Bikers Can Do More To Clean Up Pulau Ubin Trails, Singapore

Robin greens Ubin and so can you.

Singapore, 15 May 2009. I have been riding mountain bikes on Pulau Ubin since I moved to Singapore from Australia in 2002. It’s an easy place to get to. Rock up at the bumboat wharf at Changi, pay the wrinkled man $4 and there you are – back 20 years into kampung living. It’s a rustic place, even though it’s only about 10 minutes away from Singapore.

The first few times I went with a friend called Rowan. We used to hire bikes. We would ride the roads past old two-storey wooden houses; wild chickens, grunting pigs and all. We even dropped in at the old Thai Buddhist temple, where the monks would sit and watch TV as wild dogs grubbed in the dirt outside.

As time went by, I started taking my own bike; venturing further. OK, I admit it, I even took a forbidden dip in one of those delightfully cool quarries where fish would nibble at your feet as you swam. As I got to know the place I rode more demanding tracks, went to more places. And so did more and more mountain bikers. Then the National Parks decided to go the whole hog and design a proper off-road trail, just for bikers.

I first went to try the new trail out a week or so after it had opened, and I didn’t expect too much – but I was blown away by the quality and potential. It was (and is) a brilliant place to ride. Lots of demanding riding, plenty of wildlife to look at (wild boar, iguana, birds galore and more than a few snakes) and views that are quite astonishing in their variety. And a variety of graded tracks to suit all kinds of riders. I was hooked.

Justine can do with some help with fallen trees.

But after a few months it started to get a bit mucky. Empty drink bottles, discarded plastic bags, screwed up drink cans and Styrofoam containers thrown by the side of the trail. Not a lot, but enough to make me stop every now and again to pick a couple up and take them back to the main village and a bin.

So when I got an email from Justin Tan, National Parks bike trail administrator, asking for volunteers to help keep the trail clear, I signed up. A few weeks later Justin, myself, Slacker, Fiona and Robin turned up keen to do our bit. We were the first team out and I must admit I was a bit disappointed by the number of volunteers – there must be hundreds of riders on Pulau Ubin every week so just five of us wasn’t a fantastic showing.

We cleaned up rubbish, marked where the trail was eroded, or needed maintenance, or where trees were blocking the track, and made a plan to come back later to fix things up.

At one point, a tree had fallen blocking the trail so we used Robin’s folding saw to cut a way through. A bunch of other mountain bikers came by, stopped and complained about not being able to ride the trail unhindered. They muttered something about the National Parks not doing their job properly.

“We are the National Parks,” I said. “And if you wanted to, you could do your bit too instead of just using the facilities and complaining.” They rode off on their expensive bikes, declining to help.

A walk in the wild in Singapore.

So if you do get to Pulau Ubin, don’t be like them. Do everybody a favour. Clear the track if it needs it. Pick up rubbish. Move branches. Fill up eroded gullies. Make it good for other riders, and enjoy the brilliant trails.

Even better, drop Justin a mail and volunteer for the next clean up.

I might see you there.

Photography by Jeremy Torr.

Thinking of helping out with nature trails? Write to Justin Tan at

Visit National Parks Board of Singapore for information on nature in an island city (yes there are even woods!), nature-based activities, biodiversity, conservation efforts and more.