Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1950s Bicycle Trail: Riding A Rudge For A Rick

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Bicycling In Singapore In The Late 1940s. (Song on the right bar):

I had started cycling as a child when I was in mid-primary, taking my father's straight-handle model Hercules bicycle (above) one morning without his permission. It was hardly used and left in our backyard to rust.  It was an opportunity too good to miss and a yearning too tempting to resist so while my folks were still sleeping I quietly grabbed the bike and sneaked out the back door.

When I came home that afternoon I expected a reprimand for being such a rebel because the family instruction was to take the public bus to school. But he was nice and without fuss allowed me to cycle daily since he thought I was old enough.

Meantime I saved enough for one year to buy a beautiful Rudge from the corner shop near my home after a few months of savings and some money from dad. I had to register the new bicycle and received a circular shaped licence plate  (image for illustration) with a number which had to be displayed on the two-wheeler.

I remember three brands that were familiar those years, the Raleigh, the Rudge, and the Hercules. They all came from England and strong bikes they were, but there were other brands too and just as sturdy. 

The bicycle I owned was much lighter than my dad's, with shiny spokes and a bottle-like battery attachment on the front wheel that could light up the lamp in front of the bike. I was elated and cycled to school every morning much to the envy of my primary school mates. Evenings were spent cleaning the sporty contraption until it shone and glimmered in the sun. Brasso, a polish, was used to clean nearly every part.

Early 1950's

It was a breeze to ride a bicycle in the early 1950s in Singapore because there were few vehicles then. Traffic was light and I remember saying that, "after ten in the evening anyone could sleep on the road and not be run over." It was that quiet.

There were no bus lanes or bicycle lanes, neither pedestrian crossings nor walkways. We were free to pedal anywhere and at any time but had still to be careful since the usual cars, buses, trams (image below), trishaws, hawker carts, and other vehicles ply the roads.  Furthermore, don't fall into the longkang besar (large drains) found at the road periphery. Injuries could be serious!

In the '50s there were *policemen who stopped cyclists to collect tiga puloh sen (30 cents) each, as a 'fine' for not turning on their bicycle-lights in the evening. My two friends and I were caught one evening while we were cycling along Paya Lebar Road on our way home. Stopped by two cops, they shouted, "Lampu, lampu..." (lamp) as they pointed at ours which had not been switched on. Then, "Duit, duit..." (money). 

We didn't argue and paid our dues because these uniformed officers threatened us with jail terms. Thirty cents was nearly all of my school tuck-shop money for the day as my meal consisted of noodles with two fish balls which cost thirty cents, two Hacks sweets were five cents and the other five cents was for a glass of cold drink.

Late 1950's

I recalled cycling all the way to North Bridge Road just to buy a vinyl record.  Sometimes if I had more funds, I would buy an EP (Extended Play).  Once I had wanted so badly to buy a copy of the Ricky Nelson hit Someday (image: EP#4). The series consisted of five of Nelson's EPs.

The bicycle ride took me along the whole of Geylang Road, Kallang Road, Crawford Street, Bugis and finally North Bridge Road.  The ride home took a longer time. I was too tired.  

I still retain the EP today. It could have been a little warped. I mean, riding in the hot sun for so long.
Durian Dave's Soft Film

There were times when I had extra money I would cycle on from the record shop to the lobby of Capitol Cinema and grab a copy of Movie News, a Shaw Brothers' English publication that featured the latest Hollywood and local movie gossips.

I had kept my Rudge bicycle for years but don't know how it had disappeared since. 

I hope some members of Cycling or Bicycle Clubs in Singapore and International Bicycle Clubs in major cities would write in and tell their stories.

(*Officers who behaved in this manner were few and far between.)     
Bicycle Race by Queen Video from znerky. Thank you. Lyrics come as part of the song. 13.6 million viewers on YouTube.

Today: 15 April 2015

I was nearly hit by a bicycle at the bus-stop recently. The cyclist, a burly guy, came from the left. I was not facing him and only saw him when he passed so close to me that the tip of his handle hit my waist. 

It was too close for comfort as he balanced himself, getting in between myself and the bus-benches. He hastened his peddling and went off. No sorry, no stop also!!

All bicycles should have a plate with a licence number. Agreed?

Images: Google.

#4 Album has "Someday."

Bicycle Songs:
1. Bicycle Episode - JM Richards - 1897.
2. The Bicycle Girl - Oddfellow, Meacham -1895. 
3. Bicycle Race - Queen - 1978.
4. Bicycle Tillie - The Swallows - 1953.
5. Les Bicyclette - Engelbert H. - 1968.
6. Bike - Pink Floyd - 1967.
7. Dora Brown - Nelly Bird - 1897.
8. Daisy Bell - Harry Dacre - 1892.
9. Have You A Wheel - Hoffman - 1895.
10. Rockin' Bicycle - Fats Domino - 1961.
11. What A Beautiful Day - Beach Boys - 1979.
12. The Pushbike Song - Mungo Jerry - 1970.
13. Silver Machine - Hawkwind -1972.
and many more...

