PETALING JAYA: In Malaysia, taking to the open road on a bicycle is like a taking a spin on the wheel of fortune.
Every time Gary Geoffery dons his cycling attire, he cannot help but wonder if it will be his last day alive.
“There are too many dangers that we have to be aware of. Fast cars, large bus and wide trucks pose a risk to cyclists on the road,” said the 41-year old.
Being based in Tuaran - located about 40km from Sabah’s capital - Geoffery is blessed with generous kampung roads.
Since he took up the recreational sport three years ago, he has tried to log a weekly average of 100km.
Though a good ride on tarmac is best, the cycling enthusiast says there are dangers seen and unforeseen no matter where one gets their biking fix.
“Some of the newer roads are a gift to the cycling community as they has an extra width of about three feet for the bicycle.
“However, older state or town roads barely have any semblance of safe passage,” he shared.
Poor road conditions, such as depressions in the surface and potholes of any size, are also dangerous.
Ideally, safe riding distance between a motorised vehicle and a cyclist is about 1.5 metres. Unfortunately, inconsiderate motorists who believe that cyclists have no place on the road have bullied their way into right of passage, to the extent of bringing harm to members of the cycling community.
Just last year, two cyclists Geoffery knew were knocked down in road accidents, with one being a nasty case of hit-and-run. Unfortunately, not much has been done to help the cycling community since then.
Though the Kota Kinabalu City Hall created a 7km green cycling lane in the city with more in the plans, its impact is far from wide-reaching for the cycling community.
As the lane is shared with pedestrians, riding on the small five-feet wide lane is often a recipe for disaster.
Cyclists often prefer taking to the road, especially those training to race, as their speed can go up to 40km per hour.
Due to the lack of official regulation for cycling, some take their bikes to the road without an understanding of traffic law, thus endangering themselves and others.
Geoffery believes that cycling associations are partly to blame, while the state association is more focused on developing medal-earning talents instead of regulating the cyclist community.
“District-level associations or cycling clubs should conduct periodic ethics and road safety classes to ensure their members are road-worthy,” he added.
He advocated the redesign of the road system to cater for safe usage pedestrians and non-motorised traffic, and hoped the Youth and Sports Ministry would support any association who wished to approach the respective agency to air the grouses of fellow cyclist.
However, Geoffery stressed that road safety is not limited to wearing helmets or going with bright outfit choices.
“It’s a cyclist’s personal responsibility to be safe, to cleverly plan his commute or training plan.
“He needs to adhere to traffic laws and know where and when to ride on a particular road. He should never go against the flow of traffic, avoid the distraction of music, always be visible and always be on the lookout.”
And contrary to popular belief, cyclists don’t always have an easier time of it in oft-cited cycling havens such as Melbourne.
In fact, a neighbouring country much praised for its public transport holds a higher rate of accidents for cyclists in car mishaps.
Ernest Rodrigues, a Singaporean living in Malaysia for five years, added that drivers can be downright aggressive in places like Australia, London, and the city-state of Singapore.
He feels that Malaysian drivers are more aware of cyclists due to the high volume of motorcycle users on the road. “They are more patient. Most of the dangers posed by motorised vehicles is when their drivers are distracted by their cellphones,” said the 45-year-old sports marketing manager.
However, he admitted that some cyclists don’t deserve to be on the road. “I’ve seen groups travel three to four abreast, failing to keep in a single file in traffic and blocking everyone,” he said.
The poor condition of local roads are also more likely to endanger a cyclist than an errant driver.
Rodrigues himself was thrown from his bike twice after coming into contact with potholes.
He also feels cyclists should just stay off the highway - likely due to the abundance of cars clocking in speeds of over 100km - and now prefers off road-riding as trees and rocks are much more stationary obstacles.
“I used to ride on the Duke Highway, until one morning at 5.30am, a huge lorry slammed into the divider right in front me. That was the last of it,” he said of the ban of bicycles on Malaysia’s highways.
He knows of two cyclists who were killed while out on their rides, while his friend, national cyclist Kimbeley Yap, survived a horrific accident in May.
Rodrigues stressed the need for mutual understanding on the roads, and urged drivers to remain mindful of the fact that bicycles are “human-powered”.
“When we’re climbing up the hill or preparing to move at the traffic light, we’d appreciate if there’s no honking.
“Everybody shares roads, and I can only take so many precautions. My fate is not in my hands,” he added.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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