28 May 2014
TRAIL BUILDING AND ADVOCACY IN SINGAPORE
WANTING TO RIDE MORE TRAILS
It all started with an interest in cycling…
If we look back at how it all began, many would simply say that it all started with picking up a simple bike and riding the juice out of it. Explore the neighborhood, met some like-minded friends, and then it all escalate into more interesting things like better riding techniques, physical fitness training, bike maintenance and group shopping. And then comes the bigger questions; Where else can we go to ride our bikes? We want more land, more distance, more trail features. Some would venture into the next level of mountain biking – trail and feature building and maintenance. (Ed: Now this is full circle! This is the complete spectrum of mountain biking!)
Trail building is no easy task. To get a simple trail building project going we have to consider the manpower, the tools, the design and the time needed. And this is only the easy part! The big question is where can you build your features, or where can you start a new trail.
Imagine this scenario: You found a nice forested area at a rural area in Singapore and decide to cut a trail and add some log obstacles for you and your friends' trail rides. You managed to convince them to join in this project and even thought of a name for this special trail. It will be a place where your riding group will spend hours enjoying the ride from the fruit of your labour! And imagine the group eventually got a trail dug out, with nice drops, berms and log obstacles dotting that 3km of seemingly unused forest section. Life is too good. Truth is, this whole project is not legal and such efforts are usually short-lived.
Regardless of where you live in the world, land use is never free! The forested area could be a military training area, a private plot of land awaiting developments or a danger zone which the authorities wants the public to stay away from. Whatever the reason is, the (imaginary) trail that you so endearing named and worked on is a rouge trail. It is illegal.
Many might say they only wish to ride their bikes and mean no harm.
The issue of land use is far more complex than simple childhood innocence of riding a bike and exploration (like it or not). Many other stake-holders are involved when it comes to the use of land. To say it simplistically, this stake holders could be: the armed forces, the statutory boards, the private land owners, the nature conservation groups, hobbyist groups who are also lobbying the said area for other uses and the list goes on and on … (but you get the idea). Land use is no simple issue, let alone doing alteration to it.
So how do bikers solve this slow, bureaucratic issues?
There is no simple nor private ways to solve the issue of land use. The only way is to discuss and lobby it with the relevant authorities, be it a big or small project. Some advocacies are easier to materialize than others depending on the location (amongst other factors) of the advocacy project.
(Trail Day at Bukit Timah Mountain bike Trail)
INTERVIEW WITH MOUNTAIN BIKE ASSOCIATION (SINGAPORE) MBASG
In Singapore, the formation of the group, Mountain Bike Association Singapore (MBASG) provided a channel to speak with the relevant authorities regarding trail use. So far, their adopted projects had seen good headway, showing that a logical and reasonable proposal backed by substantial research and discussion could lead to some favorable outcomes for the biking community-at-large. We spoke to MBASG to understand what they do and how they did what they did.
This is the interview with Jason Lim, representative for MBASG:
What is Mountain Bike Association (Singapore) or MBASG about?
Mountain Bike Association (Singapore) or MBASG was formed in 2012 by a group of volunteer mountain bikers concerned about the loss of mountain biking trails in Singapore; the enforcement action of Woodcutter Trail (a trail near the lower Peirce Reservoir area) galvanized the group to come together.
MBASG's vision is to be a credible trail advocacy group. Our mission is to Protect, Improve and Expand (PIE in short) mountain-biking trails.
How many members are there now?
Currently, there are about 650 individuals who have registered their names with MBASG.
Is it a group open to public participation?
Yes! We welcome all mountain bikers to join us and contribute to the Mountain Biking community.
What are some of the notable projects that MBASG had successfully accomplished?
As a MTB trail advocacy group, we engage stake-holders like mountain bikers and the land managers of our trails – primarily NParks (National Parks Board Singapore). We think the key to successful discussion is being seen as a responsible and credible group. It is important that we take care of the places we ride and minimize the environmental impact of mountain biking; in this aspect, every mountain biker can do his or her part!
We continue to work with NParks to improve Mountain Biking trails. We have an on-going Trail Maintenance Program (Trail Days) which anyone can join. Of note too, are the meetings and feedback we give to them on Bukit Timah Nature Reserve MTB Trail and Butterfly Shared Trail.
Making Butterfly a trail open to mountain bikers was a huge step for us. Many mountain bikers did not believe it could be done. Much time and effort was needed to get its approval. Trail surveys, an Environmental Impact Report and meetings were undertaken by MBASG member Robin Lim who spearheaded the project. He was also supported by the Five-O Mountain Biking group. They deserve full credit for the outcome!
