Cycling is like flying

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Source: weheartit.com/entry/121942251

Cycling is the closest thing to flying I can ever get without developing wings or depending on an external engine to get moving.

It feels like flying because I am elevated above the ground (though ever so slightly) and I am moving without touching the ground and I feel the breeze against my face while moving.

It is different from riding on a motorcycle or travelling on a car or bus or train as cycling doesn’t depend on a motor. Also, the speed and direction at which I cycle can be controlled by how I move my legs and body, almost like how a bird moves its wings and body in flight.

Cycling is like a powerful drug – it can get addictive. The more I cycle, the more I want to cycle. The more I gain confidence in maneuvering the bicycle, the further and the more places I want to cycle to. Each new destination brings new satisfaction at the end of the day. And as a new day begins, another new destination becomes the next goal. Or sometimes I get a desire to try another route to cycle to the same destination and experience the thrill of exploring new routes.

Sometimes danger lurks when I cease to be alert momentarily, and I may stumble or fall or hit an obstacle or get hit by a car. I may get bruises or cuts or scratches, and I may spend the next few days nursing my wounds and go about my life in bandages and rest from cycling. But after recovering, I will start cycling again and rediscover the joy of cycling, this time with a little bit more caution and a little bit more wisdom.

Being a regular bike commuter is somewhat like being a pilot flying a plane. A typical day of “flight” begins when I board the “plane” (i.e. my bicycle) and roll along the “runway” (which may be a pavement or a corridor or a car park etc) before taking off into the air (usually a main road). I will cruise and soar and glide like a bird, and at times hit a “turbulence” when I travel along bumpy roads. I will feel the strain as I pedal uphill and also the relief as I coast downhill. Along familiar long roads, I usually lapse into an “auto-pilot” mode, and let my subconscious take over the navigation process. Finally, I will arrive at my destination, and touch down on the “runway” before coming to a stop (usually at a car park or bicycle bay etc). I will disembark from the “plane”, grateful for another successful “flight” and for arriving safe and sound.

 

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Road cycling – ramblings of a budding cyclist

Cycling has given me the opportunity to muse and contemplate about life in general, as well as about death. Having commuted to school and work by bus and later by MRT train all my life until I reached the age of 40, I have never gotten so up close and personal with other vehicles on the roads until I started cycling on the roads.

But first, let me reminisce a bit about the early days when I first learnt cycling as a young boy before I move on to recollect the first few times I tried to cycle on the roads. One of the earliest memories of cycling I had was when I was in East Coast Park learning how to cycle and balance on a bicycle. My neighbour’s dad was kind to teach me how to cycle. Inevitably and understandably, falls from the bike for a beginner tend to abound, and I remember there was once I lost my balance and fell on my right side. Instinctively, I stretched out my right hand to stop the fall. I landed squarely on my right arm, and fortunately the grass helped cushion the fall somewhat and I remember I wasn’t seriously injured. However, that episode might explain the reason why I suddenly experienced frozen shoulder on my right side many years later, which has recovered only up to around 90-95% by today.

Cycling and walking in East Coast Park
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Another early memory I had was also in East Coast Park, except that I didn’t have the opportunity to cycle then and there. I must have been in Primary 5, and my class was supposed to go through this Road Safety programme through role play. I had wanted to play the role of a car driver or cyclist, but ended up being selected to play the role of a pedestrian. Man, I was so disappointed at that time, and I could only watch with envy my classmates who drove or cycled.

Well, fast forward some 30 years later, around end 2013, I found myself being entrusted with a second-hand Hercules bicycle by a friend and former colleague who decided to go back to India indefinitely and planned to return to Singapore some time in future. At long last, my wish to cycle regularly has been fulfilled. In order to help look after it and not let it rust and deteriorate, I decided to take it for a regular spin, or should I say, for a ride. The rest, as they say, is history, and may I add, geography.

I added Geography because cycling enables me to explore the terrain of Singapore in ways I couldn’t have done by walking or taking public transport. For a start, I began to know the gradient of slopes of pavements and roads around my neighbourhood and beyond more intimately. I would hardly have felt the strain of walking upslope unless the slope is significantly steep, like at Bukit Timah Hill or Mount Faber, but cycling has a way of making even the slightest rise in slope angle felt, especially since the bike itself is a rather heavy steel mountain bike with a front basket (a.k.a. market bike). There were many times I felt as if I was riding or driving a tank uphill, such as when I was cycling along Rifle Range Road or Mount Pleasant Road or the like.

hercules mtb
At Upper Peirce Reservoir Park
So anyway, I started with pavements and car parks in my early regular cycling days, which naturally function as a kind of baby swimming pool for toddlers and young children who are learning to swim for the first time, where it is safe and presents little or no risk of drowning. I rode the bike almost solely on pavements and PCNs for the first 6 months or so, and it was mostly uneventful with hardly any mishaps or accidents, except for a slight stumble here and there over uneven ground or sharp corners when turning.

