It was not a typical weekend at Gangsa – although in a couple of ways, it was. Guys in loose MTB jerseys, kitted out with full-face helmets and knee guards, sporting the latest and boingy-iest long-travel downhill bikes? Check. Girls in pretty much the same thing? Err… check. Stairs and wooden banks instead of packed dirt and berms? Check.

I have never seen so many full-suspension downhill rigs and pump track hardtails all in one place!

Urm, so, the last two aren’t quite Gangsa. It is instead, the inaugural Urban Wheels Challenge, an event organised by MediaCorp’s OOH Media.

Touted as Singapore’s first cycling competition set with a challenging course designed to mimic outdoor terrain in an urban setting, the event was part of MediaCorp’s Festival of Wheels weekend, which included the Urban Wheels Challenge @ Stadium Roar, MediaCorp Rotax Max Singapore Open 2015 @ OCBC Arena, Auto Gymkhana Clinic and Competition @ Open Carpark beside Kallang Leisure Park Mall.

A star-studded MediaCorp turnout was promised for participants and spectators, with radio DJs from English, Mandarin and Malay stations gracing the events.

Targeting the cycling community at large, the Urban Challenge race allowed experienced as well as rookie gravity riders to compete against their peers, and allowed first-timers to experience the thrills and adrenaline rush of a world-class urban gravity race, in Singapore’s foremost sports venue: the Singapore Sports Hub.

Challenge Categories

The event was spread over 2 days, with the first day comprising seeding heats, as well as practice runs. Jefferson Chan, the competition liasion for the Challenge, told me that the slowest finishers from the first day would get to go first in the next day’s finals.

The competition was split into seven categories:

  • Junior (Mixed) below 12 years
  • Rookie (Mixed) 12 years & above
  • Youth (Mixed) 12 to 16 years
  • Junior (Mixed) 17 to 21
  • Open (Mixed) 22 to 35
  • Masters (Mixed) 36 years and above
  • Fat Bike (Mixed)

The Open category drew the largest number of participants, with 73 riders qualifying for the final. A total of 204 riders signed up, with 194 riders making it to the second day of the Urban Wheels Challenge.

Course Challenges

The challenge was, well, challenging. Contestants started their run from a raised platform, then powered down a flat for about 200 meters, during which they have to get past a pump track jump and a couple of table tops, then a turn into a three foot jump down two flights of stairs, followed by a table top, berm, another table top and then finally down three flights of steps for the finish.

Most of the riders completed their runs within 60 seconds, with the fastest run ripped in the Open category by Irvin Tan Eng Soon in a race-worthy time of 38.321 seconds.

Thrills and Spills

The event was laced with a fair number of spills as well. Quite a few riders, new to the novelty of downhilling and surprised by the slickness of urban surfaces, overcooked the final four flights of steps, resulting in holdups as medical teams rushed to their aid.

During the Best Trick side event, long-time trials rider Ng Chee Keong took the crown with a backflip when his rival slipped the landing on a can-can. And, semi-finalist Farhan managed to picha both the rear tyre of his own bike and the replacement bike he borrowed, but apart from these, the event was largely without incident.

Fringe Activities

In addition to the races, spectators were also treated to fun and family-friendly fringe activities, such as the best trick side event, a fat-tyre fixing challenge, a best-dressed competitor contest, celebrity meet and greet sessions, cycling safety educational talks by the Singapore Cycling Federation, a mini pump track clinic and the Urban Wheels Village, which featured attractive offers and product demos by the event sponsors.

The mini pump track was open to the public, with professional coaches present to help provide on-the-spot guidance for younger riders. Bikes of all sizes were available for riding the mini pump track, and many availed themselves of the opportunity to test their skills.

Downhill proves popular

The greatest accomplishment the Urban Wheels Challenge achieved might have been to reveal surprisingly deep interest in downhilling, here in the cycling community.

And, apart from the many families who were there to support their racing family members, there was one segment of the downhill cycling community that’s not often seen in the wild, but well represented at the Urban Wheels Challenge – the female competitive rider.

Said Yan Jiehui, 27, “Actually I started riding more cross-country stuff. But it started to get boring, so I wanted to challenge myself in downhill biking.” The civil servant by day says her friends are more into cross country, though there are other female riders who “are better than me but not here today.” She normally rides trails like BT, and with some luck you might also run into the other riders in her category when you go riding – more than half of the Rookies were female.

Why did she take part in Urban Wheels Challenge? Truth be told, there just aren’t that many places in mostly-flatland Singapore to ride a downhill course, let alone competitively.

So the interest in Urban Wheels Challenge was for good reason. All the competitors I spoke to said they would be interested in returning next year, so job well done, MediaCorp OOH Media!

Prizes

The prizes were very attractive, as well. The winners of the Open, Master category won Shimano groupsets, Vertix Velo wireless headsets, and full face helmets, whilst the Junior and Rookie categories won dirt jump bikes, frames, Vertix headsets and Shimano gear. Juniors Under 12 category winners each won a bike; fatbike category winners rode home with fat frames and components; the Best Trick winners won GoPro cameras and Vertix headsets, and racers who achieved the overall top 3 best timings got GoPro cameras of their own.

So, attractive prices as reward for their downhilling skills, check! Best of all, we all got to spend an adrenaline-fueled weekend in the company of fellow downhill-crazy bikers. I mean, I have never seen so many full-suspension downhill rigs and pump track hardtails all in one place! Now, that’s building an affluent community!