B/FREE: Paolo Abrera’s Life in Cycling

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Polo and joggers by BENCH
Photography by Kitkat Pajaro

Words by Margarita Buenaventura

We Filipinos have always valued our freedom — to wear what we want, say what we want, and especially, eat what we want. But despite all this freedom, we often ask ourselves: why can’t we get to where we want to go on time? The answer, of course, is all that damn traffic.

But there are those who are able to break free from that oppression. These are folks who can shimmy their way out of northbound EDSA during payday traffic, who can avoid the headache of finding parking during sale weekend at the mall. Biking, using a skateboard, and other means of alternative transportation might just be the answers to our woes, and it’s people like Mornings @ ANC host Paolo Abrera who make all of that seem possible.

We followed the television host, sports enthusiast, and environmentalist on a bike ride from the studio to talk about hefty bike locks, moist towelettes, and stopping to smell the flowers.

You have more than one bike, don’t you?

Yes, I don’t think you’ll meet an avid cyclist who has just the one. (Laughs) So I have a couple, but it’s still much more sane compared to my other friends. I have a road bike, which I use for training, and also racing, and triathlons. I have this, which is a mountain bike. It’s also a great commuter bike.

What got you on that bike seat in the first place?

I’ve been biking for many, many years. Since I was about 16. I approached biking as more of a way to get outdoors, and also for a fitter lifestyle. And it just turned into something that’s a bigger part of my life than I ever expected it to be. I started to discover how much different Manila is if you experience it on two wheels. There’s less traffic, parking isn’t as big a problem. When you get into a car, it’s like being in a capsule. You’re an outsider with a barrier between you and the city itself. On a bike, you get to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells… (Laughs)

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Would you say there’s a tradeoff?

A bit. Our weather is hot, so you arrive sweaty. So you pack extra clothes, and maybe some moist towelettes to freshen up. But it doesn’t take much more than that. It’s on days when I have the time, I’ll choose to ride my bike over driving. It takes just about the same time, considering I come from Parañaque to Quezon City.

Wow, you really bike from Parañaque to Quezon City?

There are days when I do. Usually the start of summer, because it’s not so hot yet. When triathlon season starts, I try to combine commuting with a little bit of training. I have a tight schedule, so I try to hit two birds with one stone. Nowadays, there are more and more people on the road, and it’s nice to see drivers are more aware that they have to share the road who people who pedal.

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Are there any advantages to cycling in the routes you usually take?

Well, you know, from Parañaque to the studio in Quezon City, I pass some busy streets, some smaller ones… I pass a little bit of C5 early in the morning, when it’s not too bad yet. After that, I use the smaller back roads. Some of those roads are towards the edges of Marikina. They’ve actually made an effort to make rudimentary bike lanes. That’s a start. Definitely areas like The Fort, Makati, are little more in tune with the wave of people who want to go on two wheels.

What sort of advice would you give first-time cyclists?

You know, right now there’s a lot of newcomers into cycling and the idea of bike commuting. But I think it takes a little bit of practice, and defensive and offensive riding (Laughs) to stay safe. Just be careful of the route you take, carry the right tools so you can repair your bike on the go. And of course, a hefty bike lock is always a must. It doesn’t matter where you ride, as long as your attitude is safety first, and enjoying whatever route it is you take.

The small details of the city are missed because you’re driving past in the car. With biking, you really get to stop and smell the flowers.

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