When you hit the road and ‘feel the wonderful wind on your face’

When you hit the road and ‘feel the wonderful wind on your face’
Bikers prepare to start the freedom and empowerment ride of Break the Cycle Philippines. —PHOTOS BY CHARLES BUBAN

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” the American activist Susan B. Anthony once said. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

I received my first bicycle when I was seven years old, a gift from my Lolo Diego which he bought in the 1970s from a newly opened bike shop in Pasay City. Painted navy blue and with long U-shaped handlebars and an elongated saddle, it was among my few precious possessions. So when the family had to relocate to Mindanao in December 1980, I cried buckets of tears in the effort to convince my parents to bring the bike with us.

That bike is part of my wonderful growing-up memories. It’s one of the reasons why, after decades, I still love to bike. It also helps that my husband Charles is an avid biker with whom I go on long rides whenever time permits.

It’s true that biking gives you a sense of freedom that makes you seek more places to explore, and an incomparable satisfaction whenever you negotiate steep climbs without stopping even if you’re running out of breath. And last March 23, thanks to my good friend, Anne Jambora, I discovered that you get a different high when you’re with other women bikers who have been tirelessly advocating for an abuse-free and gender-sensitive Philippines.

Empowerment ride

The bike ride spearheaded by Break the Cycle Philippines was called a freedom and empowerment ride, in celebration of International Women’s Month.

That Saturday Charles and I met up with Anne on Ayala Avenue, Makati City, at 5:30 a.m. to plot our route to ArcoVia, Pasig City, the event’s meeting place. We chose to take J.P. Rizal Street, Makati, a road parallel to the Pasig River, on the way to C5 Road where we crossed Bagong Ilog Bridge. We arrived at ArcoVia in Pasig an hour later—but not before experiencing some of the challenges that bikers face daily on the road, such as potholes, protruding drainage grates, parked vehicles and motorcycle riders on the bike lane, “salmon” bikers (or those who go against the bike lane flow), vehicles with drivers that clearly do not want to share the road with bikers… 

Break the Cycle Philippines founder Ann Angala says that one of its missions is to encourage more women bikers to take to the road.

Ann Angala, founder of Break the Cycle Philippines, welcomed the participants. The NGO was initially a project of Bikers United Movement and was formed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when people had to move around on bikes due to the absence of public transport. 

Angala thanked and reminded the participants of what the ride wanted to convey: to empower women, to keep them safe while biking, and to break the cycle of gender inequality on the road. “Our mission is also to add more women on the road,” she said. 

Citing the presence of men at the event, she said: “Of course we love men… We love you, you’re always there, you’re our allies, but we need more women. Who has statistics of how many women [bikers there are] on the road? I think there are only a few. So we need to see beauties, we need to see women smiling on the road, sharing love and kindness on the road.” 

It was my first time to join such an activity, and our bike ride to SM Aura in Taguig City was a fun experience. The male bikers served as road marshals and “sweepers” to make sure no one was being left behind, but seeing women bikers guide their fellow bikers with hand signals, and encouraging and looking after one another, made me feel proud to be a woman. It was like being in one big family, of which, being an only child, I never had the chance to be a part. 

Stories of inspiration 

Riders on bikes of all types negotiate the streets of Bonifacio Global City.

At SM Aura, we converged in the air-conditioned meeting room where women bikers were preparing to deliver messages to the participants. It was a welcome relief from the punishing and energy-sapping summer heat. When Angala took the stage to introduce the speakers, we were all ears. 

Angala is a survivor of domestic abuse. In a Break the Cycle Zoom meeting in 2022, she said she started biking in 2017 as a means to attain “empowerment and healing.”

“When I got into biking, that’s when I felt that I am in control of my life,” she said. “You hold the bike’s handlebars and it brings you to places, you feel the wonderful wind on your face, you can go fast, you can go slow… It feels good when you realize that you can use a simple [thing] to bring you anywhere and bring you that kind of happiness.”

Angala said biking so healed her that whenever she became anxious, she just took to her bike. She said her experience has moved her to encourage everyone to try biking: “It’s good for the environment, for our physical and mental health, and for the community.” 

The speakers were introduced by Angala as women empowered by biking and who have helped “the cycling community, other women, and sustainable transport as a whole.” 

They shared stories that were varied and invariably inspiring: Rappler’s Iya Gozum who did a documentary on her 120-kilometer bike ride to check how safe Metro Manila is for bikers; a member of the Dutch Embassy who talked about how she felt biking for the first time in Manila; women who expounded on the benefits of commuting by bike; a biker who helps other women reach their biking goals; mother-and-daughter bikers who have been on long rides with their family to as far as the province of Quezon and Baguio City; a member of the LGBT community and how she found strength in biking; a member of the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights Center, who tackled the harassments that women bikers face on the road and how to address them…

According to an October 2022 Facebook post by Mobility Awards, 54,085 people on bicycles were counted across four cities in Metro Manila—Quezon City, Marikina, Pasig and San Juan—on June 28, 2022, with men outnumbering the women. 

What could be preventing more women from biking?

Safe Spaces Act 

From the speaker of the CHR came reminders that there is such a law as the Safe Spaces Act (or Republic Act No. 11313), and that women who experience such offensive acts as cat-calling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitation, misogynistic, transphobic, or homophobic remarks, and sexist slurs, and who encounter an immediate threat to their safety should seek help from anti-sexual harassment enforcers at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and local units of the Philippine National Police, or the “Aleng Pulis” of the PNP Women and Children Protection Center. 

It was a long but fruitful day especially for a woman biker like me. We bike for different reasons, but it becomes extra special when we do so for something that will leave a lasting mark, and help raise awareness on issues that women continue to face on or off the road.

Read more: Finding our way to happiness amid life’s difficulties

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