By NURJEHAN MOHAMED firstname.lastname@example.org
NO BIKER CHIC: It will take a lot to change the mindset of KLites who see cycling more as a form of recreation or sport rather than transportation
Environmentalist Gurmit Singh was Malaysia‘s first bicycle advocate — he supported its use to combat traffic problems in the city. He is pictured here pedalling his bicycle on World Environment Day in 1979.
It might be hard to imagine using a bicycle to commute to work on the busy streets of a sprawling metropolis.
While the humble bike may be a viable alternative mode of transportation in some parts of Malaysia, cycling remains largely a form of recreation or sport in Kuala Lumpur.
Lack of proper infrastructure, the weather and personal safety are among the reasons why so few dare to brave the roads on a non-motorised two-wheeler.
Obstacles such as these, however, do not deter accountant turned consultant Azizan Abd Aziz, who has used his faithful old steel mountain and converted fixed-gear bikes to get around since 2008.
He set up a blog (cyclefriday.blogspot.com) to share his experience and tips on getting started with cycling as an alternative mode of transportation.
“The problem in metropolitan areas is that there are no facilities for cyclists — the infrastructure is based on automobiles, not people.
“If you build with people in mind, you will give them the option to move around with whatever they want to, such as the bicycle,“ says Azizan, who is now based in his Batu Pahat hometown.
Perhaps Malaysian cycling enthusiasts can take a leaf from Brazilian environmentalist Joao Paulo Amaral‘s book.
The Integrated Management System postgraduate student initiated a project called Bike Anjo (Bike Angel) last year to address his hometown Sao Paulo’s traffic woes.
Cycling is a good solution for a big city such as Sao Paulo — dubbed the city with the world‘s worst traffic jams by Time magazine — where an average commute to the office is close to three hours.
“I used to be stuck in traffic for two hours just getting to work.
“When I started cycling and arriving at the office as clean and neat as everyone else, people started asking about how they could do the same,“ says the 25-year-old.
Amaral‘s project, which he began with other cycling activist friends, aims to teach people to cycle on the road.
It earned him a spot at the Bayer Young Environmental Envoy programme in Germany recently, which saw several other environmental projects spearheaded by students (see accompanying story).
While Amaral undertook cycling as a means to help the environment, Azizan sees the practicality of it.
“I do not cycle for health or environmental reasons; to me, it just makes sense to do so.
“It‘s cheaper than driving and faster than taking public transport,“ he says.
He took an hour and 15 minutes, about the same time it took to drive, to cycle to his workplace in Kuala Lumpur city from his USJ home.
When he took the bus, his wait alone could take just as long.
Online cycling magazine Baikbike.com founder Kuah Kok Kheng has seen a rising interest in cycling in Malaysia as a hobby.
“Over the past three years, big-name bikes have cropped up in Malaysian bicycle shops,“ he says.
However, the number of those who cycle to work remains relatively small.
Baikbike.com editor Chloe Mok Sing Rhu attributes this to only a few offices providing shower and bicycle parking facilities.
“Architects and developers should incorporate these into their building designs,“ she says.
These issues are all too familiar to environmentalist Gurmit Singh, who had raised similar concerns in the 1970s, when he supported the use of the bike to combat traffic problems.
Gurmit was Malaysia’s first bicycle advocate.
He has since stopped cycling as it became too dangerous to compete with motorcycles and cars.
As he pointed out in a New Straits Times article on June 7, 1988: “If (people) use bicycles for transport, they will know the environmental problems cyclists face.“
The cycling culture, he says, has almost disappeared in Malaysia. He cites a lack of dedicated lanes as one of the reasons.
The challenges to cultivating a cycling culture here are similar to those in Sao Paulo.
Amaral‘s group mainly conducts workshops for children and adults about safe cycling as transportation in urban areas.
He hopes to build a cycling culture in not only Sao Paulo but also other cities in Brazil and Portugal.
His first-hand experience of Germany‘s cycling culture has given him a glimpse of what he would like to see in his homeland.
“Children in Germany are taught at a young age to cycle to school and as they grow up, they mentor their juniors.
“When they are old enough to get a driving licence, these kids have cycling as an option and know how to respect cyclists on the road,“ he says, adding that good urban planning also promotes the activity.
Kuah says we do not need to look as far as Europe for answers — Taiwan, China and Japan have thriving cycling cultures where the two-wheelers are a norm on city roads.
The support of the relevant authorities is vital for this scenario to happen in Malaysia.
“Motorists and cyclists also have to respect each other on the roads and travel smart,“ he adds.“There has to be bicycle lanes and parking facilities at bus and train stations as well as at offices.
Azizan says a change in mindset, more than anything, is needed before more people start using the bicycle to get around.
Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia executive director Anthony Tan concurs.
“People must view the bicycle as a viable mode of transportation, instead of a poor man‘s choice or for use in the villages.
“And our ministers, exco members and mayors should lead by example by riding to work,“ he adds.
Read more: GREEN TRANSPORT: Roadblocks to cycling culture – Learning Curve – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/channels/learning-curve/green-transport-roadblocks-to-cycling-culture-1.14515#ixzz1fd8VX2h8