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One man's bicycle obsession

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Report and picture by: Ariffin Jamar

From the outside, it is an unremarkable workshop nestled in Sin Ming Industrial Estate. Inside is an Aladdin’s cave for any wheels fanatic. There are various classic cars — including a vintage 1950s Porsche 550 Spyder.

But these four-wheeled beauties are not owner Poon Kng Joo’s “obsession”, as he puts it.

Leading this reporter up a dark metal stairway to the mezzanine, Mr Poon reveals a vast collection of bicycles, all prestige brands and each one meticulously restored.

“I’m not sure how many bikes I have at the moment,” says Mr Poon.

Bikes and frames seemingly fill every available space. It is easy to lose count of how many there are, but it is likely to be a three-figure number.

Mr Poon, 58, affectionately known as Uncle Joo, said his classic car restoration workshop has been in business since 1954 when it was started by his father.

Involved from an early age, he describes himself as being “born into the workshop”.

While the cars provide his income, for the past four years, finding and restoring classic bikes — to give them a “second life” — has been his passion.

He has long had an artistic bent. The youngest of 12 siblings, Mr Poon often collaborated with his older brother Anthony, one of Singapore’s pioneer abstract artists.

But after his brother died in 2006, Mr Poon kept his focus on car restoration.

That was until a photo shoot featuring his classic roadsters in 2009.

Inspired by seeing two men riding decades-old classic commuter bicycles, Mr Poon wanted such a bike for himself.

Thanks to one of his car clients, he was soon in possession of a 1960s Raleigh commuter.

“I took it apart and started painting it,” says Mr Poon as he runs his finger along a bicycle frame.

Bitten by the collecting bug, he has since scoured the island for vintage two-wheeled gems in need of much more than just a polish.

His enjoyment comes from the challenge of returning a dilapidated bike to its former glory. He also admits that the ones in poor condition have another draw: “The worse the condition, the better, as it could be very cheap.”

Asked how many bikes he buys a month, Mr Poon cautiously looks around, possibly to make sure his wife is not within earshot.

“I used to buy a lot,” he whispers.

“Now, I only buy for quality.”

Mr Poon prides himself on making every restoration correct to the bike’s period.

His collection of old-school makes includes some Hetchins, Raleigh, Look, Cinelli and the all-important Legnano.

“You can’t call yourself a true vintage bike collector if you don’t own a Legnano,” he says of the rare Italian brand.

An easy restoration could take a week, though one bike took close to four years to overhaul and he has only just completed the ornate paintwork.

Mr Poon is unwilling to reveal just how much some of his bikes are worth, but a conservative estimate would put a few at thousands of dollars each.

While Mr Poon believes a good paint job is enough to protect against our humid climate, many of the bikes have been given an extra, artistic touch. Some are given hand-painted designs called pinstriping. Some get the “deluxe” treatment.

“I used to do wood inlays on Rolls-Royces, and now I do it to my bikes.”

But he does not plan on keeping his collection to himself. He has been sharing pictures on Facebook and his ultimate plan is to allow members of the public to come and view the bikes.

In emulation of his brother, he also plans to turn some bikes into sculptures.

As Mr Poon says of his family: “We are born artists.”

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