Henry O. Farad, International Spokehead


I bought a bicycle a little over a week ago. I was initially going to get a cheap chinese bike, with the rod actuated brakes and the double top tube frame, but ended up buying a folding bike instead. Not just a folding bike, but one that purports to be a mountain bike, a feaux-lding mountain bike as it were.

My perceived need was to be able to get the kilometer or so from my flat or office to the MRT faster than walking and more conveniently than by bus. I wasn't looking for a toy. I wasn't planning on doing any pleasure riding over here, and as such I left all my cycling paraphenalia at home. This is proving to be a major peeve.

As cheap, practical, transportation my new bike is, for the most part, doing yeoman work. It rides like a real bike, it has 18 gear choices, and if I get caught in the rain and I want to take a taxi home, I can fold it up and put it in the trunk. As a matter of fact, it is frustratingly close to being a real bike.

The first peeve was the folding pedals. They were made of both metal and plastic. They were not made to be used by a muscular 85kg rider. Not even a kilometer from the bike shop, I was accelerating around a bus at a bus stop when the right pedal broke, nearly sending me ass over tea kettle. Fortunately, not only did I avoid a spontaneous introduction to Mr. Tarmac, but the bus driver saw my difficulty and neglecting his darwinian duty, did not grease the underside of the bus with an urban spokehead. Sorry Geoff, better luck next time.

The bike shop cheerfully replaced my pedals with one noticably lacking in polymers as the basis for structural componants, and while they do not conveniently fold for storage, they do not inconveniently fold under load either.

The second major peeve with this bike is the brakes. As the bike was delivered, the sidepull caliper brakes were somewhere between decorative and ballast. Stop on a dime? Short of running into the wall they wouldn't stop on Fort Knox.

This brings up a related peeve, almost every bike shop in Singapore has the same selection. You can buy either very, very cheap bikes, or very expensive full suspension mountain bikes. There are very few mid-range parts available. After several days, I found a local bike shop that actually had a set of decent caliper brakes for sale. The $38 price tag was significant enough that I didn't just snap them up. When Richard saw me comparing them with the way that mine would flex and shift, he attacked my bike with his 10mm spanner. After about half an hour he managed to get the front brake to somewhere between decorative and functional, and the rear brake closer to decorative than ballast. For his efforts, he charged me the princely sum of $2. That's about a buck and a quarter in US currency.

Setting aside the argument of bikes as toys versus bikes as transportation, my bike is proving to be just about the optimal way to learn my way around Singapore. Cabs are expensive, and with someone else driving you don't really learn your way around. Buses are cheaper, but the transit guide was out of print and out of stock from some time in november until just a few days ago, it's not always easy to even see where you are on the bus, much less learn your way around. If you need to go someplace near an MRT (subway) stop, it can be very handy, but as to learning your way around town, you might as well be teleported. You see a lot walking, but it's very slow and one can chafe pretty bad from walking in tropical climates.

Riding the bike gives me the freedom to explore interesting side streets on a whim. It is often as fast or faster than the bus (I seem to spend a lot of time leapfrogging buses as they will pass me, then stop to pick up passengers), and since I'm doing the navigating I get a much better feeling for where things are in relation to each other. People would repeatadly tell me that Singapore is not a bicycle friendly town, but it is no worse than riding in any city on a motorcycle, and it's a damn sight less intimidating than riding bikes on the street I live on in Felton. Of course, short of San Francisco it might be difficult to find roads more intimidating than Highway 9.

There is not much off road riding in Singapore. I've heard stories of trails out in Bukkit Timah, but for the most part the Island is flat, and paved. The ideal bike for this town would be a hybrid, tires a little bit wider than a racing road bike and handlebars that allow an upright seating position so you can easily watch out for DWO's. Maybe it's from some weird expression of kiasu but everyone that can afford a bike that isn't obviously an unmitigated cheap collection of low carbon fecal material seems to ride a mountain bike, usually full suspension. Sometimes it seems odd to see a brand new, tricked out full suspension mountain bike being ridden by some wizned old man in flip flops as he smokes his cigarette or pipe.

In the meantime, I'm keeping my eyes open for a good used bike. I'll probably get a mountain bike because even though they aren't as good on the road as road bikes, they do better on the road than road bikes do off the road and if I get the chance to do any bike touring over here, I have the suspiscion that the fat tires could come in very handy.

Last modified 22 Feb 1999

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