Sixty years ago, I could imagine that cycling must be so commonplace in Malaysia. In many old P Ramlee movies like Bujang Lapok, Seniman Bujang Lapok, and Ibu Mertuaku, we can see that cycling was a major mode of transport for the common people while the rich segment of our society was being driven around in their imported Ford Model T wearing tailored suits and tight kebayas (think “Kassim Selamat”, “Samseng Kg Dusun” and the “Azizah” song playing in the background).
Bicycles were once powerful and influenced our history. The Japanese invasion of Malaya on 8 December 1941 started with the onslaught of Japanese soldiers on bicycles cycling down from the Thailand borders into the town of Kota Bharu in Kelantan. (Note to self: Abang Zol suggested that one day we should re-trace that particular cycling route).
Pictures sourced from internet
With economic growth and prosperity in Malaya then (now Malaysia), primarily driven by the wealth of our natural resources through the export of tin, rubber, petroleum and later palm oil; the commonplace and humble bicycles as a personal mode of transport have been displaced initially by scooters (Italian Vespa, Lambretta, etc that go well with slick hair do and sunshades) and later bigger motorcycles (British makes ie Royal Enfield, Norton, and then Japanese Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, etc) and then small and boxy cars such as the early Fiat and first generation Honda cars and later all kinds of vehicle brands and makes that we see crowding our road today. This development trend in personal mobility is not only unique to Malaysia, I personally witnessed this trend from my regular travel over the years into China and Vietnam too.
Coincidentally (or maybe not) with the widespread effects of prosperity, introduction of 24 hour mamak restaurants and the disappearance of cycling as a major mode of personal transport, what used to be unheard of health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetics and high cholesterol have now become commonplace in our society. Thank god, in the last few years we have seen a major revival of cycling in our country and more bicycles again on our roads. The return to cycling is not only confined to the youngsters but also the young-at-hearts alike. The good thing is, cycling is a good form of exercise that one can still cycle even beyond the age of 70 years old, if health condition permits.
I am not sure what actually triggered the cycling revival; was it the popularity of the Le Tour de Langkawi series that led more people to buy road bikes and those funny tight-fitting spandex pants? or was it the BMX generation has now grown up and cycling has become part of their DNA that they moved en masse into mountain biking ? or the older and born in the 60s, “basikal Chopper” generation are now experiencing middle-age crisis and trying to get in touch with their lost youth while at the same time dealing with their receding hairlines and bald spots (by the way, nicely covered by cycling helmets so you could still look good in pictures but don’t forget to take a deep breath and hold that stomach too).
The general evolution of the typical modern day cyclist in Malaysia normally started with the road bike, once the other cycling kakis started to ride faster than him (and the jerseys do not fit anymore after size 2XL), he then turned to a mountain bike (yeay, it has 30 speed so you could still do the Dragon Back with ease) and finally when his average cycling speed has been reduced to 15km/hour he will switch to a touring bike (this is the stage I’m at right now). Along the way, in between mountain to touring, he may have picked up a folding bike to ride around the housing area in the evenings too.
I am very happy that cycling is back in Malaysian in a big way. Cycling events are being held regularly at the national and local levels and are attracting thousands of people participating at a time (my view on Mass Cycling here). People are getting together socially for cycling, mixing around and forging new friendship though their common love for cycling. The cyclist brotherhood (and sisterhood) cuts across the boundaries of race, religion or social status. For example the Darul Ehsan Touring Cyclists (DETC) group, has more than 300 members from all walks of life. The only requirement for entry is that you love to cycle. If you are a cyclist you are one of us.
Let’s get on our bikes and starts pedaling!
Note : “Bringing Sexy Back” is a song by Justin Timberlake, in case you’re wondering….