Preparing for the 168km edition of the NTU Bike Rally

NTU Bike Rally is a magnificent round-island ride organised by the great undergrads of NTU Sports Club and I’m happy to have ridden in all ten rides.

This year they offered not the usual 128km but two versions – an 88km ride and a 168km ride. I chose the latter without hesitation but winced later when discussing the choice with Kenneth Pinto, my Zendogs 2.0 riding kaki. We realised the distance had to be taken seriously because it’s a longer ride than we are used to, it’s happening now in just five weeks (Sun 08 Mar 2015) and it will be hot and dry then!

NTU Bike Rally 2015

After a tough semester last Aug – Dec 2014, my cycling fitness is history once again. Last year I used the Brompton and ended up battling cramps for half the distance. I said then, that the pain was an appropriate way to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the NTU Bike Rally!

This year, I have decided against heroics and am opting for an easier ride on my Norco mountain bike complete with slick tyres! And I began preparations with @acroamatic two Sundays ago. Predictably I experienced cramps on my first ride to Changi Village after just 30 km – and fell off my bike after 50km at Fort Road as my leg muscles locked up. Sigh, all the dramatics despite isotonics, salt tablets, good hydration and compression pants. It was bound to happen, though, and I had transport waiting courtesy of Ladybug!

After two more rides that week, I managed 85km without cramps second Sunday ride. And I was pleased with the average speed of 20+km/h during the first 30km (Holland Village to Changi Village).

Admittedly these were all relatively slow rides with journey average speeds below 20km/h. My climbs are weak and while urging myself on, I’m careful not to overstrain my injured knees. The rides were also relatively cool due to cloudy weather, breaking me in gently, thankfully.

Well, it’s ride number five in the morning and I’m hoping to be a little faster, even on the second leg back via Pasir Panjang. It will probably be an 80km+ ride – I will not break the metric century yet, but I am content to tackle that a week or two later. Tally-ho!

My Runkeeper plots of the rides

First 2015 ride to Changi Village for breakfast when I knew I’d have enough by Fort Road.
2015 01 Cycling Activity 53 90 km  RunKeeper

A slow recovery mid-day ride two days after my cramp-filled Sunday along my old, safe route to Serangoon Gardens and back
2015 02 Cycling Activity 30 49 km  RunKeeper

A night ride after an evening tutorial to Kranji Reservoir and back.
2015 03 Cycling Activity 52 24 km  RunKeeper 1

The second Sunday ride was faster and cramp-free, with a bit of touring thrown in!
2015 04 Cycling Activity 86 95 km  RunKeeper

Zendog rides are never full blown training rides. We meet friends for breakfast at Guru’s which is wonderful, chit chatting as we wind down while watching hornbills, parakeets and cockatoos. We take it easy along ECP which has been thronging with all sorts of PCN and beach users this January, which is really nice to see. During all those conversations and sight-seeing, we make observations and learn lots from each other – like how to nuke LINE adverts!

The necessary Avocado milkshake at Marina Bay beckons now that I am reaching that far. We look for otters and their signs there. During the rides, I eyeball the ever changing landscape, examine my field and teaching sites with care, get to know new neighbourhoods, send updates to relevant people and necessary feedback to agencies.

Last Sunday I got to try the Bishan-Kallang Obstacle Course and it lived up to its billing – four bridges and an increasing number of stairs peaking at my old school neighbourhood.

It’s certainly a great way to keep in touch with Singapore and friends.

Some photos from the rides
Early morning rides are sweet – if you can wake up! Here Kenneth increases the pace at Tampines as the sun rises.
2015 01 18 08 15 32 HDR

Prata at Guru’s Banana Leaf Cuisine Pte Ltd, comes with sambal chili, a must have!
2015 01 18 09 03 02

The barge is still in Changi River!
2015 01 18 09 51 51

I am supplied with coconut water to fight off cramps at the ECP pit stop at Area G.
2015 01 18 10 47 41

I love seeing people out on picnics at the beach on a sunny, windy day with ships in the distance and planes overhead.
2015 01 18 09 53 37

Rides can be grim – it always hurts to see loss of green spaces in Singapore, this at Bukit Brown.
2015 01 20 11 48 36

Road widening and other works have turned the Bishan-Marymount junction and the Thomson Road area into a furnace. It is worth examining at midday to realise how precious wayside trees are everywhere. Hopefully more greenery will be planted eventually, but the wide roads have no space in-between lanes for a treeline.
2015 01 20 15 05 19

On evening rides in the west, it’s tense when I get out the PCN into the hustle and bustle of traffic and the many heavy-vehicles. Until the Lim Chu Kang Road area adjacent to the western cemeteries. As I ride though the night, I think of the old villages which used to exist there, primped by remnant makers and sometimes empty buildings. The greenery outside NTU and SCDF along Jalan Bahar area is all ripped up now and is reduced to a miserable single lane in some parts. I would not like to have a truck breathing down my neck there.
2015 01 23 21 14 24

Young un’s Meryl & Gladys discover John Cougar Mellencamp (“Jack and Diane”) playing off Kenneth’s bluetooth speakers.
2015 01 25 11 06 56

