My cycling groove is back.
After the first three attempts , I was confident enough to let the LOOP cycling app guide my bike rides. Rather than going for the more popular Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network cycling trail that links the beaches of East Coast, Changi and Pasir Ris, I decided to visit places I’d never explored. Using the app, I worked out a route from Jurong East to Clementi and followed its directions, stopping along the way to snap a few photos.
The Jurong-Clementi route
My first stop from Jurong East MRT Station was Jurong Town Hall (JTH), which sits atop a hill. Opened in 1975, the former headquarters of Jurong Town Corporation is a conserved building that was erected post-WWII, and also one of the youngest national monuments in Singapore.
Designed by Architects Team 3, the building bears nautical motifs – such as the mast-like clock tower and shape that resembles a ship’s hull – to reflect our port city’s trade. I paused to admire its iconic 50-metre-high digital clock tower. It still tells the time even as JTH undergoes renovation works.
Cycling down the busy Jurong Town Hall Road, I came to Pandan Reservoir, a fishing spot that’s also home to the Singapore Rowing Association. A gravel track marks the 6-kilometre loop that’s designed for both runners and cyclists, and rest shelters around the reservoir are indicated on the LOOP app, too.
Here, I spotted school children storing their canoes after a session of paddling in the artificial lake. A backdrop of jack-up rigs on the fringes reminds me that despite the reservoir’s quiet, I’m still in the heart of a bustling city.
A recreational fisherman passes me on his way to the water’s edge, a peacock bass dangling off one arm. A trial expansion of the fishing areas is currently ongoing, so more people like him will no doubt visit the reservoir in the future.
With its speckled body and distinct patterns on its tail fins – not unlike a peacock’s – it’s easy to see how the peacock bass got its name. Other freshwater fish like tilapia, catfish and knifefish can be caught here, the fisherman says.
As I wound around the reservoir, I took a quick detour to Jalan Buroh, located on the southeastern end of the area.
There, a sight unfamiliar to most Singaporeans awaits: two wooden jetties jut out from the Sungei Pandan mangroves, their legs fully exposed by the low tide. These mangroves offer a glimpse of old Jurong, a forest reserve that had been one of 15 protected areas in the early 1900s , prior to Singapore’s industrialisation.
This remaining stretch of mangrove is worlds apart from the shipyards that line the other side of the Sungei Pandan Bridge. Extensive cleaning by volunteers has helped, though, and it continues to teem with wildlife – think herons, egrets, tortoises and kingfishers.
I caught the sunset as I returned to Pandan Reservoir, then followed the Ulu Pandan Park Connector that runs along Sungei Pandan.
The Park Connector led me to a rather unusual spiral ramp, which actually takes people to a bridge across the Ayer Rajah Expressway. Shaped like a nautilus, it’s a gentle slope up and a fun ride down. Its dedicated two-way bike track also means that cyclists need not dismount and lug their bikes up, unlike other overhead bridges.
I arrived at the Rail Bridge on the old Jurong Railway Line, which crosses Sungei Ulu Pandan. Opened in 1965, trains ran for about 30 years before closing in the early ’90s, making it one of the least successful industrial infrastructure schemes in West Singapore.
But this end of the Ulu Pandan Park connector is beautiful, with its forest-lined avenues and waterfowl that flock to the area. It passes a few MRT stations, too, so making an exit is easy if you decide to end your cycling trail early (provided you are, like me, on a foldable bike).
The Northern Explorer route
My next route is what the National Parks Board calls the Northern Explorer Loop, another popular cycling route that leads from Yishun to Woodlands.
My journey began in Khatib, near the sprawling prawning farms at multi-recreational park ORTO, and also not far from Kampung Kampus, a Ground-Up Initiative that aims to reconnect city folk with the environment they live in.
The trail led me to the lush Mandai Park Connector, with its wide, seemingly endless bike tracks. Apart from the many muddy mountain bikers and monkeys running around the area, the trail in the Central Catchment Area made for a pleasant, even calming, ride.
The route on the app ended at Admiralty Park, where I continued along the trail until I hit several path closures, and eventually adjourned for lunch at a kopitiam along Marsiling Lane. Along the way, I spied a man in cowboy hat waiting for a bus. I knew my trip would take me close to Johor Bahru, but I had no clue it was this kind of border town.
Belly full, I hopped on my bike and cycled along the shallows by the Causeway. A lone man was casting nets – he told me he was attempting to catch prawns – into the Straits. It was once a popular activity during low tide periods, especially along the Sembawang coast. I didn’t stay to see if he hauled in any, though.
Once I hit Woodlands Waterway Park, I turned around and wandered into the old quarters of the Sembawang Naval Base. Parts of Admiralty Road West from Marsiling to Sembawang Park are dotted with remnants of the old British Naval Base that once accounted for about a fifth of Singapore’s GDP. This photo shows the front of an old British black-and-white building that bears the royal cypher of Queen Elizabeth II.
After meandering around looking for a way out, I found myself at the Simpang Kiri Park Connector, whose cycling path is far more even than the grounds of the Naval Base.
Before I knew it, though, I was back under the tracks and had wound up at Yishun MRT Station. The park connectors throughout the Yishun-Woodlands route were wide and made cycling a breeze.
The Westside Gem
After several routes that carve through the city, I was craving something more adventurous. Well, adventurous enough for me. So I got off Hillview MRT station and made for Dairy Farm Nature Park.
The imposing Singapore Quarry greeted me after a series of steep hills – at least, I thought they were steep – along an asphalt road. In use up ’til the end-1980s, this is one of three quarries in the area that recovered well from environmental damage after its reopening to the public.
Sunlight shone through the canopy and onto the Wallace Trail in the park. Fun fact: it’s named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who developed the theory of evolution in 1855 independently from Charles Darwin. It was here, in then-Malaya, that he gathered evidence to support the theory, collecting insect, bird and animal specimens from the rainforest in Bukit Timah while living nearby, in St. Joseph Church in 1854.
The trails along Dairy Farm and Chestnut Nature Park were designed exclusively for hikers and bikers – or at least ‘proper’ bikers, like the ones I caught flying up in the air.
It was fascinating to watch cyclists on the mountain bike pump track at the newly opened Chestnut Nature Park. Spanning 81 hectares, the nature park is now the largest in Singapore. Getting to it will take you past steep slopes that go under the Bukit Timah Expressway. Sadly, the tiny wheels on my folding bike were grossly inadequate for dirt trails. I had to give the park’s 8.2-kilometres of mountain biking trails a miss after an aborted attempt.
The pump track looked incredibly fun, and for the first time, I began to consider riding something more than a foldable bike. The Park Connectors and nature parks didn’t just take me through unexplored territory: I constantly bumped into fellow cyclists who exchanged smiles and nods as we whizzed past each other.
The LOOP app suited me well. It’s by no means a detailed guide to exploring a new place, but offers me the freedom to plot my own adventure, with plenty of room for improvisation.
Maybe it’s high time I got my own set of wheels.
Read Joseph's initial cycling adventure using the app. LOOP is a smartphone app developed by students from the Singapore Management University. It is a journey planner and route tracker designed for recreational and newbie cyclists. Download on Google Play or iTunes.