Monday, 8 December 2014

HolyCrit: Thrills, spills at daredevil bike race

Organised on the sly, high-speed HolyCrit race proves a draw for cycling enthusiasts
By Joyce Lim Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 7 Dec 2014

An illegal street cycling race has sprung up in Singapore, attracting an ardent group of cyclists who pound the roads at high speeds to compete for prizes, cash and above all, street cred.

Named HolyCrit, the race first began last year and the eighth such event was held along a stretch of Tanglin Halt Road on Nov 29.

At about 11.15pm that day, 32 cyclists raced against one another in a frenetic 35-minute, multi-lap sprint around Tanglin Halt Close and a stretch of Tanglin Halt Road.

Race organisers used traffic cones to stop traffic at three entry points to the 1km race circuit. Each point had at least two people who, armed with walkie-talkies and torchlights, prevented vehicles from entering the circuit.

Vehicles were allowed to pass through only after the cyclists rode past that particular point.

The cyclists raced shoulder-to-shoulder, streaking through the course at speeds in excess of 45kmh.

Only single-speed bikes without brakes are allowed in HolyCrit races, which means cyclists are unable to rely on brakes during an emergency.

The narrow, dimly-lit circuit, high speeds and slick road surface from an earlier downpour resulted in several crashes that night - The Sunday Times witnessed two, though observers said there were more.

Out of 32 cyclists, only 15 finished the race, which ended close to midnight. Cyclists who fell behind by one lap of the circuit were automatically eliminated.

About 30 minutes later, two Traffic Police officers arrived at the scene.

A police spokesman said they were alerted to cyclists allegedly racing along Tanglin Halt Road, but added that officers did not detect any signs of a race upon arrival. The cyclists were still milling around and taking photos at the location, but dispersed after being told to do so by the police.

The HolyCrit races are held once a month on average, typically along smaller, less-frequented roads. Past race venues include Stadium Drive, Changi Business Park and a heavy vehicle carpark in Yishun Avenue 7.

When contacted, race organiser Eric Khoo said he decided to organise the criterium - a race held on short courses - for the biking community as "the roads in Singapore are too dangerous for us to cycle".

"We are doing it just for fun," said Mr Khoo, who runs a bicycle business. He did not think permission from the authorities was required as "the roads were not closed".

"We have our own marshals to slow down the vehicles," Mr Khoo added.

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan reckons that permission from the relevant authorities would be required if the cyclists had demarcated a portion of the road - a public space - to stage their own private race.

"If the riders behaved recklessly and knocked down someone, they could be seen as a public nuisance," he said. "More importantly, is the space allowed by law to be used for racing purposes?"

Even so, the majority of participants that the The Sunday Times spoke to were unconcerned by the unlawful aspect of the race.

Said Haikal Johan, 17, who has taken part in five races: "I just come for the race to have fun."

Taiwanese cyclist Andy Ko, 26, who works in retail, said he was surprised to hear of such a race in Singapore and joined in even though one of the race sponsors told him it did not have a permit.

The race has seen its fan base grow in the past year, with almost 1,300 likes for its Facebook page which says it costs $10 to take part, and the fastest cyclist pockets the cash.

Luqman Othman, 16, who took part in the race, said he found out about HolyCrit through Facebook. "It was my first time and it was quite scary, but I wanted to experience the adrenaline," he said.

The youngest cyclist in the race was just 13 years old, while most appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties.

The race location is usually kept secret till just days before the race, before it is disseminated via social media.

With no brakes, slowing down was not an optionand the crashes came fast and furious. "I saw this guy, he got boxed in by two riders and crashed hard, face-first. He came up all bleeding," said Luqman.

Before the race, riders were assured by race co-organiser Zul Awab that marshals would stop traffic. But one rider said a car had turned into Tanglin Halt Road about midway through the race. Marshals stopped it, but the driver got impatient and filtered out into the middle of the road just as a pack of cyclists neared.

Secondary school student Rudy Hartono, 17, said one rider skidded and crashed in front of the car, while the other 10 swerved and passed the car on both sides.

