I used to cycle a lot when I was working in Holland. However after I moved to Singapore in 1996, I realized that this city was not really friendly toward cyclists. I gave up cycling and start driving a car.
Two years ago, I started to experience frequent dizziness after squatting for just a few minutes or when I walked up stairs quickly. Then, while working on a research project last year, I was shocked to discover that physical inactivity, like smoking, is now one of the three main causes of unnatural death. I learnt that regular moderate exercise is the best solution. So I began to to look for a form of exercise that I could perform regularly. I tried going to a gym, but that only lasted for a couple of weeks. I am, like most people, quite hopeless when it comes to self-motivated exercise!
I started to reflect on my experience in Holland. Cycling to work there was a form of regular exercise that was naturally integrated into my life. It is easy for the Dutch people to cycle; in fact cycling is often the fastest way to get around in town! Compared to Singapore, I noticed that in urban area of Holland, cars are fewer and slower, the air is cleaner, there is much less traffic noise, and overall it is a peaceful yet vibrant living area. No wonder Dutch are so healthy, I thought. No wonder the cost of medical insurance could be so low and their old folks were still pursuing an active life. A pro-bicycle policy has triggered a positive chain reaction leading to improved public health, a lower medical burden, better environment and better quality of life for everyone.
However, in Singapore, as soon as I wake up in the morning, I would literally be sitting down the entire day! When I go to work in the morning, I sit in my car. When I reach the office, I sit in front of my computer or in a meeting room all day long. Well, except for lunch break which involves a five minute walk to a nearby food center. After work, back at home, I sit in my sofa, in front of the TV, to "relax". Physical activity had been effectively engineered out of my life!
I started to see a connection between a number of issues in Singapore:
- High population of diabetics, now starting at younger age.
- Increase rate of obesity, also in young children.
- High medical cost, especially for the elderly.
- Stress and air pollution due to increased traffic.
- Faster traffic and lower road safety.
- Cyclists getting killed on the road.
- Parents afraid to allow their children to cycle.
- Streets are not safe for children to play (another reason a maid is needed).
- Hard to motivate kids to exercise.
- An issue of drunk drivers.
- Feeder buses in areas of low density living.
- Insufficient passengers in certain MRT stations to justify it's operation.
From a cyclist's perspective, all of this seems to be connected to the anti-bicycle environment in Singapore. This is not to suggest that a pro-bicycle policy will solve all the difficult issues immediately, but certainly, it will contribute in multiple and connected ways, towards a more positive situation.
The problem of riding a bicycle in Singapore
I wanted to pick up cycling again, for my own benefit and to inspire others. Cycling from home to work was not an option initially. I was too intimidated by the dangerous roads. However, cycling to the nearby MRT station was acceptable. So I rode to the MRT station near my house, locked my bicycle there and took the MRT to the station near my office. There, I had another bicycle locked and waiting for me to ride to work!
Unfortunately, both bikes were stolen after a few months!
Inspiration, experiment and innovation
After that painful experience, I read an article on a web page, which illustrated how folding bicycles are used to extend trips by trains in Europe. It was not only convenient but was also a healthy means of commuting. I was intrigued and wondered if I could take a folding bike into Singapore's MRT. To my delight, SMRT does allow folding bikes (when folded) on board the trains!
This can be a wonderful way to travel in Singapore, since it complements our present MRT system, eliminating the need to wait for a bus or walking a long distance, and is totally theft proof! I tried a few folding bikes including famous brands like Brompton and a few Dahon. Now I am using a new JZ88 foldable bike. This bike is apparently designed specifically for Asian living in a compact urban environment. It is a lightweight, compact folding bicycle; is quick to fold and can be converted into a shopping trolley.
Initially I had doubts if this tiny bicycle could support my 175cm body height. However, thanks to its ultra-light structure and responsive ride, I now enjoy cycling so much that I cycle the entire 8.5km from home to work every morning! I am, however, extremely careful on the road, and will use the pavement if the road is too busy. I can bring it into any MRT station wherever I am and need not worry about bicycle theft again - I bring it into the office and keep it under my desk.
So who says you can't cycle to work in Singapore?
 WHO report indicated physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and tobacco use are the 3 main causes of unnatural death.
Ed's note - The World Health Organisation published the "The World Health Report 2002 - Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life" which included in its cconclusions that "... in the developed countries of North America, Europe and the Asian Pacific, at least one-third of all disease burden is attributable to these five risk factors: tobacco, alcohol, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. The tobacco epidemic alone kills about 2.4 million people every year in industrialized countries. In addition, suboptimal levels of blood pressure and cholesterol each cause millions of deaths annually, and increasing levels of overweight are leading to epidemics of obesity and diabetes."
 Folding Bikes: Real Utility Vehicles / By Jack Oortwijn & Otto Beaujon http://www.foldabikes.com/Talk/Docs/art2.html
 Brompton folding bicycle home page http://www.bromptonbicycle.co.uk/
 Dahon folding bike home page http://www.dahon.com/
 JZ88 folding bike home page http://www.jz88.com/
Ref: Foldable bikes without protruding parts are allowed on Singapore's MRT. [link]