The long straight stretch from the ferry terminal offers stunning lakeside views. All Photos: Alan Grant
Cycling has been exploding in Singapore over the past few years but the proliferation of its popularity seems barely to be keeping pace with the rampant infrastructure growth across our jam-packed island. The result: cyclists are running out of places to ride their bikes in relative peace and quiet.
Sure, there are still some great places to ride here, but increasingly local cyclists are hopping on their bikes and heading to Malaysia and Indonesia for day or weekend trips.
Also see: Cycle Singapore
Bintan offers one of the best and most convenient one-day experiences, but its sister island Batam is another great option, as are trips to Kulai and Desaru in Malaysia.
Further afield, weekend trips to Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand or to some of the iconic hills of the Malaysian highlands –Cameron Highlands, Fraser’s Hill, Genting Highlands, etc – are catching on too.
The giant garuda at the Bintan Resorts ferry terminal has become a traditional photo-op for visiting cyclists.
Bintan is easily accessible from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, with Bintan Resorts Ferries (www.brf.com.sg) offering five daily sailings midweek, with more on weekends. Round-fare tickets start at $56 and the journey takes only 50 minutes. No need to worry about your bike, as the staff at both terminals and on the boats themselves are very experienced at handling the precious cargoes, carbon or otherwise. A $10 bike-handling fee is charged each way and if you’re going at the weekend it might be best to book a “bike slot” in advance as the ferries can only take so many bikes per trip. We’re talking a 50+ capacity, though, so unless you’re unlucky enough to pick one of the weekends when the Bintan Triathlon, Tour de Bintan or other popular races is taking place, then it shouldn’t be a problem.
Bintan Resorts loop
After arriving in Indonesia, the fun begins immediately as you can ride straight out of the Bintan Resorts Ferry terminal. There are a number of riding options and something for everybody, no matter your level of fitness. The roads connecting the hotels of the special Bintan Resorts zone are a joy to ride on; wide, well surfaced and very, very quiet. If you stay within the resorts zone, the traffic you’ll encounter is mostly the buses or vans transferring tourists to and from the hotels, with the drivers always giving a wide berth as they speed by, often with a friendly toot. Like many of the other regional cycling destinations, the drivers of Bintan don’t appear to have that hatred of cyclists instilled yet (hopefully they never will), and more often than not, waves and shouts of “hello” will come from the passing buses, motorcyclists and pick-up trucks wherever you are on the island.
While Bintan isn’t flat, it doesn’t have any big hills either –the terrain can best be described as rolling. Which means you might have to put in a little extra effort going up the slopes but then you get to freewheel or spin easily on the way down and build up some momentum for the next roller.
If you do opt to stay within the resorts zone, there is a nice loop which takes you from the ferry terminal, to the furthest away resort, Bintan Lagoon, before turning round and heading back to the terminal. But don’t just follow the road straight back to terminal. Take some of the side roads that lead to the other resorts or small villages and you can stretch your route to 40-50km. This itinerary is suitable for any level of rider and can be undertaken on any bike in good working order. The following link shows a version of this basic loop.
Lush greenery is all around and on the trip out to the eastern end of the resorts zone you’ll ride by a picturesque lake. And of course Bintan, has spectacular ocean views, either sneaking through clearings in the trees or right down at the golden beaches.
What better place for a mid- or post-ride cold drink than the beach bar at Nirwana Gardens.
These roads are perfect for leisurely weekend rides but are equally ideal for fast-paced race practice, and many of Singapore’s racing teams visit Bintan’s quiet and mostly traffic-light-free roads frequently.
It seems to be hotter and sunnier in Bintan. Maybe that’s an illusion but it’s best to be hydrated just in case. Either bring your own liquids with you from Singapore or stock up at one of the kiosks within the terminal building.
The Bintan Resorts hotels are accustomed to cyclists and so stopping in at one of them for a drink or meal is no problem, even in your sweaty cycling gear. Nirwana Gardens, the host for most of the popular events held in Bintan, is especially cycling-friendly.
Riding on deserted seaside roads of Bintan makes a change from the hustle and bustle of Singapore’s streets.
For the more adventurous, leaving the resorts zone takes you onto slightly busier roads but the rewards are worthwhile. There are two well-travelled loops, both accessible from “Checkpoint Charlie”, a security gate that marks the crossing from the somewhat manicured Bintan Resorts area and into the “real” Bintan. The checkpoint is a 12km trip from the ferry terminal, with a relatively challenging series of rollers in the middle. Turn left at the checkpoint and the road heads to the eastern and southern extremes of the island. Take the “red road”, an undulating and winding section, to end up on the east coast. This point is about 50km from the ferry, so this could be the turnaround point for some, providing a 100km round trip. Or continue down the coast through a series of villages en route to the bigger towns of Kawai and Kijang, then head back through the centre of the island to the resorts zone. This option is for the hardcore riders as there won’t be much left out of 200km after completing this ride.
A stunning but shorter option is the northwestern loop, which is accessed by going straight after Checkpoint Charlie. A narrow road cuts through more of the red clay and green forested landscape that dominates much of Bintan, before leading onto a long, quite flat and very quiet section of dual carriageway, that runs parallel to, if not quite on the coast. After passing through the town of Tanjung Uban, however, the route does meet the sea and follows the coast for the next 10km or so, before cutting back inland and towards Checkpoint Charlie from a different direction. The total distance from the ferry terminal and back is about 76km. Here’s a link to the northwestern loop, which is suitable for those with some endurance experience:
Be like the pros, bring a support car
It is of course possible to get lost in an unfamiliar environment so one popular option for Bintan day trips is to hire a support vehicle. For $60 to $120, depending on the size of car and length of trip, Indorent Car Rentals (Tel: +62 770 691931, [email protected]) inside the ferry terminal will supply a car to stock water and spare parts. The driver sits behind the group while you ride and, being a local, makes sure you won’t get lost.
Bintan’s extensive and well-maintained network of roads seems to have escaped even Google Maps’ clutches for now but local paper maps are available at the ferry terminal or any of the hotel concierge desks. Alternatively Bintan Resorts have an interactive map online (www.bintan-resorts.com/travel/location-map).
Whether you’re catching the ferry back to Singapore after a great day’s riding; staying the night at one of the hotels ready for another day in the saddle; or simply just to relax on the beach, Bintan really is a worthwhile cycling destination to consider.
Alan Grant is a freelance editor/writer based in Singapore and his biggest passions in life are eating and cycling. His longest ride to date was this June's Trans Malaysia Express where he and 14 friends covered 800km from the Thai-Malaysia border to Singapore in just 43 hours. He has placed his journalistic hat down at such legendary Singaporean spots such as The Straits Times and I-S Magazine as well as TimeOut Singapore, Discovery Channel Magazine and Spin Magazine.