There were other close shaves, such as when a public bus almost collided with the main pack of cyclists.

Riders brushed off questions about safety, saying that it was quite safe if one knew how to control the bike.

"We avoid the newbies, that's why it's important to speed up at the start and break away from them quickly," said eventual race winner Haikal.

There are ways to stop a bike without brakes in an emergency, said the ITE student, who won the top prize of $320 in cash and a branded handlebar. "You unclip your shoe and jam it between the frame and the rear wheel - if you don't have brakes that's how you learn to stop."

Spectrum Worldwide chief executive officer Chris Robb, who organised the mass bike race Cycle Singapore, feels that underground races reflect the huge demand from cyclists who want to race.

It is also a result of the high costs to get the necessary approvals, set up appropriate infrastructure and medical support to run legitimate races, said Mr Robb.

Taiwanese Andrew Pai, who works in the health-care industry here, was a first-time spectator at the race. It left him shocked.

"There were so many lorries and trucks on the route and there were so many times where cyclists almost crashed into them, it was so scary," he said. "There were too many close shaves."

A count by The Sunday Times showed at least five coaches, 11 lorries, 15 cars, four vans, one bulldozer and one steamroller parked along the race circuit.

Organisers of illegal street cycling race arrested
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2014

Two men have been arrested by the Traffic Police for their suspected involvement in promoting and organising illegal racing activities along Tanglin Halt Road last month.

Traffic Police said in a statement on Tuesday that it had responded to a call on Nov 29 at about 11.50pm regarding cyclists racing along Tanglin Halt Road.

Subsequent investigations led them to arrest two men, aged 28 and 39, for their suspected involvement in promoting and organising the illegal racing event under Section 116 of the Road Traffic Act, Chapter 276.

If convicted, the two men would be liable to a mandatory jail term of up to six months and a fine of between $1,000 and $2,000. In the case of a second or subsequent conviction, they could be jailed up to 12 months and fined between $2,000 and $3,000. The vehicles used in the illegal race would also be forfeited.

Said Assistant Commissioner of Police Sam Tee, the Traffic Police commander: "Traffic Police takes a serious view against illegal racing on public roads and will not hesitate to enforce against irresponsible racers who partake in such illegal activities and jeopardise other road users with their stunts."

The Sunday Times first reported on the illegal street cycling race on Sunday. Named HolyCrit, the racing event first began last year and is held once a month on average.

The recent race at Tanglin Halt Road was the eighth time that such event was held and it attracted 32 participants and close to 100 spectators.

Traffic Police said investigations are ongoing to establish the identity of other cyclists who participated in the illegal race.

Bike race organiser says he takes 'full responsibility'
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2014

THE organiser of the illegal cycling race named HolyCrit has said he will "take full responsibility" for any breaches in law.

Avid cyclist and bike shop owner Eric Khoo, 28, and event emcee Zul Awab, 39, were arrested by the Traffic Police on Monday for their suspected involvement in promoting and organising the illegal racing event.

The arrests followed a report on the most recent HolyCrit race, held on Nov 29, in The Sunday Times this past weekend.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Khoo insisted he was the sole organiser for all eight races between September last year and November this year. He also admitted that he had been in the wrong for not obtaining permits for his events.

"Of course it was a mistake, and I will cooperate with the Traffic Police in their investigations," said Mr Khoo, who was bailed out by his father on Monday night.

"I would also like to apologise to all to whom our event has caused distress, and those who have unknowingly broken the law due to their participation."

Mr Khoo said he understood the consequences of his actions - he could face up to six months in jail and be fined if convicted of organising an illegal race - and could only hope the authorities would recognise that his "intentions were not bad". He said he organised the races not to seek thrills or profits, but out of passion for fixed-gear cycling and to build community spirit around it.

HolyCrit participants all rode on fixed-gear bikes without brakes "as a safety precaution to prevent accidents in cases of sudden braking", said Mr Khoo, and he stressed that "safety is the top priority". All competitors had to wear helmets and proper cycling jerseys, as well as outfit their bikes with safety lights, he added.

