In Nookmag’s embrace of individuality and personable uniqueness, it is always inspiring to learn about a regular individual leading a life out-of-the-ordinary. This time, we have the privilege to get acquainted with Gloria, a Singaporean who’s living a rather exceptional fixie-oriented life in Beijing. While it is not very typical to come across someone riding a fixed-gear bike (or loosely known as a fixie), it is rarer to meet a lady who is in a love affair with one. Gloria teaches English in Beijing and is passionately involved in a fixed-gear bike shop called Natooke. I met up with Gloria during my trip to Beijing in Febuary, read on to check out her story…
Nookmag (N): What brings you to Beijing and how’s your stint at Natooke?
Gloria (G): Armed with a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults), my plan was to travel around the world teaching English but I’m somehow going into my third year here. I used to be a multimedia designer and I miss doing that so one day, I proposed to revamp their website. I have since helped them set up and designed the template for their newsletter and also advise customers on their choice of colours so it reflects more of their personality rather than build a replica of another person’s bike. Some people are colour blind.
N: Tell us about Beijing’s charm.
G: Anarchy still gets on my nerves even after being here for two years but it also allows the bending of rules and opens many windows of opportunities. Who doesn’t enjoy being an outlaw once in a while? Growing up and living in HDB flats all my life, I never thought I’d be living in a charming little duplex (with the smallest bathroom) in a hutong. I’ve also forged a few friendships with some very amazing and inspiring people (that were) here.
N: When did you pick up fixed-gear riding and how did it happen?
G: My ex-boyfriend rode a fixie in Phoenix and found Natooke in Beijing. He invited me to the second Fixed Gear Revolution which he participated in. I remember thinking what a cool community-driven event it was and proclaiming that I was going to get a fixed gear bike myself. Attracted by the simplicity and customisability of its design, I bought a bike more than a year ago but I only started riding last summer.
N: Any interesting encounters while you are riding?
G: The locals and foreigners often stop to tell me how beautiful my bike is.
N: What’s your ride?
G: A Natooke lugged steel frame with a Brooks saddle and Nitto dropped bars.
N: What advice would you give for girls who wish to start riding fixies?
G: Ines, the owner of Natooke, is an incredible lady who puts most guys to shame. Get a fixie, join a fixie community and ride as much as you can.
N: Which route would you recommend or is a must-ride in Beijing?
G: I almost never plan when travelling or riding. I just keep going straight on the main roads or weave in and out of hutongs. The excitement comes from discovering hidden gems.
N: What are the essential things to look out for while riding in Beijing? Any special tools/accessories?
G: There have been several cases of stolen bikes and saddles so I got a friend to bring me a Kryptonite U-lock with cable from America and I usually lock my saddle and bike to a permanent fixture. This gets a little tricky because often the lamp posts are too wide so you have to find other structures to lock your bike to. I’ve more or less gotten used to the pollution here but when I go for longer rides or when the index is crazy bad, a good anti-pollution mask like Respro really makes a difference. I’m guilty of not wearing my helmet sometimes to avoid hat hair when going out but after a couple of drinks, it’s really wiser to wear one.
N: Isn’t it exciting riding through those hutongs … …
G: People here seem to have the tendency to walk backwards so I generally go pretty slowly. Deers in headlights are also fairly common. Popular hutongs like Fangjia and Wudaoying aren’t the only ones worth checking out, there’s almost always something that is interesting in a hutong so don’t limit yourself.
N: Where do all the fixie riders hang out?
G: Wudaokou and Wudaoying hutong.
N: Beijing vs Singapore… where do you prefer to ride? Why? What are the differences?
G: I rode a mountain bike back home with a group of GT BMX biker friends and we’d only ride late at night where there was less traffic for an amazing supper. In Beijing, I ride whenever I feel like riding regardless of time or weather. Some of the bicycle lanes here are as wide as the roads in Singapore and I feel safer here because people are more accustomed to sharing the roads with cyclists. I really enjoy what seems like an endless straight road riding along the gridded streets of Beijing, they also help make navigation easier.
N: If you could own any bike in the world, what will it be?
G: I honestly don’t know that much about bikes but I’d like something even lighter.
N: What do you miss most about Singapore?
G: I’ve learnt to appreciate our cultural diversity and miss the creole and multifarious cuisines that come with it.
Photos by SIMCIK
Edited by GRACiE