By Kimberly Ng
Despite being set up more than 12 years ago and having some 80 members in its Whatsapp chat group, NTU’s motorcycling club, the Riders Club, only has about 10 to 15 members actively involved in its activities.
Similarly, the NTU Wakeboarding Club, which was established in 2001, only has one first-year member. The rest are second to final-year students who are about to graduate or go on exchange and internships.
These clubs are long past their infancy, but they still face difficulties in recruiting new members due to misconceptions about the sports and the high costs needed to take part in them.
Off the beaten track
A note scribbled on the back of a bingsu café receipt, left on his parked motorcycle at Hall of Residence 5. That was how second-year School of Humanities student Xavier Chua, 23, first heard about the NTU Riders Club late last year.
The note was left by one of the vice-presidents of the club, Jeremy Lian, who also stays in Hall 5. He had noticed Chua and his bike around hall, and decided to try his luck in recruiting him.
“They left me a link to the club’s massive group chat asking me to join it in the note, but I have yet to go for any of their meetups or events this year because I couldn’t make it,” said Chua. If not for the note, he would not have known about the existence of the club at all, he added.
The Riders Club, which caters to both experienced and aspiring motorcyclists, was established in 2005 and was the first motorcycling club to be set up in a local university.
The club does not hold formal training sessions, since not all their members have their own motorcycles. However, the chance for members to interact comes up during annual events organised by the club such as charity washes and bikers’ challenges, the latter being a series of The Amazing Race style activities that are open to the public.
The members also get their chance to go riding together during weekly petrol and supper runs to Malaysia on Thursday nights. Petrol in Malaysia costs about $30 on average, a third of the price in Singapore.
“These regular short trips allow us to destress after a week of school and build camaraderie as we look out for one another on the road,” said Riders Club president Koh Ji Sheng.
However, riding can be a costly activity. Apart from spending money on petrol, members with their own motorcycles have to spend a significant amount of money on monthly maintenance.
According to 23-year-old Koh, the average cost of maintaining a starter bike ranges from $200 to $300 a month, while larger bikes can cost up to $400 to maintain. Those who ride cross-country regularly can spend up to $700 a month, because the long distances wear the bike out more.
One of the biggest obstacles in attracting new and active members is the misconception that the club is a “biker gang”, said co-vice president Lian, a second-year School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences student.
“Many student riders in my hall (Hall 5) are afraid to participate in our events because they think we are a gang that likes to ride fast, but we actually promote safe riding,” said the 22-year-old, who added that throughout his two years of being in the club, none of the members have been involved in major accidents while on the road.
To promote safe riding, the club organises a yearly bike fest, where the traffic police and the Bukit Batok Driving Centre are invited to hold road safety talks for members of the club and the general public.
Another common misconception that students have is that the club requires members to have a motorcycle license. But the club also accepts students who have had no prior experience in motorcycling. These students participate in the riding trips as pillion riders.
“I was very nervous when I first joined the club and went for the orientation ride without a license, because I expected everyone in the club to have experience with riding, but I was proven wrong,” said 24-year-old Chia Shi Yang, who started off as a pillion rider and is now an active member of the club.
Chia, who has since received his riding license, said that riding is not difficult. But it is not suitable for everyone — riders are more exposed to their surroundings and thus are not as well-protected on the road, as motorcycles have relatively fewer safety features than cars.
Despite the risks, the final-year School of Civil and Environmental Engineering student, who also has a driver’s license, prefers riding to driving.
“The feeling of riding and driving is very different,” said Chia.
“When you ride, you can really immerse yourself in your surroundings and see and feel a lot more, because you are closer to your surroundings and can actually feel the elements around you, like the wind and the rain.”
Taking the plunge
Kenneth Teo has tried his hand at surfing, flowriding, wakeboarding and many more water sports. Of all these, he enjoys wakeboarding the most.
The second-year school of Electrical and Electronic Engineering student joined the NTU Wakeboarding Club last semester, and is currently the club’s treasurer.
“I fell in love with surfing and water sports ever since my family took me to Melbourne to try out surfing when I was young,” said Teo, 27.
Unlike most other sports clubs in NTU, the Wakeboarding Club does not hold regular training sessions, as most of the members wakeboard recreationally. Training sessions are organised whenever members want to wakeboard together as a group.
“While many other sports clubs in school require a high level of commitment in terms of attending trainings regularly, wakeboarding is relatively free and easy,” said Leima Chua, 24, president of the Wakeboarding Club.
The third-year School of Civil and Environmental Engineering added that prior experience is not required to join the club.
Despite the flexible schedule, the main factor that discourages students from joining the club is the cost of each session.
Members have to pay $45 for each training session at Punggol Marina Country Club’s wakeboarding facility Edge Wakeboarding. Each session lasts 20 to 30 minutes.
The fee covers basic wakeboarding gear and access to the club, and is already the cheapest available in Singapore. For example, a session with Wake Time, another wakeboarding centre at the Marina Country Club, costs $130 an hour.
Due to the high cost of the sessions and the long travelling time from NTU to the country club, the wakeboarding club currently only has five members who train regularly, with a handful who have attended only a couple of sessions.
But even with the small number of regular members, Chua said that the club tries to compete in the Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic Games (IVP) every year, and trains at least twice a week in the months leading up to the competition.
In the previous semester, the club managed to clinch the second and sixth placing out of over 50 competitors across six teams in the male category.
In that season alone, the club spent close to $7000 to train and purchase new gear.
Despite the high level of financial commitment required, the few members of the club who train competitively said that their passion for wakeboarding makes it worth every dollar that they have invested.
One of these members is third-year Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information student Lucas Kang, 24, who picked up wakeboarding before entering university.
“Yes, the sport is very costly, but nothing beats being out at sea and being able to do what you love on a hot, sunny day, especially when you see yourself getting better at the sport,” he said.