THE MAIN MAN BEHIND SINGAPORE OPEN ENDURO
Singapore Open Enduro (SOE) 2023 happened on 21 and 22 October 2023. It was a very successful event and set the bar high for future events and races to come. Stories about SOE would not be complete without the mention of its founder Wilson Low. This story is not about the actions of SOE, it is about the man behind the flattest enduro in the world. We didn’t realise that a flat enduro could be so tough to put together. Wilson Low shares his blood, sweat and tears of joy for his brainchild.
SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW WILSON LOW?
Getting SOE on track wasn’t a bed of rose. (Ed: I’m sure most of us are aware of that.) During the initial years when the Enduro race format was the hype of the mountain biking world at large, it was the dream of many to put Singapore on the map for enduro races. Imagine the red tapes and resistances that would crush the plan to oblivion. Along came a guy that knows the local ground and culture, brought along what he had learned and developed over the years as a fitness/mountain biking coach and a bike tour guide. Add in lots of love for the sport as a regular participant at races both locally and around the world and the world’s flattest enduro race was born.
LET’S GET ACQUAINTED
NAME: Low Weicheng Wilson
FAVOURITE RACE CALLSIGN: Shiok Only – I’ve been using this nickname in Trans BC (as a racer) and Trans Tasmania (as a volunteer) for awhile now.
OCCUPATION: Mountain bike skills instructor, coach, guide, event consultant
YEARS ON 2-WHEELERS: 22 years
COUNTRIES RIDDEN: 16 countries and counting!
FAVOURITE TRAIL: Recent favourite – Tutti Frutti in the Dolomites, Italy / All-time favourite – Kashmir-Khyber-Kush in Whistler, BC, Canada
RIDING DESTINATIONS BUCKET LIST: Azores and Madeira, Portugal; Sierra Norte Range, Mexico; Nar Phu Valley, Nepal; Revelstoke, BC, Canada.
CURRENT BIKE: Hardtail: Yeti ARC, Full-Suspension: We Are One Composites Arrival 152
DREAM BIKE: I already own them… I’m pretty contented!
SPONSORS: Trail+, Bike Suite, The Bike Settlement, Reform Saddle, Radical Lights, Granite Design
WHERE’S THE BEST PLACES TO CATCH YOU HANGING OUT AT: I’m really a home-body so most of my free time is spent chilling at home. (Ed: Seems like the best time to bump into Wilson is when we are riding then.)
LET’S TALK ABOUT ENDURO
Hi Wilson, thanks for agreeing to spend time with us for this interview. For the benefit of newer riders, let’s do a brief recap on Singapore Open Enduro (SOE). How did it all started?
I had become enamoured with the concept of an enduro MTB race as a social event as much as it is a competitive event. The event’s first edition was in 2016, and served as a ‘proof-of-concept’ that an enduro could be conducted on Singapore’s local trails. Subsequently, the 2nd and 3rd editions (in 2017 and 2018 respectively) were conducted. I felt there were less barriers to setting up the first one compared to each subsequent one. I can categorically state that those early years were plagued with poor command and control of the course, of volunteers, and also behind-the-scenes sponsorship and operations issues. It led to a lot of PR issues with racers, and damaged a number of relationships on my personal front as well as my work front. I would be lying if I said I didn’t take these incidents hard – and so I needed to take 2019 as a hiatus. Coming back with the intent of holding the race in 2020, of course the Covid pandemic occurred – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Let’s get into the details a little more. Being a multi-stage race covering a wide area, how did you go through the planning and every aspect of the event? Was there a blueprint or master check list that you referred to?
Every aspect is derived from my own expectations of the trails as a rider – balancing what trails I believe I would enjoy if I were riding against the clock versus what I would enjoy simply as untimed segments to chit-chat with my fellow riders on. Of course, the key considerations included balancing what I wanted versus what was permissible according to the various land stakeholders that we have to work in close cooperation with.
Organising SOE requires a huge amount of resources and money. How was the sponsorships canvassing and race entries processes like? How much uncertainty were there? How do you manage the risk?
The sponsorship canvassing process took place early on with approaching my own personal sponsors first. I believe that to still be the go-to procedure with respect to ‘giving face’ to those who have been long-time supporters. I do want to continue to engage other sponsors and potential sponsors because there has to be a clear line drawn between those that sponsor me and those that sponsor SOE ‘the event’, which has much broader potential and appeal as a platform for multiple sponsors (whether they are distributors, retailers, or industry-adjacent supporters) with no product exclusivity or cause for conflict.
Race entry this year was fairly straightforward. The 2023 entry fee had to be set at a particular price-point… it was not a popular decision, not least of all with myself. The delta between fees multiplied by the number of sign-ups translating into sufficient capital was a tenuous one to think about. I think with the possibility of grant funding and also more cash sponsors in 2024 and beyond, the fees can be revised. Ultimately, the price has to reflect what value racers are getting from this event.
We think you have a great team working with you. How would you describe your team in your own words?
The team has to be an assembly of the best folks in their fields – be it administration management, media relations, procedural governance and compliance, safety and risk management, or sporting controls and timing systems. My partner Chervile Ho has been instrumental in getting F&B venues sorted for this event. Charlotte Goh has been a super-star getting sponsors aligned and attuned to the overall objective of getting this event the support it needed. Zhang Tingjun is absolutely amazing to have stepped in to coordinate the medical and safety management plans for the event due to her experience in the field. Lee Yung Ming was appointed at President of the Commissaires Panel by the SCF and proved his experience and competence where sporting control procedures were concerned. The hiring of timing system expertise and hardware from Malaysia-based company NEASA was a decision based on my front-end user experience as an enduro race participant in Malaysia.
