The sun pierces the hushed Singapore morning air and the temperature begins to rise in synchrony. The energetic city rumbles back into the forefront of our awareness. This cycle of muggy evenings, blistering afternoons, and tropical downpours is becoming all too familiar. Adaptation to such insufferable heat consists of café hopping, shopping mall squatting, napping in the AC when possible, and remaining fairly inert while not engaged in the former. Finding a suitable environmental balance to put in some screen time is a considerable challenge while unrooted in this foreign city. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that most cafés set their aircons to full making them feel like veritable ice boxes. One café surpassing all expectations however and employing discernment with their AC usage in the Siglap Hill neighborhood is Coast and Company [www] [FB] [54 Siglap Dr] proudly featuring a tastefully designed industrial modern café space complete with bike workshop showroom. Coast/Cycles will excite one’s caffeinated inner child in many more ways than with simply a well pulled shot of espresso!
While café squatting immersed in our screens, sipping our brews, and enjoying a delicious orange olive oil cake, a young energetic fellow passing back and forth catches our eye.
“Are you affiliated with the shop here in some way?” we ask catching his attention. With the flash of a big smile and friendly eyes, he responds “yes, I am, hi! My name is Jansen, the co-founder here at Coast/Cycles”. The conversation takes off from there. We love to hear the story of spaces like this and typically when a founder is before you, the extemporaneously unpolished account of it all unfolds.
Jansen shares a few of his most meaningful stories of the inspiration behind the company. "My first bike was my ticket to freedom, to be able to get out of my neighborhood." he shares. Jansen’s desire to roam has never left him leading to his desire to create a new more casual bike frame that he could cruise through town with and head to coffee shops with friends. He quickly realized that he needed greater control over the finished product if he wanted to truly realize his vision. This led him to tackle the idea from the perspective of the whole bike which ultimately evolved into the entire Coast/Cycles brand. "Coast Cycles is really focused on community and exploration which is why I wanted to have a cafe within" he concludes.
"My first bike was my ticket to freedom, to be able to get out of my neighborhood." - Jansen Tan
To see the labor of such an enthusiastic creator bearing internationally recognized fruits in the bike building community coupled with a thriving café business is fantastic to see! In three short years none the less!
Look for Coast/Cycles at the 2015 Interbike Expo in Las Vegas if you’re in the area! It’s scheduled for September 16-18, 2015 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
As our conversation meanders, we talk about travel, our website, and about our life path of leaving Seattle at the beginning of the year to travel until we find a place that we might feel at home in. We share our travel card and website with Jansen which strikes a congenial chord. One thing leads to another and he says, “You guys are incredibly brave. I love your story and would love for you to take a pair of bikes out to explore the city while you’re in town!”
Taking the time to coast
Living and working in Singapore for an early phase software start-up [more on this story later] comes with manifold pressures to simply keep working. We’ve been finding ourselves falling back into the hectic feeling lifestyle that we left behind in Seattle. While the mechanics of the feeling are somewhat familiar, some of the more egregious endemic melodramas that we absolutely wanted to break from are not yet resurfacing here. It’s nigh impractical to compare the life stresses directly … apples, oranges?, perhaps more like … apple, meet three toed shrunken unicorn with an energetic tail. That said, when the universe presents an opportunity to take a biking adventure around Singapore, you make the time to say, “Hell yes!”
Working with Jansen’s team has been a treat and the feeling around the shop is just the right balance of playful and efficient. Shortly we are geared up and ready to hit the streets with a bad ass big wheeler and an automatic cruiser. Jansen briefly conveys a few trail recommendations throughout town and away we go.
We head loosely towards downtown along the East Coast Park. This huge greenspace stretches a quarter of the length of Singapore and offers exquisite bike trails and beach views all the way into town. As we pedal through our first kilometer, we began noticing a whole different Singapore!
Initially thinking we might trade off throughout the ride, we stick primarily with our initial choices, me the big wheeler, and Dina with the cruiser.
Cruising through some of the more residential parts of Singapore exposes a remarkable blend of old and new, an east meets west tapestry weaves around every turn. The city-state retains many aspects of Asia while infusing a modern western approach to nearly everything in a uniquely Singaporean way. The artfully paved bike path with flawless metal signage, directional indicators rendered on the ground, and bicycle specific push-button cross-walks flowing along-side well maintained black and white bungalows from the 19th century with rooftop water storage, ever-present laundry hanging out to dry, and of course very little personal space to speak of. Massive public housing compounds occupy entire blocks residing next to groves of uber modern multi-million dollar homes. Singapore shirks any fear of the not invented here principle while uniquely blending any and all architectural features from around the world. Hours of entertainment can be found by digging into the architecture of Singapore if one so desires.