We are also grateful for the support and advice of individuals active in environmental groups such as N. Siva and Debby Ng, who lent much guidance in their experience of interacting with NParks, and how we could better table our requests.
What were the difficulties faced when dealing with each project?
I think the biggest underlying challenge we face as a new organization is being credible, responsible, and reasonable in our requests.
This means we not only have to be aware of what we like to see as mountain bikers but also "the other side of the coin", and that is what is important to other stakeholders and NParks, as well as their limitations.
Does MBASG face problems of the cycling community being defensive to your advocacy and assumed leadership (given that the cycling community are largely made up of many experienced and learned cyclist, and also a good majority being Type A personalities)
MBASG has not “assumed leadership" of mountain bikers (laughs); neither do we have such aspirations. We are not here to replace any group, organization, or anyone. Rather than whine and complain about the state of affairs regarding mountain biking trails, we are just a bunch of regular guys who chose to do something about it. Eventually, we hope to be seen as a credible and effective advocate for mountain biking trails within the general mountain biking public.
Our goal is simply to protect, improve and expand trails, so that mountain bikers will always have trails to enjoy. We hope the mountain biking community will support us!
There is bound to be skepticism especially when the organization is new; however we think when mountain bikers get to know more about MBASG, what we do, what we stand for, they will support us.
Is there a winning formula which MBASG adopts to gain public support and to get the relevant authorities to pay attention to you?
We think the best way for mountain bikers to have "influence" or "clout" with the authorities is:
(1) To be an organized group.
(2) To represent a sufficiently large number of people.
(3) Be credible and reasonable.
Are there any MBASG out-reach program currently? What about the near future?
We don’t have the resources for any formal community outreach programs. There are a couple of guys on the pro-tem committee who are championing this. We invite all mountain bikers to join our Community Trail Days: it is a lot of fun, and a good way to contribute back to the trails we love. Do look out for announcements of such trail days on our Facebook page.
What are your views on cycling group wanting to do their own trail building or trail-related advocacy?
We support and welcome these, and believe that if we have more credible and reasonable groups committed to Mountain Biking trail advocacy, it could lead to a bigger voice for the Mountain Biking community. Of course there are already trail adoption programs in place which any group can contribute and be part of, and we will only ask that any trail work done should be with the blessings of NParks (or relevant authorities).
We actively discourage random trail works. Groups and/or individuals doing their own trail works on established trails can be detrimental to the Mountain Biking community. There is a risk of dangerous structures being built on trails which endanger everyone, and trails ‘dumbed down’. Any trail works should only be done in partnership and consultation with NParks or the trails' respective governing body.
MBASG’s words to the MTB community.
We think that Mountain Biking is more than just riding bikes. It is also about being part of a community and looking after the places we ride.
You can also discuss trail related matters at DAFT (Discussion & Action For Trails), MBASG's Facebook Forum – www.facebook.com/groups/286056431484162/
If you not already a member of MBASG please sign up at www.mbasg.org/provisional-membership-sign-up.html
NOTEWORTHY TRAIL BUILDING AND ADVOCACY GROUPS IN SINGAPORE
On the topic of trail works and advocacy, there are other noteworthy groups. Some of these groups chose to keep a low public profile and share their effort and fruits amongst their riding mates. This is not to say that they are not willing to reach out to new comers or bikers outside their group. Reasons could be anything from wanting to start small, easier co-ordination and like-mindedness to being media-shy. What eventually matters is that these group of riders did take Mountain Biking to the next level. We would like to mention them and thank them here.
(Freeriders Unleashed working at Tampines Trail)
Elco International – http://www.elcointl.com
Dirtraction – http://dirtraction.com
SG Trail Adoption Program (TAP) – www.facebook.com/groups/189105621211455/
Freeriders Unleashed – www.facebook.com/groups/392452790860559
Trailwerks SG – www.facebook.com/groups/482673208505575/
Se7en – www.facebook.com/groups/se7enfr
Ride Brothers – www.facebook.com/groups/ridebrothers
Ed: the above listing is by no means exhaustive and they are limited to the discussion for Singapore trails only. Only public websites, open and closed (requires approval for joining) facebook groups are listed. Those listed as Secret groups are not listed here. We apologize if we missed out any groups here and would be keen to include your views in a future interview or discussion regarding trail building and advocacy or upgrade projects. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org