A Beginner’s Guide To Cycling In The Philippines

Image courtesy of Trasienne Estrada, photograph by Ara Custodio

Everything to know for your next bike ride.

Just a few years ago, most people in the Philippines would’ve never considered cycling as a primary mode of transportation, especially in Manila. But as the pandemic halted public transportation and limited what everyone could do, bike converts surged. Along with them came an improvement in bike infrastructure, an increase in bike shops, and the emergence of cycling communities and active mobility advocates. There’s never been a better time to get into cycling. Though the country is still a long way from being considered cycling friendly, it’s important to be prepared when setting off on the journey to two-wheeled freedom. Below, a definitive beginner’s guide to cycling for anyone looking to get into the activity.

Why Cycle?

Cycling can be a fantastic exercise. As a low impact sport, cycling can be picked up by people of all ages and body types. Despite causing less strain on the body, the act of pedaling still engages all major muscle groups, making it a total body workout. Besides its physical benefits, cycling can also be a great outlet mentally, with many enthusiasts saying any length and type of ride is a great way to clear the mind.

For Float co-founder and cycling enthusiast Trasienne Estrada, riding was a way to cope with grief after the sudden death of her father during the pandemic. “The simple act of riding a bike through familiar places kept my father’s memory alive and kept me going even in my darkest moments,” she tells us, adding, “It’s amazing how the humble bicycle can be so significant to my mental health and wellbeing.”

Cycling is also a way to explore an area more intimately and build community. For Estrada, cycling has become both a lifestyle and a sport. “I love how the saddle can surprise you each day by bringing you to places you never thought of going before,” she shares. Interested yet? Here’s everything to know about getting started.

Image courtesy of Trasienne Estrada

Choose Your Bike Based On Your Needs

Equipped with the right research, shopping for the perfect bike doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. In fact, it should be fun. Tambay Cycling Hub’s lead mechanic Eugene Canelas, aka BikeWrenchPH, who started out by offering free repair services to frontliners at the beginning of the pandemic, says determining your cycling goals is the first step in buying a bike. He suggests asking yourself, “Do you just see yourself commuting around the city? Are you intending on building up to long rides? Are you interested in going on off-road trails? Is comfort or speed your top priority?” These should help narrow down the kind of bike tailored to your needs.

You should also look to your friends for ideas—and their bikes. “Unless you’re set on being a solo rider, consider the types of bikes most of your friends have. More often than not, you’ll be joining them and will want to keep up with their chosen type of riding,” Canelas says, adding, “It might be difficult keep up on a mountain bike while everyone else has road or gravel bikes. Likewise, you’ll have a hard time with a road bike in a group of mountain bikers, since their rides might include off-road trails.” 

Budget-wise, Canelas says, “There will always be things that change as you gain more riding experience, like fit and riding style.” So the the most expensive options may not always be the best choices for beginners.

Equip Your Bike With The Right Gear

Before setting off on anything from a short coffee ride to a potential adventure, there are a few safety essentials that should be in your inventory. First, put together your repair kit, which should cover all of the most common mechanical issues you might encounter. Make sure it includes a basic multi-tool, hand pump, spare inner tubes, tire levers, and a patch kit. More extensive kits might include an adjustable bike wrench and a chain tool.

Next, put together your safety items. This includes things that will increase your visibility, like front and rear lights, as well as reflectors. Also, make sure to invest in a good, quality helmet. Lastly, pack comfort items. These, of course, vary from rider to rider, but some examples include snacks, wet wipes, and a water bottle.

Wear Something Comfortable

For the stylish individual new to cycling, it can be a little tricky to figure out what to wear on your ride. But the bottom line is simple: wear whatever makes you comfortable and happy, and won’t get caught in your bike (like frays and fringe).

Forget anyone who declares that you must wear a certain pair of shorts or outfit to be considered a serious cyclist. The more you ride, the more you’ll figure out what works best for you. That can look like a fitted cycling jersey and bib shorts to some, while for others it’ll just be a pair of jean shorts and a button-down shirt.

Hit The Road With A Friend

Once your gear is in order, the only thing left to do is hit the road—but it’s best to do it with a friend. “We recommend biking with a buddy that’s more experienced. Not necessarily a group because that’s a different skill,” says Aneka Crisostomo of Bicycle Friendly PH, a group working with local government units to implement bike-inclusive ordinances. She adds, “Choose a route without heavy traffic [as] people or cars can be challenging to navigate on your first ride [and] consider practicing in empty parking lots or closed streets at off-peak hours.”

Crisostomo’s group holds free bike lessons for beginners of all ages and their teaching philosophy has always been focused on comfort level and that includes form. “Do whatever you’re comfortable with. If you’re more comfortable with a lower saddle, that’s fine,” she says, but reminds first-timers, “If you don’t know how to fix your own mechanicals, at least have all the tools with you. If you can’t find a bike or vulcanizing shop nearby, you’re at least likely to find people that can help.”

Image courtesy of Aneka Crisostomo, photography by Patrick Santillan

Find Your Community

One appeal of biking, especially after the pandemic stripped everyone’s social calendars bare, is making friends with fellow cyclists. Estrada says, “Find a community. Bike with friends. Endure the challenge together— the early mornings, the lactic acid build up, the winding and busy roads, and the scorching weather of the Philippines.” If that doesn’t sound appealing enough, at least know that biking in groups is also a safety measure. She adds, “Not only is cycling is safer with others, you can learn a lot [from] other bikers. And, of course, you’ll build great and lasting friendships through a shared love for the sport.”

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