I’ve been off the saddle for a couple of months now, mainly because I’ve been losing sleep and would look forward to sleeping during my commute to and from work. I know it’s a very lazy excuse but since the holidays are over (and so are the binge-eating days with family), I am slowly getting back into fitness. Over the weekend, I took a quick ride out of the village to withdraw some money from the ATM and it has definitely reminded me of the reason why I absolutely LOVE riding my bike.
So here’s just another post about my experience and my advise on riding your bike, the urban way.
Metro Manila’s traffic is one black hole of a mess with population from its run down buses, jeepneys, a mix of old and new cars and people; EVERYWHERE. If people aren’t squished into overloaded buses and trains, they are standing on the road waiting to get on a public transport and taking up almost two lanes of a 5-lane road. I refuse to be a part of the maddening crowd and so I choose to jump on my saddle instead.
There is always going to be danger in everything we do. From driving your car to walking from point A to B, there’s always an accident waiting to happen. Riding a bike in the metro entails being extra careful so here’s a list of the things I do before heading out (based on my usual bike-to-work day):
Prepare My Things the Night Before
The company I work for has a casual dress code (thank goodness it’s not corporate) but being the girl that I am, I prefer to go to work showered and dressed comfortably. When I first started biking to work, I started with the rear bag I had purchased at Quiapo for ₱300.
With this bag, I was able to fit my toiletries, my towel, my outfit for the day, a pair of shoes and even a small handbag. One useful tip to fit everything is to roll everything and to place your shoes snugly in the bungee cords on the cover. I would then secure everything by covering the bag with the rain cover it came with.
Choose The Perfect Route
I was already used to taking shortcuts by car around Metro Manila before I took up cycling. While I was unemployed, I had spent a lot of my time familiarizing myself with routes that cars couldn’t take and I became more familiar with timing and traffic and being able to decide which route to take. I lived in Sampaloc when I first decided to bike to work and would take the route I usually took if I were to go to the local swimming pool I’d spend my days at since the office was at BGC. I’ve since moved twice however and needed to find better routes to take to get myself to the office. I discovered Strava’s Routes which allowed me to map my ride using my computer which also showed me an accurate distance from point A to B and an estimate of how long it would take. Here are a few examples of the routes I created using Strava:
Wear Comfortable Clothing
For me, this is an absolute must as there is nothing more annoying than the feeling of your body being too hot and sticky. Here’s the gear that I wear during my ride out:
- HELMET: I never leave my place without a helmet. Especially if I have to ride the route I take to get to work (QC Memorial Circle and EDSA).
- Gloves: to ensure that my hands don’t slip around when they start getting sweaty.
- Arm Sleeves: well this depends on the time of day but I usually wear arm sleeves during the day so that the sun wouldn’t burn my arms.
- Cycling shirt with back pockets: I used to prefer to just wear cotton shirts during ride outs but grew a liking to wearing actual cycling shirts because of the back pockets. I am able to securely place anything there; from my hand-pump to my water bottle and sometimes, even my cellphone.
- Cycling shorts with padding: as a kid growing up, I never knew why my mum kept buying them and kept making me wear them. It only really made sense to me when I started riding my bike. Chafing is a bitch and these just stop it from happening, plus the padding helps the bones on my butt from digging into the seat.
- Shoes with good grips: I don’t understand how people can wear slippers/jandals/thongs while riding a bike. They don’t provide any gripping and they’re prone to slipping off your feet at any time. I prefer to wear shoes that have a good grip and that are lace-less. In this case, my Merrell trekking shoes that are actually waterproof and has a quick-dry feature:
- (Optional) Face mask: I don’t usually wear this and I know I should, especially riding through Metro Manila. The reason I don’t is because I don’t like my nose and my mouth being covered while breathing and it annoys me more. To substitute for a face mask, I usually wear my Headware Loop Scarf that I wear around my neck so that it’s easy to remove and put back on while riding.
- Bluetooth: I prefer to ride with music blasting in my ears but just enough so that I could also hear what’s going on around me.
Aside from comfort, I also make sure that what I wear makes people aware that I am on the road and on my bike. I make sure that I have my reflector straps on my ankles, a reflector on my shirt or bag and of course, red blinking lights on my helmet when I’m riding at night.
Prepare My Bike
I usually tell myself to check that my bike is in good condition the night before but would always end up doing it before riding out. I make it a habit on the weekends to get my bike checked and tuned. I’m not that savvy when it comes to bike maintenance so I rely heavily on the guys at the local bike shop to check my brakes, chains, tires and derailleurs for me. After securing my bag onto my rear rack, here are the things I check before riding out that I am able to do myself:
- Check my tires and make sure they’re inflated enough and I make sure that my hand-pump is with me at all times during my ride.
- Roll my bike while walking it and check the brakes. If I have to exert effort in stopping my bike when the brakes are pressed, that’s when I know the brakes may be too soft; especially for riding in Metro Manila where my brakes need to act fast. Here’s a link I came across with pictures on how to quickly adjust your brakes: http://www.holliseaster.com/p/adjust-bike-brakes/
- Check that my seat is well-aligned and not too high or too low.
- Check that my head light and blinking rear lights are fully charged and working in case I end up riding at night.
Some of you may have different bike-checking rituals, but I usually trust my weekend trips to the bike shops when it comes to maintenance so that I won’t have to worry about the rest of the things I can’t adjust during the week.
