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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.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of just two urban rainforests in the whole world.  (I still don't know what the other one is.) 

There's 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.

Signs 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.

While 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. 

Construction 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.)

It's 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. 

Unlike 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. 

(No, Mike, nobody stopped for the snakes.)

The 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.

Today, 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.

Due 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 unclip quickly.

Bukit 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.

I 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....

 One bottle of water every half hour, and that still didn't seem to be enough.

Comments or criticism can be sent to gingerman@teamabsolut.net

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