Saturday, April 10, 2010

Personal Finance Part 17 – The Core Concepts of Cycling

I guess the first question many readers would ask when seeing the somewhat confusing title above is: how does cycling factor in personal finance? Well, my reply is that after seeing how COE prices have skyrocketed (yes, I can find no better word) to S$28,000+ for small cars, S$36,000+ for larger cars and S$42,000 for Open Category, I felt compelled to pen down my thoughts on how cycling can be a very rewarding alternative form of transport, albeit with its associated “cons”. In our small island called Singapore, somehow no one really gives cycling the kind of attention it deserves, and it seems to be relegated to two different camps: one of the enthusiasts (who are decked out in full gear including helmet, aerodynamic body suit, arm and knee pads and matching shoes), as well as foreign workers, who use cycling as a simple and cheap mode of transport to get from one work site to another, or from their work site to their living quarters. There seems to be scant attention paid to cycling as not just a form of recreation, but also a practical way of getting around the island.

For myself, I use my trusty bicycle for almost everything from buying groceries at nearby NTUC, for leisure rides (exercise), buying supper and also commuting to and from my tuition student’s house (I choose a student near my place which is accessible by bicycle). I only use the bus or my feet for purchases of bulky items, or during inclement weather. On average, I cycle about 10km per trip, with some leisure trips at East Coast Park bringing me a total of about 30km plus.

Let’s break down this topic into a few core central concepts (hence the title!):-

The Cost of Cycling

This is obviously a no-brainer, but I think it would be good to list the associated costs of owning a bicycle, in order to properly compare the cost of cycling (in monetary terms) compared with owning a car or taking public transport. I think there are enough websites dedicated to breaking down the cost of owning a car, such as this website, so I will simply delve into the costs of owning a bicycle.

Note: All the costs below relate to my current mountain bicycle, which was purchased in 2003 (from Rodalink at East Coast Road). The other incidental costs relate to repairs and maintenance plus replacement parts to keep my bicycle in working condition to this very day!

Cost of Bicycle: S$240
Cost of Brake Pads (replacing per year): About S$5
Cost of New Seat: S$30
Cost of New Wheel*: S$36
Cost of General Maintenance (per year): S$50

Adding up everything gives a total of about S$700, over a period of 7 years. This translates to about $100 per year or less than $10 per month. The figure above excludes the cost of a very good cable lock (about S$30-S$40) to securely lock your bicycle to prevent theft.

*Note: My front wheel got stolen some time in 2005 as I parked my bicycle near East Coast Road. To this day, I still wonder why anyone would bother to just steal one wheel and leave a bicycle “marooned”. Nowadays, I lock my bicycle’s body AND wheel too using 2 separate locks. These thieves are relentless……

The Benefits of Cycling

There are quite a few benefits related to cycling, and these are not just based on financial or health considerations. One of these is convenience, as one can go almost anywhere on a bicycle without much worries for traffic flow direction, and can also “squeeze” through narrow lanes or fields to “short-cut” one’s time taken. Couple this with a bag pack and basket (I don’t have one), and the bicycle becomes a perfect tool for grocery shopping. I use the bicycle for library books (borrowing and returning), buying groceries, visiting showflats nearby, commuting to tuition, running simple errands and buying food from hawker centres or McDonald’s.

The fact that one can “park” the bicycle anywhere also means you can mount and dismount almost anytime, and that to me is the ultimate convenience. With a car, one has to find a parking lot or else illegally park, and then the coupons or cash card has to be used for parking fees. A bicycle has no such additional fees and one can park anywhere as long as one does not obstruct the flow of traffic.

Cycling also has obvious health advantages in that one can build stamina and thigh muscles similar to cycling a stationery bicycle at the gym. I usually use the bicycle to work up a sweat and this ensures I get my weekly dose of exercise.

The Disadvantages of Cycling

The disadvantages of cycling are mainly due to distance, and weather conditions. Singapore being the humid and hot country that it is, makes it very tough to cycle for prolonged distances without ending up drenched in sweat. Even a short five-minute cycle to the nearby grocery shop in warm weather has my shirt soaked in perspiration, of which I have to change out of and maybe take a shower. I think this is the KEY reason why I do not see more Singaporeans (especially girls) using the bicycle as a mode of transport. Imagine cycling to your favourite mall dripping in sweat with half your make-up flowing down your face! Not a very pretty sight indeed. This is in contrast to China where the cool weather and low humidity means that droves of young people make use of cycling to get around (yes, including young nubile females too). This is one of my main grouses of cycling in Singapore, but over the years I have got used to it somewhat. If I need to, I just bring a towel and some change of clothing as well as a bottle of water and I can get by.

