If you’re done putting up with Manila traffic, then bike commuting may be just what you need

By Ea Francisco | Photos by Leah Marcelo

In hindsight, bike commuting seems like a crazy idea considering Manila traffic. And the reckless driving. And the lack of bike-friendly utilities. And the blatant disregard for traffic laws. Basically, it makes for very unfavorable biking conditions, but bike commuting is a lot better than it seems. We asked bike commuters Bea Celdran and her friend Manu Fernando, both of whom bike to work and school respectively, and here’s what they have to say about bike commuting in Manila.

Have you always cycled to and from places?

Bea Celdran (BC): No. I commuted a lot. When I found my commute home taking over three hours or walking from Makati to my home in Paranaque, I knew I needed to have the balls to bike to get pass all the bullish traffic.

Manu Fernando (MF): Most of the time, I bike to places I want to go to. I don’t bike only when I have to commute with someone who doesn’t bike. I started cycling to school about four years ago because I got really tired of commuting, and I found that biking is the most efficient way of getting from place to place.

What makes biking to work/school more appealing? What was your primary motivation?

BC: Honestly, it was really because I had a short temper and couldn’t stand being in traffic. Now, it’s been a wonderful way to let out some of my aggression and anxiety.

MF: The fact that you don’t pay for gas or fair, and you dictate your own time since you won’t have to worry about traffic. My motivation was just for the love of biking. I got the chance to build my own bike, and since then I never stopped cycling.

Bea Celdran

What do you like about biking to work/school or biking as your primary mode of transportation? How much money do you save from biking?

BC: What I love about biking is its mobility. I’m constantly moving, getting to where I need to be at any road, despite traffic. I save over P100 to P300 a day biking.

MF: It’s environmentally friendly. You get to see the city in a different perspective on what you see on the street, like how cars, pedestrians, trucks, etc behave in traffic. Have saved most of my allowance to buy new bike parts and sell old ones.

The healthy living/active lifestyle trend has been growing stronger and shows no signs of slowing down. Based on your personal experiences, do you feel that the trend manifests itself in the community? Do you see more people biking to work/school or being more sporty?

BC: I’ve seen a lot of posers who mount their bikes on cars and bike around BGC. It’s sad because we want people to have the balls to bike to and from places. It’s now just becoming another status symbol. But yes, I’ve seen more yuppies biking around CBDs and even more girls too!

MF: For me, a trend also helps an individual realize that it is better to be healthier. I noticed more people are health conscious now. As of now, I don’t see a lot of people who would want to commute using a bike because of how drivers behave around Manila. You really have to be used to hustling around the city, but I also do see (more people biking) considering cycling in a sport like triathlon is actually growing in the community and criterium racing. So even if you don’t bike to commute or do but not frequently I still see the bike culture here grow larger and larger.

What I love about biking is its mobility. I’m constantly moving, getting to where I need to be at any road, despite traffic. I save over P100 to P300 a day biking

How would you describe the cycling scene in Manila?

BC: Very cliquish. I don’t join a group because I don’t have the time to commit, but kudos on your MOA and Antipolo rides.

MF: To me, a lot of people in Manila use bikes to either beat traffic or be a cool looking hipster because I noticed not a lot of people use helmets, but all in all I like the biking scene in Manila. It’s pretty cool when you just get to talk to random cyclists in the city.

How do you raise the profile of cycling in a city that’s notorious for its public transport and virtually non-existent bike infrastructure and traffic laws?

BC: We all really just need more bike parking. So fucking simple but most areas condone biking and fight bikers for parking in their establishment despite being a customer. Bike lanes in Manila are a joke and another waste of taxpayer’s money, so get used to us snaking around your rich cars and hopefully denting a bumper or two.

MF: To adapt to the traffic situation here, you have to go with the traffic and getting used to the flow and knowing where you’re placed in a traffic situation.

Are there times when you prefer to travel by car?

BC: Yes. When I have my kid with me, head home very late (past midnight), or drunk. But I still do bike sometimes despite being inebriated or the late hours.

FM: Only when it’s just too far or I’d have to be with other people.

Manu Fernando

Do you think that the potential of bikes is hurt by that?

BC: Of course not. People in Manila are just spoiled by air-conditioning. We can’t even walk to a proper jeepney or bus stop and would rather hail in some godforsaken corner of a busy road.

MF: Not really. It’s just that you can never get rid of cars on the road.

If you could give three reasons to why someone should bike to work/school, what would they be?

BC: One, it’s so cheap. Two, it gets you out of traffic. Three, helps with anxiety and aggression

MF: One, you will get to exercise and improve your health. Two, you won’t pay for gas or any fair. Three, you’re helping the whole Manila with its traffic because it’s one less car on the road.

Any bike tours or groups you would recommend?

BC: Bambike tours? No idea. Just get on a bike and ride to a place you’ve never been before. That counts as a tour.

MF: To be honest, I never really joined in bike tours or groups. I’ve always biked alone or with close friends, but always welcome other fellow cyclists who just wanna hangout I mean we’re all friends.

Bike commuting is one way you can help ease the traffic problem so if you’re just done with Manila’s overcrowded streets, then this is how you can do your part. It’s not just about practicing an active lifestyle, but also promoting an eco-friendly environment and road discipline. Don’t let the current conditions of the street discourage you from it.