Last Sunday at 430am, I loaded my folding Doppelgänger road bike onto my family’s Montero Sport and headed south towards Tiendesitas to take part in the 16th Tour of the Fireflies. I hardly register for such events, but I thought it would be nice to actually have a Firefly Brigade cycling shirt that was included in the registration for future use. A major reason for joining this ride was to support the Climate Revolution for COP21 in Paris. This event was the second event for me to join in for this year and my fourth overall so I expected an awesome 30+ km ride.
It was still dark out but while driving, I saw a few cyclists on the road and I knew they were heading towards Tiendesitas as well.
I found a parking space, unloaded my bike and quickly unfolded and screwed everything back to place. It was the first time for me to take my Doppelgänger out on a long ride (I usually ride my mountain/commuter bike) and also the first time for me to ride more than 10 km with just a tiny waist pouch and so I didn’t feel weighed down at all.
With the sun about to rise, I could hear the emcees of the event hyping people up who were already at the starting line waiting for the event to start. People of all ages had joined the event and I wasn’t surprised to hear that there were over 5000 people there. From mountain bikes to fixies and tiny push bikes to bamboo bikes; the event definitely showed how big the cycling community had become in Metro Manila.
Once exiting Tiendesitas, everyone was welcomed with an uphill ride going up J. Vargas. I then thought to myself, “Uh oh, people who aren’t used to urban riding in Manila will have a hard time.” Soon enough, while riding past a few women, I could hear a chorus of grunts and a few stopping.
I’m used to going on solo rides in the city and I’m used to Manila’s roads since I frequently bike to work. I have to admit that riding uphill is one of my weakest points in cycling but since I started using my road bike, riding uphill has so far been a breeze. I understood how these women felt and thought that perhaps, the organizers could’ve started the ride via an easier and less steep ride since not everyone was used to uphills; especially since everyone had just exited Tiendesitas and everyone’s legs weren’t properly warmed up yet.
Despite the chorus of grunts being heard from cyclists, what I loved was hearing people motivating each other while pedaling their way up the road. I could hear shouts of, “Malapit na tayo!” (“We’re near!”) or “Kaya mo yan, mag change gear ka lang!” (You can do it, just change your gear!”) Once reaching the first stop light at Meralco Ave., grunts turned to sounds of relief as a few people stopped on the side of the road to catch their breath.
EDSA – Commonwealth – Marikina – Tiendesitas
The brigade rode on past Megamall and finally onto EDSA; a cyclists’ nightmare. I have a love-hate relationship with EDSA. I love it because by far, taking EDSA gets me to my destination faster. I hate it because I have to play a game of patintero* with the buses and the taxis. But the ride with the Firefly Brigade freed every rider of the nightmare of zig-zagging through vehicles on the road as the brigade rode on the inner lanes of EDSA. We road on the inner lanes of EDSA, over flyovers and underpasses. Little by little, cyclists started falling back and soon, you couldn’t tell the difference between a marshal and a participant.
Nearing the turn into Quezon Ave., I bumped into Tina (former president of the Firefly Brigade) and Mel who were waiting for a friend who was a first-time rider. I didn’t realize how broken up the brigade was until I stopped and waited with them. I saw cyclists ride alongside buses with cars blowing their horns in arrogance. Marshals were nowhere to be seen and so Tina, Mel and I ended up helping out by stopping vehicles on the road to let the cyclists ride all the way through to Quezon Ave.
We ended up helping with being marshals at NIA road, QC Circle and Commonwealth. The fact that there were over 5000 cyclists, it was inevitable that the brigade ended up getting split into different groups. During the ride, we were faced with hot-headed drivers who didn’t have the patience for the tour and would even go out of their way to roll down their windows to yell at us and say that we were being nuisances on the road. It seemed as though rather than getting the respect cyclists needed to share the road, drivers opted to go on a road rage. All this for what’s-supposed-to-be an easy Sunday morning. Even a couple of elderly cyclists were starting to become hot-headed with the marshals and fellow cyclists where even one yelled for Tina to stop talking and to just ride. She was actually sharing her opinion on how to control the brigade and was trying to assist the marshals.
Tina, Mel and I split ways along Katipunan and I continued riding with the rest of the Brigade towards Marikina. I continued helping out with stopping the traffic to let cyclists ride past. Part of the problem was that, cyclists would stop anywhere they could to replenish their water and to take a quick break. Little did they know that before leaving Marikina that there was actually an area to take a break; something the organizers failed to let riders know at the start of the ride (if they did, I guess I wasn’t paying attention). By the time people had started riding out of Marikina, it was close to 930am and there were cyclists everywhere. I witnessed younger marshals taking their time, chatting with other marshals rather than leading the group and pacers nowhere to be seen. So I ended up riding with a large group to get ahead.
I rode on through Marikina heading towards Eastwood. Traffic was already starting to build up which made it hard for each rider to stay with the group. I noticed older marshals attempting to round the riders up and reminding people to ride on the side rather than zig-zagging through the cars which a few people were doing.
I breathed a sigh of relief upon reaching Tiendesitas. It was 10am and the sun was beating down hard and I had finished my last drop of water. I quickly rode my bike to the Montero, folded it up, picked up my extra shirt and walked back towards the venue.
The places was swarming with cyclists as Ebe Dansel performed on stage. I bumped into a couple of friends and was able to watch Up Dharma Down perform. Soon after, with my bike loaded, I made my way back home.
As much as I understand and support the cause of the event, I can’t help but think that perhaps mass cycling with 5000+ people riding together really doesn’t work in Metro Manila. I am used to Tour of the Fireflies events and have always been amazed at how organized their rides were. This time round however, I was disappointed by the lack of communication between the marshals and the pacers as well as lack of discipline from other cyclists. I’ve never marshaled such events and I can’t imagine how hard it is to keep everyone appease but I couldn’t help but feel unsafe during the ride. I read on Facebook that there were a few who got injured or their bikes broke because other cyclists would run into them.
I suppose to help out, I’d train to be a marshal or a pacer. I’d hate for the public to look down on cycling tours because of how unorganized it can be. I’d like to keep pedaling for a cause such as sharing the road and bringing back the fireflies to our pollution-infested city. Joining events with thousands of people calls for better marshals, pacers and participating cyclists to be reminded of the basic ethics of riding in groups.
Until the next adventure.