Cycling In Singapore:
1. The Singapore Cycling Federation  (SCF) is the national federation for cycling recognized by the world body Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and its affiliated Asian Cycling Confederation (ACC). 

2. SCF is the National Sports Association (NSA) recognized by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC). SCF is responsible to SSC for cycling events that promote the sport...ANDY YOUNG
Nothing like a bicycle for a leisurely ride. Today not many will pedal; they scoot, with speed. And bicycles need a number plate. Check those bicycle songs on the list. 'QUEEN' IS IN. Any more to add?


Freda Hanum
 Unforgettable Beautiful & memorial old days.

Michael Lee
Hi Andy, Raleigh was a popular and branded brand. There were very few smaller sized bicycles. Many of us including myself started learning to cycle on full-sized bicycles by cycling in between the triangle hole of the bicycle. I lived in Farrer Park, and there were many lanes to cycle. Cheerio

Hiroshi Deguchi
This reminds me of my childhood days with the old bicycle that widened my own region. It was like discovering a new world.

Andy Young
Thanks, Freda, Michael and Hiroshi for the informative comments about the joys of cycling. Thanks also to 

Stephen Han
Re the “bicycle” song I wish to add “On A Bicycle Built For Two” by Nat King Cole. The three bicycle brands you mentioned were the expensive ones from the UK. My friend had an Italian racing bike which was very light, and the brand name was Lugano. Most of the lightweight bicycles were made in Italy. 

There were lots of bicycle shops in the 50s and 60s and they had older bicycles for rent. The cost was 20cts per hour. Unlike the renting procedure today, the hirer must return the rented bicycle back to the shop then you could retrieve your ic that was deposited back.

Michael Lee
I encountered a serious bicycle accident while being seated at the back seat. My right leg got entangled in the wheel while my friend was riding. The spokes were blended so too was my bloodied leg. Lucky the bone setter managed to straighten it after 3 months.

Jimmy Appudurai-chua
Mine was a Hercules

Andy Young
Thanks, Stephen for your short paper and Jimmy for your one-liner. It's a miracle you are OK today Stephen. We have so much to tell. Our memories just need one trigger to expose most of what we know.


Tracking The Trail, Telling The Tale.  



Good nostalgic story. When did you lose the bicycle?

OLIVER B. said...

Mine was only from seven years back, after retirement. Didn't cycle those years.

JIMMY C. said...

Andy... cycling days during my teen years. Roller skating also. All in Tiong Bahru neighbourhood.



GEORGE YSC said...

Remind us of good old days. I haVe three bikes but hardly cycle now.

PETER CHAN said...

I pretended to be brave. To look after the house when my parents went out for an evening social dinner. Mind you, the estate that I lived in had no street lights in the late 1950's. They only came later.

Finally I got rewarded with a bike. With an additional of two small wheels. For balance. One day my father removed those two small wheels and released me down a slope. The road had loose granite . When I moved I lost my balance and fell. I have scars on my pelvis even until today. It's evidence.

Victor said...

A nice post that brought back memories, Andy. My family had a similar bike to the Hercules. Never rode on it but I remember riding pillion on the centre bar with one of my elder brothers pedaling from one end of Queen Street to the other. Later, when I was about 20, I bought my own chopper - not a knife but I think you know what I mean. I blogged about the chopper here: http://victorkoo.blogspot.sg/2006/03/joo-chiat-past-and-present-1.html?m=1

VICTOR KOO said...

I lived in Haig Road from 1975 till about 1980. As a young man at that time, I used to wander around nearby Joo Chiat area with a chopper.

To the younger readers, a 'chopper' here does not mean a type of kitchen knife. I was not going to participate in any gang fights which were frequent occurrences in Joo Chiat in that era...

A chopper was a small bicycle with its rear tyre slightly bigger than its front one. It was very popular at that time.

Riding my chopper, I discovered many interesting facets of Joo Chiat...


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks to my senior friends and bloggers who responded so positively to my call for more stories about bicycles.

I think we had more fun than the youth of today with our kind of cycling thrills. We didn't have any kind of bicycle gear to bother us when we rode on our shiny steed; no helmets, no special shoes, nor gloves no knee pads. And the bicycle had only three speeds.


Dear Andy,

It’s so much fun reading all your candid journeys and they are always lively and bubbling for readers.

