[OPINION] Diary of a wimpy biker in Metro Manila

[OPINION] Diary of a wimpy biker in Metro Manila
'At the end of the day, we all just want to get to our home safely and quickly.... If we treat others on the roads as enemies, we really are bound to make enemies.'

I. Dear 4 wheel drivers,

I’m a newbie biker.

I’ve only learned to ride a bike recently (at 20++ years old).

I can’t bike while standing, or with one hand only, or while keeping a conversation.

Basically I can’t bike and do something else properly – so I focus on the road.

I’m probably that biker you honked at because I was slow at gaining my momentum after the light turned green. Or maybe I was too slow on an uphill? I’m probably that biker who jerked sideways after you honked too close and too loud. Worse, I’m probably that biker you almost hit because you couldn’t wait two seconds for me to change gears and gain my momentum, so you just overtook me. (READ: City cycling? Here’s a guide to choosing your first commuter bike)

I’m probably that biker who almost fell into the gutter because you hogged the right side, because fuck it, that’s your blind side right? No one should use that side.

I’m probably that biker you tried to scare by driving too close despite the clear wide road, just for the heck of it. It worked by the way; I was terrified and wondered the whole day if we actually knew each other, and maybe I’d wronged you so you were getting back at me.

Yep, I’m probably that biker.

But I hope you aren’t that jeepney who tried to scare me, or that big black SUV who overtook me after a stoplight, or that nice sedan who hogs the right side unreasonably, or that cab who honks aggressively while on slow, uphill traffic.

But if you are, I sincerely hope you reconsider your actions.

I understand that I am super annoying too – lane splitting, overtaking tight spots, or even counterflowing! Believe me when I say that I was forced to do it, and would not be so brave to defy traffic rules, and risk my safety and those around me if it weren’t for certain circumstances. (READ: [OPINION] Metro Manila can be bike-friendly)

I was in the middle because I couldn’t transfer to the right side, because some truck wouldn’t let me pass after I crossed from the other side of the road. I was lane splitting because some Mazda hogged the right side. I was counterflowing because that’s what the enforcer gestured. I was overtaking because the taxi in front of me suddenly came to a full stop and opened his door.

But let’s say I was really in the wrong – I’m sorry.

Can you please not get even by putting me in a precarious situation?

It is exactly because you are big, and you are 4 wheels, that you bear bigger responsibility on the road. To whom much (wheels) is given, much (responsibility) is expected. 

Imagine if I accidentally hit your car vs you hitting me on my bike.

You could kill me instantly, and even run away from the responsibility.

The worst I could do to you is be an inconvenience, as I can’t even hit and run.

I will do my best to be predictable on the road. I will pay utmost attention when riding. I will follow traffic rules and regulations. So please be a dear, and be an ate or kuya on the road.

II. Dear fellow cyclists,

I know it is easy to think of other vehicles as the inconsiderate and selfish ones on the road. Why can’t they just let us pass – we will only take a few seconds, or a little space, right? But friends, if we want our share of the road, we must also have a share of the responsibilities to keep it safe for all.

To do this, keep in mind the following:

  1. Follow traffic rules. When we are traversing roads for vehicles, then we should follow the traffic rules for vehicles. If we want equal respect as road users, then we must also show respect for road rules.

  1. Stay away from other vehicles’ blindspots. Cars, buses, and trucks have more blindspots than motorcycles and bikes. This means that in certain positions, the other drivers cannot see us at all. And if they cannot see us, then they cannot avoid us. A common blindspot that cyclists overlook are the front and back of a huge truck or vehicle. Trucks have high driver seats and windshields, and thus they cannot see what is directly in front of their hood, because it is already below their windshield view. This is same with the back part of trucks or buses. That said, do not pass through or position yourself in these areas. (READ: Your guide to cycling in the city)

  1. Be aware of safe road positioning. Just because you can fit, doesn’t mean you should fit yourself in. (a) If a vehicle in front of you is turning left or right, and there is extra space that you can pass by, do not proceed. Let the vehicle turn first; (b) when approaching stoplights and intersections, know which lanes are for mandatory turns and position yourself appropriately. Do not block the right side if that is for turning right and you’re going straight ahead; (c) do not take the whole lane when biking so that others have enough room to overtake you in a safe passing distance. This is especially true when cycling in groups; be mindful if your group is already blocking the proper flow of traffic.

  1. Be visible and predictable. As cyclists, we take lesser space on the road. That makes us less visible to others so we must make extra effort to stay visible at all times. This could mean having reflectorized vests, sashes, stickers, blinkers, etc. This also means being predictable on the road and avoiding making sudden movements. When changing lanes or slowing down, we should give signals to others first, and scan the roads to make sure it is safe before proceeding.

  1. Give way and extend patience to all road users – pedestrians, motorcycles, cars, jeeps, etc. Oftentimes we will have to give up our right of way and yield, not because we are wrong, but because we value safety more than anything. Live today and educate others later. I hope the time comes when we cyclists are not discriminated on the roads, and there are safety measures in place to consider our welfare, but for now, we must be smart and patient on the roads. 

At the end of the day, we all just want to get to our home safely and quickly. May we do so responsibly. And in case we encounter rogue drivers, let us not wish them accidents or ill intentions, but care to educate them instead. If we treat others on the roads as enemies, we really are bound to make enemies. Ride responsibly, and share the road. –

Arlet Villanueva is part of the Facebook group Bike to Work Pilipinas, which advocates biking as a form of commuting in the Metro. She wrote Part I of this piece 2 years ago, when she first learned how to ride a bike. Before the quarantine, she used to bike, hike, dive, or ride on weekends. Now she wishes she could ride her bike or motorcycle on the roads again.

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