Bikes over cars: Two-wheel trend picks up in Singapore

Some people are choosing to cycle instead of drive in Singapore as the two-wheel trend picks up

Dring dring! Are two wheels good, four wheels bad?

Well, some Singaporeans seem to think so. A new cycling trend is kicking into gear, with more people ditching cars for bicycles.

So who are the new pedallers on the road? From a sprightly 70-year-old who cycles to Johor Baru for food to a man who cycles three hours across the island for work, these are the new post-car cyclists. The Sunday Times checks them out.

Grandfather cycles over the Causeway for food

Singaporeans often pop over the Causeway for good food, but it takes a different type of foodie to cycle there.

Retiree Robert Wong occasionally cycles to Johor Baru for beef noodles and seafood, covering about 40km from his condominium in the eastern part of Singapore.

Mr Wong, who is 70 and a grandfather of three, is a dedicated cyclist.

Retiree Robert Wong took up cycling with a newfound passion after scrapping his car last year. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Since he scrapped his Toyota Camry in June last year, he has taken up cycling with a newfound passion.

He has one mountain bike and three road bicycles.

He cycles about four times a week, going on journeys round the island with his cycling group, running errands as well as meeting his grandchildren for dinner at nearby Parkway Parade.

It took a while before he got used to not having a car.

"I used to drive to Malacca or Port Klang to visit friends as well as eat good food, but now I have to fly there," he says.

Buying groceries can also be inconvenient. His solution is to tie the plastic bags tightly to the handlebars "so they don't swing so much" and he makes several trips when necessary.

All this helps to keep him trim and alert. "I keep a busy lifestyle. If you don't at my age, you deteriorate very quickly. I look forward to cycling and meeting my friends at a nearby hawker centre."

Expatriate uses bicycles for groceries and more

Mr Norman De Villa, a Filipino, cycles from his home in Lorong Chuan to his Biopolis workplace three times a week. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

With the money saved from not having a car, Filipino expatriate Norman De Villa has been able to buy 10 bicycles for his family of six, including a high-end bike from the brand Trek for himself.

A Trek road bicycle can cost as much as US$13,000 (S$18,000).

Three times a week, the 47-year-old cycles from his home in Lorong Chuan to Biopolis, where he works as a manager in research and development. On weekends, he cycles with his wife, a housewife, to the wet market in Serangoon for groceries.

He picked up cycling in Kobe, Japan, where he worked for 12 years before moving to Singapore in 2011.

"Cycling is a part of society in Japan," says the father of four. "At train stations and malls, there are huge spaces for people to park their bicycles."

When he settled in Singapore, he decided that he would not get a car to save money and picked a home near an MRT station for convenience.

His story is similar to those of many expatriates, who do not know how long they will stay in the country. They tend to avoid investing in a car and choose to get by on Singapore's public transport system or on their own bicycles.

Another example is Taiwanese expatriate Derrick Lo, 45, who has lived in Singapore for two years with his wife and runs a business exporting bicycle parts to North America.

Working from home in Newton, he cycles daily to Tiong Bahru market for brunch. When he has to shop for groceries, he straps on saddlebags to his bike.

Back home in Taipei, he owns two cars. But he will not invest in one here because "we are not sure how long we are going to stay here".

"And compared with other countries, cars are unreasonably expensive in Singapore."

Manager takes three-hour route to work

Mr Jonathan Wong cycles to work twice a week, with the journey taking about three hours. He takes the train on other days. ST PHOTO: DAVE LIM

Living in Pasir Ris and working in Pioneer can make commuting a headache. When he had a car, corporate manager Jonathan Wong, 51, had to leave home at 4am to avoid traffic jams.

When work finished at 5pm, he would take about three hours to get home. The journeys each way, he says, were "painful".

Now that he has scrapped his fourseater Subaru Impreza TS, he has found better alternatives. He cycles to work twice a week and takes the train on other days.

Cycling takes about the same time as driving: 2 1/2 to three hours. But it is a more scenic route. It passes through Tampines Avenue 8 and allows for a quick break at Marina Bay Sands before continuing along Keppel Road and Jalan Buloh to Pioneer.

He cycles to work every Wednesday and Saturday, starting his journey at 5am to avoid peak-hour traffic. He gets to the office by 8am and showers there.

On other days, he rides his bicycle from home to Pasir Ris MRT station and takes the train. The journey takes 1 1/2 hours each way.

Even before he got rid of his car, he was an avid cyclist in a family of avid cyclists that shares seven bicycles.

His wife, a teacher, parks her bicycle at the train station before continuing her commute on the train, while his 20-year-old son, who is in national service, likes to cycle around the neighbourhood or with his friends to Changi.

Since Mr Wong was cycling more than he was driving during the last year of his car ownership, he decided to scrap the car.

He adds: "I find buying and maintaining cars in Singapore too expensive and I find the car a burden. I'd rather spend the money on my family during holidays.

"If I need a car, I will rent one. Why leave it (unused) in the carpark?"

Mr Wong got into cycling around 2011 when he noticed he was putting on weight and had developed high blood pressure due to a sedentary lifestyle and work stress.

He also joined Joyriders, a recreational cycling community, in 2015.

"I've lost about 25kg in five years," he says, before adding with a laugh: "I still need to lose 10kg, that's why I want to cycle to work."

Every two months, he cycles to Mersing, in Malaysia, with a group of friends. They start at 6am and end at 3pm after multiple pit stops.

While he takes safety precautions such as installing front and rear lights on his bicycle and getting off and pushing it at busy junctions, his wife still worries when he goes on the road.

"She knows I take all the safety precautions and I use apps such as Strava so she can track me in real time," he says, referring to the GPS cycling and running app. "She always reminds me to be safe and come home."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline Bikes over cars: Two-wheel trend picks up in Singapore. Subscribe