*Words:* Jody Chapman
It was 5:29am on a Saturday morning. It hadn’t dropped much below 30 degrees the previous night and the air was so thick with humidity you could chew it. People on the tail end of their Friday night out stared in bewilderment as cyclists assembled at the Long House, Singapore’s mecca for cyclists. Riders milled about, recognisable in their club strips through bleary eyes. Sat under the strip lights of this otherwise deserted hawker market, were a small crew of well-clad guys; they would be the fellow tormentors for the early morning smash.
With Vinnie present it was never going to be a steady or predictable 70km loop. The pace quickly reached 40kph and stayed there for the majority of the ride. It soon became clear that Vinnie was playing with us; pinging off the front, sand-bagging and apparently updating his Facebook status every few minutes. Our group of nine riders took some of the snap from Vinnie’s elastic jaunts but by the end of Mandai Road, the pace had increased again. The sprint was soon on and familiar silhouettes were out of their saddles, swinging bikes wildly to be first past the bus stop. My head was down but at that time of the morning I didn’t really care who won (although I’m pretty sure it was Vinnie) as we headed to the Botanic Gardens for the day’s Rapha customer ride.
After a masala tea, Rapha’s two Adams, Horler and Taylor-Campbell, addressed the 50 cyclists who had assembled by the Botanic Gardens to explain the route. Slowly we snaked our way out of the café with the click of cleats ricocheting down the road. We headed back towards the Long House and down the most picturesque roads Singapore has to offer. Flanked by luscious green vegetation the highways became a distant memory.
Heading towards Kranji, a good steady pace pulled everyone through Singapore’s farming district and down onto LCK: a straight and exposed 5km stretch of road which instinctively causes cyclists to come off the hoods, look for a good wheel to suck, and hunker down for a 10-minute pain fest. Disparate groups of five or six riders threw everything they had at the final few hundred metres, despite this being the day’s second pass down this particular stretch. After regrouping we turned left away from the usual Kranji route and onto undiscovered roads.
We passed Bukit Batok, a dramatic rock and lake vista which looks alien in this landscape, nestled amongst high HDB flats. This was the first of many surprises along the second half of the route. The first shock came as we peeled off the front side of SBV and on to Vigilante, a one-kilometre climb that reaches a 20% gradient in parts. It is brutal. Again mini competitions between the small groups ensued and riders emerged at the summit either victorious or defeated.
From the top of Vigilante we followed Henderson Way down on to Pepys, bringing us out on the West Coast Highway. Everyone thought we were heading for the respite of coffee and cake, but the route took us on the most remarkable detour, meandering and looping through Kent Ridge Park and past the driveways of beautifully kept houses. With the late morning sun angling through the trees, it soon became an effortless ramble with views across the city.
Finally we made it back to the hawker centre in Bukit Merah and were treated to a variety of desserts at Vinnie’s mum’s stall. It was an opportunity to meet riders as they sat tasting grass jelly, sea coconut and lychee desserts. As people began to drift back towards their bikes, I realised that not only had I seen bits of Singapore that would have probably remained hidden to me but that I had met people who otherwise would have remained strangers.
_I was saddened to discover that after a truly heartening ride with new friends, a cyclist had recently been killed on the East Coast Road in a traffic accident. A stark reminder that this incredible sport can be so fragile and life so easily taken away. On behalf of everyone who rode, our thoughts and condolences are with the young victim’s family and friends._