What I want to say in summary is: I’m no expert in the various fields this event requires. Depending on people who can lift the event within their areas of expertise and experience is something I will never be able to quantify, or thank them enough for.
For 2024 and beyond, we are looking to expand the number of ‘in-charge’ persons or ICs and the creation of new’ departments’ within our organisational structure. If anything, the reliance on capable volunteers in key roles will increase, not decrease.
How did the mountain biking community-at-large responded to the event? Was it difficult or tedious to handle queries from registrants?
I have learned to not let either praise nor criticism from the ground affect me. The problem, I find, starts when you start drinking your own Kool-Aid (believing in the praise too much) – and hence the converse is true when you start believing the criticism levelled at your own event… and start to feel overly depressed about ‘what ifs’ and ‘what I could have done better’. Differentiating what is constructive versus destructive / inconsequential is important. Baseless criticism is often the result of people thinking selfishly rather than selflessly. Criticism has its place – and should never be ignored; but taking criticism personally is even less ideal, and becomes very distracting when there is work to be done.
The chief concern was explaining to people what the event format entailed, and how the course would be mapped out accordingly. The mapping and navigation data for the course remains the most comprehensive of any MTB event in Singapore. We understand that people receive information via different modes, and so we had to adapt. One thing I am not satisfied with is the lack of a spoken/in-person briefing. For 2024, we will cater more time and space for in-person briefings – and maintain our person-to-person interaction – in order to avoid having to resort to a video briefing.
As we were in constant communication during the planning stage of the event, we were aware just how tight and delicate some of the timelines could be – from volunteers management, racers briefing and orientation, finance planning, ordering and managing of race day collaterals amongst many other stuff and some travelling. How do you keep yourself in focus with so many things happening all at once?
The timeline from the date of approval to the date of the race weekend was only a matter of 3 months. We managed to pull it off only because of some fantastic behind-the-scenes work by volunteers and pooling of resources. There are some things I am just not adept at which I had to push out to other folks to do the heavy lifting for… and step up they did.
The short timeline negated any hope of cash sponsorships or grant money being allocated to this enterprise… an issue we hope to fix in 2024 with a much longer runway and approval-to-event timeline.
SOE 2023 had set a high standard for local events. How would you improve from the current benchmark? What are your plans to keep the race route interesting?
We are looking at 2024 preliminary plans that will see the event condensed into a single-day format – where the Prologue Stage and the Main Race Stages will be contested within the Bukit Timah – Chestnut localities. The new bypass trail for the Stairway to Heaven flooded area is promising in many regards – we think a descent there will yield a good Prologue Stage, if it can be built by the 4th quarter of 2024.
The MTB trail network in Chestnut Nature Park itself can yield many variations of timed stages. We know the limitations and also flow of the race and wish to keep the race challenging yet accessible for first-time participants of the enduro race format.
We are aware that Singapore Open Enduro’s effort goes beyond the race itself. Please share with us the vision/s of SOE and SOE CARES.
SOE CARES kicked off pre-event with the subsidisation of the attendance of a MTB Trail Building Course conducted by NParks’ Center for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE) for 4 community trail builders. This is a small start which we hope will be repeatable for when the next course is run – chiefly because we want to see knowledge passed on through the community so that more people are aware of the standards and best practices that are being taught to NParks’ contractors and which community trail efforts can/should abide by.
SOE as an event is just a one-off, but there are a lot of collateral benefits derived from it. The SOE CARES initiative benefits from the event in that it potentially now possesses lots of sponsored products post-event that can (and should) be passed on to trail building volunteers in the community. These are riders who might never line up at the start line of a race ever, but yet contribute immensely to the continuity of the sport and the quality of publicly-accessible trails. Giveaways, product hand-outs, freebies for trail building day volunteers… these kinds of things make a difference throughout the strata of the MTB community: the racers have enjoyed their race; now it is time for the builders and those taking the non-racing tack to be enticed to be rewarded for their contributions.
How can the local mountain biking community contribute to SOE or SOE CARES?
SOE as a race event is run on the ethos of “by riders, for riders”. I made it very clear to stakeholders that it is going to be very easy for mountain bikers to be accepted as volunteers. People with a vested interest in the sport are more likely to commit and derive a meaningful experience for themselves serving as a volunteer
For SOE CARES, we just want awareness about trail maintenance volunteerism to develop further. And we have been aided on this journey – thanks in no small part to the effort of our event Guest-Of-Honour Mr Sharael Taha.
If the goals of SOE CARES were as simple as “getting this trail or that trail race-ready for the annual SOE event”, then I would be dismayed. True trail advocacy & volunteerism goes beyond that: I would define its ultimate goal as “getting the best trail riding experience possible, for as many people as possible”. SOE CARES is, by necessity, bigger than its parent enduro race event – it is a truly sustained, year-round effort; compared to the short, explosive burst of enthusiasm that defines a single weekend of racing.
Parting question: For the rookie and newbies – What’s your advice on doing well at enduro races?
Enduro racing is about being a complete mountain biker. That means not only being proficient at your skills, conditioned in your fitness, or knowledgeable in your equipment setup and troubleshooting… it also means being sociable, gracious, and able to sustain your enthusiasm and etiquette for a long day out on the trails with your fellow mountain bikers. Without sounding like I’m trying to knock other well-known formats of racing (such as DHI or XCO), enduro feels the richest in terms of opportunities for social interaction and for ‘the spirit of enduro’ (a warm, mushy camaraderie amongst racers – even between the fiercest rivals) to flourish on the trails. It may not be the most spectator-friendly event format, but it is certainly the most racer-friendly, in my opinion.