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Biking Through the New Normal

ZEAN VILLONGCO has been biking to work long before COVID-19 made it an ideal way to get around. And, here are his tips for those who might want to try it out. (With images from the author.)

B ack when I was still working in Makati, I’d allocate some days of the workweek to bike the 18km distance from my home in Quezon City to the office.

I’d pass through Katipunan, negotiate my way through C5, and exit at BGC and McKinley before finally arriving at Makati’s central business district. It’s a seemingly arduous way to commute. To some, it may even qualify as insane or outright suicidal. I would admit that biking to work is not all that peachy keen given all the pollution and the safety hazards from inconsiderate motorists. But, for me, it is by no means any more arduous than having to endure the torturous and mind-numbing agony of wasting my life away, slogging it out through Metro Manila’s interminable rush hour traffic. My regular bike commute serves me purpose on multiple fronts: I stay fit given the workout; I save a good deal on transportation expenses (i.e. gas, parking, public transport,) and I decrease my carbon footprint. Additionally, I also get to work much faster—an advantage that may benefit many in these difficult times.

With the coronavirus still present in the Philippines even as lockdown measures have begun to ease in Metro Manila, residents need to contend with a novel way of life: the so-called “new normal.” Under this phase, there are strict physical distancing rules that effectively make commuting in the capital region much more taxing. Motorcycle ride-sharing services, for one, have been banned. And while there are available modes of public transportation, these cannot operate at maximum capacity while trying to accommodate safe distances between passengers.

This is why biking is now being championed as an ideal alternative mode of transport. It is efficient, sustainable, and, more importantly, affordable. Though it has been argued that NCR’s infrastructure isn’t the most welcoming to cyclists, biking is still very much a viable option in the capital region. So, if you’re willing to give it a shot, here are a few pointers you might want to take with you before you hit the road.

1. Get a properly fitting bike

A proper bike fit is essential for ensuring your comfort throughout your ride, and it could be the key to you either enjoying your rides ever more or forswearing riding altogether. A good fit can also help prevent overuse injuries that result from an improper position. The correct position will vary from person to person, depending on factors like age, style of riding, and physical attributes like flexibility. I would advise therefore that when buying a bike, seek the assistance of an experienced biker who knows what to look for in a properly fitting bike. Any good bike shop should make sure that you’re on the right size bike as part of the buying process.

2. Get the fundamental safety gears

Always wear a helmet when biking. There are so many anecdotal stories of how a bike helmet spelled the difference between life and death during a biking accident. If you can afford to buy a new bike, then you can afford to buy a decent helmet to keep your noggin from getting cracked open during a nasty spill. And, if you’re a bike novice, feel free to invest in other pieces of protective equipment such as gloves, elbow pads, and knee pads.

3. Invest in some basic mechanical tools

The most common break down that one may encounter during a bike ride is a flat tire. So, keep a spare tire interior tubing, some tire levers, and a hand pump always handy. If you can’t change a flat tire even if your life depended on it, you can always ask for help from someone who can…as long as you have the necessary tools. Just like with a car, no one can change your flat tire if you don’t have a spare tire to begin with. Aside from tire tools, invest also in a basic bike toolkit for you to adjust bolts and screws on your bike.

4. Plan your rides

This is most important when you are starting out as a bike commuter. There are some things that you have to take into consideration when riding out. For starters, your route: What’s the traffic like? What are the road conditions? What kind of areas will I be passing through? You should also consider environmental conditions: What’s the weather like? Will I be riding in the dark? And, finally, your provisions: Do I have my mechanical tools with me? What will be my change of clothes when I get to the office? Once you have been bike commuting long enough, your pre-ride planning will eventually become second-nature to you.

5. Ride responsibly and defensively

As a cyclist, you may still be considered a pedestrian (thus having the right of way enjoyed by pedestrians.) However, road etiquette as applied to motorists is nonetheless equally applicable to you. Therefore, give way to crossing pedestrians; signal when changing lanes, observe traffic signals, and just simply don’t be a jerk on the road. As an urban cyclist, it is always sensible to ride defensively. And, as much as cyclists clamor that motorists should share the road, cyclists must likewise know how to responsibly and courteously share the road themselves.

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