Just as naturally, as my confidence and curiosity to explore new lands grew, I began to cycle further and further. Roads were a new territory to me, and the idea of cycling on the roads felt like entering deep waters of the sea for the first time, where there may be dangerous creatures such as jellyfish and sharks. The minor roads in my neighbourhood were relatively tame, like a lagoon with gentle waves, but the main roads such as Upper Thomson Road and Braddell Road felt like choppy waters of the sea initially. I made sure I cycled along the pavements beside these main roads many times and observed the nature of the traffic first before I finally dove into the proverbial sea.

I remember the first time I rode along Upper Thomson Road towards Sembawang, the heavy vehicles and long vehicles that passed by me never sounded so loud and strident before because their rumbling engine noise usually would sound muffled when I was sitting in an aircon bus, whereas when I encountered them on the roads on a vulnerable-looking bike, their loud engines sounded somewhat like the roaring of huge dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. These notorious trucks and lorries that I read about in the news whenever there was a road accident involving cyclists sometimes weighed heavy in my mind, and it took me a number of months to master my calm and not let my imagination run wild whenever they drove behind me or passed me close by. To date, I never had any accident with them, as most of them turned out to be gentle giants, like elephants and giraffes in a safari ambling amicably alongside with me, except for an odd brutish hippopotamus or two that overtook me too closely for comfort and I had to stop by the roadside to avoid being hit. (One such incident was at Mandai Road.)

big truck
Here we go – a big truck passed by a little too close for comfort along West Coast Highway
It was only a matter of time I decided to buy my own bike, and I got a second-hand mountain bike with a front basket and rear rack – perfect for running errands but not so ideal when I want to cycle long distance with slopes within a certain time frame, as compared to a lighter and faster road bike. Still, it served its purpose well most of the time, and I used it for commuting to work. Some months later, I saved enough to buy a reasonably light second-hand foldable bike, and alternated between using the foldie and the MTB for commuting and running errands.

foldie and mtb
Foldie dragon and MTB steed – utilitarian, indestructible and dependable
So, is cycling on the roads in Singapore safe? I would say it depends on many factors such as skills and experience, familiarity with roads and traffic conditions, and so on. Practice makes perfect, as they say, so the more often one rides, the better one gets in maneuvering the bike on the roads, if one diligently acquaints oneself with basic road safety guidelines and learns from experience and observation.
Road cyclists - Singapore
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Precision riding, for example, came with practice for me. (It is probably redundant for me to say this, but I thought I would mention this for emphasis.) The first few times I tried cycling on the road, I couldn’t do a proper turn at a road junction, and nearly hit a kerb once. In fact, the few accidents or falls I had on the roads so far all had mostly to do with my own mistiming or misjudgments about the distance I need to keep from the roadside or surrounding vehicles (I collided into a stationary car’s sideview mirror once, and another time, I was sideswiped by an overtaking car), or about the unevenness of the road surface (I lost balance when the bike wheels skidded on the jagged protruding edges of some recently laid and dried bitumen on the road), and so on. Motorists by and large do give me sufficiently wide berths when overtaking me, and I only need to make sure I am as visible as possible (such as by having front and rear bike lights on when it is dark) and as predictable as possible (such as giving hand signals when changing lanes wherever possible) and so on.

The Mountain goat
© Photographer: Denboma | Agency: Dreamstime.com

With practice, road cycling can become as second nature to us as it is for mountain goats to traverse mountain slopes and cliffs seemingly easily and effortlessly. To us, it may look dangerous for mountain goats to live and move about on steep hillsides and cliffs but to them, it is home. Similarly, as long as we continue to ride defensively and practise mindfulness for the safety of ourselves and others, we can indeed cycle safely on the roads in Singapore, with or without dedicated bike lanes (since at this point, it is still uncertain when these will finally materialise on the mainland).

Cyclists and HDB carpark gantry – discussion on social media

The below discussion is an excerpt from Love Cycling Singapore Facebook group.
Francis Chu

4 hrs · Edited

I noticed many HDB carparks are being upgraded to auto payment gantry. The bollards in the photo are intended to stop motorcycle going in without paying. But at the same time it cause trouble for bicycle users. I’m wondering if there are better simple solutions that allow bicycle but stop motorcycle from entering without paying?
(to use the pavement next to the gate would require dismount and bring up the bike)

Francis Chu's photo.

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Jimmy Tan

Indeed, it seems to show how transport infrastructure isn’t holistically designed, and cyclists become disadvantaged once again in this case.

