Ridin’ Singapore

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Gliding past cars parked in queues at traffic lights is one of the many buzzes of riding a bike to and from work in Singapore.  They grind to a halt and I fly past, keeping left and out of the grates covering the drains.  The grates are just wide enough for my wheel to slip into as I found out one fateful day.  It’s just another street obstacle in the city now.

Push, push, past the busy businessmen now sitting in their cars waiting for the traffic light gods to favour their path home.  Past the tired workers spending their time locked in their little steel boxes.  Past the motorbikes and scooters, for some reason they wont navigate the smaller gaps between a bus and the pavement.  Rolling free on my bike, watching the people waiting at bus stops for the bus I passed five minutes ago.  Watching for the taxi drivers who always think they own the road.  My pedal can do more damage to your side panels then you can inflict on me travelling at ten kilometers an hour in city traffic.

And you’ll never catch me.

Awesome, a pedestrian crossing.  And now a miracle of modern science occurs as I transform from being part of the road traffic to being a pedestrian.  The dual nature of a bicycle on the road seems little understood by governments, perhaps it’s an application of a new Uncertainty Principle.  Only close observation at a point in time can establish if it’s a car or a pedestrian.  And most cyclists take advantage of that uncertainty every day.  Especially in a city like Singapore that doesn’t really accommodate bicycles at all.  It’s actually illegal to ride on the pavement, but there are no bike paths.  There are some ‘park connector’ roads that are meant for pedestrians and bicycles, but they are regularly interrupted by stairway highway crossings that defeat the purpose.  Parks accommodate bikes, but getting to the park can be time consuming if you don’t put your bike in a car first.  And you can’t take them on the subway.  Well, you can, but only a collapsible bike that fits within specific dimensions you see on signs in the train stations.   Nobody rides their bike to work either.  In a 25 storey office building there are only five people who ride a bike to work.  Which is lucky, because there’s only one shower in the whole building.  The building was only completed last year and thus represents Singaporean policy and attitude to bicycles perfectly.

The strange thing is that the government has made it prohibitively expensive to own a car in Singapore.  After you buy your certificate of entitlement and then paid the phenomenal tax on cars, you’re down at least $60,000 without evening paying for a car.  You may as well get a bike.  The Indian and Malay locals do that everywhere and use very simple, small bikes as their main transport to get around.  It’s a common sight to see someone pedaling up the road with a basket full of stuff balanced on the handlebars or packrack.  A smile and a wave as I sail by is always returned happily.

I slide across the intersection with the pedestrians and then change back to being road traffic.  After passing some more buses parked at the lights I make my way to the next intersection and stop a few metres in front of the first car.  In Singapore you are required to make yourself visible when stopped at traffic lights by moving to the front like this.  Which only makes it better when the lights change and I cross the intersection before any cars can.  The power to weight ratio of a bike gives you enough acceleration to do this most times, only dedicated leadfoots in small, powerful cars can beat you.

Now it’s a T-intersection that traffic is stopped at, but I want to go straight ahead and there is no street on my left.  PING! I’m a pedestrian.  PING! I’m a car continuing my journey happily.  I know this duality will probably have me stopped by an undercover policeman one day, but my story is prepared and I’ll see how long I can keep him talking about it.  As long as I’m not obstructing traffic or endangering myself, I can’t see any real issue with taking advantage of the confusion.  Cyclists here are third class road users to anything with a motor; until the government wakes up and changes that, I cant fell guilty.

The Chinese Singaporean approach to bikes is what you’d expect.  Most people only ride at night or weekends where there is less or no traffic.  But the riding isn’t so important.  What’s important is that you have the latest brand name Kevlar – Carbon fibre mountain bike with the most expensive accessories you can import from Europe.  Because Singapore has massive off-road mountain tracks for you to challenge yourself against.  Somewhere.  I’m sure they’re hidden behind the single large hill in the country which stretches to a phenomenal 164 metres above sea level.  If you could actually get to the top.  While you’re looking for those tracks you’d better buy the latest brand name cycling clothing and be sure to be noticed wearing it whilst drinking from the brand name water bottle attached to your bike with the designer clasp and preferably drawing attention to the brand name watch that measures your heartbeat while you ride a whole kilometer before stopping at an intersection again.

I’m near home now, one more corner, and I become a pedestrian to turn straight into the one way street.  I decide I’m just going to keep being a pedestrian until I park my bike in my apartment’s basement.  Another ride finished and the buzz of riding through that traffic stays with me long after the shower washes away my sweat and the day at work.

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