Batam 6 Bridges Road Trip
by Tan Wei Jie
To many local Singaporeans, a visit to Batam Island of Indonesia would always include lots of shopping and sumptuous dining of the local Indonesian produce. For local cyclists, however, a visit to Batam would be more of an adventure than a holiday itself.
Batam is situated down south of the equator, just a 45 minutes ferry ride away from our HarbourFront Ferry Terminal. It consists of multiple islands that are connected together by series of short bridges. Batam Island is the main island where the most tourist would visit for their holiday. Situated further down south of that are Galang Island and Rempang Island which are connected to Batam Island by a series of bridges. 6 bridges connect the 3 islands together and collectively, they are known by the local as Barelang.
On 15th July 2017, a group of 40 odd riders gathered together on a journey to challenge themselves to ride through the 6 bridges of Barelang. The atmosphere was high as riders wait for their disembarkment at HarbourFront Ferry Terminal. Excitement soon turned into horror as everyone makes their way through the custom and down to the ferry. It was pouring heavily over in Singapore and every bicycle was sitting out on the ferry’s open deck, embracing the full glory of the morning shower. Undeterred by the sight, everyone made their way up the ferry and got themselves comfortable for the journey ahead.
The 45 minutes trip past quickly. Everyone was all excited, busy chatting and psyching themselves up for the ride ahead. To everyone's delight, the weather was on our side over at Batam. We were greeted with cloudy overcast and cooling wind, everything was as everyone has hoped for. Forewarned of our arrival, the Indonesian custom cleared us quickly. Within minutes, everyone was out of the ferry terminal and reunited with their bicycles. With all the cycling gears on and water bottles filled to the brim, everyone gathered for a briefing of the day's itinerary by David Ho, the Head Honcho of WCR. The brief ended with a quick group photo of the day’s participants. The terminal soon echoed with everyone’s clipping in of their pedals, marking the start of the epic ride.
24km was the distance for the ride from the ferry terminal to the very first bridge. The distances may be short, but riding through the busy streets of Batam and navigating through Batam traffic was intimidating for some. Staying together in a large group of riders definitely helped with everyone looking out for each other. Dispatch motorbike marshals were on site to help direct traffic away and guide us through the busy traffic. Road condition was a bit sketchy, but the potholes were nothing too difficult to navigate around. 16km in and we found ourselves requiring to make a right turn at a major junction. The motorbike marshal made quick work of the Batam traffic and cleared a path for everyone to filter out for the right turn. Soon on-coming traffic stopped and the dimly lit traffic light to turn green. Everyone clipped into their pedals and roll through the right turn and that marks the start of the Barelang route.
With just 8km more to the first bridge, the road soon turned to smooth tarmac and traffic was down to the minimal. From there on it was a straight route all the way down to the very southern end of Galang Island and a U-turn back to the 1st bridge. Stronger riders soon began to take the lead of the group as we slowly rode into the first hill. Soon everyone broke into smaller packs and rode with their friends of similar pace. The 8 km journey to the first bridge was no easy stroll through the park. Even with their fresh legs, it still proves to be an uphill task for many. Realizing that similar terrain paved through the whole stretch of Barelang, riders soon start to ease off and slowly pace themselves through the climb.
Not before long, the very first bridge was in sight. The iconic Beralang bridge stood out from the background, standing tall like a giant, overlooking the low lying shop houses that run down the sides of the road. Riders rode through the first bridge with delight, with some snapping selfies of themselves riding through the bridge. With a fast descend down through the 1st bridge, riders were soon greeted with the 2nd and then the 3rd. The first 3 bridged were situated closely together within a distance just 3km. 5 km later comes with the fourth bridge. The 4th bridge marks the start of a grueling 24km of undulating hills that roll through the very spars lands that spread through the whole of Rempang Island.
After about 2 hours and 55km into the ride, riders took a stop on the 5th bridge for a quick top up of their water and nutrition from the support vehicle. Just 24km left to reach the southern end of Galang Island before riders make their return back to the first bridge. The last 24km will prove to be the hardest with series of long flats and the toughest of the climbs nearing the end. With the cloudy overcast, the cooling weather almost went unnoticed to most riders. The weather took a wet turn as we rolled past the last of the 6 bridges. The light drizzle that greeted us before soon began to turn heavy, and before long, we were all drenched. The rain seems to be a much-needed blessing, cooling our already exhausted body.
80km in and 3 hours later, riders finally reach the southern end. Support vehicle was already present with water and nutrition on standby for the rider’s arrival. The few that still have energy left in them, took in whatever they could and soon set off on their return leg to the first bridge. Some of the exhausted few that reached the end threw in the towel and boarded the sweeper bus. With a ferry to catch, time was of the essence. A sweeper bus was present to pick up riders that could not meet required timeline. Due to unforeseen circumstances, many could not make it through all the 6 bridges and reach the southern end. Few have made the decision to u turn early along the way, while some turn to join the last pack of rider heading back to the first bridge. The exhausted few boarded the sweeper bus.
About 4 hours and 20mins later, the first rider crossed the 1st bridge again to reach the end of the ride. A total 135km was covered for the full distances with an elevation gain of more than 1200m. Soon, more riders slowly begin to pour in. The bikes were quickly loaded up onto a lorry which will be ferried to the terminal for loading onto the ferry. Exhausted riders were ferried to a nearby resort for a quick wash up before settling down for a much need lunch. Lunch was served in an air conditioned room with local produces cooked in Indonesian style. There were stir fried prawns, steamed fish, batter fried calamari, deep fried chicken, just to name a few. Also, not forgetting the good deals on the beers help some washed down their food.
Time was 3.30pm, Batam time, everyone one was done and filled by the sumptuous meal. As food coma slowly sets in, everyone made their way to the bus for the journey back to the ferry terminal. The 25km journey took us about 40mins, with the skilled bus driver made quick work of the busy traffic and got us back to the terminal without a hitch. As we brought ourselves down from the bus, we were greeted but the very same flight of stairs that we had gathered that very morning. Everyone sat themselves down comfortably on the stair as we wait patiently for our turn to clear the custom. Jonathan Chua and David, the 2 who helped organize the ride, took the opportunity to conduct a quick debrief for the ride and also gave a big thanks to all the participants for their attendance.
A gentleman walked out from the terminal and gave us the green light. Not before long, everyone was on board the ferry and getting acquainted with their seat for the journey back to Singapore. The 45 minutes went by quickly as everyone was busy reminiscing the events of the morning. With our passport scanned, everyone was soon reunited with their bicycle. After a quick check on the head counts, everyone gave their goodbyes and went off on their long journey back home through the concrete jungle of Singapore.
More of the photos here.
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