Jan 24, 2017

How I faced the peak hour crowd with my folding bike

How I faced the peak hour crowd with my folding bike

I only learnt to cycle at the age of 18, just in time for a gathering with my schoolmates at East Coast Park. Since then, riding a bike has just been something fun to do, simply another leisure activity to enjoy with friends and family over the weekends. So when I found out that a six-month trial had kicked off allowing folding bikes and personal mobility devices like e-scooters and hoverboards to be brought onto public transport during peak hours, some scepticism initially crossed my mind.

My train of thought went –

Isn’t it troublesome to fold and carry the device on the bus and train?

How many people would I annoy by carrying a bike onto the train?

Oh gosh, how much of a nightmare is peak hour going to be?

But at the same time, it sounded like a surefire way to guarantee some physical activity on a daily basis. A friend of mine, 26-year-old Liang Zhen Xiao persuaded me to give it a shot. Knowing how much of a sleep guzzler I was, he shared how since he started riding the first and last mile on his trusty unicycle, he has shaved more than 30 minutes, at least a-third from his daily commuting time each way. No longer tied to bus schedules, he has better control over his traveling schedule these days.

Free exercise? Check. More sleep? Check. Shorter commuting time? Check. I was certainly encouraged.

Borrowing my colleague’s folding bike, I decided to modify my daily commute for a week, by riding to and from the train station instead of taking the bus.

Although cyclists and PMD users were previously allowed to bring their devices onto buses and trains, they could only do so during off-peak hours. In comparison, the latest trial allows users to do so during peak hours, with the size restriction increased to allow for devices up to the dimensions of 120cm x 70cm x 40cm.

A woman makes sure that her folding bike complies with the size restrictions on the public transport

The morning of my little experiment, I was a bundle of uncertainty as I surveyed my folding bike. Personal space is a prized commodity on public transport, after all. I’ve seen enough ‘Bag-down Benny’ and ‘Move-in Martin’ posters around to know this.

Despite being allowed to bring my folding bike onto the train, I was still conscious of the inconvenience that I would bring to other passengers with my additional “luggage” in tow, especially in the morning rush to work.

To compensate, I took extra care to keep out of my fellow passengers’ paths. I ruled out the lift, opting to take the stairs instead. Everyone entered the carriages before I did, and I stood at the spaces usually reserved for people with large items like luggages or prams, trying to make myself as compact as humanly possible. Then, the doors closed.

It was a long ride along the Downtown line that took me from Bukit Panjang to Telok Ayer. As more people entered the carriages, I found myself manoeuvring my folded bike around me, trying to create more space. Essentially, I spent most of my first ride trying to be as inconspicuous as I could – hoping my little acts of consideration would score me some brownie points with the commuters squeezing in the carriage.

When I finally reached my stop after 45 minutes, I again let the crowd exit the carriage and station first.

Surprisingly, my greatest challenge of the day was folding and assembling the folding bike. That was when I really felt like an obstruction, fumbling for close to 10 minutes in a corner, trying to figure out how I had even assembled it in the first place.

A woman figures how to assemble her folding bike

Encouraged by the absence of a commotion and negative reactions on my first day – which I took as a sign of success – I brought the folding bike on a different route the next day, on a bus to Stevens station along the Downtown line before hopping on the train for the rest of the journey.

The bus was definitely more of a squeeze, especially during the morning peak hours. Conscious of the additional space my folding bike would take up, I edged my way towards the standing zone on the lower deck, eventually shifting my bike behind me where I stood. Alas, taking a seat was out of the question, as the bike was not allowed on the upper decks of the double decker bus. Besides, the crowds were swelling up, and I wanted to be considerate.

When it was time to alight, “sorry” became a currency in exchange for the understanding and thoughtfulness others offered as they cleared a path for me. Back on the train, the rest of my commute was much like the first day’s journey – quiet and uneventful.

Instead of brickbats, the reaction to my folding bike’s presence was mostly muted. While some commuters did a double take, this was more from curiosity than anything else, since it was not yet a common sight. Just as we wouldn’t bat an eyelid at a tourist lugging large bags on our public transport, bringing a foldable device onboard was similar.

Throughout the week, I learnt that as long as I was mindful to keep out of others’ way, my presence didn’t really pose an inconvenience to anyone. Clichéd as it sounds, little acts of thoughtfulness matter more than the additional bulk that you carry. Consideration ultimately begets understanding.

On the other hand, being able to bring my folding bike onto public transport opened up a more flexible world of commute for me.

38-year-old manager Cheryl Koh concurred. She shared, “Before this new trial started, folding bikes were only allowed on the train after 9:30 am on weekdays and so I would cycle to work and take the train home with my bike after work at 8pm. Now that folding bikes are allowed on the train all day, I also have the option to do a part-cycle, part-train commute in the mornings to work. Also, if I am cycling and it rains, I can quickly fold the bike and hop on the train.”

A woman rides her folding bike on the pathway

Now, I do not have to think twice when I want to use my folding bike, or even where to park it. Other than being perfect for everyday first-mile last-mile commutes, its portability allows for me to store it at the office.

If I started off sceptical, I am now a convert, and a folding bike definitely tops my birthday wish list for the coming year. In fact, I’ve already started reading about the folding bike brands available in Singapore.

Article written by Dorcas Leck, a restless individual who enjoys the outdoors and cycling – though she isn’t the most adept at the sport, at least she’s safe.

Also Read: Why should I share My path?