When it comes to ecotourism and even a country’s transport system, cycling is becoming the transport of choice as it reduces pollution, road congestion and unlock many health benefits. It even has untold economic benefits, as argued by a UK bike association.
On a recent trip to Penang, Malaysia, passing by Ipoh on the way, I took along my foldable bicycle otherwise known as foldie. I was planning to cycle in Balik Pulau and George Town in Penang, and Ipoh in Perak.
In Balik Pulau, I was fortunate to stay at a kampong house that also doubled up as a Warmshowers host. Warmshowers is a worldwide community of bicycle tourists who sometimes also provide accommodation to other cyclists from around the world. The Titi Teras village house had bicycles for rent and even equipment to repair your bikes.
The manager, Adrian Chan even gave me a map showing the route to Malindo, the nearest beach. I cycled there, got lost along the way but still found my way to the beach and back to the kampong house. The sea there, though not suitable for swimming, is where the villagers’ fishing boats are moored. Despite not having much to do, the sunset was beautiful and the countryside ambiance was as usual peaceful and reminiscent of days gone by.
The cycling trip to the beach was quite an adventure – passing by kampong houses, villagers on motorbikes and bicycles, vegetable farms, small shops, a stable of ponies, paddy fields, cows, chickens, and a stall selling sugarcane water made from sugarcane planted right next to it in front of the paddy field. The small stall was manned by an elderly Malay husband and wife. It was the best sugarcane juice and the freshest I have ever tasted. It was very cheap too.
Back at the double-storey kampong house, there were non-human occupants too such as a friendly dog, a cat and mosquitoes, and occasionally a monitor lizard, and a snake if it’s your lucky day. Admittedly, it’s not luxurious but it fits the purpose.
[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”show” ihc_mb_who=”1,2,3,4,5,9″ ihc_mb_template=”1″ ]
There is heater in the bathroom and the toilet is
a seated one. It even has a kitchen equipped with refrigerator and cooker, plus a living room. Best
of all, it happened to be durian season so I had a sampling of some of the durians that fell from 30- year old trees located within the perimeters of the kampong house.
Back in George Town, I found my foldie really convenient instead of walking. You get to see so much more although for photos, I had to take rather frequent stops. Still, it’s much faster than walking as you can cover a lot more ground and yet not miss the hidden gems.
In Ipoh, my foldie came in handy although you can just walk around the main tourist areas consisting mainly of Concubine Lane. The bicycle allowed me to cycle further towards the Ipoh City Hall Building, where I ran smack into an old man drinking the famous Ipoh Old Town White Coffee (on the mural, that is).
I even went as far as the Ipoh’s Nam Heong Restaurant where lo and behold, I am served by robots – well, not quite all the way since these are low-end robots that could only serve non-liquid food. Even then, they are only able to tell you to collect your food from their tray and not place the food directly on your table. Still, they are quite a novelty having only been commissioned in January this year.
Quite coincidentally, while in Ipoh, I came across a Hong Kong cyclist who rode all the way from Hong Kong to Ipoh via Bangkok. There was also a Swiss cyclist who brought along his daughter for the ride of their life on their foldies in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, with occasional camping along the way.
CYCLING, PART OF ECOTOURISM
Clearly, cycling is the new ecotourism standard offering; not only is it cheap, it’s also environmentally friendly, healthy and you actually get to see more. Unique sights are easily missed when you are zipping by on the car or you might miss the bigger sights if you happen to be walking in a big city like New Delhi or even Kuala Lumpur. More importantly, you get to interact with the locals in a way you can never do when you are in a car or bus.
It is also encouraging to note that in Penang, Malaysia’s first spiral bridge for bicycles and pedestrians has been opened to the public since May. The Jambatan Harapan allows cyclists to cross the Bayan Lepas Expressway and reach Lebuhraya Sungai Nibong and the Bayan Baru roundabout at Krystal Point. According to reports, 95% of the Penang bicycle path master plan spanning 171km has been successfully executed.
Cycling tours are now standard in many tourist destinations. At the forefront is Taiwan which has for the last few years made a commitment to become the bicycling capital of the world. According to a website, Taiwan, which is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of bicycles, is the only country in Asia which has strategically established a national network of bike lanes, stretching 4,017 kilometres in 2014, and attracting cycling enthusiasts worldwide to explore the island nation’s nature hotspots.
You won’t believe it until you actually get there, but Taiwan has an incredible number of bicycle lanes, bike shops, rest stops (with free water, repair equipment), cycling events, detailed bike route maps, and additional bicycle infrastructure. There are many easy-to-access bike routes designed to showcase the island’s stunning natural landscapes, including a 30- 60 kilometre river bike path.
