For Simon Wong, Vespa sidecars should do more than ferry tourists from one heritage stop to another. He launched Singapore Sidecars tours in 2018, after garnering positive response to a charity fundraiser for people affected by the catastrophic earthquake in Nepal in 2015.
During the circuit breaker in Singapore, Wong also mobilised his fleet and drivers to help deliver meals donated by luxury hotels to hospitals. “Sidecars are excellent for transporting huge volumes of food. The frontline workers were clearly delighted to see the sidecars; they were taking pictures,” he recalls.
Born in the UK to parents who hailed from Hong Kong, Wong was always curious about his Asian roots. He’s been based since 1999 in Singapore and remains fascinated by its unique mix of cultural idiosyncracies and practices. That’s why he now wants to help steer local tourism out of the Covid-19 doldrums.
Describe your first encounter with the Vespa sidecar.
I was taking a walk around my neighbourhood one day and saw two sidecars parked right outside a shophouse. I couldn’t take my eyes off them! One was off-white and the other was brilliant white, but both had tan leather seats and gleaming chrome bits. I went home. The next day I walked past them, experienced the same effect, but headed home. On the third day, I saw them again — and the dude next to them, Johnny Chen, told me he restored them for fun. So I ran home, grabbed my cheque book and rushed back to make a payment! Johnny and I have since used sidecars to do good together.
Your company Triquetra organises vintage Vespa sidecar tours but in September, you’re launching the first Sidecar Cinema in Singapore. How did that come about?
We wanted to make people happy and help local tourism and businesses too. Sidecar Cinema is an outdoor movie screening featuring 20 Gold Class seats in vintage Vespa sidecars. It will take place at different venues like The Barracks Hotel Sentosa, The Yards @ Joo Chiat and Kampong Glam, each with its own programme line-up. For example, we can kickstart the evening with a heritage tour of the vicinity and bring guests back to the venue for dinner and the movie. We can only accommodate 50 people for each event as that’s the approved limit for now.
But the biggie to come is the world’s first vintage sidecars Grand Prix. What can we expect?
It was meant to be part of the festivities accompanying this year’s F1, but since that’s been cancelled, we want the opportunity to create our motorsport event here. Vespas used to be made in Singapore during the 1960s — Vespas with sidecars were used by the police force and the postal office, among others — so they carry part of our heritage. We are working towards end of this year or early next year and hope very hard that a Covid-19 vaccine will be available by then, which will encourage people to travel again.
We want to get others in on this too; we are inviting ambassadors from countries such as France and Italy to participate in the race. We thought it’d be meaningful if the winner donated the prize money to a cause in his or her home country to help others affected by Covid-19. It’d feel like a race against Covid-19!
But just in case social distancing measures are still in place, we are planning the circuit along buildings with huge windows so you get a clear view of the streets. Hotels are great and so are the shophouses in Kampong Glam. Guests can be split up safely yet be able to check out all the action! It will also be livestreamed.
Why are you so adamant about pushing this through even during Covid-19?
Covid-19 has put everyone in a defensive mode, which is exactly why we shouldn’t just sit here and hope nothing else goes wrong. This is not the time to cut back because the pie will get smaller and we’d perish. And since we have nothing to lose, why don’t we take a risk and go for it? This could be the only time we can do this.
Is it difficult to drive a Vespa sidecar?
You’d need a few lessons. You’re trying to balance the vehicle on three wheels — the bike has two while the sidecar has one — so you may experience some shaking and wobbling. A normal bike moves in a straight line but with a sidecar, you could be veering towards the side without realising it. It’s important to stay conscious and learn to adjust. While on an overseas ride, we had one local Vespa enthusiast — with 20 years of experience — who ended up riding into a flight of stairs and leaving a crack in an antique vase! No, I can’t tell you who!
This is part of our series on Grit Before Glitter. For the full story, click here.
The story first appeared in our September 2020 issue of A Magazine.