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Existentialism-- Just a bloody good excuse to go riding...

Sunday, October 13, 2013


This is not my usual posts on fat bikes fetish of late or of my other regular squish mtbs.... rather its on city biking sense and culture. Not making an attempt to trick anyone to read on--is gonna be a long piece on a lot of things biking on my minds that I have been wanting to pen down for awhile...

It's one thing to be riding a bike and another to watch from the perspective of a pedestrian. Pedestrian I am again, back in Germany this year for the Anuga show. Made a point to observe things closer this time since for 5 days I will be a "walker" and can really soak in things better.

There has been so much squabbling of cyclists vs non-cyclists in the Singapore news these days that I figured it might be worth my while to watch how people take to things cycling in other countries. Maybe something can be learned and spread around to make life on two wheels on this island a little more friendly for everyone.

As with the last few rounds, commuting to fair ground from hotel on foot was a few kilometers each day, passing the famous UNESCO heritage site, the Cologne Cathedral (Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus) and the innumerable locks on the Hohenzollen Bridge.

There's certainly no shortage of cyclists and pedestrians the entire time. One would expect lane markers and more signage to tell people to keep to left/right or giveway etc. None. Zilch. But its not to highlight anything negative. It just wasn't needed. Everyone knew to keep to the right and share.

Yes places like the bridge are rather broad but with two-way traffic, people sightseeing, suddenly stopping to whip out cameras-- it would have been a total mess in Singapore. The local cyclists, gals or guys are pretty zippy too but not once did I hear anyone yelling or getting bumped.

A little less traffic on the Hohenzollen as the rain have kept people
under shelter on this frigid Thurs evening. Twas a
nice cargo bike by the way

If anyone were to tell me "but the roads would be a lot wider in Europe, no?".. well that depends on where you are. Many places have not changed much since medieval time or at least have been restored to the looks and dimensions of that era. . There are certainly loads of narrow cobblestone paths that cyclists have to meander through to their destination. Again I spent quite a bit of time observing wherever I happen to be -- cyclists and pedestrian seems to have a mutual unspoken language giving way to each other accordingly. People seemed to be quicker to pick up on a rider behind them and move to the side without even having bells being sounded most time.

Such "coordination" not uncommon in a few other European cities I have been to, can only come from living a lifetime of subconsciously acknowledging all forms of traffic can coexist together. Yes, cars are mostly respectful of pedestrians and cyclists as well. Peak hour or not, automobiles tend to give way to foot and cycling traffic.

Can't say the same for  our little "world-class" city state of Singapore ;( I'll be happy counting less than 3 horns tooting me even for just being a second slower at times when looking out to check traffic or stop for someone to cross the road. No, I'm not singing praises across the entire Europe.. places like Germany, Netherlands and the Nordic countries, it seems things are a lot more well mannered. Culture and mindset plays an important part too I would think. Of course many of these cities are not as uber congested as SG to be fair. In contrast cycling in London seems to be a nightmare. Have notactually ridden there but eating ice cream by the road side and watching the traffic and cyclists.. I just prefer to finish my ice cream and commute on foot.

Haven't seen much in terms of bicycle lanes on tarmac roads in Cologne. But it certainly wasn't lost on me that the city has definitely integrated bicycles in other ways.... Things like this bike pushing rail would be especially useful and easy for cargo bikes or people having to cross over with a kid's trailer in tow or commuters with panniers and racks, which are a very common sight.

I posted this picture on facebook and a lot of people are commenting why can't we have the same in Singapore. Objectively speaking, most of the new bridges especially those spanning across all the crisscrossing expressways have an entire slope to push! Ok many of us will ignore that "No cycling $1000 fine" but fact is --the infrastructures are there.

 Look again! this is definitely way easier to push than a rail retrofittted on an existing bridge.
The Missus and me on an outing before my Cologne trip...

As for older bridges in the city, let's face it those were built a long time ago and with the width constraint on the stairs it would not be easy to retrofit rails like this. If improvements are needed I would say give priority to handicapped access instead. Moreover most time we can just cross at  a traffic light crossing if need be which is never too far most time.

Back to Cologne.....Other signs that pedal powered transportation is embraced is evident in biking products carried in sports departmental stores and the number of bikeshops that caters to daily commuting rather than your TdF or monster DH rigs. Sure there are some of the usual branded blings but by and large, the consumables like tires and accessories caters much to the commuting folks.

From an inventory point of view in business, it would make no sense if  this has not reach a certain critical mass of commuters to ensure a steady flow of such components like dynamo lights and all those odd ball bits of screws and bolts that only see service on racks and panniers. A picture would have been clearer but I had to respect those places that doesn't allow photography within their premises... What I'm trying to say here is that this is a place where commuting by bicycle is well accepted and very much a way of life judging from other angles not directly trying to click a counter and calculate how many people ride a bike!

However this commuter-centric bikeshop was cool with me snapping and they do have some nice e.bikes too.

Of course which self respecting bikophiliac can ever pass on the chance to check out the blings eh...
Very cool wooden handmade wooden pedals with sandpaper-type grip
normally seen on skateboards. Would have gotten for my SOMA if not for the 155 Euro price tag!
And a little internet sleuthing reveals that this pedal is a lot more than what it looks like on the surface. The pedal width to crank is actually adjustable depending on applications.. Do check out the video. Really neat stuff. I'm kicking myself now for now picking it up but then only knew now that this is one of those "by rider for riders" products and not some big brand/ oem companies.. Maybe its time to whip out the plastic and score a pair online and just pay extra for the shipping as a show of support for for passionate fellow pedal-philes in the biz.

