When people learn that I commute via bicycle, the same questions pop up.
“Dili ba kuyaw? (Isn’t it scary?)” A little bit, there is no shortage of dash cam accidents that happen all over Cebu on the internet. “Dili ba init? (Isn’t it hot?)” This is the Philippines, so yes. “Dili ba abug? (Isn’t it dusty?)” Sometimes, but not as often as you think.
Biking as a commute around Cebu is not for everyone, but because of our traffic it might be the perfect option for you.
Despite the risks, cycling in Cebu is the mode of transportation that makes the most sense for how I want to live.
Physically, this is the best I’ve felt in ten years since exercise is neatly built into my day. It has given me more time, since I’m not stuck in traffic. And I feel better knowing that in my own little way, I’m helping decongest the streets of Cebu with one less car on the road.
Most of my rides are to coffee shops for meetings, trips to my office, the occasional exercise run, and a long ride once a week to Minglanilla. You might see me whizzing by the general vicinity of AS Fortuna, Banilad, Hernan Cortes, and Mandaue Highway.
I’ve cycled about a thousand kilometers around our city and I’ve got a few things to say about it.
Cebu is not a cycling city.
We could dream of one day having the infrastructure of cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdarm. Unfortunately, most of our streets don’t even have sidewalks, much less bicycle lanes.
Cycling in Cebu means braving the giant trucks, the wayward jeepneys, the unpredictable cars, the hefty tricycles, the speeding motorbikes, the numerous pedestrians and the occasional stray dog crossing the street.
These are all characters to contend with, and many of them are faster and bigger on the open road. But the open road in the city is difficult to find, which makes the bicycle one of the most agile and fastest options available.
When the traffic is at a standstill and even the motorcycles stop moving, the cyclist can find ways to continue moving forward.
As with any commuter, cyclists have a few bad apples too. I’ve even seen a few that have ignored red lights, biked through and merged with incoming traffic.
But there is no need to be reckless, even in the busiest intersections, cyclists can easily get off their bike and walk through the crossing along with all the other pedestrians.
Cyclists aren’t immune to traffic.
For the most part, the bicycle allows you to whizz by traffic, but there are roads that slow even the most agile commuter. Cars, trikes, and motorcycles can clog up small roads. Even with an agile bike, you’ll find yourself queuing just like everyone else.
The cars take up most of the real estate while the motorcycles block the cracks. Many times we’re all waiting for a truck to take a U-turn or park inside a small gate. This is notoriously true in Hernan Cortes.
Steer clear of long trucks and buses.
The most gruesome accidents happen when a cyclist gets too close to a truck or bus.
The first time I cycled beside one, I was surprised by the length of the truck. Then once we picked up speed, it was genuinely frightening because it felt like a vacuum was pushing me towards the wheels. It took extra effort and focus to stay straight.
Fortunately, if stuck in traffic, trucks and buses are the slowest vehicles on the road. On the open road however, they act like Speed Racer.
I stay away.
Watch out for drivers that suddenly veer towards the sidewalk.
When I was still new to cycling, there was an incident that made my blood boil. A jeepney overtook me and suddenly veered towards the side. It forced me to slowdown to avoid getting caught between him and the sidewalk.
The driver didn’t see me and I wanted him to know I was there. When the he stopped, I forced myself through the small gap between the jeepney and the sidewalk. As I passed the front, I slammed the passenger door and sneered at the driver. Then I cycled passed.
I realized right away this was a bad idea. Seconds later, the jeepney driver drove up beside me. “Unsa’y problema nimo? (What’s your problem?)” Then I shouted back, “Pataka rakag drive! (You suck at driving!)”
Road quality is lacking.
When the driving experience is bad, expect the cycling experience to be even worse. There are roads that I refuse to cycle on, North Reclamation is an example.
Those roads are due for plenty of repairs. They are filled with potholes, the drainage is lacking, and a layer of dust and smoke perpetually hover over the air.
Experiencing dust and smoke while cycling is a regular occurrence. Although it doesn’t happen as often as you would expect, as long as you stick to the right roads.
Fortunately, Cebu has its fair share of good for the cyclists.
Dooring doesn’t happen often.
One of the most common accidents a cyclist can experience is dooring. This happens when you bike beside a parked car, and the person inside the car opens the door without checking the side mirror to see if a motorcycle or a bicycle is about to go through.
When I first got my non-professional driver’s license, this was the first accident I got into.
I was dropping a friend off and the traffic was bad. It took us forever to reach his house. When we finally did, we didn’t bother to park. I just asked him to step out of the car so we wouldn’t waste more time in traffic. When he opened the door, a motorcyclist came flying through. I still remember seeing that guy tumble over the car as I was staring through the windshield.
Dooring doesn’t happen often in Cebu because most drivers are used to motorcycles in the city. Many of them make sure to look through the side mirror before opening the door. A lesson I learned on my first real day on the road.
Cycling in the city is much faster than driving a car.
One of my commutes involves a ride from Mandaue city to Minglanilla. That’s a twenty kilometer slog through traffic.
When I drive a car, it takes me about an hour and thirty minutes. On a rare good day, I could do it in an hour. More often than not, the trip has taken me two to three hours. This is especially true when there is a big event in Plaza Independencia.
On a bicycle, I do the trip in an hour and fifteen minutes. Even when I’m forced to pass the busy streets of Talisay and Mambaling instead of South Reclamation Property, the bicycle is consistently faster.
There are plenty of fun places to bike.
And you don’t need to go very far from the city. We have a beautiful city especially at five in the afternoon on a good clear day. The temperature will be just right, the sky will have a hue of purple, and depending on where you go, you can see all that stunning beauty.
My favorite places to bike through is on the side road beside the water on the South Reclamation Project (SRP), the road beside Il Corso. The headwind will force you to cycle slower, but having the water right there is a great feeling.
The other place I love is on the Cansaga Bay Bridge. You’ll need to push a little harder up the bridge, but when you get up there, the view is great, the wind feels wonderful, and the downhill portion will greet you at the other end of the bridge.
Other favorite spots, include gliding down AS Fortuna from Banilad when there aren’t many cars, Osmena Boulevard when there aren’t many cars, Mandaue Highway when there aren’t many cars… basically most roads when there aren’t many cars.
Fortunately, the cities can still change and they do.
We just don’t notice it because change is slow.
There’s so much our government can do to make this city better. But I decided to get on the bike because I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to wait for a better public transportation system, I didn’t want to wait for stricter road laws, I didn’t want to wait for them to get rid of the crappy drivers, I didn’t want to wait for the commuting experience in Cebu to become better.
Believe it or not, there are things we can do to change how we live. Cycling as a commute is the change that worked for me.
The truth is that the commuting experience in Cebu is bad. You didn’t need a blog post to tell you so. Thousands of Cebuanos go through it every day.
Traffic was the reason I started cycling. When I was stuck inside my car, my legs felt numb, my mind deteriorated, and I wasn’t happy.
Fortunately, something good can be had from bad experiences. The bad traffic allowed me to discover something I truly enjoy doing. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I couldn’t cycle anymore.
So in a way, I have to say thank you.
Thank you, Cebu traffic, for allowing me to discover the joys of cycling.
I hope one day we all stop complaining about you.