Bike Friendships and
my first week in Singapore, and I have to excuse myself from dinner with
my new co-workers. They heard
I was a bike nut, but surprised I have friends to ride with already.
I explain that we have only met through e-mail.
I don't mention that the whole thing actually depends on an
anonymous message sent to my cell phone.
here I am in the dark 9,000 miles from home waiting someone who I know
only as "Sting" who is supposed to lead me to the start of the
ride through traffic that moves on the left side of the street.
I scan for someone who looks like a serious roadie.
must be the guy on the titanium Litespeed in the yellow ONCE jersey.
has braces on his teeth, the result of a crash, so he looks young enough
to be a college student even though he's not.
Like Japanese yakuza with severed fingers evincing past mistakes, I
also have bike-related scars on my leg and chin, establishing my
membership in the same club. Sting leads me out to wherever it is we're
was the biggest hill in Singapore," he says with a grin after a
twisty 200 foot descent on a narrow road.
He doesn't tell me that climbing this little hill is where he was
hurt last fall.
the end of the night, Sting and his friends have taken me to the western
edge of the island, pointing out what there is to point out as we pass
factories, the local brewery, and one of the two crossings to Malaysia.
In a country where the fine for spitting is $1,000, I am following
these guys through red lights and onto the freeway.
the ride, we find a neighborhood restaurant with bright fluorescent
lights. The plastic chairs
and folding tables spill out onto the sidewalk, so it's no problem that
we're sweaty and smelly from riding in the heat. There's even room
for our bikes against the extra tables.
is a holiday, so nobody has work. We
can stay out a bit late and drink tea and eat food I haven't learned to
identify yet while talking about bike stuff.
work at least as many hours as Californians and have families and all the
same excuses that ought to make these rides impossible, especially when
there's work the next day. But
there are around a dozen of us, sometimes more, out on these rides, week
after week, and most hang out for tea, too.
at work, my co-workers want to know if we got rained on.
They think it rains all the time in the winter in Singapore, so
much so that you can't possibly ride a bike.
I guess they need their excuses.
can't believe how far we rode--on a small island, even a couple of miles
know that it only rains in the afternoon--every day, but only in the
afternoon. My outlook on
monsoon season changed completely once I got the cyclists' perspective.
is the size of San Francisco Bay south of San Francisco and home to
4,000,000 people. If you want
a long ride without traffic lights, you have to go to Malaysia.
really don't want to be by yourself with an international border
separating you from home if there's a problem, so there are organized
rides, attracting anyone in Singapore whose training plans or idea of fun
involves five-hour Saturday bike rides.
The rides are meant for the Singaporean National Team riders, but
they are slow endurance rides that mortals can enjoy.
first ride to Malaysia starts at a Shell station at 6:15 Saturday morning
while it is still dark. There
are nine of us, including Samuel, a national team rider, and one guy who
got his road bike four months ago. Our
ages range from twentysomething to at least double that.
we're finally across the causeway, and through immigration and city
traffic, Samuel falls back and darts ahead, on patrol so nobody falls off
the back of the group. After
I run something over and the spare innertube I had with me fails, he gives
me a spare. He snaps digital
photos of us along the way and e-mails us later to share them.
hours without a traffic light among rolling hills of rubber plantations,
we stop at a store and a cafe at a rural intersection.
eats a full lunch while the rest of us are content with water, Cokes, and
snacks. We joke that Samuel's
key to success must be from converting food to energy quickly.
man from the cafe is intrigued by our bikes and picks one up.
light," he says, lifting it up and down.
"Can I take it for a test ride?" he asks.
cannot, lah!" the owner responds, rising to his feet. ("Lah" is how Singaporeans pronounce exclamation
does it weigh?"
can only hear one side of the conversation, but the bike is safely on the
does it cost?" A vaguely
enough to buy a car!" Locally-made
Protons are quite affordable here. Everybody
think he admires us for spending a car's worth of money on bikes just so
we can ride them to his little cafe on Saturdays, a 75 mile round trip.
We must be OK, less uptight than the rest of Singapore.
politicians tease Singapore's leaders in the same way.
great to ride a bike in Malaysia. Little
kids and truck drivers wave to us, and their faces light up when we wave
back. Once, an observant truck driver chased down a member of our group
who missed the rest stop. Malaysia
is the only place in the world where I assume someone honking at me is
and smiling seems like the way human beings should respond to fast,
colorful bike riders riding through a small town and enjoying the morning.
I pity the kids in California who have been taught not to greet
strangers, and the California drivers who find nothing to enjoy about
group bike rides that cross their path.
it's time to leave Singapore, I've spent so many weekends on my bike that
I still haven't been to the famous zoo or many museums, or many of the
fancy restaurants that other people visited on business trips.
The landmarks I know are places where neither tourists nor natives
visit. That's why I rode
there: no traffic.
four months, I've ridden with Sting more than any of my friends in
California. He and his
friends who I met that first week have been my only friends outside of
work and my hosts, and I know I'll miss our Thursday rides even more than
time I visit Singapore, I won't have to ride with strangers.
But riding with strangers wasn't so bad
Webmaster’s note : This article was originally published in Cycle California Magazine, www.cyclecalifornia.com, August 2003, Volume 9, #6. All rights reserved.
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