Monday, August 30, 2010

the bike as transport

When people find out that I bike they often ask, "mountain or road?" That's because biking here in the Philippines is known to be a sport.  It's highlighted as such right now with the popularity of triathlons.

But biking is not just a sport.  It's also transportation.

I own 4 bikes.  A Trek Allant, a Trek Valencia, a Dahon Jack, and a Japanese bicycle.  And yet I feel out of place when my friends talk about their MTB adventures in Timberland in San Mateo, Rizal, or when I  see the Sokisok Bikers who just came from the trails in Vintar.  That's because none of my bikes are mountain bikes.

I also can't bike alongside  other cyclists in SM MOA, who are training for the Tour of Luzon, well, because none of my bikes are road/racing bikes.

Not for mountains?  And not for roads?  So, what kind of bikes do I have? And where do I use them?

All 4 (2 in Laoag and 2 in Manila) are commuter-type bikes.  And I use all of them as alternative transportation.

You see, back in 2007, when I worked in Laoag, my office was just 500m away from my house.  I felt it was a waste of gas and parking space to use my car.  At the same time, I thought it was too hot and humid to walk.  I didn't want to drive and I didn't want to walk.  My solution was to commute by bike.  I'd get there faster, get some exercise, take up less space, and save on gas (which is quite expensive in the province).

And that's where it started.  I bought a bike and rode it to go to the office.  I later found out that 40% of our trips are just within a 4-5 km radius, and 90% of that time, we drive our cars.  So I told myself, if the place I'm going to was near, I'd use my bike.

I biked to the bakery.  To the drugstore.  To Mcdonalds.  To the coffeshop.  To the barber.  To the mall.  I even biked 11 kms to the Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center just for breakfast. 

Back here in Manila, I try to commute by bike, but it's much, much difficult.  There are more cars, buses, jeepneys, and motorcycles to deal with.  Plus the roads are narrower and have more potholes.  In fact, I've only managed to bike around the metro by joining the monthly critical mass rides of the Firefly Brigade.  Other than that, it's just short trips to Starbucks, the supermarket and the gas station--places not farther than 2 kms.  Beyond that limit, EDSA and South Super Hi-way stand on my way.

Until the other day.

I forgot to claim my drivers license at a sports equipment warehouse (Sonak Trading) in Sucat, Paranaque.  I only realized my license was missing when I got home.  The next day, being the law abiding citizen that I am, I didn't drive (I had no license on my person).  I went back to Sucat using my trusted bicycle.

I never biked West Service Road before so this was my first time.  I kept to the right most part of the road and drove as straight and predictable as possible.  Even then, I got nervous when I'd encounter a truck (and there are a lot of trucks using West Service Road).  Laking takot ko na masagi ako. And then there was the air pollution.  Sobrang mausok.  Feeling ko nagka-lining na ng asbestos yung mga baga ko.  Anyhow, I got to my destination with all my body parts intact.  I claimed my drivers license.  And then I biked back to our village.  17 kms total distance travelled.  Oh yeah, before I got home, I almost got bit by a dog that chased me half a block.

That experience aside, I'd still like to use my bike to commute.  But the roads just have to be safer for cyclists.  Drivers are so reckless in Metro Manila.  Also, there's a problem about bike parking.  Either there's none, or the bike parking area is at the back of the building which makes it susceptible to bike theft.

The only way for our government to listen to our concerns, and to convince motorists to respect bikers, is to go out and bike.  And we show our force through the critical mass rides organized by groups such as the Firefly Brigade.  Hopefully, more people bike.

Because biking is not just a sport.  It's also a form of transportation.

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