Biking in a Developing Country

When We lived in DC we biked everywhere.  Not because Mark and I couldn’t afford a car, but because it was faster (we also had Fred, my aunt’s ’88 pickup truck on loan for a year which we generally just used for the grocery store).  It was great to be able know I wouldn’t get stuck in traffic, I wouldn’t have to drive around for 20 minutes trying to find parking or have to pay for parking, didn’t have to pay for gas, and I got to enjoy the nice – and not so nice – weather.

Prior to my arrival in Manila I spoke to a handful of people about biking, everyone said it was not an option and that people don’t bike here.  The reason I was generally told I could not bike is that it’s not safe.  My first day here I bought a mountain bike.  It sat untouched near the front door for a little over a month, until last week.  Last week I pumped up, ok Mark pumped up, my tires, brushed off the dust on my helmet, threw on a sweet pair of Sperrys with socks, and hopped onto the bike.

  
I survived day 1 and even did a day 2!  I skipped day 3 because I had to work late.  So what was it like?  Well, it was quite warm.  I did have to stop a lot more than I would in the US and dodge a number of obstacles like push carts, people, mopeds, and jeepneys.  I have never smoked a cigarette before, but I’m pretty sure my bike commute added up to smoking one.  There’s a lot of smog coming out of cars and buses.  That being said, it was about 40 minutes faster than driving, liberating to pass all the cars, breezier than I expected, and I’m pretty sure that the roads are smoother here than DC.  Yes, that’s right, the roads were smoother than DC!  I’m also quite sure it wasn’t just the sweet shocks on my new bike.

Just like DC, I felt a common bond to my fellow bikers.  Maybe it was all in my head, but they still gave the friendly nod, and the general awareness of each other that was not as an enemy like cars.  This also goes to show that plenty of people bike every single day and how easy it is not to notice these bike commuters.  Sure they are all male here, but many of the bikers in DC are also male.

My safety, however, was a concern to my coworkers.  They told me to be careful since I am a woman, especially since I have a backpack on, which could make me look like an easy target.  I’m still undecided on this.  Okay, I didn’t feel completely safe at night, but there are always lots of people on the road and if I’m on a bike it might imply that I don’t have tons of money and may not make the best target.  This could be naive of me though.

All in all, I think it was a pretty positive experience.  I can get a mask to help with the air pollution, wear longer sleeves if the sun is beaming too much on my pasty northern american post-apocalyptic winter skin, and fasten a front strap to my backpack to make it more challenging to steal, and maybe just carry my knife in my pocket (not so sure about the last one).  

I learned that despite what everyone thinks, it is not too difficult to bike in a developing country. Just be smart, pay attention, be comfortable on your bike, and share with the world how awesome biking is.  It will, after all, help with the air pollution, which in turn makes biking more enjoyable.