Newbie riders erase bad memories, overcome fear

When Swraj Shah saddles up at the start line of the OCBC Cycle event tomorrow, readying himself for The Straits Times Ride, he will be surprising quite a few people.

For starters, the 22-year-old never thought he would get over the traumatic experience of his first time on a bicycle as a child, which ended in an accident that scarred him until adulthood.

His family will also learn of Swraj's bold foray - a 23km ride alongside more than 2,000 others - on the day itself. A total of 6,800 riders are expected at the two-day OCBC Cycle event.

The mechanical engineer will be one of five cyclists riding as graduates of Project Training Wheels, an initiative by OCBC that taught individuals how to ride over seven weeks, in time for the two-day mass cycling event this weekend.

A total of nine were picked from more than 100 nominations to be part of the programme, one of OCBC's lead-up initiatives before the eighth edition of the marquee cycling event.

The trainees met three times at outdoor locations such as Punggol Waterway and East Coast Park, and were taught under the supervision of professionals such as Michael Lyons, a former New Zealand national rider who has more than five decades' riding experience.

Elizabeth Tang and Swraj Shah will take part in this weekend's The Straits Times Ride at OCBC Cycle. They are among the graduates from Project Training Wheels, a seven-week programme.
Elizabeth Tang and Swraj Shah will take part in this weekend's The Straits Times Ride at OCBC Cycle. They are among the graduates from Project Training Wheels, a seven-week programme. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Swraj looks back on his accident as an eight-year-old with humour now, but it was definitely no joke then.

  • 2,100

    Number of riders in the 23km Straits Times Ride

Going down a ramp in a carpark basement, he lost his balance, flipped and landed on his back, but it was the index finger on his left hand that suffered the most. He fractured that finger, lost a nail and a deep cut left him needing six stitches and surgery.

"After that I never thought of riding again and it was a long time before I got motivated again," said Swraj, whose girlfriend nominated him for Project Training Wheels.

A safe environment with fellow trainees who face similar apprehension about cycling made it a smoother ride for him this time around.

Being with like-minded individuals also helped 24-year-old Elizabeth Tang overcome her fear.

"My dad tried to teach me when I was younger... and so did my friends in secondary school," said the brand coordinator, who joked that she "sabo-ed" herself - by nominating herself for the programme.

"I wanted to share in that camaraderie with people who had the same goal because it's easier to learn that way.

"Cycling is a good life skill to have. Sometimes I want to explore places and walking can be tiring and you miss certain places if you drive. But you can take in sights at your own pace if you cycle," added Tang, who hopes to try riding when she visits Hong Kong soon.

Riding alongside thousands on roads that include the East Coast Parkway is nerve-wracking for now, but the rookie riders - who will begin the event together - are counting on their newfound enjoyment to over-ride the jitters.

Said Swraj: "It's the furthest we would ever have gone and we're all going to be nervous, but I think it's going to be fun too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'Newbie riders erase bad memories, overcome fear'. Print Edition | Subscribe