  • Lim Charlie

    I can empathize if your commute includes crossing multiple carparks with such gantries.

    I do not commute daily, but much of my 12km commute is spent pedaling on the roads rather than lifting my bicycle. So I apologize if I sounded condescending.

    What you are trying to do now is actually to change the world to suit you, to make things more convenient for you.

    Commuting here in Singapore, its not a race where you try to shave off precious seconds by being hard on the saddle. The road conditions and urban area is just not meant for that.

    Good luck in finding a solution for yourself.

    Like · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs
  • Jimmy Ng

    Like · Reply · 3 hrs
  • Francis Chu
    it is good to have different opinions and exchange of idea. thanks for sharing.
    Like · Reply · 3 hrs
  • Dennis LH Cheong
    But bicycle being a legitimate vehicles, there is no reason to forbid entry to car parks. This isn’t about changing old existing things to suit us. This is about voicing out overlooked issues in new implementations.
    Like · Reply · 1 hr
  • Roland Lee
    This is about for all ages of cyclists,not just the fit one. Think of children, senior cyclists,electric wheelchairs ,prams etc..
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · 1 hr
  • Lim Charlie
    I have yet to see wheelchair users or those with prams using the car park entry. SERIOUSLY? Those folks have access from pavement to road most of the time.
    Like · Reply · 1 hr
Jimmy Tan
Roland Lee, precisely. Every weekend, I would push my mother’s wheelchair from her flat to the supermarket, and we have to pass through a gantry in the car park downstairs. One pavement nearby has an uneven or bumpy surface, while another doesn’t have ramps, so we would rather use the car park than those pavements along the way. We are fortunate that the gantry pole in this carpark doesn’t extend all the way to the end, and she was able to pass through. If it were other carparks where there are bollards or full-length gantry poles blocking the way, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the wheelchair to pass through the car park entrances.
  • Chiu Kok Onn
    Fairness…. wait never charge.. car users will complain and the issues of why motor bike need to pay coe will surface again.. never ending problem. Actually i am more concern for wheelchair users..
    Like · Reply · 3 · 2 hrs
  • Lim Charlie

    Did you realise that this idea, of making it “free parking” for motorcyclists, is actually at someone else’s cost?

    I find it interesting that this suggestion was brought up just so for the convenience of a small group of cyclists who find it troublesome to lift their bikes onto the pavement and push for a couple of meters?

    As a cyclist and also a motorcyclist, I think this is wrong.

    Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs
  • Chiu Kok Onn
    Of course i wish that there are free parking everywhere and for everyone.. too bad we can’t. ..
    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs · Edited
  • Lim Charlie

    Yes, I also want free parking, until someone I know made me realise that, if it’s free, HDB/URA/property developers would not be obliged to provide for motorcycle parking. The theory is, “why provide free parking when I can ban entry for motorcycles and convert those spaces for MORE car lots?”

    We already see many shopping malls in town banning motorcycles.

    My take is this, there is no point that us cyclists raise hell about the inconvenience when we are not paying for anything except the cost of the bicycle. Makes sense?

    Nobody owe us anything. We CHOSE to ride, even when we know of the problems.

    If anyone / organisation /ministry wants to help us, I’d be more than grateful. But I do not expect anyone to do so, much less demand for it.

    That’s just me.

    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
  • Chiu Kok Onn
    Fully agreed
    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
  • Francis Chu
    For space utilization, carpark is most unfairly allocated to cars, because everyone contributed to the land value and construction cost, but only drivers get to use the space by paying a token fee.
    I am inclined to let motorcycle parking free, because first they don’t take up much space as a car, second it will help to reduce those motorcycle park (free) on pavements blocking other people way.thirdly, it can solve the issue we are discussion with minimum effort and cost.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
  • Lim Charlie
    But allowing free parking would mean that HDB/URA/property developers ABSORB the costs. Someone is still paying for it, just not the motorcyclists/cyclists.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
  • Jimmy Tan
    Let them absorb the costs lor. They are so rich, with their high salaries and all that, whereas the rest of us can only afford bicycles and motorcycles. Why do we have to play to the tune of the rich, powerful and privileged who seem more interested in preserving their own elite turf and marginalising the less privileged?
    Like · Reply · 1 · 1 hr
  • Dennis LH Cheong
    I don’t think the current charges is enough to entice provision of motorcycle parking spaces. Most likely there is a requirement written somewhere.
    Like · Reply · 1 hr
  • Lim Charlie

    HDB, I would think so. But not for private developers.

    Jimmy Tan, that is exactly that kind of mindset that sets us all back.

