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OCBC Cycle Singapore: Cycling should not be a contact sport

Published on Mar 31, 2014 7:53 PM

On Sunday, I was one of the more than 10,000 participants at the OCBC Cycle Singapore event.

It was into its sixth year, but this was the first year I was taking part.

I only recently bought a hybrid bicycle to get some exercise on weekends. All my rides have been confined to the cycling paths along East Coast Parkway (ECP).

The paths are generally crowded on weekends, and it is fairly normal to have to dodge other cyclists, children and the occasional dog to avoid falling off my bike.

Despite the practice I've had doing this, Sunday's event still came as a bit of a shock to me.

Within the first 5km or so of the 39km route, I saw two cyclists on the ground. One looked like he was bleeding from the knee.

This was along the downhill portion of the event on the Benjamin Sheares bridge heading east.

I thought to myself then that since it was rather dark (it was just past 6am) and everyone was going downhill, with some possibly half asleep, it was within the laws of probability that out of 10,000 cyclists a minor accident would happen.

But as I continued cycling, it became clear the accidents had nothing to do with the light or the slope.

Along the flat part of the ECP expressway somewhere between Marine Parade and Siglap, I saw another two cyclists fall, one of them just metres in front of me.

A few kilometres later, I almost became a statistic. A cyclist in front of me suddenly jammed on her brakes. I managed to stop just in time, but I could smell burnt rubber from my tyres from braking too hard.

I was definitely a little shaken by all of this, but carried on.

It was hard to feel entirely comfortable during the race when I kept passing by toppled cones, flattened water bottles and broken lights. These were reminders that yet someone else had fallen down.

Even past the finish line, there was no escaping an accident.

A cyclist who whizzed past me in the last 200m crashed near the barriers just after the finish line. Other cyclists who had already dismounted helped him. He was able to dust himself off and push his bicycle to the side.

He should count himself lucky.

As I write this, national serviceman Chia Wee Kiat, 24, is in critical condition after an accident during the race.

Many of these accidents could have been avoided.

The bunching of cyclists along the ECP eastwards was one of the main reasons the mishaps happened.

With just one lane or a little over a lane for cyclists heading east, the entire stretch was an accident zone.

The slower cyclists tried their best to stick to the left lane to let the faster cyclists through on the right. But with limited space, it was difficult to accommodate everyone's varying speeds.

The U-turns were also danger areas as cyclists with different turning radii came together. Also a red zone was the split in the route at Benjamin Sheares bridge where those going on their second lap had to veer right, and those headed to the finish line looped left.

One way to solve this would be to redefine the categories according to experience or speed, or flag people off in more "waves" so that cyclists moving at the same speed ride together.

The other solution is to simply give everyone more space. Most of the route on the ECP towards the finish line was accident-free because there was more than enough space for both the slower and faster cyclists.

If the organisers cannot secure enough road space for cyclists to have a safe ride, then they should consider capping the number of cyclists.

There's no point having a record number of participants when many leave with injuries, marring what would have otherwise been a perfectly wonderful event.

Cycling isn't a contact sport, and it really should stay that way.