September 01, 2002

Riding for the Return of Manila’s Fireflies

This year’s tour was the biggest so far since it started in 1999. There were a total of around 700 registered riders, and about 2000 riders in total. This can be attributed to an unprecedented media blitz in print and television through partnerships with The Philippine Daily Inquirer and Bantay Kalikasan.

Other sponsors that helped in disseminating information and registration are Cravings, Bisikleta Atbp, Bicycle Works, Joven Bicycle Shop, The Bike Room, Roosevelt Bicycle Center and Extreme Bike Shop.

At intersections the mass of riders blocked traffic for an average of 30 minutes. Needless to say, this spectacle had people pouring out of their homes. The neighborhoods where the Tour passed through became an impromptu fiesta if only for half an hour. Not all were amused though, as evidenced by the frowns on the faces of some motorists who were caught up in the traffic.

At the Manila Cathedral, the bride was about to alight from the bridal car when the Tour swept by as it entered the Walled City of Intramuros. The wedding guests poured out of the church to watch, mesmerized by the sheer number of cyclists. An astute photographer began posing the bride and guests, using the swarm of bikers as a backdrop. It certainly was a wedding day to remember.

The Tour passed through a representative sample of Metro Manila’s streets. Smooth multi-lane concrete highways served as a counterpoint to narrow, labyrinthine, pot-holed side streets. This experience opens the participants’ minds to the need to maintain these roads, to the need to use quality materials in the first place, and to encourage bicycles so as to lessen the volume of traffic that rips up the roads.

The knowledge of alternate routes was also presented, which the participants can use should they try to take up bike commuting in the future.

The deliberate pace of the Tour is geared towards that of maintaining a comfortable speed within the abilities of the beginner cyclist. Even children, with their diminutive legs pumping the pedals, had a grand time. At an average of 17 kilometers per hour, almost everyone can keep up with the pack.

Seasoned cyclists consider this a slow tortuous pace as they are much more comfortable at a faster pace. Yet most of them, when enlightened of the reason why we hold the Tour, understand and even help in regulating the pace.

With this partnership, beginners are launched into the world of cycling as their enthusiasm and confidence are heightened. Now, numerous beginner cyclists, some of whom had never ridden beyond 5 kilometres early in the year, join the weekly Firefly Brigade rides that typically run for at least 40 kilometres per ride. The tribe is growing.

Pedalling up the slight incline that leads up to Marikina Riverbanks Center, Mang Bob Sarreal grinned as he accomplished his fourth Tour of the Fireflies. All of 73 years old, Mang Bob along with his heavy pre-war bike has been a mainstay of the Tour. Later he would be recognized, for the fourth time, for being the oldest participant. Other cyclists won prizes too; the youngest (6 years old), those with decorated bikes and costumes, and the largest contingent.

The Tour of the Fireflies ended at Marikina Riverbanks with a flourish. The lead cyclists trickled in as they zipped up the slight uphill. Soon the trickle became a torrent as the main pack of riders checked in, a cacophony of tinkling bells, clanging chains, shifting gears, excited whoops and cheers permeating the air.

There was an epidemic of high fives, hugs, handshakes, smiles and welcome kisses as friends who got separated during the ride finally met up.  The most heard question was “Why does this happen only once a year?”

At the ensuing program, awards provided by the Tour sponsors were given to deserving riders. Food was provided to the registration and volunteer marshals by Cravings. Though sapped by the effort and intense heat of the summer sun, many of the riders, empowered by the experience, were already looking forward to the next Tour of the Fireflies, which promises to be even bigger.

The Tour certainly coaxed the populace out of their homes to marvel at the huge mass of human-powered machines. And the people indeed understand the Tour of the Fireflies for what it is; a cavalcade of concerned cyclists in whose collective consciousness resides the idea of a city encapsulated with clean air.

The vision is attainable. We must not rest until we have pure, unadulterated air coursing through our lungs as we breathe. We must not rest until the fireflies come back to live amongst us.

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