As a short getaway destination, Batam usually caters for golfers or those interested in the particular brand of nightlife the island is famous for, but it's also becoming increasingly popular among Singapore's cyclists as a place for a great day out in the saddle.
While not boasting the plethora of resorts that nearby Bintan has, meaning overnight stays might not be such an attractive option, Batam's Six Bridges route, a.k.a. the Barelang Highway, provides a perfect course for a day trip. For most people, it's also logistically easier to get to Batam than to Bintan.
For a start, ferries leave from slap bang in town at HarbourFront Centre, rather than way out east at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, and instead of just five sailings a day from one operator, a number of companies service the Singapore-Batam routes and so the timings are almost endless. The crossing to Batam is slightly shorter too. When reserving ferry tickets, it’s best to phone the booking office and let them know you're bringing a bike as bike slots are limited and vary in number from one operator to another. A open, return ticket to Batam starts at $45.
If you have a big enough group going over, one option is to charter a ferry. Sporting events company Cycosports did this in May, renting not one but two boats for the day to transport some 200 riders over for the Batam Six Bridges Race, a successful event which catered to cyclists of all abilities, not just hard-core racers.
Road to Nowhere
While there are four entry ports to Batam, the most convenient are Sekupang and Batam Centre. From either of those, the first 15km of road is quite busy with traffic, so it's best to ride with extra caution, but once you hit the Barelang Highway, it's cycling heaven. Ahead lies 57km of road connecting Batam's archipelago of islands over gloriously rolling terrain.
In reality, it's a road to nowhere, but that's what makes it perfect for cycling: a distinct lack of traffic makes it relaxing and the surface is mostly smooth and pothole free.
As you enter the "highway", a veritable village of hawkers line the road selling cold drinks, an orchard of fruit selections, fried and dried snacks and a multitude of knick knacks.
Consider refilling your drink bottles along this vibrant and colourful stretch. While there are a few roadside warungs (food stalls) along the route, they might be closed for an impromptu siesta session just when you need a Coke, 100 Plus or plain old cold water.
Six of the Best
The ride is known as the Six Bridges because, you've guessed it, you cross six bridges. Due to the out-and-back nature of the course, 12 crossings are actually involved. Bridges can be leg-sapping tough nuts to crack for cyclists, but even the steepest of the Six Bridges is easily negotiable for anybody with a decent level of cycling fitness ... which you'll need if you're considering this adventure. Even if you take your time, you'll cover 150km; and it's fairly hilly and usually extremely hot in Batam.
The first span you'll cross is the Barelang Bridge itself, a mightily impressive suspension bridge whose main span can be spotted well before you hit its slopes. It's a tourist attraction and so more food and drink options are readily available before, on and after it. It's worth stopping at the apex of the bridge as the views are truly spectacular.
Bridges two, three and four are tiddlers in comparison, and you'll have crossed them all within an 8km stretch of road. The 24km between bridges four and five cuts through a landscape that ranges from green farms and forests to barren, rocky escarpments.
The deep blue sea is never far from sight, though, and the rolling hills never really stop. Another 8km brings the road over the last of the bridges and towards the U-turn point. This last 15km-long segment hugs the coast as it twists and rolls southwards, the ocean gloriously stretched out ahead.
End of the World
And then the road ends simply ends. If you're willing to negotiate a small off-road section over dirt, red gravel and grass, you'll find a simple restaurant on stilts selling seafood and rice dishes. We've been there twice and while no menu seems to exist, the food has done just the trick to refuel. And the setting is stunning. To be so totally isolated so close to Singapore is a truly rewarding experience.
There's no chance of getting lost on the way back so just get on with it and hope the prevailing winds are with you for the 75km back to port. Ride it hard or take your time, the choice is yours. But a word of warning.
After spending a few hours in splendid isolation, exiting the Barelang Highway and back into the hustle and bustle of Batam's industrial heartland can be a bit disconcerting. So take your time, expect the unexpected from your fellow road users (especially the public transport minibuses which seem to stop anywhere and everywhere) and make sure you get back to the ferry port in one piece.
Alan Grant is an exiled Scotsman who, apart from a four-year stint in the USA, has spend the last 20 years living and working in Asia. Among his employers have been the South China Morning Post, the Straits Times, Discovery Channel Magazine and Time Out Singapore. Addicted to cycling, he spends too much time in the saddle and the rest of it writing about anything related to the pedal-powered lifestyle.