When Balbir Singh retired at the age of 65, he was looking to keep himself occupied and fit. He turned to cycling as a hobby and was training to go on a group expedition to Malaysia in 2014.
All was going well until he felt breathless and giddy during a training session. He got himself checked and found that he had to go for a triple bypass surgery.
He missed that particular expedition to undergo the operation but within a few months he was back on his bicycle participating in another charity expedition called Ride to Serve.
"People jokingly told me after my surgery 'you have new plumbing, you should be better now'. They encouraged me and I didn't let the surgery affect me," said the former Singapore Polytechnic lecturer who is 71 now.
Mr Singh has since participated in all four expeditions organised by the group to Malaysia.
Ride to Serve is a grassroots-led charity movement formed by a group of enthusiastic cyclists to raise funds in support of the Sikh Welfare Council's programmes.
It involves two days of non-competitive endurance cycling.
Next year's Ride to Serve expedition takes place from March 14 to 16 and involves a 270km cycling route from Malacca to Batu Pahat and back to Singapore. Cyclists will ride through Malaysian towns on well-paved trunk roads.
For Mr Singh, who is the oldest rider in the group, age is not a deterrent to cycling long distances.
"Riding gives me the discipline and focus to get some exercise. Riding in a group gives everyone the chance to interact with one another and make new friends; we chit-chat along the way, I don't realise the distance," said Mr Singh who has four granddaughters.
To prepare for the expedition next year, a group of cyclists have started training at East Coast every Saturday. They cycle to Changi Village and back.
"Those who are eager to join us should not feel afraid. We ease a new rider into riding and slowly increase the mileage," said Mr Singh.
"Everyone rides at their own pace - the oldies like me and newcomers ride as one group which is probably the slowest, the fit and fast young ones ride in the fastest group and there is a middle group for those in between."
Ride to Serve has opened registrations for those who are interested to take part in the expedition. It welcomes people of all races and riders must be at least 18 years old. Individuals can volunteer as organisers, cyclists, event marshals, support crew or as fundraisers.
Australian Ian Tymms got to know about Ride to Serve in a chance encounter two years ago. He had just bought a bike and was out for his first ride around the airport and up to Changi Village when he stopped at a prata shop for a meal.
"All the tables were full but there was one large table with only one person sitting so I asked if I could sit at the table," recalled Mr Tymms.
"He was very welcoming but I was immediately embarrassed because I hadn't realised that he was holding the table for a group of Sikh riders who were walking over. They insisted I stay and I have been riding with them since."
He participated in a Ride to Serve expedition early this year.
The 52-year-old teacher at United World College of South East Asia looks forward to the weekly training sessions leading up to the expedition.
Particularly as a foreigner working in Singapore, Mr Tymms said he has enjoyed connecting with Singaporeans and forming friendships across diverse backgrounds. "The Sikh culture is incredibly welcoming and hospitable as I discovered in that first coffee shop encounter," he said.
Now he has also inspired his wife to join him on next year's expedition. "This is a chance to combine great company and exercise while achieving something meaningful within the Singaporean community," said Ms Sharon Tymms.
About the ride
There is more to school than homework and exams. That is why tabla! has this space for students of international schools here to play reporter and photographer. Riders will leave Singapore for Malacca by bus on March 14. They will cycle 100km to Batu Pahat on March 15 and 170km from Batu Pahat to Singapore on March 16. An optional ride from Port Dickson to Malacca on March 14 is being planned. Riders must join training sessions organised by Ride to Serve so that they can be placed in the correct speed-group. Each rider must have his own bicycle and helmet. The joining fee is about $370 which covers transport, accommodation (with breakfast) in Malacca and Batu Pahat, travel insurance and an event jersey. Fees for the optional Port Dickson ride are separate. All volunteers are encouraged to raise at least $500 each. The ride target is $250,000. The money will go to the Sikh Welfare Council projects which extend beyond the Sikh community. Register to volunteer or as a rider at http://bit.ly/RidetoServe2020 or call Luvinderpal Singh at 9004-3954 for more details.