Saturday, June 11, 2011

Beginner’s Guide to Bike Commuting in Singapore: Why Bike Commute?

Do you have transportational freedom?

Commuting by bike in Singapore is a frightening experience. Your mother will be against it. Your wife will be against it. Your grandmother will be against it. Everyone regardless of race, language or religion subscribes to the Chinese adage that the road is like a tiger’s mouth. At the same time, before you even take the first step, you’ll have many instances of self-doubt.

Weather too hot…
Bicycle tyre will kena flat…
Leg pain (all of a sudden)…
Sibei sian 
Sibei gao wei…

We’ve all been there and no doubt about it, commuting by bike requires you to step out of your comfort zone. The heat in Singapore is truly one of a kind, and that’s worsened by the humidity. Then there’s Singaporean drivers and our not-built-for-cyclists roads. Then there’s the question of fitness. So many problems…

But bike commuting has many benefits that you’ll learn to love too. If you’ve been around for a while, you know how much I hate public transport, and for a good reason too. Public transport is expensive, slow and too crowded. It is not much fun either competing for space in popular buses such as 147, 166, 76, etc.,

On the other hand, if you can overcome the challenges that come with bike commuting in Singapore, there are many benefits. Off my mind, I can think of a few benefits.

No more horrible prices for horrible service

Have you noticed how expensive it is to get from the heartlands to town? A trip to Dhoby Ghaut or City Hall usually cost above $1, and can get as nasty as $2+. Depending on how far you stay, of course. Then there’s the return trip. Taking my example, if I took the bus and MRT to work, I’ll pay $3 a day, and I’d still have to walk to my house.

And we're talking public transport here. Imagine if you drove to work. Now that's really expensive - especially with ERP, road tax, so-damn-expensive insurance and then there's the five-figure COE.

On the other hand, on my bike, I don’t have to pay a single thing, and my bike stops right outside my house! Granted, you'll need to have a bike, but any bike with gears is a good bike for commuting, especially a used bike with an entry-level componentry. The best bike that keeps the thieves away is a clunker and a decent lock.

Good for your health, good for your time
Only a small group people in this world actively like sports. Others are lazy couch potatoes or just don't find running/cycling in loops any fun. I happen to fall in the third group, which is why I find bike commuting very purposeful.
As you bike commute, you burn away extra calories, work the heart, and keep your body in good shape. And because you'll probably you'll be commuting to work, you'll be having a blast on the bike using the exact same time that you would otherwise be stuck in 7am PIE traffic/standing in the train hoping for a seat/dying out of asphixiation in a bus.

It's fun!
I can't tell you how enjoyable it is to roll a bike out and ride it to wherever you want to go. How often can someone indulge in his hobby the first thing in the morning after breakfast, and before work? Not too many!

It can be faster vis-a-vis buses
If you have ridden your bike on the streets where buses ply, you'll find that you always have the problem of needing to play leapfrog with them. First they stop and you overtake them, then they overtake you, and then you overtake them at the next stop. This is so common that you'll realise one thing - a bus's average speed is extremely low - around 25-30km/h. And this gets worse if you add in crappy roads that always are full of traffic a la Little India and Bendeemer.
In a little experiment, I took a bus from Chinatown to Serangoon. Then I biked the same route. It took me 50 minutes by bus, and 40 by bike.

And then I realised why - a bus is akin to a slow vehicle that has double the amount of red-lights on the same route. Assuming that the Chinatown to Serangoon route has 15 red-lights, a bus would have nearly 30, because almost all their bus stops has someone who wants to board and alight. This is the reason why buses have such low average speeds.


  1. talking about buses, the quality of the drivers is not improving even with the advance in technology, they accelerate hard and brake even harder! I have had the opportunity to ride the buses in Europe 30 years ago and using the technologies of the day the buses did not hop and jerk like the buses of Singapore today!

  2. To add to your first paragraph, even a 1.5 decade long bike commuter in Singapore also don't dare to encourage anyone to ride on Singapore roads. I say to them "it is your decision and risk to take." Nevertheless, if anyone decided to do so, I am very willing to share tips that I've learned.

  3. Hi Back2Nature, maybe you can give me a link to your tips so I can share them with people below the article?

    I guess it's good to share different perspectives on road safety, so if you have any written, please let me know!

    But here's where we differ - I, on the other hand, would encourage people to bike commute. To me, SG roads are not as dangerous as people think it to be, especially once experienced with the Ways of the Driver.

    Please let me know your thoughts.

  4. I share your thoughts! Buses are nice if you are not in a hurry while trains are only good for in a hurry mode.

    Bus drivers are generally quite tolerant to bikes but taxis, lorries/pickups are not so. At least that is from my point of view.

    I just wish our island has more bike friendly spots to park and I am sure more people will bike to work and play.

    Ride safe!

  5. Thanks for these articles!
    I am a student, and in trying to avoid the 7:30 AM MRT crush, I am looking at biking as an option. I live in Clementi and have to bike all the way to SMU (near City Hall), a distance of almost 11 KM. I know how to ride a bike, but I've never done so in the city. Would you recommend I do it or is it too far a distance?

  6. 11km is not that far, it takes around 40 minutes, though at 7.30, traffic can be quite nasty and therefore I wouldn't recommend that you ride in heavy traffic for a start, because it can be quite frightening.

    Regarding SMU, you might want to scout out locations where you can park your bike, because if I remember correctly, there isn't too many places. Theft can easily take your interest away!

    You'll enjoy it for sure, especially when you pass an ERP gantry and not have to pay absolutely horrid prices.

  7. i realise that park connectors are quite a good way to have a safer commute, you reduce your exposure to traffic although it will lengthen the time needed. as a driver, i am terrified of cyclists although i try to give them as much wide berth as i can, now that i have a bike, i'm even more terrified to use it for real road commuting, especially when the bike that i have is not a foldable, which means that if i park, i will have to park at mrt stations which are not exactly the safest places in the world.

  8. Raelynn,

    Park connectors are great, though like you said they are slower. Last time when I worked at Changi, though, the ECP park connector worked as a superhighway, very fast, very relaxed!

    Riding on the road is OK, but you need to go out here and get some experience before it becomes less scary.

    MRT stations are a place to park if you want to get it stolen. The best places to park near MRT stations are actually at a random floor at the HDBs. A quality lock and ugly bike would also help reduce theft significantly.

  9. I do believe that there is a lack of emphasis by the Traffic Police that bicycles are considered as vehicles on the road, and that the reason why we drivers have to pay road tax because of the emission that comes out of cars higher damage to road surfaces, and get a license to drive because we are controlling complicated machines that go at high speeds and require judgement. paying road tax and having a driver's license does not give us entitlement to use roads and be a bully to other vehicles. however, i do believe that cyclists should also undergo mandatory basic and advance theory test to have better understanding of the roads in singapore and the mentality of drivers.

    i agree that because there are other priorities to traffic management, bike lanes are currently quite low on the priority list, so bikes should be allowed right of way and shared use(with buses) on bus lane during bus lane hours.