Cycle to Marina Bay from East Coast

Life!Weekend test-drives the new East Coast Park extension on a bicycle and gives it a thumbs-up

Growing up, I always thought it a bummer that the beach at East Coast Park had to end.

The notion of a beach having an "end" was quite the killjoy, like chasing a rainbow and finding at its bottom a grumpy leprechaun who hates children.

If you have travelled along East Coast Park towards the city, you would know that if you went past the now-defunct McDonald's at Marine Cove, the still surviving Road Safety Community Park and Playground @ Big Splash, you will eventually come to a dead end near Fort Road.

It was always a bit of a bummer, having to do that about-turn.

Not anymore.

Neither would cyclists have to cross Fort Road and bike along the condominiums on Tanjong Rhu Road.

An overhead bridge has been constructed at that end of East Coast Park, perpendicular to Fort Road, that connects to a 660m track - East Coast Park Area A extension, which opened on April 6.

The rather unexciting name belies an exciting development for those who love to explore Singapore.

The extension enables runners, cyclists and other park users to travel more than 20km from Changi all the way to the Marina Bay area - past the Marina Bay Golf Course and Driving Range and through Gardens by the Bay East - without having to leave the park area or travel on major roads.

There is ample space on the new extension to separate those on wheels and pedestrians.

I saw a number of parents with children strolling on the pedestrians' side, while cyclists zipped past them to and from the Gardens by the Bay area.

There were a number of speed cyclists on the extension.

If you are proceeding at a leisurely pace like I was, it is best to always keep a lookout and keep left to let the speedier cyclists overtake you.

Plenty of greenery flanks the path, as well as tree snags, or standing dead or dying trees, left there by National Parks Board (NParks) to attract wildlife.

I don't usually see animals when I cycle along East Coast Beach, so my heart raced a little when I spied a large black eagle-like bird soaring in the skies above me. NParks says the tree snags do attract birds such as the Oriental Dollar Bird or White Bellied Sea Eagle, which have been spotted here.

The board has plans to green up the area more.

It is no wonder Mr James Khing, 37, takes this route every day.

He cycles from his home in Joo Chiat to his office in Dempsey Hill via this new extension, even though it adds 10 minutes to his commute.

"I have a much shorter route, where I have to cycle on the road all the way. But this route is more scenic - the air is fresher and it's more peaceful in the mornings," says the food and beverage creative manager at Spa Esprit Group.

It is a relatively straight-forward route.

I cycle past the Marina Bay Golf Course and Driving Range on my left, which is not much to look at, but bathed in the orange hues of sunset, it almost feels romantic. In the horizon looms the Marina Bay Sands skypark. To my right, the Benjamin Sheares Bridge rises.

In five minutes from this point, I reach Gardens by the Bay East, where there is a toilet if nature calls, and Marina Barrage, the end of my journey, is just another 3km away, with marvellous views of the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands and conservatories of Gardens by the Bay to accompany you.

The stretch by the waterfront promenade is popular - there are almost three times the number of people here as elsewhere along the route - strolling, running, cycling and even roller-blading with the help of what looks like ski poles (it is nordic skating, I learnt later).

A sign greets me at Marina Bridge, which leads to the barrage.

It says "Give us a brake - slow down!" I smile at this unexpected pun (the authorities have a sense of humour) and gladly stop for a while to cool down.

With the sun setting fast on my journey back, I become aware that unlike other cyclists I pass, I don't have a bicycle light. There is adequate lighting along the path, but it is always good to take extra precautions.

Speeding on, I make it back before it gets too dark. A leisurely journey from the start of the extension to Marina Barrage and back takes less than 30 minutes, making it an easy ride for most cyclists.

The only challenging bit along the way for cyclists would probably be the overhead bridge at Fort Road, as you have to cycle up it for about a minute each way.

I huff and puff for a while before sheepishly realising that I forgot to change gears.

For the most part, I give this new extension two enthusiastic thumbs-up. But only after I've safely dismounted from my bicycle, of course.

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