Monday, September 06, 2004

Cycle to work in Singapore?


I used to cycle a lot when I was working in Holland. However after I moved to Singapore in 1996, I realized that this city was not really friendly toward cyclists. I gave up cycling and start driving a car.

Two years ago, I started to experience frequent dizziness after squatting for just a few minutes or when I walked up stairs quickly. Then, while working on a research project last year, I was shocked to discover that physical inactivity, like smoking, is now one of the three main causes of unnatural death[1]. I learnt that regular moderate exercise is the best solution. So I began to to look for a form of exercise that I could perform regularly. I tried going to a gym, but that only lasted for a couple of weeks. I am, like most people, quite hopeless when it comes to self-motivated exercise!

Reflection

I started to reflect on my experience in Holland. Cycling to work there was a form of regular exercise that was naturally integrated into my life. It is easy for the Dutch people to cycle; in fact cycling is often the fastest way to get around in town! Compared to Singapore, I noticed that in urban area of Holland, cars are fewer and slower, the air is cleaner, there is much less traffic noise, and overall it is a peaceful yet vibrant living area. No wonder Dutch are so healthy, I thought. No wonder the cost of medical insurance could be so low and their old folks were still pursuing an active life. A pro-bicycle policy has triggered a positive chain reaction leading to improved public health, a lower medical burden, better environment and better quality of life for everyone.

However, in Singapore, as soon as I wake up in the morning, I would literally be sitting down the entire day! When I go to work in the morning, I sit in my car. When I reach the office, I sit in front of my computer or in a meeting room all day long. Well, except for lunch break which involves a five minute walk to a nearby food center. After work, back at home, I sit in my sofa, in front of the TV, to "relax". Physical activity had been effectively engineered out of my life!

I started to see a connection between a number of issues in Singapore:
- High population of diabetics, now starting at younger age.
- Increase rate of obesity, also in young children.
- High medical cost, especially for the elderly.
- Stress and air pollution due to increased traffic.
- Faster traffic and lower road safety.
- Cyclists getting killed on the road.
- Parents afraid to allow their children to cycle.
- Streets are not safe for children to play (another reason a maid is needed).
- Hard to motivate kids to exercise.
- An issue of drunk drivers.
- Feeder buses in areas of low density living.
- Insufficient passengers in certain MRT stations to justify it's operation.

From a cyclist's perspective, all of this seems to be connected to the anti-bicycle environment in Singapore. This is not to suggest that a pro-bicycle policy will solve all the difficult issues immediately, but certainly, it will contribute in multiple and connected ways, towards a more positive situation.

The problem of riding a bicycle in Singapore

I wanted to pick up cycling again, for my own benefit and to inspire others. Cycling from home to work was not an option initially. I was too intimidated by the dangerous roads. However, cycling to the nearby MRT station was acceptable. So I rode to the MRT station near my house, locked my bicycle there and took the MRT to the station near my office. There, I had another bicycle locked and waiting for me to ride to work!

Unfortunately, both bikes were stolen after a few months!



Inspiration, experiment and innovation

After that painful experience, I read an article on a web page[2], which illustrated how folding bicycles are used to extend trips by trains in Europe. It was not only convenient but was also a healthy means of commuting. I was intrigued and wondered if I could take a folding bike into Singapore's MRT. To my delight, SMRT does allow folding bikes (when folded) on board the trains!

This can be a wonderful way to travel in Singapore, since it complements our present MRT system, eliminating the need to wait for a bus or walking a long distance, and is totally theft proof! I tried a few folding bikes including famous brands like Brompton[3] and a few Dahon[4]. Now I am using a new JZ88 foldable bike[5]. This bike is apparently designed specifically for Asian living in a compact urban environment. It is a lightweight, compact folding bicycle; is quick to fold and can be converted into a shopping trolley.



