Carbonless commuting and a technology-driven mindset should be the future of urban biking

By Eric Nicole Salta | Photos by Omar Yassen and Jordan Andrews/Unsplash and courtesy of Pru Life UK

Bike enthusiasts Franco Amian and Marvin Pacis, 18-year-old cyclist Ismael Grospe, Jr., and seasoned professional Ronnel Hualda all share an affinity for biking.

In fact, they’ve all been handpicked to race Prudential RideLondon, considered to be the world’s greatest festival of cycling, happening on July 28 to 30. But more importantly, they all share a rapturous desire to see more bikes plying the roads of Manila—no matter how stark the current state of the cycling scene is. 

Cycling the City

“It’s difficult because vehicles here can be reckless. They don’t really care about cyclists,” says Amian. “Sometimes they would just stop or cut you off.”

“Even if those factors exist (unruly drivers, lack of education, etc.), we can’t escape them so what we can do is to get rid of them. Not by force but by anticipating their actions and steering clear from them. Don’t try to overtake them,” adds Pacis.

In Copenhagen, for example, statistics show that “every six miles biked instead of driven saves 3.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and nine cents in health care costs

Both riders are longtime bike-to-work advocates, with Amian cycling roughly 20 kilometers from his Sucat home to the Pru Life office in BGC and Pacis, who’s currently based in Pasig, covering up to 12 kilometers each way.

It’s a dialogue that’s been going on for some years now but still remains largely under-explored, maybe even slightly swept aside for various reasons. But biking’s potential in a city like Manila is unabashedly promising. For one, it promotes and saves health. In Copenhagen, for example, statistics show that “every six miles biked instead of driven saves 3.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and nine cents in health care costs.”

Biking also saves money. “It’s cost-efficient. You don’t have to think about gas, parking, and the stress caused by traffic. I also think it contributes to easing traffic,” says Amian, who supplements his bike-to-work routine with calisthenics workout as part of his RideLondon preparation.    

“We call it carbonless commuting,” says Pacis. And while the private sector is doing its share—the MyBGC Bike Lanes were actually sponsored by Pru Life UK with more lanes targeted around Metro Manila—Amian and Pacis believe that more immediate measures can be done to raise the profile of urban biking.

“A good example is here in our office building. Before, there were a lot of bikers but not enough bike slots. There were parking slots for bikes but you had to pay for it. Lately, free bike slots were installed. And now a lot more people started biking to work,” shares Amian.

“Sometimes, bike lanes here aren’t really present in the sense that the path isn’t fully connected,” explains Pacis. “You’re biking on the lane and then mamaya putol naman siya so you have to access the main roads pa rin”

“If every company supports that, it would encourage a lot more workers to bike. Sometimes the challenge is where to safely keep your bike. Also, if the government could dedicate safe bike lanes… for example the EDSA bike lanes, there are many obstructions that you can’t bike straight.”

“Sometimes, bike lanes here aren’t really present in the sense that the path isn’t fully connected,” explains Pacis. “You’re biking on the lane and then mamaya putol naman siya so you have to access the main roads pa rin.”

Speeding Up

While the bleak reality is that sometimes these concerns fall on deaf ears or are futile in a place where bigger issues are at play, Hualda, who increased his time trial training for this race, thinks that the status of city cycling relates to the sport’s state in the Philippines.

“Before maganda [the local cycling scene] and we were ahead of Southeast Asian and even some Asian countries but now we’re behind. Siguro dahil sa kulang sa mga seminars, coaching, and technology din natin na hindi ganun ka-updated. Tayo heart rate ang ginagamit, sa ibang bansa wattage na so iba ‘yung training.

Alongside 18-year-old Grospe, this year marks the first time in three years that professional cyclists are part of the RideLondon contingent. Hualda and Grospe, both aiming to finish in five hours, are part of Go for Gold Philippines, which comprises of 15 cyclists, mountain bikers, duathletes, and triathletes like Nikko Huelgas, aiming to not only send athletes to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but to shape and mentor juniors to preserve Philippine sports’ pedigree.

While the four will race the RideLondon-Surrey 100 mile event where approximately 25,000 cyclists will wind through the route similar to that of the 2012 London Olympic road races, their participation is also an opportunity to measure themselves against foreign counterparts, make significant inroads on their personal goals, and find strategies that could be adopted to stage a similar race in Manila and perhaps make a stronger case for building better bike infrastructure. 

Whatever the results, Philippine cycling is surely venturing into newer, braver territories. And these four will help lead the way.