation due to the boorish behaviour and poor cycling ettiqute of a few. And it is not helping our cause.

    I believe, the first step is education and leading by example. But at the moment, there are just too few of us and we are often outed as an oddity where the culture is often ‘me first’.

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  5. I think we do have a small community of committed cyclists and it’s growing.

    The problem is bureaucracy and phobia to spend money on something the govt believes will not generate money unless it helps to boost their reputation.

    For example, the PCN. In a some areas, instead of doing proper trails and routes, that can make cycling enjoyable, they just follow the contours of the walkways or around existing planted trees and fixtures; instead of shifting the trees and fixtures. Even worse, there are cycling paths that converge into walkways or vice versa. And we not only have to look out for pedestrians, but also the rising numbers of electric bicyclists.

    Here, cyclists have a bad reputation due to the boorish behaviour and poor cycling ettiqute of a few. And it is not helping our cause.

    I believe, the first step is education and leading by example. But at the moment, there are just too few of us and we are often outed as an oddity where the culture is often ‘me first’.

    I think the community has to have a proactive approach. Go to schools and community centres and provide riding clinics to educate people and build our community.

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    1. I’d really love to hear some suggestions on how we improve the core values of cyclists, as it’s a problem where a few destroy things for the majority. Personally I don’t tolerate rule breaking, or selfish behaviors. But I am only one person. Hopefully we can find a way to have the whole cyclist community a cohesive and united community.

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  6. As a non bicycle rider, i do respect your enthusiasm for having to indulge in the sport. My opinion is it would work fine as a sport, at a clinically allocated space.

    This is what it’s about in Singapore, there is enough space allocatable for cycling events, but the capacity of public roads here is at its brim to cater for your visions of “ride to work”, “mum rides to groceries with kid “. Your vision for this works fine in California, where it’s a place of what you’ve said – hitting the road for one hour without any sign of lights in sight. This fact just doesn’t exist here, regardless of how much land reclamation is physically possible.

    When you have roads in Singapore which are at the tip of their capacity, you just have to respect the chances of things that could go wrong involving motorised vehicles as the main stay of the occupants. The ratio of motorised vs pedal traffic here cannot be even close to California, else mayhem awaits.

    Sure, we’d get to squeeze a bit out of here and there via PCNs, and some designated areas, but the coverage will never be at the magnitude great enough to achieve what California is enjoying in terms of cyclists commute.

    I’ve just mostly touched on infrastructural concerns here in this message, cyclists in Singapore, regardless if they’re local or from abroad, tend to tempt their luck and road users’ lucks in sharing public roads, but 9 out of 10 times in my observations, they flout traffic laws. Havoc ensues. Total disrespect and selfishness. Education and discipline needs to be worked on very seriously.

    Bravo and continue on your efforts to make cycling events happen, but not at the price of flirting with danger on operational public roads.

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    1. Stephen, thanks for your thoughts. I too disapprove of any road user disobeying the rules of the road. Many of the top ride groups in Singapore don’t tolerate it either, often excluding riders that are repeat offenders. I ride the infamous ‘Crazies’ ride on a Sunday morning, and that group respect red lights. But I’d love your thought on how we can move towards a core set of values that all roads user adhere to, to ensure a safe environment.

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    2. Stephen,
      That’s where the mind sets here have to change.
      Everyone thinks that the Singapore roads are over crowded and there are no space for cyclists so they are push to the fringes.
      That is simply not true.
      One lesson I have learned from driving the freeways of LA is that having a 6 lane freeway in both directions does not make the commute faster, it just promotes more people to drive.
      If cities that are much more crowded like NYC and Tokyo can carve out space for bicycle lanes (NYC has a dedicated bike lane on 5th Avenue) then I think we can too.
      Once the general population feels safer riding bicycles, then we will see a rise in commuters and a change in mindset.

      Martin

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      1. Thanks Martin. Love the comparison to Tokyo, which is even more ‘space challenged’ than Singapore. Showing it really is possible. Far too many people quickly point to the challenges, essentially giving up before they start. I’m hoping I can change that mindset.

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  7. We can also explore using
    -Kallang leisure park mall carpark
    – E1 East coast carpark
    – Racing on a stadium atheletics track!
    -Go kart track
    -closing a section of kaki bukit flyover nearer to bedok reservoir and doing loops there,like the old national champioship route.

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