Requisite Avocado milkshake at Marina Bay, and catching up with kakis.
2015 01 25 12 12 22 HDR

Looking for otter spraints; Meryl and I suggested a vegetation screen to replace the cut long grass so that otters are encouraged to return to the reservoir bank there. Adrian Loo & his GBB team will look into it.
2015 01 25 11 28 12

Kenneth & Gladys climb one of four overhead bridges along the Bishan-Kallang Obstacle Course. My neighbourhood roads of old are no more and these crossings are a lifeline in an area peppered by highways and fast roads.
2015 01 25 13 13 43

National Aerated Water Co. Ltd. – the building is still here!
2015 01 25 13 06 32

Almost miraculously, the old St. Andrew’s School building is still present, and thankfully it is a heritage building!
2015 01 25 13 15 20

With NUS freshmen exposed to the writing process, LSM1103 Biodiversity can relax a little!

In the Department of Biological Sciences, instructors choked over the quality of essays they were reading in the exam, and introduced a solution – essays assignments! But importantly, reviewed scripts were returned to students to learn from.

I eventually took a step further after taking over LSM1103 in 2007 by removing three essay questions from the exam and distributing those into the semester. Students had 48-hours to pen the first two essay assignments which TAs scrutinised in great detail. We issued TAs a red pen with which to profusely mark up papers with corrections and suggestions.

The TA’s marked papers are scrutinised to ensure every TA is equally intense. You see, subtle suggestions are lost on the average student so we have to be overt with a flourish! And students always say (later) that they were grateful to their strict TAs. And the exercise is not punitive as the assessment weightage is a mere 2.5% per essay.

The bloodied scripts are returned to students during a practical and they are subjected to a general briefing by myself, and a one on one feedback session with their dedicated TA – that scene of TAs reviewing the essays with their individual students in great detail and care is an inspiring sight indeed!

But the stick is not completely abandoned – the third essay is a hefty 10% of their grade and is marked by a single person, to be fair. Each cohort contributed 250-350 essays per semester, and the joy of marking all that is mine in semester 1 and Ngan Kee’s in semester 2! While that takes care of standardisation, the process does still hurt a little and only relieved by the delight of obvious improvement in their writing.

In fact we found that the more severe we were with the first two essays, the greater the improvement in the final essay. Being demanding of the students helps them.

This exercise of three essays is introduced in Lecture 1 as a “Writing Workshop” embedded within the first year module, LSM1103 Biodiversity. It is critical to explain the reasons for the effort on our part, and the suffering we inflict on the cohort with the three 48-hours essays. They understand the need to hone their writing skills and do respond to the coaching.

In 2011, to great joy, the NUS Provost reflected about the writing abilities of our students and our need to respond to it in specific and integrated ways.

We are hoping the introduction of compulsory writing modules will mean relief for our intense efforts with these large classes. With some of the fundamentals addressed, we can review those and focus on scientific writing, synthesis, and the nuances of sources.

With that he’d start in first year, higher-level modules can press their students to acquire advanced skill sets.

We’ll see.

Red Cross First Aid app

An app for every tool kit – Singapore’s Red Cross App
A first aid app is part of preparation as it provides concise directions about handling injuries which are useful even without training. Students are supposed to consult the app for familiarity and I check sometimes during conversations with them.

First Aid by Singapore Red Cross on the App Store on iTunes

Last year (28 Sep 2014), our very own version of the Red Cross’ First Aid app was launched by the Singapore Red Cross (iPhone (and iPad) and Android phone). Customised for Singapore, it is available in all four official languages – which could come in handy for translations.

Learn, Test, Helplines
In the first, “Learn” section, a list of 20 common scenarios provide basic information, concise first aid steps, Q&As which may be illustrated by figures or short videos. A test section provides useful simple tests to recall procedures, but only for five scenarios. The helplines section lists emergency and non-emergency numbers and those of hospitals (with A&Es listed) and polyclinics. All very useful and most welcome!

Wish List
I hope more tests are incorporated as users can recollect possibilities and think about real life incidents with these. Intermediate and advance tests would also be a great help to keep first aiders current. I would love to review those while queuing up in the Science Canteen! And more importantly, have my student practise with these tests. While helpful, the alphabetical list of hospitals and polyclinics should be location aware.

The Red Cross First Aid app was first developed for Britain Red Cross in 2011 by 3 Sided Cube and involved behavioural research company What People Want. It’s success saw versions roll out for the US in 2012 and then through IFRC for 17 other countries by this year.

Which is why the videos may not be local, but it does show how the information is universal!

The best way to be introduced to First Aid is to take a two-day course (or 8 x 3 hours) with the Singapore Red Cross Society, St. John’s Ambulance Association or a slew of other centres which have sprung up to provide accreditation for a variety of workplace roles.

While a one-off course is great for basic awareness, proficiency requires revision of procedures, practise and thinking about emergency scenarios. But that is the role of the first-aider. For everyone else, fundamental awareness can be achieved by downloading and exploring the 20 scenarios.

Of course, use your app in a safe place, and certainly not when crossing roads – prevention is the better scenario above all else!