My parents gave me a bicycle when I was five years old. It was a black BMX bicycle with two extra support wheels to help me balance. The bike did not last for too long but long enough for me to develop an interest in cycling. I never rode past the vicinity of my block. Fast forward to end 2008, my dad had a heart attack largely caused by his physical disability. I decided I should restart cycling again to get my heart sufficient exercise. I bought a cheap blue dual suspension mountain bike and started riding again. I rode further distances this time, using it to commute to my local exchange at NTU and also up to Tiong Bahru and Sentosa. This was also the bike that I ignorantly took to the AYE before realising mid-way that cycling on an express way was illegal. While this bike certainly revived my interest in cycling, I stopped cycling soon after due to my final two busy years in NUS. It was not until a couple of months into my current job that a chit chat with colleagues made me dust off the bike and hop on again. It felt good peddling again but the bike was pretty worn from its earlier use. The gear shifters and the brakes were not working properly. I decided to get what one would call a proper bicycle. In August 2014, I bought a Polygon Recon 3.0 (2014) mountain bike with a proper gear shifting system and disc brakes. And the journey to my first century ride began.
A better bike allows you to go further and I did. I started making 60-80 km night rides towards the eastern parts of Singapore. These rides would have multiple breaks in between for food and chit chat. Long journeys filled me with a sense of accomplishment. I soon decided to try for long distance rides with no extended breaks. It started with a 70 km non stop half island ride in November 2014 and progressed to a 130 km journey in December 2014. It was at this point that I decided to do a century ride.
Preparations for a Century
A century ride is a 100 mile (160.9 km) ride done under 12 hours. Most riders do it in groups and with road bikes. Road bikes are faster, lighter and require less effort to travel as compared to mountain bikes. But they have their downsides being less versatile and somewhat less comfortable. I was advised multiple times by various online communities that I should just get a road bike to complete this milestone. But having ridden 130 km with my mountain bike, I felt I could push to 160 km without too many problems. I was also going to do it solo because no one I knew wanted to do a 160 km ride on a mountain bike. Friends with road bikes would be too fast for me.
I picked up a few lessons from the 130 km ride. I wanted to avoid long lonely stretches because it completely destroyed my morale. There were parts in Punggol, Sengkang, and especially Tuas where the roads seemed never ending and every thing was dead quiet. And so I decided that my 160 km attempt will be around neighbourhoods – Jurong West, Choa Chu Kang, Woodlands, Sembawang, Yishun, Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Toa Payoh, Serangoon, Bukt Timah, Bukit Batok, Jurong East and Taman Jurong. I made Yishun my mid point because I would take an hour’s break there. The break was to rest, eat, recharge my GPS watch and offload some GoPro files. I decided to film the entire century ride in the event that I did not want to do something like this again. I took a three hour afternoon nap before leaving late in the evening to begin the attempt.
I started at somewhere familiar – Jurong West. I had commuted here very often during my Secondary school days and cycling around familiar areas was nice. I focused on keeping myself fresh. One of the lessons learnt from the 130 km ride was that my arms felt tired near the end because I put too much pressure on them and locked them in a fixed position. So I made sure I changed positions every couple of minutes. I went at leisurely pace. It was going to be a long night. The YouTube playlist below has videos of the entire ride. You can choose other segments from the top left hand corner.
Moving on to Choa Chu Kang required a familiar quiet route via Lim Chu Kang. I picked up speed at Lim Chu Kang because it was just long stretches of quiet roads. At this point, I enjoyed a good mix of bustling neighbourhoods interwoven with quiet long roads. Choa Chu Kang was vaguely familiar because I had spent some time there both for school and work. Things were very upbeat at this point. The first quarter of the ride had seemed effortless.
I needed to utilise a long stretch of Woodlands road to get to Woodlands. I usually take this road before exiting to Mandai Road. This was when the ride turned rather sour. Woodlands is a really hilly place even within the neighbourhood. This must be viewed from the context that I have lived in the western parts of Singapore all my life where the land is flat. So going up and down over and over when touring Woodlands neighbourhood was a chore and I was thrown out of my comfort zone.
My main motivation from here was to get to the mid point. Sembawang was less hilly and had interesting car parks. I planned my route via Ride With GPS and I was surprised to be directed into car parks to get to the next road. One of the car parks even opened up into a self contained food and groceries centre. It was like a self contained residential zone within a neighbourhood. I did not spend too much time in Sembawang and moved on to Yishun where my break awaited. Alyssa hosted me with food and equipment and I spent about an hour and a half resting and recharging devices. She decided to accompany me to Ang Mo Kio and utilised her shiny new road bike. At this point (80 km mark) I was getting tired and had some trouble keeping pace with her.
Ang Mo Kio restarted the irritating uphill and downhill routine. It was a mixture of having really fast and fun descents followed by steep climbs. At this point I lost track of time and just focused on getting myself out of Ang Mo Kio. There was nothing really of note here. A grand old neighbourhood that was well developed.
