Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Published by Bulatlat

Biking became necessary during the first month of the pandemic lockdown in 2020 when the government prohibited even jeepneys and tricycles from being out in the streets. It became a lifesaver for frontliners and convenient option for those who needed a faster and safe way to move around the city to access essential services.

In my case, walking would have been fine but the scorching summer heat made it unbearable. I needed to finish my errands quickly in the morning which would require several stops in stores, offices, and banks in nearby barangays. Biking solved the problem plus it allowed me to evade random inspections from overzealous tanods and police in their camouflage uniforms. Later, I realized that pedaling my way around the city was inspired too by a desire to renew my enthusiasm for biking which I last felt during my teenage years in the mid 1990s.

I got a pre-loved folding bike because I was intrigued by the design and amazed by its simplicity and functionality. It saved storage space and can be loaded in taxis and trains. It is convenient for bimodal transport especially during the rainy season. Parking in most malls is free and the added advantage of a foldie is that it can be strolled inside buildings and malls.

Biking boosts the health and a money saver even if you constantly yearn to buy upgrades. It proved to be a wise investment which yielded multiple returns in terms of greater awareness about your body, a more focused mind, enhanced productivity, and a small sense of satisfaction that you are doing something to save the planet one pedal at a time.

As a resident of Metro Manila who seldom visit the provinces, I deem it more rational to bike instead of owning a car amid nonstop increases in oil and gas prices. Biking is a relief instead of enduring the daily “carmageddon”. Car maintenance is expensive while real estate landlords and LGUs have devised ingenious ways of collecting parking fees.

The pandemic lockdown has made the benefits of biking more apparent. The boom in bike sales was accompanied by the expansion of bike lanes and the gradual rollout of infrastructure catered to the growing number of bike riders. This was remarkable considering the insanity and terror induced by Rodrigo Duterte’s militarized lockdown policy.

The fun of biking is undercut by the constant reminder that our roads are unsafe. Major thoroughfares may have bike lanes but this is wishful thinking in most secondary roads. Bike lanes are merely a slim extension of existing roads where potholes, manholes, and even open drainages are often located. It is used too as an emergency lane and frequently “patronized” by motorcycle riders.

As a folding biker, bimodal commute is practical. However, this requires extra patience given the chaotic state of the urban transport system. It is not enough to memorize a route or train station network since it’s more crucial of having an updated mental map of functioning escalators, elevators, and well-maintained parking facilities.

Local and national urban planners will certainly take notice of the growing community of bikers and may this hopefully translate into better services and the building of bike-friendly hubs.

As bikers become more visible on the road, car drivers and even pedestrians are slowly acknowledging that it is not reckless for a two-wheeled vehicle to use the same space dominated by four-wheeled vehicles. Changing mindsets will take time but this can be hastened by the collective assertion of the biking community. This power is seen in the public shaming of irresponsible and arrogant car owners, and can be directed as well to engage authorities and big business owners in drafting policies, blueprints, and long-term investments intended to incentivize bike transport.

There are bike-specific issues that succeeded in rallying the support of riders. And there are broader advocacies that saw bikers lend their voice (and legs) in solidarity with cause-oriented groups. The ongoing conversation about transforming the Metro into a green Metropolis patterned after Europe’s welfare states is an opportunity to highlight that building the ideal city of bikers is more than just a matter of lane conversions and traffic rerouting but linked to fundamental issues such as good governance, comprehensive local development, and community empowerment.

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