BIKING IN SINGAPORE
Gingerman, recently hooked on mountain biking thanks to Machoman's visit
to California, reports to the
guys back there at Chain Reaction about the pleasures and politics of
mountain biking at Bukit Timah.
Timah Nature Reserve is one of just two urban rainforests in the whole
world. (I still don't know what the other one is.)
not a lot of park space in Singapore for all the people here, so it is
more like a city park than wilderness. There is a parking lot and
lots of signs everywhere. At 3 p.m. Sunday, it is full of people.
direct cyclists to the Mountain Biking Trail. It is even called
that, and signs on the main road direct visitors to it. (The bike
symbol on the signs shows a cruiser bike with a chainguard, though, and
not a real mountain bike.) At the trailhead, hikers are warned to
consider using the other trails instead and to be careful of the cyclists.
There are other trails just for hiking. On the one hand, you'd think
with park facilities scarce in Singapore and the number of cyclists
relatively small, there wouldn't be any accommodation for mountain bikers,
since Bay Area parks with much more space argue about this constantly.
On the other hand, Singaporeans are used to sharing limited space, and so
designating a trail as mainly for mountain bikers is a reasonable
compromise for everybody involved. From what I understand, the
National Parks and SACA work out plans for the mountain bike trails, and
volunteers help to maintain and improve it. In July, the direction
of the trail will change for a few months, a move worked out by the park
and cyclists to make it seem like there is more variety in mountain biking
trails in Singapore than is actually the case.
on the topic of signs, there is one descent with yellow warning signs.
"DEAD SLOW" was my favorite, but "ACCIDENT PRONE AREA"
is close. I didn't think the descent was worse than the others on
the trail, but there were at least eight signs warning that it was coming
up, mainly because construction equipment crosses the trail.
equipment? Yes, the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE to the locals) marks
the boundary of the park, and you can hear the traffic from the trail
(though you can't see it thanks to vegetation and grade separation).
They seem to be installing utility lines or pipes of some sort. It's
also easy to see the park from everywhere--it's the highest point in
Singapore. Meaning, the antenna tower makes a good landmark.
(For environmentalists keeping score, that's expressway, utility lines,
cell tower, and mountain bikers in the rainforest.)
not really that it's all that technical, and there are no cliffs to fall
down like at Skeggs, but we ran across lots of hikers.
California, people here go hiking in large groups more often than not, so
you can come around a corner and see eight people stopped on the trail.
Hikers were very polite when they knew we were coming. I think we
all had bells on our bikes. There are also lizards and snakes to
watch out for down below and monkeys up above.
Mike, nobody stopped for the snakes.)
first time, I was riding Bruce's old bike. We have exactly the same
seat height. The fork had maybe 5 mm of travel to it, and the
derailleur was a bit sticky, releasing tension on the chain when I was
coasting. It took a while to realize that even though the bike
sounded like it was falling apart from the fork bottoming out and the
chain rattling against the stays, it was really just fine. I
followed Beef for most of my first ride. He wasn't going full speed,
but it was as easy to follow him as Bruno. Maybe even easier, since
he's closer to my size. It came in handy today for one branch that
required ducking down to 1 cm above the stem. I felt a leaf scrape
across my back.
I borrowed Beef's singlespeed. Beef's singlespeed is built on an STP
400 frame. (Smoke carbon with blue decals, just like my 5200!)
A singlespeed STP 400 makes for the lightest bike I have ever ridden.
New definition of light bike: it's so light you can tell how much water is
left in your water bottle when you pick up the whole bike. It will
not surprise anyone that the simplicity of a singlespeed appeals to the
track geek in me. Instead of worrying about shifting, you only have
to worry about momentum as you approach an uphill stretch. Going
downhill on a bike that light with a carbon frame and a little soft-tail
action, I didn't feel like a klutz. It probably also helps that the
bike was carbon quiet. The brakes are easy to find if you need them.
It was a lot of fun. Once I got home, everybody asked me why I
looked so tired.
to a complicated sequence of events, I switched my shoes to use Beef's
Look MTB cleats. This convinced me that all pedal systems are the
same. They worked just fine, even the couple of times I had to
Timah is the highest point in Singapore (537'), but there is not that much
elevation change on the trail, so every climb can be done as a
"power" climb (some have to be on the singlespeed!). A few
descents end in blind curves. It was fairly dry by tropical
standards, but the ground for my first couple rides was more loose than
what you'd get at Skeggs since the mushiness goes pretty deep and some
sections of trail are loose rocks. There is one part where you have
to carry the bike up some stairs, and some parts that have been paved, but
I am told that this will all be made better for mountain biking soon.
need to work on steering with my weight more than using the handlebars.
There is one climb with deep ruts that I have steered into trying to
balance at low speed. I could also solve the problem by climbing
faster, of course....
bottle of water every half hour, and that still didn't seem to be enough.