Don’t think for a moment that this utopic scene doesn’t have some yin to its yang. One such dualistic dark side is glaring us in the face! To cross over the highway on these elegant paths, we must comply with the “walk your bike” warning. Yep, without another soul in sight, the $1000 SGD ($725 USD) fine is taunting us. Should one of the bazillion cameras or some unseen authority spy us not dismounting we may be in for something more than our bike budget … it’s for our safety, I’m sure.
We coast along the well managed streams and seashore pathways of the East Coast Park where heavy shipping freighters festoon much of the horizon. Because of its geographical location and friendly business practices, Singapore acts as the major aqueous bridge for world goods.
Seeing is believing when it comes to Singapore’s freighter traffic
The refreshing break from the crush of public transit and incessant queues for just about everything is invigorating. As we cruise, I start to feel waves of the youthful excitement that I knew so well from many years mountain biking in Maryland.
Those clouds look intense!
Posing for a few photos quickly turns into a rapid dash towards the closest anything to take cover under. “I think I saw a coffee shop a few blocks back” I exclaim. Dina quickly agrees and we loop back to find a fun little refuge. Penny University turns out to be an artisanal coffee house typical of the increasing number of relaxed hipster establishments popping up all over Singapore. Sheltering from the weather with college students and a couple of decaf long blacks is an enjoyable way to avoid the tropical downpour.
Locking up the bikes within view from our table gives us the chance to observe some candid reactions to the eye-catchingly modern designs. While both are remarkable cruisers, the big gnarly tires prove to be quite the crowd pleaser turning heads with near one hundred percent consistency. The rarer birds, those discerning design minded individuals, expose themselves as they pause to admire the sleek minimalist design of the two-speed automatic belt driven cruiser. With our hats off to the creator, the craftsmanship and vision of both is always admired.
An unexpected turn
While cruising smooth trails, well maintained city streets, and sidewalks is fun, the terrain is starting to feel a bit too safe! Luckily for us, the trail ahead towards the CBD is under construction. An ever-present reminder that we’re in some sort of far-off land comes in the form of one of the construction men shouting our way, “Hey, go ride on the freeway lady, the trail is closed!” admonishing our futile efforts to obey the rules to avoid some exorbitant and possibly undisclosed fine for failure to this or that.
A few trial and error explorations of the highway on-ramps lead us to a portion of the main road which looks promising.
Under the bridge
As explorers, our delight typically stems from experiences avoiding large crowds, tour buses, and well-traveled paths of almost any kind. Forging our own path [perhaps a nature/nurture discussion at a later date to explore this more cogently is in order?] often brings us to unseen places providing alternate vantage points for other more commonly experienced places.
Take this bridge for instance. While satisfying nearly none of the typical criteria for notable places throughout town, the design and engineering not only physically supports daily commuters but creates an aesthetically pleasing space below for use by non-motorized denizens. Design conscious developers consider more than the simple utility of the structures they create. This space moves us to play, to circle, to weave, to pedal hard and to stop fast! It also inspires a few well posed photos of ourselves and the bikes of course...
Zipping through the gardens
No cruise through Singapore would be complete without exploring the mega trees, right? Well, due to more imminent weather and all sorts of signage with anti-bicycle sentiments, we’re pushing through in a flash. Whooosh, see you on the other side!
Frogger … Louis Vuitton style
Zipping along through one of the more iconic shopping destinations [The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands] in Singapore is quite a thrill. The lusciously polished concrete walkways give our cruisers a seamless glide as we admire the glitzy dining, the veblen good peddlers, and the inner heart of Singapore’s CBD.
A cruise through Singapore’s CBD
One aspect of this remarkable city-state that most are familiar is its focus on being fertile ground for businesses great and small. With that in mind, our pilgrimage into the thick of it all has finally rushed headlong into the looming downpour. The CBD’s well designed sidewalk bike lanes aide our mad dash to our favorite downtown grub oasis, the Telok Ayer Market. [Evening satay here is the best!]
