Thursday, May 11, 2006

Kampong Kids Learning to Cycle

Today, I would like to share with you the technique that many kampongs kids of my generation adopted when learning to ride a bicycle in the 1950’s.

I was inspired to blog about this when I saw this photo of kids cycling in Pulau Ubin when I visited this blog last week last week.
(Pedal Ubin! Saturday, 13 May at Deadpoet's Cave) When I saw the kids with all their safety headgear, I could not help chuckling to myself and comparing it with our rather unsafe technique.

Our technique had a rather obscene sounding name of Chng Kao Kang in Hokkien, which literally meant 'Crawling Through Dog Hole'. At first I thought it meant something vulgar. But when I checked with two of my middle-aged Hokkien colleagues, they assured me that it was simply a term that had been coined to describe the posture adopted by a kid trying to ride an adult bicycle. It resembled that of a (male) dog when it was peeing. It is a bit difficult to describe but I try.

First, picture a boy about the size to those you see in the above photo. And then try to picture him riding an adult bicycle like the one below. No way right? Because the height of the horizontal bar is up to the boy’s chest level. So instead of crossing his right leg over the seat, he has to insert his leg below the horizontal bar. Basically, this is how it is done.

1) Hold the handles as per normal.
2) Position left foot on the left pedal at its lowest position.
3) Push-start the bicycle until cruising speed, like what they do in skate boarding.
4) Lift the right leg and thread it through the triangular opening below the horizontal bar, and start pedaling with the right foot as well.

Thus, the position of the rider is very awkward, and it was quite dangerous. This is especially so when you consider that the bicycles those days were often the bulky and heavy goods delivery type. One of my colleagues told me that he remembers using the right hand to grab the horizontal bar, and steering only with the left hand; as opposed to both hands on the handles. This was probably because his right arm was not long enough to reach the right handle comfortably.

Naturally falls and bruises where quite common. But I suppose those days, our skulls and skins were thicker. Mind you, I am not laughing at today’s parents for being over-protective. After all, I too am a parent. It is indeed wise to adopt the proper safety procedure when introducing our kids to something they are not accustomed to.

Ours was a different world, you could say.


Victor said...

Thanks for the very interesting post, Chun See. I did not see children riding bicycles that way when I was young. However what I saw was that they would push the bicycles so that they would gain enough speed to achieve dynamic equilibrium (much like how young people ride skateboards nowadays). Then they would stand on one side of the bicycle with one foot on the pedal and let the bicycle glide along. When the bicycles slowed down, the action would be repeated to keep the speed up.

I also saw children riding astride the adult bicycles by standing with each foot on one pedal because their feet could not reach the pedals if they sat on the bicycle seats.

Chris Sim said...

Thank goodness I'm not a kid of the 1950s, or I'll never be able to learn to ride a bicycle. I learned to do so only when in sec 1 at the age of 13. But I mastered it within a couple of hours, at East Coast. Man, that was so long ago, but it seems like yesterday....

Anonymous said...

I can certainly relate myself to learning to ride a bicycle this way. During our time, there is no such protective gears or that we are too poor to afford them.
Thank you for bringing back such wonderful memories.....

me said...

uncle lam, i personally dont know how to cycle.. but my bf keeps wanting me to learn.. i learned a lot from ur short article, i might go and try to cycle soon with him.. haha.. hope i dun fall too many times :p

Lionel Tan said...


When I learn how to cycle, I got no protection too. That is don't know how many donkey years ago.

Anonymous said...

Good to have protection not like those dare-devil cyclists of the past. When I was working near Tg Pagar I heard a cyclist fell into a monsoon drain and died.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember too those days of our childhood.

The unwritten yesterdays CODE was:
Step 1: Kids must know how to play marbles
Step 2: Learn to ride your first biclycle by yourself by 7 or 8 years old.
Step 3: Some of us also learn to ride Honda Vespa ie motorcycle. The elder sister's bf courtesy.
Step 4: Learn to skip ropes. Must be able slip into the turning ropes or slip out smoothly.
Step 5: Learn to fish in the 'long kangs' ie the drains.
Step 6: Learn the hop scotch game which in chinese is called the areoplane head game.

Those days were sure FUN....

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog brought back fond memories of the days when I lived in Lim Chu Kang village.

I still remembered learning how to ride an adult bicyle at the age of 5. Amazing isn't it? We ain't rich at all, thus only the adults have bicyles.

I'll be practicising everyday and falling everytime because my legs couldn't reach the ground at all. Thus falling is the only method to get down. And I fell like 1000 times (haha, exaggerating) learning how to turn around the corner. Both my kneecaps will be bleeding after each session but the next day I'll still be on the bicyle.

Those were the days. =) Thanks for sharing.