Online portal riding high on cycling boom

Togoparts.com founder Evan Lee (third from left) with staff members (from left) Marvin Baga, Gerald Yong, Serena Leong, Benjamin Chia and Charlie Tan at the website's office. The portal, which has 77,000 members currently and turns 15 this year, prov
Togoparts.com founder Evan Lee (third from left) with staff members (from left) Marvin Baga, Gerald Yong, Serena Leong, Benjamin Chia and Charlie Tan at the website's office. The portal, which has 77,000 members currently and turns 15 this year, provides a forum for cyclists to share their experiences and trade bike parts. Mr Lee says Togoparts' mission is to keep people's passion for cycling going in Singapore.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN
The Joyriders, one of the largest road cycling communities in town. The group organises daily rides that start in the pre-dawn hours along Upper Thomson Road.
The Joyriders, one of the largest road cycling communities in town. The group organises daily rides that start in the pre-dawn hours along Upper Thomson Road.ST FILE PHOTO

Togoparts began as student's pet project but now serves flourishing cycling community

The largest online cycling community here is home to a bustling forum and marketplace visited by virtually every cyclist at least once to trade tips or bike parts.

Called Togoparts.com, the website has seen its community grow exponentially over the years to about 77,000 members, in tandem with cycling's growing popularity.

The Web portal turns 15 this year and its founder Evan Lee says he can hardly believe that a passion project which began as a few lines of code in his university dormitory room has evolved into a business for him, and a gathering place for cyclists of all stripes.

The 40-year-old technopreneur started the site in 2000, when he was a computer science undergraduate in his final year at the National University of Singapore.

Mr Lee, then 25, had picked up mountain biking and was riding "every other day", but realised there was no online community where he could get riding tips or share his experiences.

"There were some forums and bulletin boards, but these didn't require people to log in, so they were just posting anonymously, bashing businesses and cyclists. I thought that environment was not conducive," said the father of two who is married to a civil servant. He also runs a motoring website.

FILLING A GAP

There were some forums and bulletin boards, but these didn't require people to log in, so they were just posting anonymously, bashing businesses and cyclists. I thought that environment was not conducive.

MR EVAN LEE, on what spurred him to set up Togoparts.com in 2000.

  • OTHER ONLINE CYCLING GROUPS

  • LOVE CYCLING SG

    13,900 members

    The group is for cyclists of all stripes. It organises rides on Sunday mornings - mostly along the Park Connector Network - that explore different neighbourhoods.

    To join, visit www.facebook.com/groups/lovecyclingsg


    JOYRIDERS

    1,900 members

    This is one of the largest road cycling communities in town. The group organises daily rides that start in the pre-dawn hours along Upper Thomson Road.

    To join, visit www.facebook.com/groups/joyriders.sg or e-mail joyce@joyriders.sg


    MOUNTAIN BIKE ASSOCIATION (SINGAPORE)

    1,000 members

    This is a group of keen mountain bikers. It organises "trail days" twice a year, where members get off their bikes and pick up tools like shovels to maintain the trails they ride on.

    To join, visit www.mbasg.org/sign-up.html

He started Togoparts - which stems from "parts to go" - as a platform where users would have to log in before sharing their views, so they would be accountable.

And to allow users to put a face to their online monikers, he would organise mass rides or flea markets where community members could socialise in real life.

The approach worked - at the end of its first year, Togoparts had more than 500 members. This grew to over 7,000 by 2005.

That was when Mr Lee quit his job as a project manager at the Defence Science and Technology Agency to run the website as a business, a risky move considering the dot.com bubble burst only five years before that.

"I still wasn't sure it would be completely viable but if I didn't try I wouldn't know," he said, adding that server fees at that time already cost him $500 a month.

But eventually he started turning a profit by selling online advertisements to bike shops. Togoparts currently has seven staff. Mr Lee declined to reveal how much the website makes.

In the website's 15 years, Mr Lee says he has seen cycling go from being a fringe subculture to part of the mainstream.

"In the first 10 years, people were using bikes for sport - they were buying expensive bikes, but to ride for leisure or exercise," said Mr Lee.

He noted that in the past three to four years, he noticed more people using folding bicycles for commutes.

In recent years, the Government has pushed for cycling to become a more attractive mode of transport - it will build cycling networks in all Housing Board towns by 2030 and roll out schemes such as bike-sharing to encourage more to take to two wheels.

Mr Lee believes Togoparts played a role in cycling's growing popularity. "I have people coming to tell me that they got into cycling because of Togoparts," he said. "Our mission is to keep people's passion for cycling going."

This means encouraging people to spend more time on their bikes.

To do that, Togoparts is organising three cycling challenges this year. Members have to cycle progressively longer distances over a period of weeks to celebrate its 15th anniversary.

They pay a fee to join and will get a jersey if they complete the challenges. The latest one, to ride 920km over nine weeks, is currently under way.

The rides have drawn riders such as IT security specialist Chong Foo Siong, 60, back to the sport.

Mr Chong, who took part in the previous challenge from January to March to ride 810km over eight weeks, rode the longest distance in a single session - 306.5km. The distances are logged using a mobile app.

"The 810km challenge drew me in. I could use the website to monitor my progress," he said, adding that he picked up cycling again about a year ago as it was easier on his legs compared with running.

The challenge motivated him to ride regularly - he gets up at 4am to clock an average of 50km daily.

A fellow rider, ITE student Nicholas Ang, 20, said that along with the challenges, Togoparts has got many riders into the sport, including him.

Mr Ang started cycling three years ago and now rides about five times a week - between 60km and 120km each time.

He said: "When I first wanted to get a bike, I had no budget, but I found a very good second-hand starter bike on Togoparts for $900 - it's what got me into cycling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Online portal riding high on cycling boom'. Print Edition | Subscribe