Cycling after the witching hour is how Singapore’s King of Swing, jazz pianist and music educator Jeremy Monteiro, prefers to unwind. He speaks of his favourite routes, while Benedict Chen checks out other cycling options on the island.
“I cycle at strange hours of the night. As a musician, I often play till very late, and when I go back, I can’t really fall asleep. I’m still wound up. And much of my work is done at night because it’s when the phone doesn’t ring much.
So I unwind by cycling around 1 o’clock in the morning as most of the parks are lit till dawn. I seldom cycle in the day as its too hot.
During school holidays, there are groups of school kids who cycle late at night. But often, there’s nobody and it’s very calming to cycle then. I mostly cycle alone. I am not a loner, but I have learnt to really enjoy my solitude. The only scary thing about cycling late at night is that sometimes there are packs of dogs near construction sites. I’ve been chased by dogs a couple of times, but that’s as exciting as it gets!
Recently, I’ve started cycling from my place in Serangoon Central to Punggol Park. I circle the park a couple of times and then stop at the restaurant/bar in the park called Wild Oats. I’ll have a beer and a chat with the manager Mitchell, a buddy of mine. It’s a great place to hang out and chill out. I cycle home after that.
Many of the places I cycle, like Punggol Waterway, are brand new and very picturesque. Singapore has become more and more attractive in recent years with these new park connectors.
On occasion, when I cycle in the evening during the times of the year when the birds are migrating, it’s quite amazing to see the birds flock to the river and mangroves. It’s really like watching National Geographic live. Even at night, there’s enough light shining from the path lights onto the river to make out the birds — especially the white birds like the cattle egrets.
I also take the new path that goes from Sengkang Riverside Park to where the old Woodbridge Hospital used to be. Near here I often stop and enjoy watching the activities in the last kampung in Singapore, Kampung Lorong Buangkok, where 28 families still live.
It’s funny how spending time outdoors helps me to get in touch with myself. It relaxes and recharges me. More than the exercise, it is like a moving meditation.
I try to practise mindfulness and stay fully present with the task at hand. Sometimes I will listen to music when cycling, but more often, I just enjoy the sounds of the street, the birds in the park, or the sound of kids carried on the wind.
While I must be getting some physical benefits from cycling, I know I am getting more mental and emotional benefits from being near nature.
Although I don’t really get any inspiration on the ride itself for my music, it does still my mind. And out of that stillness, when I am home in my music room, some musical ideas do bubble up. I believe that silence is the wellspring of creativity.
I learned to cycle when I was five years old. It became a passion of mine when I was a teenager, and I used to cycle across the island quite often. Then I took a long break of several years before starting again in 2007 because I was interested in a folding bicycle. It’s a hand-made Brompton bicycle which lets me cycle as far as I like, without having to worry about coming back because I can fold it up and jump into a cab.
It’s not a mountain bike, so I go on paved surfaces. I cycle a lot at Sengkang Riverside Park and Punggol Waterway. One of my favourite routes is to go all the way to Punggol Park, then follow the Serangoon River going past Lorong Halus Wetlands and along the Punggol Waterway. There’s no trail connection from Punggol Waterway to Sengkang Riverside Park yet, so I use the roads a little to get back to Sengkang Riverside.
This route is about 16km long. I cycle around 7km for fun regularly. Then at least once a week, I’ll do around 12 km, and maybe a couple of times a month, I’ll pedal up to 20 km. Many cyclists cycle 60 km on a weekend. I don’t do that. I don’t claim to be athletic just because I practise my scales on the piano every day, you know?”
There are more cyclists in Singapore than ever before, partly because more people are interested in keeping fit and experiencing the outdoors, and partly because cycling is an inexpensive form of transport. Also, Singapore’s authorities have been helping the cause along. The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Sustainable Development Blueprint included a sustainable transport system in the Marina Bay area that has a 16km cycling network, to be completed by 2014.
The NParks’ contribution to this has been the Park Connector Network (PCN), a network of green corridors linking parks and other nature spots around the island. About 200km of it is in place, and by 2015, it’ll hit 300km. Intended for recreation, including cycling, it takes users away from urban concrete and traffic, and into corridors of cool, quiet, lush greenery and peaceful waterways.