Open-ended travel and schedule free days afford the adventurer many opportunities throughout their journeys. One of these affordances that Dina and I both enjoy is people watching with today’s foul weather being visual icing on the behavioral cake. No place to go, two wet bike seats, and a hawker market filled with all the food and drink one could desire leaves us quite content to weather the storm and watch away...
An hour or two later ... yep, still here!
Meet our good friend serendipity
Having several days to explore the city on our cruisers, we’ve found many new places. Alongside the business hustle and bustle of the cash in hand millionaire class that calls Singapore their playground, you will find, if you choose look, a curious modern reflection of a deeply Asian rooted past. Deeply human elements of design, quality, pragmatic get it done’ness, and beauty flourish amidst the structured chaos. With open minds, an open schedule, and a little sprinkling of blind-luck, we are finding a great deal more than we had ever imagined. Some of our favorite new discoveries are China Town, Mount Faber, Sentosa Island, and many smaller hideaways around town.
As we meander, we happen upon the Red Dot Museum Singapore [Red Dot Design Award] which, as per their website, is “[a] uniquely Singaporean attraction, presenting the latest trends in the international design scene with a collection of more than 1,000 exhibits in the field of product design and communication design from over 50 countries. Every one of these exhibits is a winner of the international Red Dot Design Award, one of the world’s leading and largest design competitions.” With Dina’s background in graphic and visual design and my insatiable appetite for exploring creations of quality we naturally hunt about for the front door and awkwardly start exploring now on foot with bikes in tow.
Wandering around a design museum with two handcrafted bikes created by a local designer seems most appropriate! After only a few minutes, we stumble upon a group of lighting design students. One of the design students takes note of the bikes, making eye contact eagerly awaiting a break in his conversation to chat with us. “Hi, I’m Jack” he shares as the group of four or five other students gather around. They tell us of their afternoon discussions with local and longstanding lighting design sage, Mun Fai who introduces himself to us with a firm handshake and a heartwarmingly inquisitive smile. A few moments pass and the students indicate they must be going and Dina, Mun Fai and I are now rolling right along headed in the direction of the Red Dot’s in-house craft cocktail lounge Hopscotch. [if you ever make it to Singapore, their cocktails are absolutely on the not to miss list!]
Taking a few moments to further introduce ourselves while perusing the menu we, he the lighting design sage of business development for Philips Lighting and we the travelers and former Microsoftees, come quickly to an unambiguous impasse … everything on the menu sounds phenomenal and we can’t possibly select just one cocktail. With a firm glance from our new friend, the craft mixologist behind the bar promptly joins us and begins asking a few exploratory taste questions to help frame his feedback. Deftly navigating our responses, he comes up with some unique proposals and a fun story to back up the suggestions. “Wow, I’m impressed, let’s have one of those!” I exclaim. Dina then asks a few clarifying questions about her proposed cocktail and settles on her first pick knowing that a highly eligible second cocktail is already in mind.
As the evening unfolds, we share, we muse, and wax philosophical finding an infinite pool of human experience reference points to connect with Mun Fai on. The balance of the evening could take all sorts of different paths, I think to myself. “But wait, we have to get home somehow, and we still have our … BIKES!” I find the sense to share at one point in the conversation. A few snickers give way to a calm zen-like surrender to the notion that we may in fact be riding the eight miles (13 km) back home together on one of the main arterials at one in the morning. Maybe it won’t rain on us this time?
Keep pedaling, we’ll get there when we get there!
Turning the page in closure of a chapter always yields a new one. As modernity drives us all to focus our energies on improved efficiencies and completed deliverables, the true interconnectedness of our journey here on the planet can astonishingly escape us as we each get lost in the moment to moment moments of the day.
In our case, a few glorious days exploring Singapore on a pair of beautiful handcrafted bicycles has elongated our perspectives on a city we initially felt quite ambivalent about. It elevated us to new understandings of how the eastern mindset informs decisions made in business that shapes the 3D reality around us. It stoked a youthful eagerness to set out in some direction and simply get lost in wherever that path ahead might lead. It has also spawned multiple new chapters with some admirable new characters which we look forward to exploring as this life-dream unfolds.
Jansen and crew, from the both of us … we thank you kindly! You are a shining beacon of creative genius and a well-tuned shop. We look forward to keeping in touch over the years and good luck at the 2015 Interbike Expo in Las Vegas!