More bite for bikers

More bite for bikers

 

Mountain bikers who crave the thrills and spills of going off-road have a new playground on Pulau Ubin

 

By Sandra Leong

 

Heavy rain beats down on mountain biker Tan Hong Chun, 29, as he steadies his bicycle at the top of a slope as high as a four-storey building.

 

He may be a commando officer, used to rough and tough army demands, but the slope – called the GraveDrop – gives even him cause to pause before he plunges. He grips his handlebars and then pushes off, skidding and jolting over slippery rocks.

 

The action man is taking his chunky-tyred, rugged bike for a spin at the newly-opened, 45ha Ketam Mountain Bike Park on the north-eastern island of Pulau Ubin.

 

If the GraveDrop sounds too scary, there are routes to suit all levels, from regular dirt-road riders such as Mr Tan to beginners, within the park’s 10km off-road trails that twist around the fringe of the disused Ketam Quarry site.

 

The National Parks Board (NParks) built the bike delight at a cost of $1 million, including planting over 1,000 trees at the site, and says it is Singapore’s only bike park to meet international standards for mountain biking contests.

 

It’s also the largest area in Singapore dedicated to the sport. There are four other areas: off Chestnut Avenue at Upper Bukit Timah, along the periphery of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Kent Ridge Park, and a parcel of land starting at the intersection of Tampines Avenues 7 and 9.

 

A handful of unmarked trails also exist, but NParks director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah says riders are discouraged from going on non-designated trails in nature reserves and forested areas, for their own safety and also to avoid disturbing wildlife and vegetation.

 

If you’re more familiar with a leisurely spin along East Coast Park, mountain biking caters to your inner adrenaline junkie.

 

You negotiate off-road obstacles such as uphill climbs, downhill descents, narrow tracks, sharp corners and drop-offs, where the rider has to ‘jump’ or ‘drop’ from one height to another.

 

The Ketam park roll-out comes ahead of the 2010 Youth Olympic Games to be held here, where mountain biking will be one of the 26 events. Races will be held at the Tampines trail.

 

Singapore, in fact, has a national team of mountain bikers representing the Republic in events such as the South-east Asian Games. But the members LifeStyle spoke to say they are left largely to train on their own and fund their own pursuits.

 

Mr Lee Zi Shin, 32, who runs an online portal for cyclists named Togoparts which has 13,500 registered members, says: ‘The driving factor behind people taking up mountain biking has got to be the availability of terrain in Singapore. So the Ketam trail is a big plus for them.’

 

LifeStyle went with three seasoned cyclists, including Mr Tan, for an early look at the trail on a wet Wednesday last week.

 

Colours for skill levels

 

Despite boasting some menacingly named obstacles – besides GraveDrop, you’ll also come across features called Black Cobra and Strangler – Ketam is also built for leisure riders.

 

So if you don’t own a mountain bike, which can cost anything from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars, you can get a bumboat as usual from Changi to the jetty area and simply hire a suitable two-wheeler from one of the numerous rental places in the area.

 

However, mountain bikers warn that it can be a hazardous sport and advise wearing a safety helmet and sticking to beginner-level trails until you have more experience under your saddle. Some parts may also not be suitable for children.

 

Injuries are not uncommon. Experienced rider Lee Chuen Ling, 37, an in-house legal counsel, says: ‘If you want to take up mountain biking, you better be prepared to fall. But it serves to remind you that you are human and that you need to improve your skills.’

 

To help you tell if you are on the right path, the park has colour-coded sections for each skill level, in accordance with standards set by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

 

There’s the Blue Square, for beginner riders; Black Diamond for those who are moderately skilled; and Double Black Diamond, which is not for the faint-hearted.

 

If you want even more thrills, there is a Dirt Skills Park and a Freeride Skills Park, which are manmade circuits featuring various obstacles to test riders’ skills.

 

Ketam was launched officially yesterday morning by Senior Minister of State for National Development and Education Grace Fu.

 

The idea to build a mountain bike park on Ubin was first discussed by NParks in consultation with the Singapore Amateur Cycling Association (Saca) in late 2001, says Mr Robert Teo, the assistant director overseeing Pulau Ubin at NParks.

 

‘The natural undulating terrain and expanse available at the site offered an ideal setting. Moreover, mountain biking is a very popular activity for visitors to Pulau Ubin,’ he adds.

 

Construction took place from November 2006 to September last year. Also included as consultants in the process was a local company named DirTraction, which specialises in building mountain biking trails, organising cycling events and holding training clinics for both mountain bikers and road cyclists.

 

One of DirTraction’ s founders, Mr Max Mager, 45, notes that some areas of the park were inaccessible to machinery or heavy vehicles, so members of the mountain biking community did volunteer manual labour over ‘countless weekends’.

 

He says: ‘I sent out an e-mail asking for help and about 10 volunteers came to carry the rocks with their bare hands or with wheelbarrows. Two even came all the way from Malaysia.’

 

The opening of the Ketam park, which is free of charge, comes with increased interest in mountain biking.

 

At yesterday’s Hentam Ketam, a duathlon race organised by Togoparts to mark the opening of the Ubin bike park, about 100 mostly Singaporean competitors signed up to run and bike around the trails.

 

Another 100 signed up for a leisure ride.

 

A DirTraction race last month, the Bike Asia 100 Mountain Bike Rice, also saw close to 300 competitors signing up, of which 80 per cent were Singaporean. Come July 20, it is organising another race at Kent Ridge, called Krankin’ At Kent Ridge.

 

Groups such as the Zheng Hua CSC Cycling Club at Bukit Panjang are promoting mountain biking at a grassroots level, says its president Jefferson Ng, 46. The club has 25 members aged 18 to 47, including coaches who teach beginners basic skills.

 

He says: ‘It’s part of our development programme. We are also doing talent-spotting at the primary school level.’

 

Mr Mager says it is planning to organise races at the schools level to popularise the sport.

 

He’s also on the lookout for new trail locations like Ketam, but says this is hard as there is no established ‘tender or lobby system’ through which to make proposals.

 

For now, there’s the new playground on Ubin to explore. GraveDrop anyone?

 

sandral@sph. com.sg

 

 

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Danger zone

 

Four spots to look out for at the Ketam Mountain Bike Park on Pulau Ubin:

 

1 Freeride Skills Park and Dirt Skills Park

 

The former is for Bike Trail enthusiasts – stunt riders who nagivate manmade obstacles without letting their feet touch the ground. The latter is also known as a ‘pump track’, where riders negotiate a series of small mounds in the fastest possible time.

 

2 GraveDrop

 

Situated within the difficult Double Black Diamond trail, this obstacle is arguably the most challenging in Ketam. Riders have to make a steep, winding descent down uneven rocks from an elevation of about 50m.

 

3 Golden Orb and Overshot

 

These two obstacles are next to each other but the Golden Orb is a Black Diamond, while the latter is on the (harder) Double Black Diamond. Both involve rolling down some complicated rock structures of varying heights.

 

4 Quarry View

 

This is probably the most picturesque spot in the Blue Square trail (the easiest level). Overlooking the quarry, you coast down a series of small slopes before hitting an exhilarating big one.

 

Source: Straits Times

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