To recognize the ferocity of the Nolisoli.ph associate editor/biker, you must take in all his takes on cycling culture, representation, and chance encounters on two wheels
Photos courtesy of Christian San Jose
Getting sociable with Nolisoli.ph associate editor Christian San Jose is a revealing choreography of showing who’s really boss—at least in the context of conversations.
You see, San Jose is the type of person who neither leaves any topic untouched nor shies away from speaking his tongue-in-cheek truths. Just read his collection of stories that run the gamut from astonishing (Wow, profiling New York City-based Fil-Am chef Woldy Reyes? I doff my cap to you) to utterly unapologetic (Yes, okra is indeed okay).
Or how he proceeded to respond to one of my questions with a kind of confidence that consoles lockdown anxieties.
“If pandemic biking has taught you one thing about yourself, what is it?”
“That I really am a leg kind of guy [laughs]. I can pedal to save my life but I can never lift. Or that bikes are an insanely expensive hobby. But is there really a free hobby?”
Needless to say, it was just what I had expected from someone who picked up biking in a pandemic as an escape—a probable ticket out of a precarious health terrain and a masterful social commentary on defying cycling gatekeeping.
He may have gotten a leg up from me this time around but I’ll give him credit for all the theatrical swerves he makes out in the open road. He deserves it.
What drove you to ride a bike?
I am a self-proclaimed “active” person and being stuck at home during the pandemic drove me nuts as I am an outdoor fun kind of guy [laughs]. Cycling for me—as with anyone who recently discovered it as a hobby—is an escape from the maddening four walls of my room.
Also, I had a health scare last year—in my 20s! I know, right? So I had to pick up a few activities on top of regular yoga and walking to keep my heart health in check.
I got my road bike in June 2021 with help from a friend who is into cycling a.k.a. a fellow gay who’s into spandex and riding kilometers on the hillside. But I was raised in an active household where it was not enough to just excel at school, you also have to do sports—even mediocrely.
So I was biking most of my childhood and then I only recently got back to it last year using my dad’s mountain bike, which I found was a bit too heavy for me. And honestly, an MTB is way too “brusko” signaling for me.
Now let’s get down to the basics. How often do you bike, how long, and where do you usually ride?
When I am in the province, I bike four to five days a week. A typical route for me is a 20-ish kilometer session back and forth on the highway, which takes about an hour depending on who I’m biking with. I seldom bike alone for fear of running into a mechanical problem I don’t know how to fix–yet!
My usual route is Tanay, Pililla, Jala-jala. On days when my friends and I feel up to it—which is like once or twice a month—we do those dreaded long rides in Sampaloc, Tanay; Marilaque Highway, or past Rizal bordering Laguna.
I bike to Paco, Manila, where I reside, from Teresa, Rizal, my hometown, two to three times a month. Being a morning person more paranoid of being judged by fellow cyclists than by being hit by speeding cargo trucks on the Antipolo zigzag, I leave the house at 4 a.m.
It takes me two hours to finish that 30+ kilometer trip one way. To be honest, I run into more trouble [in the city] (read: a flat or a manhole) than on the Teresa-Antipolo roads. I wish there were less manholes in the city and more smooth roads.
What aspect of biking do you enjoy the most?
I love the sense of freedom it affords you… that you can go places much faster than just with your two feet. Carless roads in the province are also *chef’s kisses* for someone who’s lived in the city for years.
In Rizal, many nature destinations are within reach, so that’s also a bonus, that I can just bike a few hours and voila! I am in a body of freshwater.
Do you have any personal goals on two wheels?
New cyclists aim for that 100-kilometer journey and I am not very good at keeping a record. I would rather drain my phone’s battery playing Mariah on loop as I pedal than use it for GPS.
I just want to be strong enough to take on steep inclines without regretting not having written my last will yet. And, oh, to bike without having to wear a face mask. It’s a challenge!
What about ideas toward diversifying bike culture?
There are so many unspoken “rules” in cycling that are sometimes intimidating, I think, like who gets to ride a bike, who gets their fair share of the road. On Instagram, I see all kinds of people pedaling and it inspires me to just do what I do and care less about what other people who like to gatekeep think.
It’s also a very masculine sport so it’s a joy to see more women and queer people move on two wheels. Clearly, I am not representative of that demographic as I still wear the prescribed padded shorts. I love seeing people create their own rules by wearing what they want, building their dream bikes outside of convention, and just taking cycling less seriously.
Is there anything else interesting you’d like to share?
There’s a term going around within the cycling community where one who just recently got into biking is called and looked down [on] as a “pandemic biker.”
I proudly identify as one. Heck, I only learned most of what I know about cycling in the last three months and I only know like 25 percent of the whole cycling encyclopedia.
Sure, I know how to change a flat tire, how to tighten a loose screw, how to clean my chain, but there is just so much more to learn about bike parts, riding techniques, and the mechanics of a bike. And learning all that at your own pace is part of the self-dependency of being a cyclist.
But you know, some tough jobs—as I learned from my very generous, very adventurous drag bike mother—sometimes you just have to go to a very cishet bike shop and pay them to get the job done.