Initially I had doubts if this tiny bicycle could support my 175cm body height. However, thanks to its ultra-light structure and responsive ride, I now enjoy cycling so much that I cycle the entire 8.5km from home to work every morning! I am, however, extremely careful on the road, and will use the pavement if the road is too busy. I can bring it into any MRT station wherever I am and need not worry about bicycle theft again - I bring it into the office and keep it under my desk.

So who says you can't cycle to work in Singapore?


References

[1] WHO report indicated physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and tobacco use are the 3 main causes of unnatural death.

Ed's note - The World Health Organisation published the "The World Health Report 2002 - Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life" which included in its cconclusions that "... in the developed countries of North America, Europe and the Asian Pacific, at least one-third of all disease burden is attributable to these five risk factors: tobacco, alcohol, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. The tobacco epidemic alone kills about 2.4 million people every year in industrialized countries. In addition, suboptimal levels of blood pressure and cholesterol each cause millions of deaths annually, and increasing levels of overweight are leading to epidemics of obesity and diabetes."

[2] Folding Bikes: Real Utility Vehicles / By Jack Oortwijn & Otto Beaujon http://www.foldabikes.com/Talk/Docs/art2.html

[3] Brompton folding bicycle home page http://www.bromptonbicycle.co.uk/

[4] Dahon folding bike home page http://www.dahon.com/

[5] JZ88 folding bike home page http://www.jz88.com/

Ref: Foldable bikes without protruding parts are allowed on Singapore's MRT. [link]

42 Comments:

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about getting a foldable bicycle for commuting (with MRT). Your story give me a lot of confident, thanks! -Theo

10:13 AM SGT  
Anonymous said...

can you get enough exercise by cycling to MRT alone? for convinient, may be. for fitness, i don't think so.

2:28 PM SGT  
azzzzzz said...

good idea.
im one of those who has trouble with self motivation to exercise. that's not the least of my problems, i'm quite close to obese as well. i dont have to go out to work since i work at home so the concept wont work for me. but it's always good to hear bout these positive stories. so thanks. cheers to getting fit!-- slowly (in my case) ;p

4:40 PM SGT  
chuwasg said...

thank aznet and others, it's nice to know that there are real people spend time to read my post :-)

6:53 AM SGT  
andyh said...

Thanks man for your recommendation. Have been looking around for a train friendly folding bike.

Had my bad experience where I wanted to cycle tour Melbourne but her only city rental kiosk was closed because the person was 'sick' (more like Sunday too lazy to work...).

Now back in Sg, it seems the JZ88 foldable bike you recommended seems the perfect one, I've looked around and thought that the A-bike [http://www.daka.com.hk/products/show_product.php?id=210] was the one worth getting, but was told that it'd only be available in mid 2005, by then i'll be back in Oz.

The comparison chart in JZ88 also made it easier to decide! But the price is abit steep. It'll be good if it's kept at SGD500 range.

3:04 PM SGT  
chuwasg said...

Thanks Andy, I'm glad that you find it useful. I'm curious in the A-Bike too. It's nice to be so light (5.5kg) I will certainly try it when it is available, although I'm not certain it can handle the real road situation very well (I guess similar to Zerobike?) I hope you'll enjoy cycling in Singapore, most of the area is actually very pleasant.

Just be very careful on the road, some drivers here are not sensitive to cyclists, and it only take one careless driver to make a disaster. Don't try to hop on pedestrian curbs higher then 10 cm, the wheels of JZ88 are smaller then normal so it is not easy to roll over higher curbs.

8:35 PM SGT  
Anonymous said...

I was told by a friend to check your blog, it is very interesting and inspiring. I want to pick up cycling agian, to go to school, but was always afraid of because I can not find a safe route from home all the way to school. With your suggestion of a foldable bike, it seems using cycling can be a practical way to get around in Singapore.

