Malaysiakini Letter

Why cycling to work doesn't work here

RS Murthi  |  Published:  |  Modified:

While I'm thankful to New Zealand-based Noor Yahaya Hamzah for highlighting the benefits of cycling to work and riding a human-powered vehicle in general, I must point out that he has not fully grasped the reality of the situation in Malaysia.

Ours is not an environmentally-enlightened society like New Zealand's. And cycling, while it used to be common among the working classes here before the 70s (my father used to ride a bicycle to work for more than 25 years), is now treated as something only fools and the impecunious engage in. That's because, despite the appearance of wide political support for it, especially at trying times like these, there has been no concerted effort to promote cycling as a viable means of transport in Malaysia.

As a proud non-driver who has been relying on bicycles for commuting and recreation for more than a decade, I'm fairly qualified to make some accurate observations about our society's attitude to cycling. First, our society is not bicycle-friendly at all. Cyclists are almost always invisible to motorists on the road, even when they're garbed in flaming rainbow colours. That makes them extremely vulnerable at junctions, on narrow roads and areas where traffic is fast and furious.

I was once knocked down at a junction in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur by a Kancil driver who obviously thought he needed more room for his grand chariot than the lane assigned to him. The first thing he said when he stopped and got out of his car was, "I was only doing 30kph what..." He expressed no concern whatsoever for my broken fingers and bleeding arm. So much for caring motorists.

Then you have to contend with motorcyclists who seem to take perverse pleasure in spooking cyclists sharing their lanes. Never mind the cat-calls and ape-noises - evolution has obviously eluded some segments of motorised society. What's really scary and dangerously distracting is the sudden rev-up trick they like subjecting unsuspecting bicycle riders to. This kind of moronic monkeying is not only a dire threat to life and limb but also serves to recharge your contempt for anyone on a motorcycle.

And why are there no bike lanes in places where you need them most? It's fine having them in pretty public parks with costly vanity clocks that hardly anyone has the time to visit these days, but why can't our often benighted town planners find a way of accommodating the thousands of commuters who'd gladly hop on their bicycles if there was a way for them to get to work without worrying about murderous motorists and noxious fumes?

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