Worth the ride? How bikes are becoming a transport option under the new normal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21) – Looking for a way to get to her workplace faster, office employee Rona Bugauisan bought a surplus bike from an online seller through Facebook.

The bike she got for five thousand pesos was pre-owned: it had an off-white frame and even comes with a basket, adding to the retro look and feel that she loves.

Ito na yung gagamitin ko papunta sa work, kasi alam mo na, during this pandemic days, delikado sumakay sa mga jeep,” Rona says, describing how traveling from her home in Manila now only takes her 10 minutes instead of the usual 20 to 30 when riding a jeepney.

Siksikan kayo doon, so malaki yung posibilidad na ma-expose ka,” she adds.

[TRANSLATION: This is what I use to work, because you know, during these pandemic (coronavirus) days, it's dangerous to to use public transport such as jeepneys. The space is cramped, so there’s a big chance you might get exposed (to the virus).]

Not only was Rona able to fulfill her transport needs, she was also able to help her seller deal with another problem.

Ang sabi niya sa akin, ‘ma’am, thank you, salamat sa pag-order niyo sa akin ng bike. Kasi po, may pambili na rin po ako ng gatas at diaper ng anak ko,” Rona says, recalling her transaction.

[TRANSLATION: The seller told me, "Ma’am, thank you for ordering my bike. This would now enable me to buy milk and diapers for my child."]

Rona was able to purchase a “Japan surplus” bike, one of many cheap bicycle options for Filipinos needing a personal form of travel to and from work during the quarantine. (Photo by Paolo Barcelon/CNN Philippines)

For Lord Ever Digan and Antonio Chi, Jr., biking helped them deal with the same quarantine travel dilemma – and also helped them save on fare and gain a bit of exercise.

Both are working as teachers at the Lagro Senior High School.

Nagba-bike ka, may kaunting exhaustion. Pero nevertheless, magiging beneficial naman yun sa katawan namin,” Digan says, describing the 7-kilometer ride he bikes every day to get to work.

[TRANSLATION: Riding a bike can be a bit exhausting. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to our bodies.]

Digan went Wednesday afternoon to buy bikes for him and his child. He says, Mr. Chi, a bike enthusiast and trainer, taught him how to ride.

Chi describes to us the benefits of biking. “Instead na nagbabayad tayo ng pamasahe, itong bike na to kung kukwentahin mo, mas malaki pa yung natitipid mo.”

[TRANSLATION: Instead of paying for a ride, if you do the math – you can save more by simply riding a bike.]

Lord Ever Digan and Antonio Chi, Jr., both educators and bikers, say it’s important to always “share the road." In this case, Chi shared his passion for biking to Lord, who now passes it on to his children. (Photo by Paolo Barcelon/CNN Philippines)

Bicycle shop owners we’ve talked to in Manila and Caloocan say, their products are selling like hotcakes.

Di namin expect yung ganitong sobrang madami maghahanap ng bike na halos daig pa pagka-peak season ng summer holiday,” says Clark Sapetin, owner of Clark Lane Bicycle Center along Quezon Boulevard in Quiapo.

[TRANSLATION: We didn’t expect this much demand. It’s even greater than summer holiday purchases.]

Bike shops in Manila and Caloocan, May 20-21, 2020. (Photo by Paolo Barcelon/CNN Philippines)

His store sells single-speed mini bikes, ranging from Php 3,900 to Php 4,700, with alloy bike frames costing more than those made of steel. When we visited his stall, there were only two units left.

His stocks of mountain bikes in this shop sell for Php 4,500 to Php 11,000, again depending on the frame.

Protective gear, such as helmets, start at 500 pesos, while gloves start at 350 pesos.

Edward Pangilinan, who owns Doro’s Bikes — a surplus bile shop in Caloocan City, says finding bicycle suppliers has become challenging, as more people have begun selling second-hand bikes online.

Nevertheless, he says the number of bikes his store sells daily has greatly increased.

“Before the COVID, nag-a-average kami ng 5, 10 na units. Pero ngayon, nadodoble. Minsan natitriple.”

[TRANSLATION: We used to sell only 5-10 bikes a day before the COVID pandemic. Now, it’s doubled, sometimes triple the daily average.]

His shop’s best-selling bikes at the moment: surplus Japanese bikes, which sell from PHP3,500 to PHP6,000, also depending on the frame.

Kumpara sa brand-new, mas mahal sila. So kami, mas nabibili kami nung mga ordinaryong trabahador,” Edward tells in jest.

[TRANSLATION: Brand-new units are more expensive than these second-hand bikes. This makes it more accessible to the ordinary worker.]

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic that affected the country’s public transportation system, Rona, Lord and Antonio are just three of many employees who are now availing what the government calls non-motorized transports (NMTs) or personal mobility devices (PMDs), which include bicycles.

The Inter-Agency Task Force and the Department of Transportation’s Guidelines for Public Transport Operations promotes the use of such vehicles, saying that it is “an ideal travel mode for social distancing.”

The IATF-DOTr guidelines also states that local government units are encouraged to provide “necessary facilities to enable the utilization of NMTs and PMDs in their respective areas, such as dedicated bike lanes, or bike-only roads.”

Mark de Leon, Assistant Secretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure, says the pandemic has given more importance to NMTs and PMDs as an efficient mode of transportation, and efficient integration of these vehicles into the road networks are being discussed as the government slowly eases lockdowns the country.

One specific method in particular that he discussed is the importance of having a unified design for bike lanes across the country.

“For example, how to prepare and include bike lanes and mainstream the bike lanes’ design into our local road networks. Without those standards, kanya-kanya lang tayo ng gawa, kanya-kanya lang tayo ng pag-interpret kung anong lapad ng bike lanes ang kailangan,” Asec. De Leon says.

[Translation: For example, how to prepare and include bike lanes and mainstream the bike lanes’ design into our local road networks. Without those standards, we only do the work, we will all be just guessing how wide the bike lanes should be.]

De Leon also says, dedicated bike lanes physically protected with barriers would be the ideal bike lane form. But given road design and capacity limitations, the agency is also studying plans to make smaller roads as bike-only or pedestrian roads in the future.

Nakita na natin yan sa ibang lugar sa Maynila, during weekends, ginagawa nilang carless road. I can see that we can adopt these smaller roads, kung papayagan ng ating local government units, na maging purely bike-only roads. Kasama yan sa pinag-aaralan ng new normal and the Build, Build, Build program of the government,” De Leon stated.

[Translation: We have seen that elsewhere in Manila, during weekends, they go carless on the road. I can see that we can adopt this on smaller roads, if permitted by our local government units, which would be purely bike-only roads. This is something we are studying under the new normal and the Build, Build, Build program of the government.]

Meanwhile, the National Center for Commuters’ Safety and Protection or NCCSP says just like owning any other vehicle - bikers must always prioritize maintenance and safety whenever riding, especially around Metro Manila.

NCCSP President Elvira Medina says, bikers may instead use secondary or tertiary roads instead of main highways to get to their destinations. She also reiterated calls for bikers to exercise safety and wear proper protective equipment everytime they ride.

“We have to look into the bikers themselves – they have to use approved helmets and other accessories that will ensure their safety,” Medina says. She adds, “hindi lang mga cars or buses ang (so that not just cars and busses are) road-worthy, also even the bikes. Make sure that the wheels are aligned, there is a proper reflector attached to the bike, especially when they go out at night.”