The Enhanced Community Quarantine was a challenging time for all of us. While the lockdown was difficult for everyone who was stuck at home, it was specially more difficult for those who had to go out to work. Tragic stories of nurses and doctors walking kilometers upon kilometers one way just to get their places of work.
As the old adage goes, with grave challenges come great opportunity. With the prohibition of public transportation, the bicycle has become a viable alternative. The problem during the lockdown was that bicycle stores were closed. Groups like the Lifecycle community were formed to link bicycle owners who wanted to lend out or even outright donate their bikes to those in need.
One such prolific donor is Kristoffer De Jesus, who has a unique take on spreading the gospel of bike commuting.
Kristoffer discovered cycling through a BMX given by his older brother when he a was a kid. He was bitten by “upgraditis” – that dreaded cyclist’s condition where money disappears into bike shops in exchange for better parts. But his more serious forays into cycling began after hearing a talk on bike commuting in college where he seriously started to see the bicycle as an alternative to the car. This made such an impact that one of his papers in college championed bicycles as alternative transportation.
However, pedaling speaks louder than words.
This became more apparent when he became a lawyer. He recounts that the one and a half hour drive every day from his home in Malabon to his law office in Makati was the worst part of his day. Not only was the trip exhausting but he was also spending roughly 350 pesos a day on gas and parking.
He got fed up and tried cycling the roughly 20-kilometer trip. The result: his usual mind-numbing one and half hour trip was transformed into a refreshing one and half hour journey though the city.
After getting bitten by the cycling bug, Kris really did what he could to get the bike-to-work gospel out. He tried to get law school friends to try cycling to work. As with people who have a choice to drive, his suggestions fell on deaf ears. He even made and passed around leaflets telling people who torture themselves in Metro Manila’s horrific public transportation system that there is another less soul-crushing way to get around the city.
He shifted his attention to people who really needed to save money. That is, the janitors and security guards in their building, and the staff in the law office. Predictably, Kris was met with the resistance.
“Pagod na nga kami, papag-bike niyo pa kami,” was the common response to his prodding.
But Kris put his money where his mouth is. He offered to fork out money to buy bikes. But the recipients have to pay him based on how much they saved from their transportation expenses.
On the average, the bike recipients found out they spend 100 pesos a day for a one-way trip using buses and jeepneys. Not only did they save money but they became stronger and healthier, some even doing a few laps around Mall of Asia before riding to work.
Helping those in need
During the COVID lockdown, Kris was one of the active cyclists who heeded the call of frontliners who needed bicycles.
Kris lent out his own bikes including what he affectionately calls his “uglified beater bike.” Perhaps the most used bike in his collection. The UBB is a very cheap bike bought from a Japan Surplus Shop that would cost less than PHP 3,000. It’s beautiful precisely because it’s ugly. The owner going as far as buying paint to make it rusty. It’s a practical bike too since the headache and anxiety of having the bike stolen is non-existent.
In other cases, he sold some of his more prized bicycles to buy bikes to lend out. One of the bikes he sold was his Brompton, a bicycle made in the UK known for its unique fold. He was able to buy a number of bikes to include in his lend-to-own program.
He partnered with friends in the bicycle industry to source more of these bikes. When he lends bicycles, he gives an option to buy the bike through a borrow-to-own program. “I want the borrowers to see the value of saving money and trying to save for your own bike,” Kris says in a conversation over zoom.
Now that the Modified ECQ has loosened some of the restrictions on cycling, Kris sees an influx of new cyclists on the road particularly because of strict guidelines on public transportation. He still sees a of people citing “fear of the unknown” as a reason to not commute on a bike.
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However, he thinks that the lockdown opened eyes and got people to conquer that fear. Bicycles are selling like hotcakes these days with stores having a hard time keeping the lower-tier and budget friendly models in stock. “I think my dream of Copenhagen-izing the Philippines will be because of COVID,” quips Kris referring to the capital of Denmark where most of the population choose to go around on bicycles.
“Ang dali lang pala. Ang saya saya,” are the feedback he gets from bike commuting converts.
However, he admits that the Philippines has a long way to go. He would like to see proper protected bike lanes where the cyclists’ safety is not at the mercy of buses and jeeps, who just stop anywhere, sometimes without brake lights. He does see initiatives in Pasig and Iloilo which he hopes can be done everywhere else in the Philippines.