Peering through the window as I endured the gridlock, I saw a cyclist who just whizzed by not having a single clue to what the motorists and I were dealing with. “If only I could bring my bike to work here in Manila and not waste precious time and gas in traffic.” I said to myself.
My office is only 12 kilometers away from home but it usually takes me more than an hour to an hour and a half just to get to my destination. Ridiculous!
Cycling has been a regular weekend activity for me for quite a few years now and it contributed greatly to my fitness. I’ve rode to several places outside Manila, pushed it up the mountains, fed my wanderlust, and made me love the outdoors even more.
Long rides made me realize that you don’t have to spend a lot of money just to travel. Imagine going out of town without shelling out money for gas or waiting for a bus going to your destination.
And then I realized: Why not turn my weekend recreation in to an everyday routine? Being a frugal individual, the thought of going to work on two wheels without whipping out my wallet for public transportation or filling up in the nearest gas station excited me.
I asked a lot of questions about pushing my pedals through the urban jungle. Extensive research on parking, gear, safety measures, and what type of bike to use were some of the things that I looked up on in order to begin my everyday adventure.
Since my mountain bike was too hefty to be hauled inside the office, I invested in a folding bike which I got on a bargain in Quiapo. I test rode it through the traffic congested Manila upon purchasing. It wasn’t that bad after all! Just follow the traffic rules, keep your eyes peeled from the moving traffic, give way to pedestrians, and wear safety gear and everything will be alright.
Monday came. It was my very first bike to work day with my new foldie and I was so excited. I geared up and wore my casual cycling attire.
Bike to work protection pack:
- Shades – Protection from sunlight and dust.
- Sleeves – Another protection from the burning heat.
- Scarf – to cover my nape and lower part of my face from sunlight, dirt, and other nasty pollutants.
- Dri-fit shirt and cycling shorts.
- Cycling shoes or any outdoor shoes.
- I use a 30L water resistant backpack for my stuff.
The contents include:
- Office clothes
- Leather shoes
- Poncho/raincoat- in case of rain
- Packed lunch
- Patch kit
- Tire lever
- Portable pump
- Flashlight and Blinkers – For extra visibility at night.
I made it to the office in about 30 minutes! That’s almost half of my usual travel time to work. I brought my bike to the lobby but the security personnel stopped me and asked for a permit which I did not have. Luckily, I was allowed to bring my bike inside for that day only.
Sadly, the foldie was not approved by our office’s corporate security department despite my efforts in asking the manager and following up on my email requests on a daily basis. It was so disappointing! I had no choice but to park outside but the looming threat of bike thieves kept me from doing so. I had to look for an alternative.
I did more research of the place and surveyed people around where I’m working. Security guards outside the office informed me that there were cases of bikes being stolen. They said thieves use bolt cutters while some even haul the bikes inside a getaway vehicle!
This did not dishearten me however, I just had to find a way to minimize the risk of my bike being stolen. I made the painful decision of selling my folding bike which originally cost around 19,000php. I then got myself a decent second hand single speed commuter for only 4,000php! My reason for this is that it will be less painful if ever the bike will get nicked.
I read some tips on how to avoid getting your bike stolen and I got one crafty solution: to make my bike look less appealing! This method worked excellently and I’ve been parking my bike outside the office ever since.
- Scratches on the frame.
- Stickers. Lots of stickers!
- Allow the stickers to be tampered naturally.
- Duct tape on handlebars, hubs, and some parts of the frame.
- Ripped saddle fabric.
Warning: *You do not have to do the above steps. This is a personal preference only and should not be done if your bike is brand new or have expensive parts. I bought a 2nd hand commuter to purposely do this.*
In addition to the list above, I invested on a heavy duty bike lock. I chose a ULock that I bought from a local outdoor shop which costs about 1,300php, and then I purchased a 5 foot chain and a padlock from a nearby hardware store. (Talk about paranoia!)
It has been months now and I’ve been parking my bike outside the office safely. The bike’s outside appearance is effective in warding off evil spirits (bike thieves) and the locks are doing a great job in keeping my bike intact.
Share the road
Since cyclists are vulnerable to road accidents. It is best to stay alert and follow traffic signals. There are also times when heavy traffic or reckless drivers will bring out the worst in you but you have to keep cool. Here are some tips on proper bike commuting:
- Follow traffic signals – I can’t stress how important this is.
- Use hand signals – Whether for overtaking, switching lanes, or turning.
- Be cautious of crossing pedestrians – Just when you thought the coast is clear, a magical pedestrian will suddenly appear! Better get your eyes peeled from these surprises. It will also be courteous for them if you will get off the bike and walk.
- Keep right as much as possible.
- Follow your own pace– There are times when cyclists will pass you. Do not deliberately outrun them unless you can keep up naturally. It may only increase the risk of meeting an accident. It is bike to work anyway, not race to work.
- Be defensive! This is true especially at night and trucks were passing by almost every few minutes. You can stop, get on the sidewalk (or if there is a lay by or a wider lane, take it) and let the waves of gigantic vehicles pass. When the road is clear, move on.
- Show courtesy to other cyclists by giving them a small greeting or wave at them whenever you attempt to overtake.
- Avoid the mortal enemies – No I’m not pertaining to other motorists or cyclists. I’m talking about potholes and other fragments that can puncture tires. Be alert and always bring a patch kit or a spare tube with you.
- Offer a helping hand – You will bring your tools and patches not just for you, but for other cyclists (or motorists) as well.
- If there’s a bike lane, use it as much as possible.
Our vibrant cycling community
Prior to taking on the concrete jungle on two wheels, I had a lot of answered questions thanks to the Facebook groups that I joined called ‘Bike to work Pilipinas’ and United Folding Bikers. They are a helpful bunch! They give tips on everyday cycling and other useful information. Some members are also bike commuters with years of experience. Feel free to throw in some inquiries and they will be more than happy to answer.
We also have the Firefly Brigade. A non-government organization that promotes cycling as an alternative means of transportation for a cleaner environment.
- Where can I take a shower? Some buildings have shower rooms. If your office does not have one, you can tidy up in the bathroom or do an alcohol bath.
- Where can I park my bike? There is a database of Bike Parking Spots in Metro Manila on Facebook. You can follow the page here. The pinned post is a list of almost all the bike parking spots around Metro Manila and they helped me a lot in securing my bike near my office.
- What kind of lock should I buy? It was said that you have to invest 20% of the cost of your bike to properly secure it but the truth is no bike lock is a guarantee, especially those cable locks which can be broken by small cutters. The best thing you can do is to delay the incident of theft by getting a heavy duty U-Lock and use a cheaper bike, keep your primary bike for recreational use.
- My backpack is quite heavy, should I get a rack? Definitely! A rack or panier will be of great help.
- The pollution is too much! Will it cause serious illness in the long term? It will if you do not protect yourself. You can invest in one of those industrial grade carbon filter masks. Look for the N95 or N99 masks which is super effective.
- I live 20 kilometers away from work, is it too far for a bike ride? You do not have to go all the way if it seems impossible because of the proximity or road access. The best choice would be a folding bike which you can carry inside a bus or train.
Riding my bike to work has proved to be beneficial not just for my health (and my wallet), but also to the environment. One bike commuter means one less carbon emission (and one less person in public vehicles).
I wrote this to raise awareness on the effectiveness of commuting on two wheels in the midst of our hostile city roads. I just hope this advocacy will be supported by our leaders in order to have more bike lanes, improve our traffic conditions, and also to help lessen the impact of pollution in our environment. If other countries can do it then so can we. I know it is possible, we just have to grab those handlebars and keep pedaling…