Biking as a means of transportation in cities exploded in popularity during the pandemic, and more people are adopting it to cope with the high prices of transportation and other goods, with inflation going as high as 8.7 percent last January under this administration.
A subsector of the biking community is the women’s biker community, a rapidly growing movement providing an opportunity for Filipino women to gain a sense of independence, beat traffic, and help save the environment while getting exercise.
Going by the feedback on biking forums, the number of female biker commuters in the Philippines seems to be increasing in major cities, providing real and tangible benefits such as helping to reduce traffic and air pollution.
Even though biking is not a customary means of transportation in the Philippines, it provides women with a reliable way to get around.
It also has economic benefits, as women can save money on travel costs and cut travel time by skirting traffic.
Biking also provides an alternative form of transportation to walking, which is often seen as dangerous in some areas.
Biking can also offer a sense of freedom, as women can get away from a traditional form of travel and explore more parts of their cities and surroundings.
To get support and advice from fellow bikers, women bike commuters have formed online communities such as the Pinay Bike Commuter Community (PBCC) on Facebook. Founded by Jamaria ‘Geri’ Amarnani, the private group now has over 6,500 members.
Members use PBCC for a wide variety of purposes, such as sharing tips on biking safety, bike-friendly establishments, biking with kids, troubleshooting and bike repair, negotiating inclines and rough terrain, finding the best routes to destinations, and other topics, as well as inviting fellow bikers to biking events and long-distance bike rides.
Members also create hyper-localized chat groups that bring together bikers from certain geographical locations.
The biking community in general also has their own terms such as ‘ahon’ for going uphill, ‘lusong’ for going downhill, and ‘kapadyak’ for fellow biker.
There is no typical profile of a woman bike commuter because they come from all walks of life and a wide range of ages; diversity prevails.
Many of them have shared their stories on the pages of PBCC under
#pinaybikecommuterstory. Here are a few of the many inspiring stories of the ‘KakaBIKEihan.’
Jules, 37, is a single mom and is watching pennies.
Her transportation expenses increased during the pandemic, so she decided to buy a bike to save money and avoid taking public transportation, also reducing
her risk of contracting the coronavirus.
She wrote that she reaped many unforeseen benefits: “Hindi lang ako nakatipid, marami pa akong naging bagong kaibigan, nabawasan ang aking timbang, lumakas ang cardio, at nakarating kung saan-saan. I love biking! I will definitely do this until I get old.”
Corinna, 40, who blogs at ‘Two Wheels, Three Hearts’ was inspired by moms in the Netherlands and Japan who take their young children around on a bike. After doing some research, she bought a Japanese surplus bike and child carriers for her two daughters.
“And guess what?” she wrote. “We found that not only was it possible to bike in this metropolis, it was mostly even better than taking a car. We’ve been to neighboring cities, ridden over 20 km in one go, and I’m only getting stronger.”
She is also one of the many advocates for improved policy and infrastructure for biking to make it “possible [for] a lot more people.”
Teya is a cancer warrior, has had four surgeries, and is on hormone therapy for life to prevent recurrence. Her experiences limited her mobility at first, but then she decided to take up biking, with her doctor’s permission.
“Since then,” she wrote, “I gained my athletic prowess once again.”
Currently, women bikers in the Philippines face a number of challenges that can make biking more difficult, if not outright dangerous. These include inadequate bike lanes and harassment by male bikers and thieves on the road.
Karla, 32, recounts that she was changing lanes when she was hit by a motorcycle behind her that decided to overtake. The guy didn’t even stop.
“I had enough lights to be visible,” she wrote. “I did my hand signal, I looked at the vehicle behind me and I know it was all good.” The incident traumatized her, but not enough to make her stop biking.
“We should support advocacies and movements,” wrote Karla, “that would help make the city bike friendly. We all need to learn to share the road especially now that public transportation isn’t really the best option for people.”
One high-profile biking enthusiast is Sen. Pia Cayetano, who authored Senate Bill No. 1290 or the Walkable and Bikeable Communities Act, also known as the Safe Pathways Act. It was passed by the Senate in September 2022.
It provides for a network of bicycle lanes and walkways for pedestrians, child strollers, and other children’s mobility equipment.
However, there is no news on this more recent than last year.
The Senate bill is just one measure that can help.
Those city mayors who are proactive and pro-people can, in advance of national legislation, create safe biking pathways, and traffic authorities can create ‘bike boxes’ on roads where bikers can wait in front of cars.
Many solutions that can help bikers boil down to political will, common sense, and putting the people’s welfare ahead.
It’s time we created a biking culture similar to that in countries such as the Netherlands, Japan, and Denmark (and China before they got capitalism).
As it is, in terms of road and traffic systems, we are 50 years behind the Global North.
We are only now developing a connected network of elevated roads and trains, whereas developed nations are making their cities more walkable and taking down concrete infrastructure to make way for the return of nature to urban areas.
Returning to the topic of Pinay bikers, it is important to give them support for multiple reasons. As we learned from the PBCC stories, not only does biking provide women with increased independence and economic benefits, but it also helps to promote environmental sustainability and good health.
More importantly, it sends a strong message of equality and inclusivity, which is essential to create a more just and equitable society.
To help bring this about, the Philippine government must pass laws, create infrastructure, and provide resources to support bike commuting, and, with the private sector, should promote biking not only as an individual form of transportation but also as a sport, a culture, and a form of exercise among more Filipinos.
* * * Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO / Email: [email protected]