He and a team of friends also spent at least two weekends scouting out "isolated roads" before each event. They would sit and observe traffic between 8pm and 2am each time, counting the number of vehicles, he said.

Since news of the arrests surfaced, several HolyCrit race participants and spectators have spoken up online to praise the quality and safety of the events.

Mr Khoo noted that "injuries are common in any sport", but said he is proud that his HolyCrit events recorded no major injuries, and no damage to property.

He had not sought permits from the authorities primarily because of "high costs" involved - Mr Khoo estimated that $25,000 to $30,000 would be needed for requirements such as having ambulances on standby. These, he said, were costs he was unwilling to pass on to participants.

But moving forward, he said he will work towards hosting a ninth edition of the race with a permit in hand. "I do want to legalise this, it is just difficult to get the sponsorships because it is still a new sport, but I hope it will happen."

Duo charged with organising illegal bicycle street race
The two men allegedly organised eight editions of the night-time race without police approval and permits
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 19 Nov 2015

Two men were charged in court yesterday with organising and promoting an illegal bicycle race without police approval and permits.

Bike shop owner Eric Khoo Shui Yan, 29, and project manager Zulkifli Awab, 39, allegedly organised eight editions of the night-time race at various locations across the island.

Called HolyCrit, the race was first organised in September 2013. The last edition of the race was held in November last year.

Following that, a report of the frenetic street race, in which cyclists raced at speeds exceeding 45kmh without brakes, appeared in The Sunday Times.

Khoo and Zulkifli were arrested by the police shortly after.

Court documents identified Khoo as the race's main organiser and Zulkifli as the co-organiser.

The duo, who were in court with their friends and family, are being represented by criminal lawyer Shashi Nathan. No plea was taken yesterday and both men are due back in court in December for a pre-trial conference.

They are out on bail of $5,000.

The men each face 16 charges - eight of promoting the competition without police approval, and the remaining eight of conducting the race without a permit.

The prosecution said it would proceed with four charges. The rest would be taken into consideration.

If found guilty of promoting the race, they could be jailed for up to six months and fined between $1,000 and $2,000.

For conducting the race, they could be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to three months, in the case of a first offence. For subsequent offences, the fines and jail time the court can impose are doubled.

The race made the headlines last December after its eighth edition was held along Tanglin Halt Road.

Then, 32 cyclists raced shoulder-to-shoulder in a 35-minute, multi-lap sprint around Tanglin Halt Close and a stretch of Tanglin Halt Road.

Race organisers used traffic cones to stop traffic at three entry points to the 1 km race circuit.

The cyclists raced on fixed-gear bicycles without brakes and numerous crashes were witnessed.

According to court documents, other than Tanglin Halt, the race was also held at locations including Yishun Avenue 7 heavy vehicle carpark, Kallang Leisure Park, Changi Business Park and along Stadium Drive, just outside the Sports Hub.

* Jail and fine for duo behind illegal bicycle races

By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2016

Two men who organised eight editions of a night-time bicycle race without police approval and permits were each jailed for seven days and fined $5,000 yesterday.

Former bike shop owner Eric Khoo Shui Yan, 29, and project manager Zulkifli Awab, 40, had each faced 16 charges. They admitted to four charges - two each of promoting the bicycle race named HolyCrit without written approval and conducting it without a permit along Stadium Drive on Sept 26, 2014, and Tanglin Halt Close on Nov 29 in the same year.

Both had met through their mutual hobby and eventually came up with the idea of organising a series of cycling races for fixed-gear bicycles - bicycles with only one gear and no brakes.

The first race was held in Yishun on Sept 27, 2013.

Each of the races was publicised on Facebook. Race participants would each pay a $10 registration fee to the duo, who would pool the sum to be given to the winner of that day's race.

Zulkifli's lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, said neither profited from the events. In fact, they would even be out of pocket as they would use their own money to buy drinks and refreshments for cyclists.

The duo conducted much of the race operations themselves, from the planning of routes to coming up with basic safety regulations.

