The blogging has been a little light on for the last two weeks, on account of me being in Malaysia for my annual holiday. While there I was keen to check out the local cycling scene. What I can tell you from my cursory look into the Malaysian bike scene is that there really isn’t one.
My first two days in KL I barely saw a bicycle of any description, except for one glimpse from a train of a guy riding an immaculately turned out fixie. That snatch of vision on the train is a hint to what might exist in Malaysia, because while there might not currently be any cycles or cycling done in Malaysia there is certainly an interest in it.
Below is a picture of the first two bikes I saw in Malaysia. I saw these guys at the Batu Caves, a location worth visiting even considering their dearth of fixies.
|First two bikes seen in KL, three days in.
The thing that separates fixies from most other bikes is that fixies, and the image and scene that exists around them, are desirable. They’re a bit like an iPad really, you mightn’t know what you want to actually do with one but you want one anyway.
|Taking the vintage thing too far…note the rod actuated front brakes and cotter pin cranks
I’m told by the locals that bikes are becoming more popular in Malaysia due to the desirability of these bikes. The old clunkers shown above are typical of the kind of thing Malaysians have had on offer till recently. Mention Chinese-made bikes and these WWII era designs are what came to mind for many Malaysian. But there is a fresh wave of bikes coming out of China that are affordable and desirable. We know them well here in Oz, they’ve been driving a wave of bicycle interest for a couple years now. I have little doubt that companies like Mojo
and Jelly Bean
are re-badging for our consumption bikes made in China. They knock out good bikes at good prices so the system’s working both for them and for us. And the same forces are at work in Malaysia. The thing is, in Malaysia there exists no bike culture at present, but there is a growing interest in this cool new fixie thing, and the price of entree into that community is the purchase of a fixie.
|Fixie hipsters in Malacca.
Apart from the glimpse in KL the only other fixies I saw in Malaysia were the guys snapped above. I saw them twice while in Malacca, sadly never got a chance to chat with them but did snap the photo above as they cruised by. It’s interesting that in a country where I almost never saw any bikes ridden for pleasure there were these guys were cruising aimlessly on their fixies. around the central district of Malacca. Clearly the allure of being part of the fixie hipsterdom was a strong force for these guys. I’m sure anyone who saw these guys cruising on their fixies would would either badly want a fixie or be quite sure these guys are total wankers. Of course, in Malacca you need more than bright orange frames and multi-coloured wheels to make a scene. Take a look at these guys:
|A standard Malacca trishaw.
|Cant leave Malacca without shot in a trishaw.
Down in Singapore there is more disposable income than in Malaysia. To give you an idea, the average yearly income in Singapore is above Australia (and we’re about 10th in the world) whereas Malaysians are progressing but still get by on about $300 per month on average. There still aren’t many bikes getting about on the streets of Singapore. It’s practically on the equator and with high humidity and a temperatures that rarely drop below 30C you really can’t expect to ride a bike, ever, without arriving in a lather of sweat. There are miles and miles of underground malls in Singapore and air-con is almost ubiquitous. Singaporeans, or at least a large faction of them, seem to cope with the heat by pretending it doesn’t exist. They’re not going out doors for long and they’re certainly not exerting themselves while they’re out there.
You do see groups of lycra-clad cyclists riding featherweight carbon racing bikes. There’s a scene there for that. It wasn’t just an ex-pat scene either. Where they ride every day is a mystery to me. I can imagine that anyone who trains in Singapore for very long would get to know the island pretty well. It’s only about 50kms wide and 25 deep. Some days they must say to each other, “Righto chaps, we do one lap of our country today or two ?”
The almost all-pervasive consumer culture in Singapore isn’t kind to fringe or sub- cultures. You dont see any punks, goths, emos, skater boys, sufer dudes, metal heads or skinheads. Probably the only sub-culture that flourishes is the gamers. Singaporean society makes it hard for someone like skaters to flourish because it is so very hard to misbehave in Singapore. Even spitting, jaywalking and not giving up a seat for the elderly on the train are almost impossible to get away with. The idea of finding a curb and ripping it up for an hour or so is a distant and unlikely possibility. Likewise the kind of civil disobedience required to ride a fixie isn’t really possible. The fine for not walking your bike through certain walkways in Singapore is $1,000, and I’m not talking about some laneway in the central city, just general pedestrian areas around buildings and so forth. So that late night attack on an underground carpark could be a costly experience.
Having said that the image and desirability of the fixie is still there. Mostly it’s seen as a marketing tool, in the same way that so many people in Oz buy from surf outlets but never actually surf. (I see we have an MX range now. Can’t figure out what makes an MX t-shirt different from a surf one. Is it the cotton blend?) Krumpler is doing very well in Singapore, with at least two stores. More to the point Manhattan Portage. Krumpler seem to be selling based on design and quality whereas the Portage people definitely lean on the fixie thing (but I’m not disparaging their design and quality). One of the few fixies I saw in Singapore was in a Manhattanan Portage store with messenger bags draped artfully over it.
|Manhattan Portage messenger bag
In the very cool and narrow Hadji Lane boutique designer shops line the street with Singapore’s only real taste of the cool and non-mainstream. Local designers are represented there and an eclectic mix of objects and clothes from overseas designers. It’s strictly girly shopping so I went back to Little India for a biryani while the girls shopped but I did later discover they had a Tokyo Bike shop there.
|Tokyo Bike SS
They were packing up the shop when I got there but I did get the manager to answer a few short questions. They’ve only been open about 2 months but the manager was reasonably happy with bike sales to date. The Tokyo Bikes are beautifully finished and they have a small range of sensible but desirable city bikes, including the SS above. Tokyo Bike use a 650 size wheelset because they believe that gives them a bike that is better for first timers and city commuters, a nice compromise between the 26″ and the 700. There were some battle hardened test bikes there but my arrival wasn’t timely so I didn’t push for a ride of a bike that was so obviously being put away for the night. Both test bikes in the shop were well scratched, whether a sign that the lustrous Tokyo Bike paint job isn’t as good as it looks or just an indication that the local riders are a little inexperience and perhaps somewhat ham fisted I can’t tell. I’m leaning toward the latter without evidence mainly because the bikes looked so damned nice I just want to believe it.
|Photographing bikes is climbing to the heights of food photography. Not unusual to see a bike artfully posed these days. This model is one for the girls.
By far the most common bike in Singapore was the venerable Flying Pigeon
. Wiki tells me that Flying Pigeon dates back to the 1950s and most of the bikes on the street of Singapore looks like they’d rolled off the assembly line on day one of the factory opening. Hard to tell though because some of these Chinese bike manufacturers haven’t updated their designs in aeon’s. Below is a picture from the wiki entry. It’s shows a bike very typical of what I saw in Singapore, except without the rust and care-worn charm.
|Is Flying Pigeon a good name for a bicycle? What about Walking Rat? Limping Lemur? Swimming Otter?
Lets hope the Malaysian and Singaporeans get into the fixie thing big time. For starters they’re never going to know how good it is till they give it a go. More importantly for us, we’ll have millions of consumers joining a competitive market to help drive down prices and make the unbelievably good fixie deals we get now even better.