6:48 AM SGT  
Anonymous said...

you guys ever heard of park connector? I was very excited, when I saw it on the internet. "ulu pandan park connector" should be the best cycle track from my place to office. But seems like what National Parks Broad posted on the internet was not really actual. The cycle track just discontinues at many points. I'm now quite disapointed as this still take time (2010) to complete the whole tracks. :(
But 'foldable bike',hmm.. is it still convenient to ride for long journey, say 15 - 20 km?? please share some experience with me.

5:12 PM SGT  
CSLoh said...

I realize I'm joining this very late - trust someone will still respond. Returning from Brussels very soon & am considering bringing home a foldable bike but the Dahon (beautiful but heavy at 11 Kg)costs S$1000. The small wheels of the lighter models put me off. Someone mentioned S$500 being expensive? Are there cheaper foldable bikes in S'pore?? I won't bother buying here in Brussels then!!

10:37 AM SGT  
Anonymous said...

Anonymous
you guys ever heard of park connector?

half of my daily route use park connector; it's beautiful in the morning to cycle along the rivers.

But 'foldable bike',hmm.. is it still convenient to ride for long journey, say 15 - 20 km??

That depends on you. The longest I've done on my JZ88 folding bike is 150km in an evening group ride (Bishan- Marina south- East Coast Park- Changi Airport- Changi Village- Bishan) The stretch along Changi Coast Road was the toughest, but everyone (road bike or MTB) was very impressed that I actually made it all the way to Changi Village!

6:03 AM SGT  
cheekman said...

hey im a 17 yr old who loves cycling. have been cycling -night cycling- around singapore on a mountain bike since 2 years ago and was considering going into the sport. i too realise the problem of the traffic congestion due to spatial problems.however, you might consider cycling as a sport at less habitated locations.

the sale of road bikes in singapore are limited in terms of both the range of price and the variety of choices. i was wondering if you could find some websites on import of good road bikes for me and send them to my hotmail account at gl_3n@hotmail.com. thanks, the effort would be greatly appreciated.

1:18 AM SGT  
students from rjc said...

hi chuwasg, we are students from raffles junior college and we are currently working on a project concerning cycling in singapore, drawing comparisons with the system in holland. We hope that you would grant us the permission to interview you as we feel that your opinions would be invaluable. If u are agreeable, you can contact us at laming_lame_lamer@hotmail.com and we can fix a time and place. Hope to hear from you.

5:49 PM SGT  
mis_nomer said...

heya, I cycle to work occasionally and agree with you on what Singapore can do to make it easier for cyclists on the road. Great posts! I think that if the government were to promote cycling, it will take care of two national concerns -- encourage a healthy lifestyle and perhaps alleviate the jams in the morning.

2:15 PM SGT  
chuwasg said...

coffeeshot, sure, cleaner air and less road kill as well.

Now government is promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. These require skills in path-finding and courage. For their future, I love to let my kids cycle to school. It helps to develop their courage and entrepreneurship through exploring the neighborhoods and finding their own way.

But right now the roads are just too dangerous. People even get killed on pedestrian crossing! The penalties for offending drivers are not heavy enough. If law maker see car as a potential lethal weapon, the control and penalties should be very different and the behavior of the few dangerous drivers will be improved.

9:13 PM SGT  
Anonymous said...

I am here working for two weeks. Thanks for the inspiration, I wasn't sure that I would be able to bike commute, but after seeing your web page I decided to bring my bike over with me. 3 days in and the commuting has been great, it only takes about a half hour to get to work from my hotel, and traffic is not as scary as I expected.

4:16 PM SGT  
chuwasg said...

Glad to know one more person is encouraged to cycle in Singapore.
I agree that sometime the road danger in Singapore has been exaggerated. But do take it in the light that the intention is not to stop people from cycling, but rather take special care of yourself if you do make this choice (commute by bicycle). It's always better to be late than sorry :-)

6:10 PM SGT  
Anonymous said...

