Just one of the offerings from design and communication studio, Angelus Novus, Vanguard bikes reflects the shared passion of partners (in business and life) Jacinta Sonja Neoh and Shaun Quah. We take a few minutes to find out more about their custom-bike business and biking in Singapore…
Habitusliving: Can you tell us a bit about Vanguard?
Jacinta: Vanguard specialises in the design of unique one-off bicycles, as well
as in the customisation and restoration of classic rides and collectors’
pieces. We put a lot of ourselves, our beliefs and philosophy into the
design. We incorporate our own experiences, the urban surroundings, and
meld them with the context of the city and its people in the design.
It’s a rather craft-based, hands-on approach to building unique,
personalised bicycles. We work with experienced metallurgists,
industrial sculptors and mechanics.
Each bike is treated as unique kinetic sculpture/architecture with a
distinct character and personality. Each one is serialised and named,
and captures an essence or soul of the city. Often the designs stem from
a feeling, an emotion, or an encounter in the city. Every bike goes
through a rigorous design, fabrication, and assembly process to ensure
the best quality and finest work possible.
We hope by making it simple (and stylish), more people would get on a
bike and ride again. It’s a great way to reconnect with nature, feel the
wind in your hair, as well as discovering and experiencing the city in
How did Vanguard come to be?
Shaun and I started Vanguard as a project in June 2006, as we thought it’d be great to put our passion for bikes and our backgrounds in architecture, art, design, music and philosophy into the creation of our own bicycles as well as revive steel-frame bicycles from the 40s to the 80s.
The faces behind the bikes – Shaun and Jacinta
We didn’t know if there was a market for such bicycles back then, as it was a pretty new thing here in Singapore. We experimented with ideas, materials and the techniques that were available here. The prototypes we made were raw, and a lot simpler in form and technique than the more recent bicycles. Over time, we grew, learnt and evolved.
Do you make to order?
Yes, we do. We specialise in custom-built bicycles that are tailored to the individual’s requirements – his/her preferred riding style and aesthetics. All our bikes are one-offs and unique – we try not to repeat our designs. They’re objects that will evolve and grow together with the rider. (We ship internationally too.)
What is the cycle culture like in Singapore?
There is definitely a growing cycling scene here in Singapore. We notice that there are different ways that cycling is seen in Singapore. While most see cycling as a performance-based sport, there are others who see cycling as a form of commuting, a form of leisure/weekend activity, or a social sport (a growing number of fixie-riders here too).
Where do people ride in Singapore? Is it a bike-friendly city?
Singapore is not known to be a bike-friendly city, but steps are being taken to change that. More park connectors and [traffic-free] cycling tracks are being built around the city right now, which are great for cyclists.
East Coast Park is a popular family destination. On weekends, you’d see heaps of families cycling, roller-blading, picnicking along the beach.
More recently, the stretch along the Singapore River from Robertson Quay through to Marina bay is fast becoming a popular cycling route. A number of cyclists ride around the island, along long stretches of roads further out from the city or across the causeway along the coasts of Malaysia.
Who are your customers?
Anyone who appreciates quality, beauty, nature – we’d say anyone who enjoys life. Our customers come from all walks of life.
They range from designers, artists, bike collectors, enthusiasts, professionals, housewives, retirees, students. Most of the bikes are pretty androgynous and not age-specific, so both male/female, young or old are able to ride them.
Tell us about your favourite bike…
We did a fun bike ‘ZETH Stretched Cruiser’ as part of the Singapore’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2008). It happened as one of those late-night ideas after we watched the movie ‘Dark Knight’, and decided to craft a machine that we’d imagine Batman riding on.
Where to next for Vanguard and AN?
We set up our very first retail space at a really nice spot at Robertson Quay by the Singapore River at the end of 2009. We have a great community and wonderful neighbours here. It’s such a divine space, we’re enjoying our afternoons by the river here.
We designed 4 one-off bikes in collaboration with Underscore magazine, we had an exhibition/launch over 4 locations over the weekend (and just ended yesterday). The 4 bikes will be exhibited at Design Tide, Tokyo along with Underscore magazine this coming weekend.
Our first book “Cardboard Book” was just launched worldwide yesterday. It is also distributed in Europe and the US under Gingko Press. Two other titles will be released at the end of this year, and a couple more next year. It’s all very exciting and we’re looking forward to that too!