The Bishan and Toa Payoh segment brought me close to some familiar schools and also Toa Payoh Central which is close to where my church is situated. The area was thankfully flat and riding became a lot easier. It was nearly 4 am at this point and my worry was that I had taken too long a break and had paced myself too slowly to get back on time. I was also beginning to feel the weight of the bike and equipment on me at this point.
Getting to Serangoon and then Balestier was where it became psychologically challenging . I felt so far from home and yet no where close to the end. I was at the 120 km mark at this point which meant that I was three quarters done with the century attempt. But the distance from home really bothered me. Riding past NEX mall really hit me on how far away I was from home after putting so many kilometres in. I had to take a break because I suddenly felt hollow in my stomach and I was concerned that I might end up crashing out. A quick chocolate and nut bar soon fixed that. I also took a small detour to Potong Pasir after hearing so much about it. It was an old neighbourhood which appeared to have a wide ranging demographic.
Hitting Bukit Timah was a welcome psychological boost. This was the point where I started heading towards home. I went through a couple of small roads through private estates. Its amazing how some can afford very large patches of prime land. Bukit Timah Road is very familiar for me. I take it at least twice every week to get to church. Best of all it was quiet and without much stoppages. I rushed through this segment only to be hit by the next challenge.
Bukit Batok was the second psychological hurdle. It was, you guessed it, really hilly again and I felt I could not give much more at this point. Going clipless really paid off here. I was at times too tired to generate sufficient force in pedaling down-stroke and had to rely on the up-stroke pulls when climbing. I had also started to count down at this point which was not a good idea because I kept checking my distance count every few minutes. This made the entire segment a lot more draggy. It was also at this point that I had to reach out for my go-to comfort drink. I pulled into a petrol kiosk for a bottle of coke. I never downed an entire small bottle so fast before. It was not a very smart move. The sugar rush perked me up but began to feel really cold. At this point, morning traffic was beginning to pick up and I was dragging myself towards Jurong East.
Ah, Jurong East. Somewhat of a home to me when I was in Primary school. The entire place was getting busy at this point. The roads were flooded with both public and school buses. I could not understand why kids were reaching school as early as 6:30 am but here they were with glum faces filled with morning blues walking into the many schools in Jurong East really early in the morning. It was a welcome thought to know that I had an off day that day.
I abandoned some of my planned routes at this point. I felt that I needed to get close to home quicker in case I needed a recharge. Riding solo for so long (close to 8 hours at this point) was getting to me. I also decided that it would only be fitting if I ended my century ride with a segment at a nearby park. A park which I spent most of my weekday cycling time at. So I dashed through Boon Lay to head for Taman Jurong. My legs pushed forward harder even though I was mentally exhausted. It never felt so good to be near home.
I got to Jurong Lake Park and started off on my final 10 km in what felt like the most beautiful sunrise I had experienced. I had never gone to Jurong Lake Park this early and it was filled with elderly folks who stared at me curiously. I must have looked like an idiot riding fully lit up with a water reservoir back pack and a GoPro. Who comes to a park like that? I rushed through the final round. Spirits were very high. I was so eager to finish that I nearly screwed up clipping in on the final road home.
And then there I was. Home. Sweet. Home. I dragged my body and bike across the living room, muttering to my parents that I would never do this again. I ordered Macs and laid flat on the floor unable to move. It was done. The century ride was complete.
Would I do this on a mountain bike and solo again? No. Having at least a partner on a ride is important. I was very cherry when Alyssa accompanied me for the segment between Yishun and Ang Mo Kio. Spending 95% of the ride solo was mentally difficult.
If the conditions are right to do this again I would change the route. Spending the bulk of the journey in the north was a huge mistake. The gradient coupled with the many stops and starts due to the multiple traffic lights was a bad combo. I got myself completely tired out at Woodlands, Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Batok. Climbing for long hours on a mountain bike was tough. I would also lower the amount of time spend in neighbourhoodx. While the 130 km journey was rather lonely because it required many stretches of long deserted roads, I over compensated in my 165 km journey with too many neighbourhoods. I would better balance the two.
I felt a massive sense of achievement from completing this. This might be cycling’s version of a marathon, something I hope to complete for running at the end of this year. Looking at the GPS, cadence and heart rate data together with GoPro footage, I am not quite sure how I pulled through. But it was well worth it. It was a huge milestone for a newbie like me and I am both happy and relieved to clear it.
But this is not the end of the road. It is just great to get the milestone out of the way. I will be doing more 60-80 km journeys, something like the one I did five days after the 165 km ride. It is amazing how a century ride makes other rides seem rather easy. Cycling will be my go-to fitness sport after running and I hope that remains the case for the many years to come.
I upload all my rides (and runs) on various platforms. My 165 km ride was uploaded on all of them. Feel free to view them at the following links and add me if you run and/or ride too!
- Strava: Ride | Profile
- Ride With GPS: Ride | Profile
- RunKeeper: Ride | Profile
- Garmin: Ride | Profile
- Endomondo: Ride | Profile