Hi there,
Nice website you have here, keep it up. Do you know any place where I can buy cheap bikes in Sg, not mountain bike type, just old school type, bikes that we often see in japan, europe, china, etc, I don't mind used ones. I want to ride a bike but cheap one, I bought mine for US$30 when I was in U.S. I think Sg drivers sucks, no signalinng, no blind spot checking, crazy! no wonder many ppl get killed every year!

2:25 PM SGT  
Anonymous said...

Hi
Could you tell me where to get the jz88 folding bike and how much does it cost?

1:34 PM SGT  
Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see this.

would u like to share your story in www.sgcycling.org?

11:03 PM SGT  
chuwasg said...

Anonymous said...
Hi
Could you tell me where to get the jz88 folding bike ...
here is a map of the shop
http://www.jz88.com/shop-on-earth.htm

and how much does it cost?
price of the bike and accessories here..
http://www.jz88.com/buy.htm

-------------------------------
Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see this.

would u like to share your story in www.sgcycling.org?

Oh, certainly!

8:15 PM SGT  
Serene said...

hi there, i recently found a bike shop that offers a service called "Bike Lodging". interesting as it sounds, people who cycle to work can park their bicycles there, take a shower, leave their "dirt laundry there and head off to work... come back and pick up their stuff and bike after work and head home. you can check out their website: www.thebikeboutique.com

6:07 PM SGT  
azzzzzz said...

OH CERTAINLY! FOR FITNESS TOO!

4:44 PM SGT  
Anonymous said...

I own a $4500 bike but singapore is too unfriendly to cyclists. I take my bike out to cycle only every sunday along eastcoast park, sembawang, westcoast park but the trouble is actually getting there in one piece.

7:20 PM SGT  
Anonymous said...

Riding in this urban city, i thought riding an unicycle is even a better solution. It can be brought up the bus and MRT. Just that it is slower and funny. Quite portable and convenient. Afterall is also a form of exercise.
--unicyclist :)

5:04 PM SGT  
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Anonymous said...

Why do you feel that the jz88 is preferred over the brompton or dahon in the MRT. I thought that the brompton is one of the best folders.

10:19 AM SGT  
Anonymous said...

Hi, your blog inspired me! I was reading your story and realizing that it could be something that I wrote... Idea of cycling came to me recently when I realized that I am lacking of self discipline and making my self exercise - go gym or swimming pool is something that I can't do regulary... At the same time riding bicycle is something unique - riding to work - is a "2 stone 1 bird" kind of thing... but riding all over the island, enjoying sceneries, parks, is something relaxing, exciting, good for health and even educative! Truly one of the solution to health problems - should be promoted and supported by government. Anyway I am still very new and would like to have your advice very much! Please, if you could contact me and provide some advice, may be resources or how to become part of the existing community. :) Thank you for inspiration! :)

9:24 PM SGT  
working cyclist said...

Starting cycling to and back from work after mid-September'06. Its freshening whole day, no after-lunch drowsiness, no hunger, good sleep every night, almost clear urine, no constipation, no tired legs from standing around, bike investment breakeven within 4 months, cheap sunday joyrides (can go round Singapore in a Sunday?).

"Bad news" my road bike not suitable for footpaths, non-bike-friendly road encounters (roads and users), motor vehicle fumes, regular D-I-Y maintenance for my routes and usage.

Look forward to racer (lighter bike for safer speed, and weather-risks)

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Harish said...

Hey you all there.
Its great a thing to see so many people respond to a pretty trivial yet amazing result yielding act in everyday life. I moved in to Spore a year back and I can see my health go down the less-healthy kinds. I am a frequent trekker and fun freak. Cycling in Spore is surely not all that enjoyable as Az' quotes. But it is one of the best acts to get the body and mind in great springy health. I have begun to cycle now. My body walks the walk with no dip in energy and my perk is - I came to my neighborhood much faster in a much exciting way than the boring MRT and taxi ride. I was just thinking if all cycling enthus could get together for a long jolly ride, a Cylcothon probably :) !! What say guys ??

2:36 AM SGT  

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