This piece was originally written by Augustin Chiam and published on USP Highlights on 19 April 2013
Urban cycling is a growing phenomenon that cannot be ignored. The European Cyclists’ Federation aims to see that “30 percent of all traffic kilometres worldwide are realised on a bicycle or by other means of active mobility”. Singapore, likewise, has an increasing number of park connectors and bicycle lanes around the island. In NUS, the trend is also catching on. Bicycle racks have been installed in and around University Town and there is also a pilot project to lease out bicycles for rental at Kent Ridge Hall.
With this burgeoning number of cycling enthusiasts, came the cycling interest groups in NUS. However, while the larger NUS community has NUS Rovers and the NUS Cycling Club, USP did not have its own cycling interest group … until now.
“We realised that there is no platform in USP for cyclists to congregate, so we started this interest group to organise cycling events as well as encourage non-cyclists to take up cycling as an alternative mode of transport,” says Kinmun.
All of the founders of USP on Wheels (USPOW) are themselves, cycling enthusiasts. Kinmun and Zi Qiao, for example, cycle to and from school, almost every day.
What about the daunting slope, just outside Yushof Ishak House (YIH) on the Kent Ridge campus, which one must scale before reaching the Central Library? They unanimously insisted that the slope is not a big deal.
“There is a trick to get past the YIH slope by going a longer route,” says Willie.
Kinmun added, “Crowding in the bus may be more uncomfortable than riding up the YIH slope,” says Kinmun.
Clearly, they are not easily deterred from continuing their daily cycling routine.
“For me the draw of cycling is freedom, the freedom to explore the crooks and corners of Singapore, the freedom to go where public transport might not take me. It is about the flexibility of the bicycle to bring me around,” says Kinmun.
“During the exam period, I was very active on the wheels. When you study late into the night, you need supper. And guess what? Wah Chee is nearby. 15 minutes by walking, 1 minute by cycling. Cycling gets you to places quicker. Also the cool night air in your face, instantly refreshes me, so I’m ready for the next round of studying,” says Willie.
For all the interest in cycling, some still have niggling doubts about the safety of cyclists in Singapore. Just in Jan 2013, a horrific traffic incident involving two young cyclists and a cement mixer shocked the nation and raised questions about the safety of cycling in Singapore. The group assures me that the safety of those who sign up for USPOW’s cycling trips will be taken care of.
“Cycling accidents are quite common and they will even happen to professional cyclists. We won’t go at a very high speed and we will equip everyone with helmets and safety lights. Also, when we cycle as a group, it is easier for other vehicles to see us,” says Ziqiao.
When planning cycling routes, USPOW takes reference from established amateur cycling groups in Singapore such as the Joyriders, Singapore’s largest recreational cycling community. These routes are “tried-and-tested” and present minimal risks as long as cyclists and motorists adhere to the safety regulations.
“The solution to all these safety issues is not just through making more safety policies because regardless of how safe the roads are, if the motorists do not adhere to cyclists’ safety guidelines, accidents will still happen. One other important thing is educating motorists on how vulnerable cyclists are. The awareness of the 1.5 m safety distance matters. If everyone gives us that wide berth of 1.5m, accident rates will plummet,” says Willie.
The group intends to organise cycling trips that take students to see Singapore in a new light.
“Cycling is about going to places. Discovering the un-Singapore-ness of Singapore. For example, if you cycle to Seletar Reservoir, you won’t believe that that’s Singapore,” says Zi Qiao. There have been trips to Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa. , and in the pipeline is a trip to Mount Faber, and perhaps even themed trips, like going to special places on special festivities.
Those who do not own bikes need not worry because most events are held where rental bikes are readily available nearby. They also assure me that cycling is not a very difficult skill to pick up and that it is a skill one “never forgets”.
“The difficulty is in having stamina … the first thing we will do [for cycling trips] is gauge the stamina of our participants and plan the routes accordingly,” says Kinmun.
USPOW plans to lease out road bikes and maintenance equipment which they will procure in the near future. It is currently looking for funding from various sponsors to set up an equipment store.
“We want to centralise all bicycle equipment. This way, we can share out the cost, without each of us having to buy say, a bicycle pump,” says Willie.
Having initially publicised the existence of such a group on Facebook, Willie tells me that the signup rate is very promising.
“We haven’t explored the publicity to [exchange students] … once we have funding for biking equipment, the exchange students will be able to lease our bikes. We are very sure exchange students will be very eager. I personally know a few cycling enthusiasts from overseas who were unable to bring their bikes over; they would love to cycle in Singapore [if we can provide them with the bikes],” says Willie.
“Some people in the admin and the teaching staff have also expressed interest in joining us in our cycling events because some of them are also cycling enthusiasts,” added Kinmun. And that’s just wonderful, for USPOW and USCommunity!
If interested in USPow, please do join their Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/usponwheels/