Another pet peeve of mine is that the roads are generally quite dangerous for cyclists, and weirdly enough, except for Tampines, everywhere else in Singapore it is considered a crime to cycle on the footpaths! Another contrast to China – there is a dedicated “cycling lane” just for scooters, motorized bikes and normal bicycles in most cities. This makes it very safe for bikers to use such lanes to get from one place to another, and cars also are careful to watch out for such cyclists as it is part of the inculcated culture. In Singapore, most motorists are impatient with cyclists and will honk at the first opportunity. Others simply like to speed (even across pedestrian crossings) and this makes it a bigger hazard for cyclists. Even with reflective clothing and back lights, cyclists remain at high risk on the roads. So, most of the time I stick to footpaths, even though technically it’s “illegal”. Add in a little courtesy (“excuse me, thank you”) and it all works out well in general.

Yet another major problem with cycling is that of the weather, which is somewhat of an understatement. Knowing Singapore’s tropical climate and penchant for sudden, thunderous rain storms, this makes cycling a rather unpredictable affair. These days I have learnt to anticipate strange weather conditions much better, and can act as an amateur weather forecaster because for me, it is so important to know the weather before you set out. Of course, even the best planning can fall flat and often times the return journey can be severely disrupted because of a sudden passing cloud. Suffice to say cycling is close to impossible if the rain gets heavier than a drizzle. Not only is visibility obscured, but the rain makes roads much more slippery and is also causes the dreaded “splash effect” (ok, it’s my fault for not installing a mud guard).

Suggestions on how to Enhance the Cycling Experience

The Government, in its relentless attempts to wean Singaporeans off the car, should actively promote the use of bicycles as they give out less pollution (more environmentally friendly) and take up much less space. But seeing how bicycles are not subject to expensive COEs and ERP systems, I guess the Government would be somewhat shooting itself in the foot if it promotes cycling as it will deprive itself of an extremely lucrative source of revenues. Nevertheless, I will list down a few suggestions I have on how to make cycling a safer and more economical alternative to driving or public transport.

First off, making ALL footpaths cyclist-friendly would be a good next step, other than just designating Tampines as a “cycling town”. This seems to imply that cyclists only exist in Tampines (of which I am not a resident of), which is somewhat ridiculous. Secondly, the Government could increase awareness of cyclists and educate road users on how to give way to cyclists and watch out for them on the roads. This can be done via incorporation into a motorist’s Basic or Advanced Theory lessons at driving school.

Another suggestion would be to set up bicycle points at strategic locations around the island, where cyclists can lock their bicycles under shelter. Currently, there are only “ad-hoc” bicycle locking locations and these locations are not enough and may be exposed to the elements. In a further bid to encourage cycling, the authorities can look into the “Ride and Park” scheme – bicycles can be rented out from one location and “returned” at another location (similar to borrowing library books); but users are charged a flat fee per month.

Conclusion

I have a Class 3 Driving License but still choose to use the bicycle as my main mode of transport. For purely personal reasons, I enjoy the thrill which cycling gives and the feeling of freedom. Maybe for reasons unknown, I tie back the feeling to the ones I had during my childhood and therefore experience the same kind of child-like joy when I am on my bicycle, even though I am a middle-aged adult now. Since happiness, pleasure and satisfaction are intensely personal, I can’t vouch that everyone who rides on a bicycle will feel the same way; but I am hoping they can trigger some sort of positive emotional response nonetheless. It constantly amazes me how many people do NOT know how to even cycle (mostly women). To me the two important life skills are swimming (in case you fall into the sea) and cycling. But in an urban jungle like Singapore, perhaps only swimming is emphasized; and cycling is overlooked because there is neither infrastructure nor impetus for this skill to be learnt.

If only more Singaporeans could look to cycling as a viable means of transportation, we could, as a group, lobby for the Government to take cycling to new levels. Currently, all I see around me are cyclists who are mainly foreign workers commuting to and fro; as well as the hard core fanatic cyclists who are decked out in full gear. Probably at least for the next 10-20 years, I do not see a change occurring anytime soon. Singaporeans will continue to be car-crazy (notwithstanding the high COE prices) and most will prefer to squeeze bum to bum in a crowded MRT carriage or bus. This post is just to highlight that cycling can be part of one’s personal finance plan to cut down on expenses over the long-term.

24 comments:

Createwealth8888 said...

Cycling as a mean of daily transport during rush hours in Singapore is risky and not worth taking the chance.

One friend and one neighbour died in road accident while cycling.

la papillion said...

Hey mw,

Damn..I am one of those that do not know how to cycle. How come? It's just that my parents never taught me and I never mixed around with the kids around the neighborhood. What a life right, haha :)

I want to learn it one day :)

Ricky said...

yea, i don't really know how to cycle too. Only tried cycling straight a few times. Can't turn. I think since i stay in Tampines, cycling could be a good alternative. Now i just have to learn how to cycle...

Musicwhiz said...

Hi 8888,

Not really as a daily means of transport in terms of using it for work commuting, but more of running errands and going to places like tuition. And I always use the footpath and follow traffic signs/rules. So not too worried on that part.

Thanks for the good advice!

Musicwhiz

Musicwhiz said...

