Biking, memories, and the pandemic
I was 12 years old when I learned how to bike. I managed to cajole our seven-year-old neighbor to lend me his bike by giving him ice candy. So I learned how to bike on my own, one hot summer day in our government housing subdivision in Bacolod, around 60 years ago.
When I was taking up my master’s degree in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, my then six-year-old daughter and my 40-year-old self got ourselves secondhand bikes from the Salvation Army. The bike helmets we bought were a lot more expensive than the bikes, but we needed them even for recreational biking. Our house was near a portion of the Ottawa River that had amazing bike pathways. We spent many weekends during summer and autumn biking along the scenic Ottawa River.
When I returned to Manila in 1992 after getting my degree, biking around the University of the Philippines’ academic oval became an irregular pastime for me, until one of my faculty colleagues, a very seasoned cyclist who was even invited to a San Francisco-New York cross-country biking event to foster North-South solidarity, fell off her bike in Teacher’s Village. She hit the pavement and broke her elbow, which had to be put in a cast for around three months. The coward in me then decided walking was a safer exercise.
In 2019, a double-knee replacement surgery made me more aware of how fragile aging bones can be. Biking had become a distant but happy memory of younger and braver days.
In this second year of the pandemic, one of my graduate students, who had gone back to her hometown in Iloilo City, sent me a belated birthday gift, a book entitled “Ilongga Bicycle Diaries.” Edited by Early Sol Gadong and published in March 2021 by Kasingkasing Press and Hubon Manunulat, the book puts together stories of 19 women of Iloilo City celebrating the joys of biking.
Ranging from ages 17 to golden 50, the writers are a mix of experienced bikers who have embraced cycling years ago and many newbies who discovered biking during the pandemic as a useful way to travel to procure essential goods, to remain physically and mentally healthy, and to enjoy a semblance of direct social connections while observing physical distancing. These are stories of women who view biking as an empowering and liberating experience, especially in the time of lockdown and mobility restrictions. A number of them have supportive husbands who introduced them to biking and cheered them on as they conquered fears of city biking beside trucks and buses and traveled with them on long-distance cycling challenges. Biking became bonding experiences for mothers, especially solo mothers, and their children. For medical doctors, it provided a break from the stress and demands of treating patients during the pandemic. For professionals working in government like their mostly male blue-collar counterparts, biking to and from their offices was a necessity given the lack of public transport.
Women bikers and bikers in general in Iloilo City are lucky to live in a city where government realizes the importance of biking and has put in place biking infrastructure, earning the city the title of “Bike Capital of the Philippines.”
The book is truly “a testament to women’s grit, inasmuch as an appeal for policy makers to develop safer, more inclusive, and more sustainable road infrastructure for all.” We share its celebration of Ilongga women (“basta Ilongga, siklista”) and its message of hope—that our country will conquer this pandemic soon and realize a future where sustainable transport, equity, and a society free from poverty and from dependence on fossil fuel exist.
Judy Taguiwalo is a 71-year-old retired professor. She did not have high blood maintenance meds until last year when the pandemic set in.
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