As they knew the HolyCrit races would be held on public roads, Khoo had made enquiries with the relevant authorities. But when he received no reply, he went ahead with the cycling races without the requisite permits and permission.

The offences came to light when a concerned member of the public called the police at about 11.50pm on Nov 29, 2014 to report the bicycles racing in Tanglin Halt. He said they had tried to cordon off the area and his car had almost hit them.

In her brief oral grounds, District Judge Carol Ling noted a certain level of disregard for the law displayed in holding the races. Public safety was compromised, she said.

"No matter how noble the intentions may have been in organising these races, I find that the accused persons, in choosing to promote and conduct these races without obtaining the requisite permits, had displayed a lack of consideration for other legitimate road users and placed the safety of participants, spectators and other road users at risk," she said.

A Straits Times article on Dec 9, 2014 described several "close shaves" at the time when the races were held. A bystander was reported as saying "there were so many lorries and trucks... and so many times where cyclists almost crashed into them, it was so scary".

The judge said it was "extremely needful" for organisers to get the requisite permits to hold races of this nature in a country with "high road and vehicular density" to effectively manage public road use, address safety concerns and avert any potential dangers inherent in such races taking place on public roads.

While she agreed with the prosecution that general deterrence must be one of the key objectives in sentencing offences of this nature, she disagreed with the defence that a day's imprisonment for each charge of promoting the HolyCrit would be enough.

Khoo's lawyer Josephus Tan said the intention of the races was really to bond the community to promote cycling as an alternative form of transport.

He said the Singapore Cycling Federation has stepped forward to endorse and support future HolyCrit competitions through providing the necessary sponsorship, logistics and permits.

Mr Nathan had said that going forward, his client and Khoo would continue to run the races with licences.

The maximum penalty for promoting any competition or trial of speed is six months' jail and a $2,000 fine. For conducting an event without a permit, the maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine or three months' jail.

HolyCrit duo on track to revive bike races - legally

They secure venue with help of Singapore Cycling Federation and are seeking sponsors
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2016

Nearly two years after the HolyCrit street cycling race was stopped for breaching the law, its organisers are making progress in their bid to revive the race.

For a start, they have secured a site in Stadium Drive, with help from the Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF). Details of when the event will be held have not been confirmed yet.

The race's organisers, bicyle business owner Eric Khoo Shui Yan, 29, and freelance project manager Zulkifli Awab, 40, told The Straits Times they are determined to bring the night race back - but with the authorities' full backing this time.

The SCF had helped to secure the Stadium Drive site free of charge.

Said SCF honorary secretary Hing Siong Chen: "They did not have enough funding and were driven to the edge. We want to help them as much as possible so they can run the race legally."

Keen to extend its reach to some 500 fixed-gear cyclists here, the SCF will also offer technical advice on safety and circuit planning.

The HolyCrit race, which was in the news in 2014 after its organisers were hauled up by the police for organising the event without the relevant permits, involved the use of fixed-gear bicycles that come without brakes. The race, which debuted in September 2013, was previously held about once a month at venues such as Stadium Drive and Changi Business Park.

On Tuesday, Khoo and Zulkifli were each jailed for seven days and fined $5,000 for organising and promoting the races without police approval and permits. They were arrested shortly after their last race in November 2014 and are currently serving their sentence.

Khoo, also a freelance driver, said he started the race not for profit, but to bring young people together through sports.

"We didn't want them to go astray or hang out with bad company in their free time, so we tried to get them to cycle with us as a hobby," he said, adding that participants pay $10 to enter the race and the winner takes all the money.

Most riders are aged 12 to 14, with the youngest 10, said Mr Zulkifli, who said the group has grown over the years through word of mouth.

Beyond the sport, the cyclists also support each other by sharing their problems and giving advice.

Khoo's bicycle shop at 71, Sultan Gate was once a gathering spot for about 30 teenagers, who dropped by daily after school to fix their bikes, and also to chat, often till dark. Business at the shop is slow these days.

Mr Kavin Louis, 20, an avid cyclist who works as a sales assistant, said: "We all felt at a loss because HolyCrit, the one thing that we looked forward to or trained for, was no longer there."