Goodness you’re such a great Teaser, something that I never discovered, although your essay is short.

You know those days when you have a Hercules two-wheeler was considered a big-deal. When we have a wooden cart, in the early fifties, was already a luxury not to mention owning a Hercules in the back yard, I used to call the two-wheeler an ‘iron horse’.

I think it’s very good of you to share, all the vibrant stories of the early 50s to 60s, so that more people will know about the early days’ life in Singapore, that’s what life is all about! Sharing is another form of education. Generations lead generations and hopefully they appreciate them and continue with the things they do, that are beneficial to people in the future!

Have a nice day.

Best Regards

HOE AI LEE said...

BMW only lah - bus, MRT, walk.


Dear Andy,
Sorry I'm not a lady, but I have a dubious, shameful cycling story which I will send very soon.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi guys,

Any stories about your bicycle days? I have 8 so far but none from the ladies. Come on. Some of you are so rich, must have been chauffeur driven?


In response to the above, Mr Thompson will soon tell another tale of his RAF days.

yeo hong rnh said...

You can find my bicycle story in my book "The Little Red Cliff"


Hi Andy,

It is an interesting story though I am surprised that you can still remember those experiences quite clearly. I can only recall my first ride trying in a school compound field to be on safe side, I think it was a Raleigh belongs to my uncle which was considered as one of the better brand then.

Besides, I am sure you are also aware of another kind, the three wheeler type for carrying goods such as charcoal, wood etc etc. I was offered to have a go at it from a neighborhood friend, this I can say is safer because you will never fall having two big front wheel with a holding area and a smaller one at the back.

Anyway it was a good old story, thanks for sharing.


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Rickie for another interesting response. Yes, I remember those three-wheelers; they were quite heavy duty vehicles.

Long term memory is still excellent as it is for most people; but the short term one is pretty bad. I can't seem to remember names of people I have just met nor incidents as early as last week. I think we call them "senior moments"?

chakapchakap said...

"Les Bicyclettes de Belsize" is a 1968 British musical 30 minute short film. It's about a young man cycling around the Hampstead area of London on a Raleigh bike. After crashing into a billboard he falls in love with a fashion model.

The soundtrack to the film is heard throughout since it is devoid of dialogue. The title song of the film, written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, has been a hit for Engelbert Humperdinck (a top ten hit in the UK).

Jimmy Ch'ng from THE DECIBELS said...

Hi Andy,

I also had a Hercules bicycle, albeit a hand-me-down from my brother after he "graduated" to owning a motor-bike. It was my mode of transport to/from school during my secondary school years. After school and during the school holidays, I would get together with a couple of friends and go on short cycling trips to explore various parts of the island. I sure treasure that wonderful, fun & carefree period, growing up.


anonymous said...


As a teenager, Ricky Nelson had 13 EP releases from 1957-59 and these included his Top 10 singles and some older standards.

CYLIN said...

Andy, you might be surprised to know this lady learnt to ride the bike in the mid-50's In fact the whole family of six, yes including my mother practised on the sole two wheeler on a side lane near Paterson Hill. I fell a few times and so did mum - that they say is the only way to master the skill. To further surprise you, when a motor bike (a Ducati???) was acquired, my younger sister and I took up the challenge and rode around the nearby field.

In the early 90's, I had a hand-me-down and together with two other ex-girl guiders we'd go on Sunday early evening bike rides. We were no sports enthusiasts ( initially, a bit wobbly on the vehicle)--just three women keen on some form of physical exercise and enjoying the breeze. Queenstown was our starting point. Destinations -- Boat Quay, Pasir Panjang wholesale market, Bukit Bartok park, Labrador park, Bedok central. Our favourite was the stretch along Pandan canal from Commonwealth West to Boon Lay. We'd stop to observe herons and egrets perched on tree tops as we had some light refreshments.

Those were the days... and all good things have to end. Roads are now busier and drivers less patient. Did you learn the Daisy Bell song about looking sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two and her reply to Michael?


Hi Andy

I am a SIM University student and I am writing a story themed SG50 for a journalism assignment. My story essentially talks about the history of the old Singapore Badminton Hall on Guillemard Road. It also features the Rolling Stone's performance in 1965 which was held there.

I would like to ask you more about your knowledge of the concert. The information that you can share with me will help me to enhance my work.

Please let me know how I can get in touch with you and I hope to hear from you soon.


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Cristal,

You can provide me an email address or better still your mobile number. I shall not publish them but will write or phone you when I receive your details.

I shall try to answer whatever queries you have but only if I am able to provide you the information you asked for.

chakapchakap2 said...