Ok enough digression...

Anyway back to biking culture,  I do believe we can all co-exist more peacefully in Singapore if everyone gives each other a little more respect. By that I don't mean supporting  the ever growing cyclist mantra of having our own bike lanes interconnecting the entire island. Realistically, that is just not possible. While the Park Connector Network isn't perfect by any means, it has been quite a step forward to connect many places together that can be ridden in a safe manner. This is especially useful for those venturing forth on a bicycle coming from other modes of transportation and are less inclined to go on the roads. I will have to admit when the whole thing was announced, I was one of those cynical or should I say sniggering one.. At that time I was a speedy demons on a road bike or pushing the limits of my own skills on my off road rigs. The idea of park connectors for leisure ride or the function of it for commuters didn't really occur to me. However few years on, I am seeing things a little different.... as a commuter now as well.

The other thing about not having dedicated bike lanes is that we have to realize many of these roads built in the earlier days... did not cater to the amount of dense traffic we see today. Yes cycling maybe green and clean and that clearly has been the much touted keywords of passionate cyclists trying to promote cycling. However much as I would like to join in, I have to say that some roads are really best avoided.

Narrow roads and increased traffic over the years aside, the high stress of a fast pace metropolitan city needs to be factored in. Even on some broader roads that are popular with cycling enthusiasts like the Coastal stretch- is proving to be some of the deadliest. From the F1 wannabe dickheads who lose control of their steering, there are also accidents involving underpaid-overworked drivers plying that stretch leading to the air cargo center-- major hub for all air transported goods.

Uber high price of vehicles is not helping in companies that will try to scrimp on maintenance and ensuring safety is not compromised in these commercial vehicles. I see lots of vans with extremely worn tires and generally a sad state of affair on the roads (makes me wonder how they pass the mandatory VICOM vehicle inspections each time).  It takes a lot more than having a bike lane or a few signs to ensure a safe cycling environment on the roads. If we view things on the whole its like looking at some Butterfly Effect of Horror Freakonomics at work here.  Country needs progress > chant the productivity mantra > smaller companies squeezed harder each day with increasing cost > "increasing productivity" translates to worsening working condition, hiring of non qualified cheap labor and or not giving enough to work safely. BANG! Cyclists and Pedestrians become road kills...

 I can only hope for less blood spilled and families ending up in grief.

Hence it is not to say that errant and impatient drivers should be given a hug for every horn or finger they give you. But even as fatalistic as all cyclists are, it just makes no sense to hedge certain risks on the road these days. Accidents can happen on any road but its a no brainer that there are certain high risks sections. About taking evasive actions and upping riding skills and all--- the stats I kept says there is a disproportionately higher figure of supposedly skilled riders on high end bikes getting killed in the last few years. Each time without fail, cyclists will band up and howl into various forms of media. It doesn't help that I do know a number of these riders that have lost their lives. Of course the intention of raising awareness and making things safer is for the better good. However I do feel that sometimes this interest is skewed and carries selfish agendas riding upon this notion of a "greater good".

We need to ask ourselves, if the authorities yield to making things safer-- are we going to happily be sharing the roads with other more mundane commuters like the housewife ferrying kids to school or the foreign worker on his rickety but probably one of his most prized and functional possession in a foreign land riding to his work site? When we argue for all these "safety" features and structures to be built in-- what is the image of the of the cyclist in mind using them. The MAMIL in his blinged out top tiered components on uber light carbon frame or the non descript utilitarian $100 Urata with a rusty chain that probably see more mileage than a 20K Colnago?

While I would not be standing atop leading the charge by waving the flag of the cyclist nation demanding bike-lanes... I do seriously hope the authorities can reconsider making pavement cycling legal apart from the few "cycling towns" of which I am fortunate enough to be living in one. Of course tons of people are still riding on pavements everywhere but since a couple years back and now with all those "hired-cops" we are seeing a lot of people getting fines. Its just forcing more cyclists, many of which are just commuting on bikes and not the road riding enthusiasts onto the roads and competing for inches with the ever growing traffic. Do we really need to see some mother fetching a child back from school never making it home?

I acknowledge a number of things have been done but the age old way here of people riding on pavements that is a lot safer for everyone which unfortunately has been veered off in the opposite direction.  Yes I am well aware it has never been legal to ride on pavements but then when that was a norm- it never killed anyone either.

As cyclists we do need to do our part as well. Right after my return to SG on Friday morning-- this vid went viral... Unfortunately lots of things are open to interpretation as there is no audio but I guess actions speak louder than words sometimes.. rather negative for cyclists in this case. The driver probably did something to get the cyclist hopping mad but his actions are also affecting other road users as the little saga ensues. And yes Vivo is one of those stretch that isn't worth road riding in my books especially during peak hours.

To end my wall of text here.. apart from making it possible to ride on pavements without the fear of getting fine, whether on or off the road let's all start to first inculcate a sense of mutual respect. No amount of "hardware" is going to improve the situation if the "software" is not in place

I Walk
I Ride
I Drive

Oh and if you drink, PLEASE Don't Drive
I'm not usually a fanatic of yeast juice but no one goes home without at least downing a couple meters in Cologne ;)

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