In a 2022 survey, the Social Weather Stations found that one in every four households in the Philippines owns a bicycle.
Ana David, 45, became one of them at the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns. It was an opportunity to explore a long-held dream: to do long-distance road cycling. As Ana learned more about bicycle maintenance, she expanded her network to like-minded people who frequent bike shops, share experiences and tips, and take group rides.
“I made friends with people who accompanied me on actual rides, teaching me along the way, and helped me get used to it,” she said. Most of these were men.
Ana then started an Instagram account where she posts about her rides. People – most of them women – sent questions about her journey.
“It’s rare for someone to start that kind of cycling at my age. They saw me as a cool tita (aunt).”
Thus, Tita Ana (as she is known in cycling circles) started doling out advice that ranged from recommendations on sports bras and menstrual cups to road safety.
In 2022, she decided to organize the Rapha Women’s 100 (also known as a century ride) in Metro Manila. For 10 years, it has been held every September in different parts of the world, encouraging women to cycle 100 kilometers together.
Ana noticed that many women bike only a few kilometers because they don’t know how to do long-distance cycling.
“It’s a milestone that will help empower a lot of women. I know that when I finished my first 100 [kilometers], I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I wanted them to experience that, too,” she said.
So Ana posted about her plan and asked who would be willing to join. She then started a Viber group for those interested to participate. Over the course of three months, the women were encouraged to embark on warm-up rides each month, graduating to longer distances: 30 kilometers (kms) in June, 50 kms in July, then 80 kms in August.
During that same period, the Viber group lit up with interactions on different topics, including tips on maximizing your bike, overall health, as well as invitations to organized bike rides.
Strength in numbers
Abbey Eslava, 33, is petite and bought her pre-loved mini Velo during the pandemic so she could venture well beyond her mother’s garden. But when she started biking regularly, she could not find a group with whom to go on rides where she lives in Tanay, Rizal. She found a few but got intimidated because they were composed mostly of men.
“Iba pa ‘yung bike ko, maliit (I had a small bike)…so I felt insecure,” she said. When she found Ana on Instagram, she found a community where she could belong online. In a male-dominated sport, Ana’s content resonated with her.
When she saw the post about the Women’s 100 ride, she immediately signed up.
“I thought, wherever they are going to hold it, I will go because I really wanted to feel that sense of being part of a community of women,” she said. Fortunately, the route started from nearby Pililia, Rizal.
Biking presents a challenge that she welcomes: “During the pandemic, cycling helped me process my thoughts and feelings, to look inside and reflect. It also lets me explore the limits of how far my body can go.”
Never too late
Annie Maceda, 55, got back into biking to break the monotony of pandemic lockdowns by riding around her village. It became a bonding activity she shared with her son, who was 19 at the time. They slowly graduated from 1 km to 5 kms to 10 kms. She admits she was scared at first “but the thrill got me through to the next day!”
At the end of 2020, she dared join an acquaintance to ride from Pasig to Marikina, which took her through Libis.
“It felt like a mountain,” she said of the steep incline. When she got home, she had a big headache but a bigger sense of accomplishment for having gone outside of her comfort zone.
The mother of three rides for rest and recreation: “When something is bugging me, I go on my bike and I can think clearly. I’m more at peace and my anxiety goes away.”
The longest distance she has ever done is the Women’s 100: “I never aspired to do that, but those were some of the best sights I’ve ever seen. Though never on my bucket list, most of my accomplishments now are related to cycling.”
Mind over matter
After learning to bike as a child, Ian Lee, 25, started biking again because of the utility.
“Hindi masarap ‘yung turon sa kapitbahay namin; mas masarap ‘yung binebenta five blocks away (Our neighbor’s turon isn’t good; the one being sold five blocks away is better),” she joked. “I save a lot from using a bike.”
She joined the Pinay Bike Commuter Community to gain more confidence in riding her pre-loved mountain bike on the streets of Metro Manila.
While preparing for the Women’s 100, she ventured alone to unfamiliar territory: Pasay.
From the rightmost lane of a six-lane road, she attempted to turn left. She looked behind her and saw two cars and two motorcycles stopped at the red light. She signaled then slowly turned. But before she got there, a motorcycle whizzed by her and the man on it shouted: “Ano ba? Nagpapakamatay ka ba? (What are you doing? Are you trying to kill yourself?)” Shocked and disoriented, she stood on the side of the road, fighting back tears.
“I bike for my mental health. Nowhere am I more determined to stay alive than when I am on the road,” she said in an interview with Rappler in early March.
The man was wearing a vest with “POLICE” emblazoned on it. Ian called her father and recounted what happened; he told her to book a ride-sharing car to get home. But she was determined to finish her last warm-up ride.
While checking her phone at a nearby parking lot, a Lalamove delivery rider approached her and asked if she was the one whom the policeman had shouted at, saying, “Hindi tama ‘yung ginawa niya (What he did was not right.)” That reassured her.
After getting home, Ian recounted the experience to her biking community. Some members told her that it was okay if, as a result of this experience, she took a break from biking.
But she was determined to complete her century ride.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could bike 100 kilometers! I don’t know these people, yet I got only love and support from them. We made sure that no one was left behind,” she said.
In September 2022, 67 women participated in the Rapha Women’s 100 from Pililia, Rizal, to Famy, Laguna, and then turned back.
Building and nurturing community
Ana described what they have as a “nurturing, mentoring community, where people owning all kinds of bikes can learn without judgment and be empowered to engage in biking.”
“With the people that I met in that community, I feel a sense of safety and understanding of things we all go through, like our monthly period,” Abbey said. “And on rides, there’s an unspoken understanding that we must be looking out for each other.”
Ian has subsequently widened her network: “I have met a lot of interesting people with interesting stories to tell. I met women who helped me build myself up.”
Annie has found comfort in talking to fellow bikers in the group: “I [feel that] I am not alone. The issues I may be ashamed of, like not wanting to go out because of the uncertainties out in the road, others face them, too. I have been able to overcome the panic and fears.”
According to Ana: “Cycling, especially for women, reinforces safe spaces. [In this community,] you have people who look out for you.”
“I gained so much from cycling and [leading this group is] my way of giving back.”
Here are a few tips from Tita Ana:
- Work at your own pace. If you’re afraid of venturing out into traffic, gain confidence riding in a safe area first. Never feel pressured to do anything until you’re ready.
- If you are alone and feel threatened by other people on the road in any way, proceed to the nearest well-lit establishment, like a convenience store or gas station, where there are people who can help you.
- Always let someone you trust (friend or family member) know where you are going and when you are expected back; share with them the contact number of one of your companions (if in a group).
- Learn how to replace a dropped chain and fix a flat tire. These come in handy when you’re on the road.
- Wear a personalized tag with your emergency contacts in case of emergencies.
- Find a community where you feel comfortable asking questions and sharing experiences.
Looking for groups of women who ride? Check out Pinay Bike Commuter Community or Girl Gang. – Rappler.com
Mari-An C. Santos is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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