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Pedal power

The Jakarta Post: Pedal power

Tifa Asrianti , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Sun, 02/21/2010 4:10 PM | Lifestyle

Ten years ago, the idea of choosing to ride a bicycle in jam-packed Jakarta seemed crazy. But today it's no longer unusual to see a cyclist braving the capital's streets.

Amid the traffic snarls in a traditional market area of Jakarta, the air vibrates with the usual cacophony of sounds. Mikrolet and taxi drivers lean on their horns, motorcyclists fire off their urgent beeps and, among them, not to be outdone, a lone cyclist works his thumb furiously as he repeatedly rings his bell.

A patch on his T-shirt reads "Bike to Work", identifying this adventurer as one of a growing community of those taking pedal power to the streets.

Since cycling community Bike to Work (B2W) was established in 2004, the number of cyclists and bike communities has been on the rise. Among them are the Indonesian BMX Association, Folding Bike Association and the Batavia Ontel Bicycle Community (KOBA), to name a few.

While the actual number of active cyclists tackling the streets of Jakarta is hard to ascertain, data from B2W can offer a glimpse into the growth in the trend. When it was established, B2W only had around 150 members on its mailing list. Within two years, the number had jumped to 5,000. Now, B2W communities are popping up in other major cities across the country, including West Java's Bandung, Central Java's Semarang, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and Riau's Pekanbaru.

And it is not inconceivable that the number might increase, given growing governmental and social support.

Supporting the biking trend are such prominent figures as Youth and Sports Minister Andi Alfian Mallarangeng, Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo and numerous CEOs, who encourage their subordinates to use their bicycles for transportation.

The Jakarta administration started the monthly "Car Free Day" program, which closes off selected main roads to all motorized traffic, and there is currently a plan to construct a special bike lane in city streets - although at the expense of the pedestrian sidewalk.

As the cycling communities grow, they are finding strength in numbers, testing their power by submitting requests to local administrations to create cyclist-friendly policies, such as bike lanes and public bike parking lots.

While it might have seemed impossible once upon a time, it seems likely that more people will take up cycling, whether for economic, health or environmental reasons, or simply to join the crowd.

Bambang Ahadiat, 47, who works at a private company, said he took up bike riding again two years ago when he met a friend who was a KOBA member. Since then, Bambang has been indulging his passion for antique bikes.

When he was spotted at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle on a recent Car Free Day, Bambang was riding a 1924 Gazelle type 2, complete with saddlebags, which he found in Tangerang. He has another seven antique bikes at home, with unfamiliar brands such as NSU, Humber, Hercules and Raleigh.

Bambang said he chooses antique bikes because they are unusual.

"People notice and admire an antique. It is rare to find one like this," he said, stroking the leather saddle.

The Tangerang resident usually rides his bike around his housing complex, but he takes his bike along whenever there are gatherings or events such as Car Free Day.

"I like riding a bike because it's not too tiring," he said, adding that it took him about one hour and 10 minutes to cycle from his home to the HI traffic circle.

Adit, 14, a high school student from Bekasi, said he took up bike riding about two years ago, with cycling being his main means of getting around, whether to school or other places.

"I like sport, and cycling is convenient," said Adit, a member of the Indonesia BMX Association.

Adit's first bike was a DK, a standard BMX bike. Then he switched to Polygon, before purchasing a Fitbike. He said that the bikes' prices ranged between Rp 500,000 and Rp 5 million.

"I save money to buy a good bike," he said, adding that he sold his previous bike to buy the latest one.

"Bike materials are lighter now because they are made from a composite material that is strong," he said. "It is important to find the right bike because I practice extreme BMX tricks."

Dardjanto, 52, an entrepreneur, chooses bikes as his means of transportation because it reminds him of his childhood pastime. At a recent Car Free Day, he rode his mountain bike along with his sons, Irsan and Rian.

"I've been riding bikes since 1990. It's a cheap and healthy way to get around the city," he said. "The collapsible bike is trendy now, but I choose bikes based on their function, not trend."

If the weather is fine, Dardjanto usually cycles from his home in Pancoran, South Jakarta, to his office in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta. It seems he has influenced his sons to pedal after him. Rian also rides his bike to his office in Kramat; Irsan lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and, unsurprisingly perhaps, also cycles to work.

"I'm here on holidays. The last time I came home was five years ago," Irsan said. "It's my first Car Free Day here. I'm really surprised to see how much Jakartans are into cycling now."