Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Biking with the Fireflies

by Mike Co, CAI-Asia Center

Sudhir, transport researcher for the CAI-Asia Center, says it well: "If there are many cyclists, cars respect you."

He, along with three other staff from the CAI-Asia Center, participated in the 11th Tour of the Fireflies, an annual cycling event organized by the Firefly Brigade to raise public awareness on the need for non-motorized forms of transport (

(photo by LoloyD)

Glynda Bathan immediately noticed the festive atmosphere when she arrived at 6:30am in Tiendesitas, the starting point of the bike tour. "The scene was quite inspiring," she says. "Different people from all walks of life, with different cycling abilities, gathering to support one cause." Glynda had stowed her bike in her husband's home province of Ilocos Norte so she wasn't able to join this year. "I consider myself to be a rural cyclist anyway," she jokes. However, she did manage to capture the excitement of the moment with her camera.

From L-R: Jaja Panopio, Teresa Fung, Sudhir, and Bert Fabian (photo by Glynda Bathan)

Team CAI-Asia wore the Ligtas Hangin (save the air) campaign t-shirt and, more importantly, helmets. Many cyclists wore colorful and creative costumes.

Gianina "Jaja" Panopio, the Center's administrative officer, summarized her reason for joining. "Experience," she says. "I haven't tried biking in a long time. And it's for a good cause. Why not try?"

Teresa Fung, environmental specialist, agrees. Teresa is part of an exchange program funded by Fredkorpset. A Ph.D. candidate from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Teresa will be working with CAI-Asia Center team in Manila for ten months. "I want to do some exercise," she says. "After arriving in manila, I never got to exercise. I also wanted to protest air pollution."

"And to get public attention!" Sudhir adds. "We keep arguing that bicycles are the way to go. Bike lanes should get more exposure. If a lot of people participate it will generate a lot of interest. People will realize that cycling is good."

Bert Fabian, Transport Program Manager, shares Sudhir's enthusiasm. "It fosters community building," he says. Bert is no stranger to cycling. He has been a regular participant of the Tour of the Fireflies since 2005.

They were off to a good start. Officers from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, and the Philippine National Police made sure that the cyclists were safe by directing vehicle traffic away from the designated lanes.

But by mid-day, the humidity and summer heat forced Jaja to bow out of the tour at one of the rest stops, after biking for 24kms. She proceeded to the Tiendesitas "finish line" were she waited for her CAI-Asia colleagues to complete the circuit. It's important to remember that the Tour of the Fireflies isn't a race; no awards or penalities are given, and participation is its own reward. An estimated 6,000 cyclists participated this year, not only in Metro Manila but simultaneously in Baguio, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, and Puerto Princesa. The Metro Manila route alone covered 43kms, which included EDSA, the city's main thoroughfare. Generally, bicycles and other forms of non-motorized transport are not allowed in EDSA. The event helped dramatize that lack of bikeways in the metro.

Bert used his own 24-speed bike, while the three other CAI-Asia cyclists had to borrow from friends: Teresa's single-gear bicycle was too heavy, Jaja's was also too big, but Sudhir's bicycle was okay ... it's his body that was out of shape. "I haven't biked in 15 years!" he confesses.

Bert, Sudhir, and Teresa managed to complete the course by 12:30pm. Teresa suggests that next year the organizers should provide shorter segments for beginning and less advanced cyclists, maybe at 10km intervals. Sudhir thinks that there should be more rest stops. But everyone agrees that the experience was unforgettable!

For more pictures of the event, see

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