Although many countries still do not have a similar established bike network as Taiwan, a growing number of tour operators worldwide are finding lucrative opportunities in providing privately guided cycling tours across Southeast Asia – from Hanoi in Vietnam to Luang Prabang in Laos; from Siem Reap in Cambodia to as far as the island of Koh Kood in the gulf of Thailand; or simply a trip from Singapore to Penang. Grasshopper Adventures, for example, offers cycling expeditions to most of Asia including off-beaten paths in Mongolia, Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Timor Leste, Japan, India and China.
A UK travel agent says that demand has grown for cycling excursions and sightseeing in Asia from their European clients. Their clients of all ages have become more health and environmentally conscious in recent years.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, the Land Transport Authority is committed to turning Singapore into
a cycling-friendly city. Its website says: “By 2030, all HDB towns will have a cycling network, which means a total of 700km of cycling paths across the island. Other bicycle-friendly infrastructure such as bicycle crossings and bike parking facilities are being added to further encourage a cycling culture.” This includes Intra-Town Cycling Networks, Ang Mo Kio Model Walking & Cycling Town, Automated Underground Bicycle Parking System, and Tanah Merah Coast Road On-Road Cycling Lane.
TRANSPORT OF CHOICE
Cycling is not just limited to tourism – it is becoming the transport of choice even for some politicians. Melbourne’s mayor, Sally Capp, recently ditched her AUD240 a day mayoral car in favour of cycling, walking and public transport to the delight of many in the most liveable city in the world.
What she is doing is walk the talk – reduce car congestion and implement Copenhagen-style protected bike lanes. Melbourne even has the 2016 – 2020 City of Melbourne bike plan which envisages 25% of vehicles entering the CBD during mornings to be bicycles.
It is time the rest of Asia which haven’t done so to take cycling seriously as a healthy and sustainable alternative transportation mode. For it to succeed though, government support and a change of mentality in the public psyche are crucial.
‘NATIONAL STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF CYCLING’
In the UK, an earnest case has been made where the UK Bicycle Association has unveiled new research that shows the national strategic importance of cycling. It argues that if the government met its own target to double cycle usage by 2025, then cycling would deliver huge boost to the economy, sustaining more than 100,000 jobs.
The cycling industry isn’t currently considered to be “strategic” by the UK government. That needs to change, argues the Bicycle Association’s report, The Value of the Cycling Sector to the British Economy.
The report claims that the UK cycle industry is worth three times more than the UK steel industry, and employs twice as many people. A bicycle is sold roughly every 10 seconds, estimates the report.
Cycling related businesses currently generate at least £5.4 billion for the UK economy each year, and they sustain 64,000 jobs, some in bike shops but most in cycle tourism of one sort or the other.
“We estimate that cycling contributes around £5.4 billion a year to the economy, with the larger share of this, £4.1b, coming from wider impacts, particularly reductions in loss of life, and reduced pollution and congestion. Products associated with the cycling industry contribute £0.7b, while tourism attributable to cycling contributes, at least, a further £0.5b. Cycling generates around 64,000 FTE jobs in the UK including jobs in tourism, sales and repair, cycle delivery, manufacturing, and cycle infrastructure.”
“It is estimated that the total annual tourism spend attributable to cycling and mountain biking is £520m, which is higher than for fishing, watersports and golf but around half that for visiting zoos and aquariums.”
The Bicycle Association is using the report’s findings to make an “industrial case” for cycling and the government, it seems, was becoming increasingly receptive to the idea.
It is estimated that there is a 4:1 “ethical return” when consumers purchase bicycles. That is, for every pound spent on a bicycle, the wider economy benefits by £4.
This is calculated from net gains thanks to improved health, reduced congestion and cleaner air – issues that cut across government departments. The sale of a £450 bicycle generates national economic benefits of around £1,800.
“The UK has the opportunity to lead the world,” says the report. “We can make the use of smart, clean bikes and e-cargo bikes a key part of a new green transport system which can power our future economy.
“More cycling also has the potential to stimulate the economies of our cities, making them function better, plus attracting highly skilled dynamic workforce from the tech industry. The report also called on the government to recognise e-bikes and e-cargo bikes as “low emission vehicles”, hence eligible for the kind of support other electric vehicles receive.
“Also, providing a financial subsidy for e-bikes, alongside electric cars, would kick-start public awareness of e-bikes and drive their mass uptake – just as they have in the rest of Europe. This would reduce pollution, road congestion and unlock health benefits created by cycling.”