I know that it may seem as though it’s a lot to take in just to prepare for a ride out, but once it becomes a routine, you’ll be ready to head out in less than half an hour.
Here are the things that I keep a mindful of while biking to work:
Stay to the Right of Traffic and Close to the Sidewalk as Possible
I usually drive everywhere and I know the frustration of having motorcycles and even vehicles zig-zagging and zipping in and out of traffic. As a cyclist, I make it a point to keep to the right-most side of the road as much as possible. Unless traffic is really bad and cars aren’t moving, if there’s an opportunity to zip my way through to get to an intersection, then that will be the only time you’ll find me between cars. Here are a couple of questions I’ve always been asked when I tell them about keeping out of traffic’s way:
What about PUVs that stop everywhere and unexpectedly?
That is a given when riding in the metro. You will have jeepneys, tricycles, buses and taxes stopping anywhere and everywhere and they certainly do end up disrupting your ride. There are obviously two answers to this question and that is to either overtake or to stop and wait. I usually find myself stopping and waiting but again, this all depends on the situation and the type of road I am on and most importantly, the level of traffic in the area. Along EDSA, I NEVER overtake a vehicle. I am mostly patient when riding along EDSA because I don’t ever want to end up squished between a PUV or another vehicle. I would rather stop and wait for passengers to get on or off the PUVs. Moreover, there are bike lanes on EDSA and regardless of what everyone says about how useless these bike lanes are, they are actually very helpful. On smaller roads however, it is easier to overtake a stopped vehicle, I just need to make sure that I am well-aware of vehicles coming up from behind and on the side, and that I have made sure that the driver is well aware that I am about to overtake.
My main peeve is seeing cyclists ride on the inner most lane when there’s a wall or an island to their left and vehicles to their right. If you know Manila traffic, you’ll know that vehicles here love the domino effect. When one vehicle swerves to the right or the left, vehicles on that lane they’re swerving into will also swerve in that direction causing other vehicles in other lanes to do the same thing. When a cyclist is riding on the inner most lane it’s an accident like that waiting to happen. The cyclist will end up getting squashed between the wall or the island and the vehicle. I have a friend who rides a fixie along EDSA on the innermost lane and without a helmet. When I asked him why he rides there, he told me that it was to avoid vehicles that continuously stop to pick up passengers. While I understand where he is coming from and since he does ride a fixie, I still don’t adhere to this. I would rather ride safe than to risk stupidity of other drivers and that domino effect.
But you’re a girl. Isn’t it more dangerous for you?
Regardless of gender, it is dangerous for all of us. Yes, I’m a girl who decided to make a lifestyle choice of riding the streets of Manila and rather than being scared of what the streets can do to me, cycling makes me more aware and for some reason gives me strength. I do get cat-called during my rides, but I get more praises for braving the streets. I’d like to think that I am giving inspiration to others to follow suit and to make a difference; especially for girls like me.
Follow Road Rules and Use Hand Signals
What I love about cycling is the fact that bicycles are the only other mode of transportation that are allowed on sidewalks. What I hate about this is the fact that motorcycles think it’s acceptable for them to do the same thing. But we do have to remember that a bike on the road is no different from a car on the road. When I see a stop light in the near distance that is about to turn red, I don’t pedal harder to reach the other side before it does turn red. I slow down to a stop at a yellow light and only proceed with pedaling when the light turns green. Since bikes don’t have indicators, I use hand signals to make drivers aware of where I need to go and when I’m about to turn. Just like with driving, I make sure that I show my hand signals and indicate ahead of time before making my moving.
With the growing number of accidents and deaths of fellow cyclists, one would question on why we still decide to do this. We’ve read on numerous social media networks, blog posts and watched on TV interviews reasons why cyclists still choose to brave the streets of Metro Manila and each reason is consistent with the other: cheaper mode of transportation, healthier for us and for the environment, and for me, it brings me closer to my surrounding and believe it or not, despite the pollution and the overcrowding of this city, it makes me love this place more. The most important advise I could give to those who are thinking about jumping on the saddle and making that big move to be one with the city traffic is to SHARE THE ROAD. Those are the words I’ve lived by every time I got on my bike and every time I come across fellow cyclists. It’s the ringing of our bicycle bells that call out to each other on the road that reminds me of why I share the road and why I live by it. When I see cars actually give way to cyclists without getting angry, it gives me hope for this place and the people. Share the Road isn’t just for cyclists but for pedestrians, private car owners and PUV drivers. It’s for everyone. It is about time people recognized cycling as part of our lifestyle and respect should be equally spread to cyclists as well.
I’ve been dealing with a dilemma in my head for the past two weeks since I heard of the increase of deaths by cycling. I was warned by friends and relatives in other countries to not ride my bike but after going through this article, it has made me realize that I can’t let what’s been happening in society and our fellow cyclists beat me into not riding my bike. I believe the increase in number of cyclists will increase the awareness and the need of bike lanes. Rather than painting bike lanes on existing roads, our government needs to understand that they need to make that extra space on existing roads for bike lanes; we are after all sharing the road.
I will continue riding my bike despite of what’s been happening lately. It’s all about making sure I’m riding safely and if I give respect to others, then I’m hoping that the same will be given to me.