However, Khoo and Zulkifli admitted they were wrong to go ahead with the race without a permit, after failing to get sponsors to defray the high costs.

District Judge Carol Ling said on Tuesday that there was a certain level of disregard for the law displayed in holding the races, and public safety was compromised.

Zulkifli said that while cyclists were racing at high speeds shoulder to shoulder, they had been briefed on safety thoroughly prior to each race. There were also at least four first-aid helpers and about 20 road marshalls on site, he said.

In any case, the duo are hoping to rope in sponsors to help defray the costs of staging the race again. For instance, to fulfil permit requirements, Khoo said they would need at least $25,000 for things such as hiring marshals and insurance for riders and spectators.

Without sponsors, participants would have to pay at least $50 each, he said. There are between 40 and 50 participants in each race.

Meanwhile, Khoo has also asked his lawyer Josephus Tan, who represented him pro bono, to be HolyCrit's legal adviser.

Zulkifli said: "Moving on is important for us and we want HolyCrit to be an event that people will not forget."

** Night race HolyCrit makes comeback

Duo, penalised for organising event illegally, get permits and approvals for Dec 3 bike race
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2016

When night falls on Saturday, a quiet 320m stretch of road in Kallang will transform into a street circuit for around 70 avid cyclists.

The HolyCrit race has received the green light from the authorities to stage its comeback on Saturday at a location near Stadium Drive, its organiser, Mr Zulkifli Awab, told The Straits Times.

The night race, involving the use of fixed-gear bicycles with one gear and no brakes, was stopped more than two years ago, after its organisers were prosecuted by the police for organising the event illegally.

Now, with the help of the Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF), the race has got the required permits and approvals from the relevant authorities such as the Land Transport Authority and Traffic Police.

Mr Zulkifli, 40, a freelance project manager, said the race marks a "fresh start" for him and his co-organiser, bicycle business owner Eric Khoo Shui Yan, 30.

"We want the fixed-gear community to be alive and kicking, and get more people interested in cycling. Hopefully, this will be the first of many more races to come," he said.

Last month, Mr Zulkifli and Mr Khoo were each jailed for seven days and fined $5,000 for organising and promoting eight editions of the race without permits. They have since served their sentences.

SCF president Jeffrey Goh said: "We feel that fixed-gear cycling is also part of cycling. How it contributes, whether or not there's a medal doesn't matter; it's still cycling and the SCF would like to support them and organise a legal race."

The duo had admitted they were wrong to go ahead with the races, after failing to get sponsors to defray costs. They started the race not for profit but to bring youth together through sports, said Mr Khoo.

Friends Sim Jia Fu and Jason A. Dennis, both 18-year-old students, have been gearing up for their first HolyCrit race by cycling almost every week from Woodlands to Marina Bay. They hope to complete the race as a tribute to one of their friends, who was involved in a bicycle crash in 2014 and later died from his injuries.

Said Mr Sim, who studies at Republic Polytechnic and started fixed-gear cycling about four years ago: "I'm not expecting to win. I just hope to gain more experience and finish the race as a way to remember him."

The race will feature a new category for mountain bikes, which are typically used for off-road cycling.

All participants have to pay $10 to enter the race but, unlike the past, those without an existing SCF insurance have to pay an additional $15.

Over the past few months, Mr Zulkifli and Mr Khoo have managed to rope in about 20 sponsors, more than twice as many as they have had for previous races.

SCF honorary secretary Hing Siong Chen said the federation will help to bear the costs of a standby ambulance and medical crew. To enhance safety, the race route will be lined with water barricades and floodlights, and participants will be guided by about 20 marshals, said Mr Zulkifli. There will also be about six medics. The route, which is normally open to traffic, will be kept a secret to participants for now, as the organisers do not want riders to train there for safety reasons.

"It's been a while since I touched my bike, but I signed up for the race immediately when I heard it was back," said full-time national serviceman Chen Zhencai, 20, who previously participated in seven races.

"It is for the sake of fun and I am looking forward to seeing my old friends. HolyCrit has always been an event that brings us together."

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