Riding on Coney Island
CHARLES LEE | 9th Dec 2015 | NEWS
Riding on Coney Island
About two months ago, Coney Island opened its doors to the public, marking another milestone in Singapore’s efforts in conserving nature. In the same way, it opened another chapter for mountain bikers and casual cyclists alike. A rich biodiversity in a rustic setting and with a sizeable land of 50 hectares, Coney Island offers itself as a new cycling avenue to novice and skilled riders. In this feature, we hit the trails in Coney Island to find out the kind of cycling experience that this nature reserve has to offer.
Entering the island
Coney Island is connected to the mainland via the “East Entrance” and the “West Entrance”. The “East Entrance” is located near Pasir Ris Industrial Drive 6 whereas the “West Entrance” is approximately 500 metres from the Punggol Point Park. Most visitors will choose to enter the island via the “West Entrance” because of its proximity to the Punggol Settlement, a food haven that offers a wide selection of restaurants to families and park-goers, and the Punggol Point Park, which is served by Bus Service 84.
We decided on the “West Entrance” route as we had planned to consume our breakfast at the Punggol Settlement. Unfortunately, all the food establishments had yet to open for business and we felt that an establishment of such scale should have included one or two whole-day coffee joints to cater to visitors in the morning. In the midst of finger-pointing one another for failing to research on Punggol Settlement, we spotted a 7-11 convenience store and managed to grab some freshly-made sandwiches to start the day.
With renewed energy and roaring to go, we picked up our bikes and move out towards the “West Entrance”, which is a short breezy ride from the Punggol Settlement. Along the way, we spotted a bicycle rental shop, which has been enjoying strong revenues as a result of the continuous flow of visitors who are hiring bicycles to visit the island. The final stretch of tarmac road before entering the island lies on top of a man-made breakwater structure and it has somewhat became the meeting and resting point for many visitors.
(Breathtaking view from the Punggol Waterway Connector: The breakwater structure that links to Coney Island)
Inside the island
Upon entering Coney Island, visitors could choose to use the concrete pavement or the wide dirt track to explore the place. Grinning to ourselves, we chose the dirt track.
The dirt track, which is intended as the main path that links the two entrances, measures at approximately 2.4 kilometres. Whilst its length pales in comparison to the trails found in other parts of Singapore, cyclists who simply want to experience how it feels like to ride on a dirt track will find the length to be “more than enough”. Those who are keen to start on mountain biking may want to leverage on the main path as the foundational terrain for cross-country cycling.
Mostly made of sand with loose gravel and small rocks, the main path is smooth and wide enough to allow three cyclists to ride alongside one another. As the ground on Coney Island is generally level in nature, novice riders need not have to worry about tackling up- and down-slopes. However, to seasoned riders who crave for more technical sections, the levelled main path is undeniably a disappointed one.
Taking the side roads
There are a number of earth tracks (or side roads) from the main path that will lead hikers and cyclists to the five beaches that are spread across the northern coastline of Coney Island. We were generally pleased with the National Parks Board (NParks) for making efforts to erect directional signboards at the starting point of each earth track. With the signboards as guides, we were able to ascertain where we were and pin-point the area that we are heading towards. As a rule of thumb, one will not be lost in Coney Island as long as he or she stays close to the main path or one of the earth tracks!
(Left picture shows the main path and right picture shows an earth track)
In comparison to the main path, the earth tracks are noticeably narrower. Littered with tree roots and igneous rocks, the conditions of the tracks are more rugged and challenging. With “evidence” of a more technical trail, it was almost impossible to hide the grin on our faces. Excitement and anticipation were amongst the first few thoughts that came to our minds. Unfortunately, that state of ecstasy did not last long – shortly after we increased our pedalling cadence in an attempt to soak up the feeling of mountain biking, we had to slow down considerably to prevent any collision with other cyclists and hikers. In a particular section to Beach C, we had to push our bikes because a female cyclist, who was ahead of us, was learning how to ride a bicycle. Her boyfriend, who was guiding her by holding her hands and the handlebars, stayed oblivious to the “traffic jam” behind them. A few of us were indignant and felt that the couple should have moved to a more appropriate place to learn how to cycle.
For novice cyclists, riding on the earth tracks can be a satisfying one. This is because the tracks, which are considered harsher than the main path, allow the rider to gain starter confidence in mountain biking before he or she decides to move up to the next level. To skilled riders, however, the tracks are too smooth and predictable to pose any challenge to them. Dennis, a 38-year-old enduro rider whom we met on the island, expressed: “It is a little disappointing to know that the trail are limited in terms of its length and level of difficulty. But from a larger perspective, I am still having fun cycling here (in Coney Island). I will probably bring my 7-year-old kid to cycle with me on my next visit.”
The nature side of the island
Whilst many thrill-seekers may be discouraged by the lack of technical trails on Coney Island, we were heartened by the island’s wide variety of flora and fauna. Apart from the 80 species of birds on the island, monkeys, see otters and even a cow have made the island their home. Monitor lizards, snakes, wild-boars and bats are a common sight.
(Monkeys are a common sight, but do be aware that they may turn rowdy if provoked)
For the less adventurous and those who want to capture scenic views from the island’s coastline, we would recommend the use of the concrete pavement network, which is built along the island’s northern coastline. Do be advised that the pavement is narrow and can be crowded with visitors at certain times of the day.
(Concrete pavement is found along the coastline for hikers)
By any measure, hard-core mountain biking is not possible on Coney Island. The trails (i.e. the main path and earth tracks) are smooth and predictable, which may induce boredom in riders who are expecting more from Coney Island. With only one-fifth of the size of Pulau Ubin), the number and length of the trails are limited by the compact area of the island. Given its popularity as an ecologically sustainable park, the trails are constantly shared by hikers and casual cyclists. Thrill seekers who pushed their speed limits may cause injury to other park users.
For the average rider and those who simply want to build their mountain biking muscles, Coney Island will be an ideal environment. The predictable characteristics of the trails will allow the cyclists to improve their riding coordination, which in turn, will increase their confidence in mountain biking. Competitive riders who are recovering from riding-related injuries may want to consider using the island as a training platform to nurse themselves back to competitive states.
It is unanimous that the thrill factor is not an inherent characteristic of the island. Nonetheless, we would still give the park an “A” grade for its rustic environment, facilities, and its ability to get people to get up from their sofas to do something healthy – cycling.
(Beach Area E, one of the five beaches on Coney Island)
How to get there:
From Punggol interchange, take bus 84 to Punggol Point Park/Punggol Settlement. Walk about 500m east along the Punggol Promenade Nature Walk to get to Coney Island West Entrance.
Park opening hours:
7am to 7pm (gate will be closed at 7pm)
Toilets, park signage, seats, benches, boardwalk, bird hides
Level of bike difficulty:
Low to moderate