Cycling: Cycle culture a chain reaction

Left: Members of the 30Forty Cycling Team and the Geylang Cycling Team at the Sports Hub. Teams participating in the OCBC Cycle Speedway Club Championship on Nov 18 will field four riders to race in pairs over 10 laps, with each pair doing five laps,
Members of the 30Forty Cycling Team and the Geylang Cycling Team at the Sports Hub. Teams participating in the OCBC Cycle Speedway Club Championship on Nov 18 will field four riders to race in pairs over 10 laps, with each pair doing five laps, on a flat 1km course along Stadium Drive. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Left: Members of the 30Forty Cycling Team and the Geylang Cycling Team at the Sports Hub. Teams participating in the OCBC Cycle Speedway Club Championship on Nov 18 will field four riders to race in pairs over 10 laps, with each pair doing five laps,
Former national cyclist Loh Kheng Wah leading an opponent during an event in the 1970s. Loh raced for the Shimano factory team from 1974 to 1980.PHOTO COURTESY OF LOH KHENG WAH

History plays a major role as clubs begin to gear up for OCBC Speedway Club race

As 15 of Singapore's best cycling teams prepare to race at the OCBC Cycle Speedway Club Championship on Nov 18, it is also a trip down memory lane for Loh Kheng Wah.

For someone who has seen the local cycling scene evolve since the 1970s when he represented Singapore at the 1973 South-east Asia Peninsular (Seap) Games - the precursor to the SEA Games - the 61-year-old will feel as if he has come full circle when Team West Coast, founded by him last year, compete at the Singapore Sports Hub.

"There were not many (cycling) clubs then but there were a lot of races," recalled Loh, who won three bronze medals in total at the 1973 and 1975 Seap Games.

"It was a very active scene. On average, there would be two races every month. We would compete at places like East Coast, Tuas, Choa Chu Kang and Pandan Reservoir."

Loh, who raced for the Shimano factory team from 1974 to 1980, recalled that a top-of-the-range bicycle four decades ago cost $2,000. Made of steel, it weighed at least 10kg and boasted five-speed gears.

In stark contrast, his 17-year-old son Firoz, a current national cyclist, rides a modern road bicycle that can cost upwards of $10,000, its weight reduced to 7kg thanks to carbon-fibre construction, and equipped with 11-speed gears that help greatly with climbs.

The OCBC Cycle Speedway Club Championship, now into its third edition, is a race that will see teams field four riders to race in pairs over 10 laps, with each pair doing five laps, on a flat 1km course along Stadium Drive.

According to the Singapore Cycling Federation, there are about 40 active clubs today. One of the oldest sides that will be challenging for the Speedway crown, won previously by Joyriders (2015) and Specialized Mavericks (2016), are the Geylang Cycling Team.

Founded in 1967 by bicycle shop owner Ariff Hashim, now 72, the club have about 40 members.

According to Ghaffari Ghazzi, one of the team's riders, teamwork is paramount.

The 21-year-old student said: "The training is very tough, some of us (have even) vomited after sessions but it's good for us.

"The bond created is hard to find and also, most of the riders are from the same age group.

"And our coach Ariff always believes that no cyclist should be left behind. If one of the guys crashes during training, the whole group has to stop and get him to safety."

Another group challenging for honours at the Sports Hub are the 30Forty Cycling Team, who are made up, as their name implies, of about 50 members in their 30-40s living in the Jalan Kayu and Sengkang areas.

Benjamin Tay stands out in the team as he is only 20 years old.

The national serviceman explained: "I have been trying to find a group that I can keep up with and I enjoy cycling with 30Forty as I can better myself."

Team coach Steven Chan, who also coaches the national triathletes in cycling, added: "We are the underdog team and their aspiration is not to recruit the best (competitors) but to groom cyclists from ground zero and bring them up. We are all about inclusiveness and the cyclists' competency doesn't matter."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2017, with the headline 'Cycle culture a chain reaction'. Print Edition | Subscribe