    Like · Reply · 1 hr
Jimmy Tan
Lim Charlie how would the marginalisation of the less privileged be the way forward in life? To me, it looks like capitalism and elitism has created and perpetuated the problem of socioeconomic inequality and class consciousness. I consider that as backward and tribalistic.
Wow, did you just flip through the dictionary and challenged yourself to form a sentence of all the words you like? When is this a marginalization when you expect others who are more successful to pander to you? To cut through the chase, what you have said can be summed up with “self entitlement”.
  • Jimmy Tan
    Haha, maybe you were caught off-guard because I used a Singish word earlier. Please don’t look down on others, my friend.
I wasn’t looking down on anyone. But it is true that I was caught off guard by your views.
  • Francis Chu

    As Sivasothi mentioned, this is not an issue for those fit and strong and mainly use the road. But there are many bicycle users are less strong and need to carry children or heavy goods on their bicycle as in this picture. For them this is a real everyday issue.

    Francis Chu's photo.
    Like · Reply · 4 · 1 hr
Irene Malone
agreed, I have an old ‘dutchy’ bike and it is often laden with all my work stuff. I can dismount of course but I do hope Singapore will start planning for bike infrastructure soon. It is disheartening to see how much media is devoted to cyclist bashing; cars don’t want us on the roads, we shouldn’t be on the pavements… I do sneak onto the pavements myself and I feel very guilty about it but a work colleague who cycles the same route only just got out of hospital after being sideswiped by a truck. He is lucky to be alive.
  • Francis Chu
    Just to capture the few creative solutions mentioned so far:
    1) Let motorcycle to get through free of charge, shorten the gantry bar so both bicycle and motorcycle can go through slowly. Dennis LH Cheong
    2) install stronger scanner aka ERP style, remove the barrier but install hump to slow down traffic at entrance/exit. Afiq Syazani
    3) shorten the bar to let both bicycle and motorcycle to get through. install stronger scanner so that it can reach the end of the bar and deduct fees from the IU from motorcycle Alex Goh
    4) prove a narrow by-pass on pavement/ behind pavement. Install chicane to stop motorcycle from using this bypass. Lena Tan
    5) Provide a push button at the far end of the bar, for cyclist and pedestrian to open the gantry for a few seconds. Hung Hoang Kim
    6) use camera to capture those motorcyclist sneak through, just widen the gap for bicycle. Alex Ong
    Wow, not bad for a 2 hours brainstorming session!
    If any of these idea work that would be great.
    Zon Yip, Irene Malone, Sivasothi N., Kelvin Hor B B, Stevy Cladia
    Like · Reply · 4 · 1 hr · Edited
  • 1 Reply
  • Lim Charlie I like all the ideas. But they all comes at a cost. Now, how many are willing to PAY for those implementations?
    Like · Reply · 1 · 1 hr
  • Tee Hai Yuan Bicycle RFID tag or card that you can tap at the gantry terminal to let you pass, to pay or not to pay, is the thing that out of our control. But we hope that the small fee of RFID can make everyone convenient a bit.
    Like · Reply · 1 hr
  • Shaun Tan What is to prevent other users from using the bicycle tag?
    Like · Reply · 57 mins
  • Lim Choon Keong
    actually our neighboring highway have very strong eps system readers installed at their tolls… reading up to 15m..
    Like · Reply · 1 · 49 mins
Ivan Liew
IDEA: Place pivoting barrier so that the space to go through is near the centre rather than the outer edge. When a motorbike squeezes through, they are near the IU receiver so will get deducted anyway. Bollards not necessary then bikes can pass through.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 17 mins
Why I participated in the discussion

– The implementation of the gantries affected me as a cyclist.

– It also affected wheelchair users, as I come to realise.

– Some commenters were rather dismissive in their comments, and downplayed the issues

– One particular commenter came across as argumentative and obnoxious
Why I responded to his comment

– I believe in speaking up for the less privileged, and my voice matters

[Add]  Ok, so he has responded to my latest comment. Obviously, he was being argumentative and using ad hominem. It would be a waste of time and energy to respond to that if he doesn’t understand capitalism and elitism and is satisfied with the status quo. Then again, I couldn’t resist making a comeback as he seems to be looking down on others who are not as “successful” as those he deems deserving.

Ironically, his facebook page has a quote by MLK about speaking up and not being silent. I suppose it is about whose side we choose to take – do we side with the oppressed and marginalised or the privileged and powerful?
“how would the marginalisation of the less privileged be the way forward in life? To me, it looks like capitalism and elitism has created and perpetuated the problem of socioeconomic inequality and class consciousness. I consider that as backward and tribalistic.”
To be sure, being active in social justice can be rather energy-sapping and time-consuming. I am supposed to be catching up with work in office today, but got sidetracked reading and contributing to the facebook discussion.