Apart from recreational cycling, there’s road cycling, mountain and BMX biking, and even indoor cycling. So whatever your level – learner, beginner, occasional, regular, competitive, extreme – there are plenty of options. Enjoy your ride, and your discovery of the Little Red Dot on wheels!
POPULAR PEDALLING PICKS
East: Some of the more popular park connectors are in the East Coast Park. If you don’t own a bicycle, you can rent one from any of the PCN pit stops here and return it at another. Besides the PCN pit stops, there are many other bike rental shops around the East Coast Park area, which is a popular place because of the countless F&B options along the routes, and sea views.
North-Eastern Loop: Newly completed and gaining popularity because of its unique surroundings such as the Punggol Promenade area.
South: The planned cycling network in the Marina Bay area will be ready in 2013, and will include a 2.5km path along a section of Marina Boulevard, Bayfront Avenue and Marina
[Gardens Park Connector Route maps are available at www.nparks.gov.sg]
Athlete Lab at 71 Amoy Street caters to virtual cycling for cyclists who want to use their own bicycles indoors with access to a high tech virtual reality training system. Pop into the lab in the morning, do a quick-spin programme and get to the office in time to start your day. Good for those wanting stress-free hard training in the Central Business District. More details on cycling options and memberships at singapore.athlete-lab.com.
Xtreme SkatePark, East Coast Park: The first international competition level skate park in Singapore, it was designed and constructed by CONVIC Design, which has built some of the largest concrete skate parks in the world. The 1.4ha park beside the sea embodies the extreme sports lifestyle, with a combo bowl, a vertical bowl and a street course. Works for beginners and professionals. Near Carpark F1, East Coast Park.
Mandai Road is a fast rolling stretch of road cyclists love for its undulating terrain and a short tree-shaded segment that is a thoroughly pleasant way to start the morning. This connects to the Kranji (Neo Tiew)‒Lim Chu Kang stretch. Beware of trucks. Other than that, the road is quiet and free of mainstream traffic. Competitive road cyclists favour a 6km stretch of straight road at Changi Coast Road, the best training ground for time trialists and triathletes.
The most popular informal meeting place for road cyclists is at an eating place known as the Long House along Upper Thomson Road. Long a haunt of Singapore’s road cyclists, its central location makes it easy to get to the more popular riding routes in Singapore.
Ketam Bike Trail, Pulau Ubin: Great for rated trails with segments classified as Blue Square, Black Diamond or Double Black Diamond. Blue Square marks the easiest parts, and Black and Double Black are where the fun starts. Not for those new to mountain biking. Get to Pulau Ubin via Changi Point Ferry Terminal.
Tampines Bike Trail: The park was revamped for the Youth Olympic Games 2010. It’s well-designed track provides plenty of single track riding. Good for beginners yet challenging enough for seasoned cross-country riders. Entrance to the park is at the intersection of Tampines Ave 9 and 7. Closed on Mondays.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve: A long trail through the reserve can prove challenging for beginners. With several entrances and exits, heed well the signs along the way. Easiest access is from the car park outside the Visitors’ Centre.
Kent Ridge Trail: This extreme trail is made for downhill riders and not recommended for the average rider. Best taken on a long travel trail bike or a freeride/downhill bike. Access from Vigilante Drive along South Buona Vista Road.
Many will take you under their wings to show you a good cycling experience. Recreational groups like the Joyriders (www.joyriders.sg) have grown over the years and now boast more than 1,000 members, drawn to rides organised for Different ability levels on weekends, cycling trips to Malaysia, and overseas to famous portions of the Tour de France route. LovecyclingSG (www.lovecyclingsg.com) is another friendly cycling group. It indulges in ERP — Eat, Ride, Photo. Team Midpoint (www.midpoint.sg) is an amateur road cycling group based in Toa Payoh. The Singapore Cycling Club goes by the moniker Mountain Bike Kakis on Facebook (facebook.com/SingaporeCyclingClub). All can be contacted through their Web or Facebook sites for more details.
STYLE ON WHEELS
As cycling shifts from inexpensive transport to a lifestyle trend, fashion houses have picked up on it. Hermes has added a bicycle to their range of designer offerings. Meanwhile, Levi’s has come up with the Commuter line of jeans and jackets for cyclists. Singaporeans are also catching on, and the current buzz is “cycling is the new golf”.