There are lots of mundane reasons for riding a bike. I ride for fitness (good fitness in constant humid heat). I ride because I can combine transport and fitness. I ride because it’s greener (not that I’m the greatest green warrior, but I try where I can). I ride because it’s cheaper (almost free, except for bike repairs and upkeep).
While not taking away from the goodness of those reasons above, below are three less obvious reasons for why we have chosen a bike over a car at the moment. [A disclaimer: In this post, I’m not trying to be prescriptive on how people should function overseas. I’m more just trying to be descriptive of our experience so far.]
Firstly, I ride as part of our family mission strategy. The phrase that I keep coming back to is ‘go slow’. The idea of ‘going slow’ seems to flow from our aim of being ‘vulnerable‘ on location. What does this mean? Riding helps explain this idea. Riding a bike means I go slower. Yes, riding is quicker than walking or running. But when I ride I go slower than a moto (think scooter), tuktuk or car.1 But I’m not really referring to my actual speed on a bike when I use the phrase ‘go slow’, more to my ability to do things. With a bike, and by inference a tuktuk for family transport, I’m able to do less than I would with a car. In a car its much easier to zip from here to there and do a few things, carry many things and many people. But with a bike I’ve gotta build up the motivation to ride in the heat using precious energy. I can then only carry myself and a small load if its an errand. In a nutshell I can do less with a bike than I can with a car. And so in this sense, life with a bike is slower than life with a car–it’s a form of ‘going slow’. The fact that we can do less on a bike helps us think through what things are important as we don’t have the ability to do as much as we would if we had a car. In a time when its easy to be busy, a car enables more of this busy-ness. However a bike slows the pace of life down (somewhat).
Secondly, as I ride I do less, but I also see more. I see Cambodia in a different way. I see the landscape differently on a bike than when I cruise on past in a car. And I see the people differently. I can interact with locals at the traffic lights and I have many conversations surrounding the fact that I ride a lot of places. I also have more Khmer interactions without a car. Instead of hopping straight into a car when we want to go somewhere, I need to interact in Khmer in order to get somewhere and get back if I’m taking more than just myself or running an errand that can’t fit in my backpack. So I see more and different things on my bike than I would when driving. When riding a bike, ‘going slow’, I see a different Cambodia.
Thirdly, I ride because in some ways its easier. Transport is a status symbol, especially in Cambodia. The bigger and more expensive the means of transport, the more important you are deemed to be. And the more money you are thought to have. Riding a bike … well that’s not even as expensive as a moto. For one, I’m less likely to be blamed for accidents, as people will see me on a bike and maybe take pity. They’ll probably also assume that I’m not rolling in it either. In that sense there are less complications from bike accidents than there are for other forms of transport. Plus I can do much less damage with my bike than I could with a moto or car. So, accident wise, a bike is much less complicated.
There are plenty of times when I have been tempted to get a moto or car. And there still may be a point in the future where we do get one or the other. But for the moment I’m biking.
- Although I would argue that there are plenty of times in Phnom Penh traffic when I think that my bike riding is the quickest form of transport. ↩