Hi La Papillion,

Haha, well never too late to learn! Just be prepared to fall a bit.....just like in the stock market! hehe.

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Ricky,

hehe, as I told La Papillion, it's never too late. But it also depends on what you intend to use the bicycle for. As I highlighted, it can be a very useful machine and costs very little. Just that it is exposed to the elements....

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Dou said...

I dun mind cycling...do a part for the dying earth earth.

H said...

Hi MW,

I just started cycling again! I was late & car was at the workshop, so I cycled. would cycle more often esp running errands, swimming or to the library.

LP -- my friend's sis just learn cycling few weeks ago! She's 19. One day at east coast (and one fall) and she's cycling now. :)

Cheers!
hh

Atticus said...

If you hate public transport and find car prices prohibitive, I recommend a motorcycle/scooter.

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Dou,

Yep good point! Cycling is definitely more environmentally friendly than using machines that spout harmful gases....

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Musicwhiz said...

Hi HH,

Good to know about you and your friend! Let's hope more people start cycling in Singapore.

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Atticus,

I'm afraid motorcycles are pretty dangerous in Singapore, judging by the accident rate and statistics. That's why I still prefer sticking to a bicycle. At least I can use the footpaths (albeit illegally!).

Cheers,
Musicwhiz

Yew Khim said...

Yes cycling is very convenient if u need to travel short distance

Yes i also cycle for running errand, going to parents place.

i use the footpath rather than the road even though it is illegal. my life is more important for me to use the road.

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Yew Khim,

Yes, I would definitely agree life is more important than a fine, so using the footpath is still my preferred choice as well.

Glad to know there are others like yourself who also use the bicycle for simple errands and for short-distance travel.

Cheers,
Musicwhiz

camilynn said...

Hi,

You have a nice blog. I just came across this website www.mackenzycreditgroup.com. They seems to be specialized in personal finance, debt management etc. Just thought of mentioning them here as it may help someone in need.

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Camilynn,

Thanks for the link. It looks like an American website, and seems similar to CCS (Credit Counselling Singapore) which is geared towards locals.

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Yew Khim said...

your bike costs $240.

mine is a very old bike given by my brother. he got it from a garun guni man.

it is the most unpresenting bike park downstair/MRT etc. this way no one will even want to key my bike.

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Yew Khim,

OK sorry I should have made it clear - my bicycle was stolen at the MRT but that was a 2nd hand bike I bought from a friend at S$80. I think it used to cost S$400-S$500 which was why it loooked "expensive" and so it was stolen. I didn't lose too much sleep over that one. Haha.

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Neroli said...

MW,
On another subject... MTQ... any comments re appointment of new CEO?

Tks
Neroli

mm said...

MW,

Its been a while since I swung by.

I like leisure cycling but I wouldn't do it on the Singapore roads though. Its more like cycling on the pavement around my house with my son. Its really hot and humid in Singapore so I need to get a shirt changed everytime I come back.

The roads in Singapore are not safe for cycling, mainly due to the road rage and stress that our drivers are exposed to daily. It is very stressful to drive in Singapore and I dislike driving.

However, I don't cycle to get grocery cos' there is a library and NTUC and shopping mall and train station right opposite where I live.

We just cycle for fun... :D

I don't go thro' the cost benefit analysis like you do... :)

Sorry to hear that you are not coming to the gathering.

Hope to meet up with you someday.

Cheers,
mm

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Neroli,

I am in the midst of writing a post on that, and will prepare it to be ready by late April 2010.

Meanwhile, you can read NextInsight's story on Kuah Boon Wee's new appointment.

http://www.nextinsight.biz/content/view/2317/60/

Cheers!

Musicwhiz

Musicwhiz said...

Hi MM!

Haha yes I do agree Singapore is hot and humid, and that's one BIG deterrant in getting people to cycle around. But the foreign workers don't seem to mind (or maybe they have no choice cos it's cheaper than taking bus/MRT?).

Good to know you cycle for leisure - I think it's great for bonding with family, especially when you cycle a tandem and place a small seat at the back/front for your kid.

Perhaps I was being too quantitative when I did my analysis in terms of cost/benefit. That aside, it brings me great joy and pleasure to cycle around!

No worries, we will have chances to meet up one day.

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Lemizeraq said...

Hi Musizwhiz,

Ya, with the huge increase in the COE prices, cycling and other modes of transport is now more attractive.

I used to cycle when I studied in Australia in Melbourne, where they have dedicated cycling lanes on roads.

Always think that cycling in Singapore is dangerous, so maybe it is better to cycle illegally on pavement.

Think will seriously consider getting a bicycle for short commute.

Lemiz

Musicwhiz said...

Hello Lemizeraq,

Wow good to hear you used to cycle too, albeit in Aussie land hehe. The weather must have been much better there I guess?

I do agree Singapore roads are very dangerous, which is why I prefer the footpaths. I follow all traffic rules and give way to cars all the time.

Cheers!

Musicwhiz