"Bicycle Race" is by the English rock band Queen and released in 1978 written by Queen's front man Freddie Mercury. Released as a double A-side single together with the song "Fat Bottomed Girls", song is a favourite for its video featuring a bicycle race with nude women at Wimbledon. It was banned in several countries.

WILFRED LIM C.H. said...

Regarding the heyday of bicycle riding... all I can add is that I had two bikes. One was a gentleman bike, a Hercules I think, and the other was a BSA racer which I christened as my 'Cisco Kid'. I remember one incident riding hands free from school, down hill and then up to the prata shop at the corner of Upper Serangoon Road and Braddell Road accompanied by Eyamo our Nepalee classmate... hands free!!! A personal achievement...

Another incident was I nearly drowned at Chinese Swimming Club after the ride with my brother Bunny. Thank God he was there to save me! I couldn't tread water when someone crossed my path! I started to sink and he lifted me up from behind. Must have been tired after the long ride. Of course our parents didn't know!

MEMORIES said...

'Les Bicyclette' Revives:
I'm 70 years old, I connect with old memories when I get high, and music, is usually the common denominator. Listening to this song carries me back to earlier days, seems as though times were better, lighter and more rewarding than they seem to be these days, and what is music without memories?

Bicycles, open countryside, the one you love, a wicker basket of cheese and fruit, half eaten pineapple/up/ side down cake from the night before, crumbs in bed, bottle of Meursault. the color of love... in short, heaven on earth.

My dad used to sing this song to me when I was little and we were in his truck. I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH. He died in 2002 but now I'm playing this song, I know he is sitting right next to me. Thank you again

MEMORIES 2 said...

Comments on Daisy Bell:

My mum used to sing this song to me when i was a kid , whenever i hear it i breakdown and cry like a baby ..lol

Oh, Daisy! How I wished to love you, seeing you riding on our bicycle with me all along our fathers' meadow! But it was hopelessly not to become true. My dream was not realized because of sad reasons. I can' tell those reasons now when it is so late. Ah! no more I'm not young at all. But still I love you so much. Please, Daisy, just realize how I loved you when we were so young, and I still see clearly our bicycle running with us on all along that good old meadow in my dream.

Pw said...

Hi Andy, Lovely site!
Can you recommend a few Cantonese songs for my mom's 90th birthday?
Thanks very much.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I have some songs so provide me your email address and I will send them to you. I shall not reveal your address on line.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of my only BMX bicycle, it was a present from my late paternal grandma during my sec school days. I sang while riding on it. I still have it now for more than 20 years. Already slight rusty and modified version, i still love it dearly. The credit goes to my Daddy Chow for maintaining my precious gift. <3 Fr. Yen

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Anon for your BMX story and all the other readers and friends who contributed to this very popular posting. Looks like most of us have bicycle stories to tell. Happy pedalling. Careful of our pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

This article has been rejuvenated today. Aloysius from Kuala Lumpur has made a comment below. Thanks to Larry Lai for introducing another Malaysian friend.


Thank you Andy

The bicycle yes

Almost every household had a bicycle

The name yes famous and Raleigh bike was sold in Robinson?

Or use to advertise in the ST

FACEBOOK said...

Andy Lim
Now bicycles cannot be identified, especially in the dark...

Herry Jusuf
I do not see this type of bicycle anymore. My grandfather had it one in Medan.

Yip Dick
My first bicycle was our family 'grandfather' bicycle. I used it more than all my other family members. Later, I bought a 2nd hand bike from my good ole kampong friend Jalil...which I used to ride all over SG.

FACEBOOK said...

Toh Richard
Yip Dick
Jalani Mohamed
Yen Chow
Simin Lai
Belinda Poh
Andy NG
Herry Jusuf
Tan Soo Khoon


I do not see this type of bicycle anymore. My grandfather had it one in Medan.

DICK YIP said...

My first bicycle was our family 'grandfather' bicycle. I used it more than all my other family members. Later, I bought a 2nd hand bike from my good ole kampong friend Jalil...which I used to ride all over Sg.


Andy, Yes I used to cycle all over this Island. Riding n Racing was Fun, Healthy n will end Somewhere near the beach at Katong Convent Sarabat Stall facing the sea.

Now, with the heavy traffic, I'm frightened Bro!! Maybe I've gone mellow with age but the Days of Cycling n Racing around this island is over.

Thanks Andy 4 the Memories of the Good Times. CHEERS/PEACE.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you all for relating your cycling experience. It was great then.


Hi Andy,
Cycling brings back memories.
As a reckless teenager, I rode bicycles like our jump bikers of today - BMX bicycles didn't exist then.
A kite string jammed my gear and I crashed into a palm tree.
Ended up with a fractured and dislocated left arm.
An arm that I don't think will ever recover fully.