Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chain Reaction

Jakarta's transportation purgatory is seemingly never out of the news these days and straw clutching solutions are increasingly being tabled. Solutions such as banning motorcycles from certain roads or park and ride initiatives designed to spur people into taking the plunge on the ever more dog-eared Busway system are the latest brainstorm efforts.

As I’ve said before though, I don't believe that there is actually a solution to the increasingly desperate gridlock at this point, barring the invention of a teleportation system which, were it to be run by TransJakarta, would no doubt be rematerializing people at their destinations with their heads on back to front and the like.

The humble bicycle continues to make headway in Jakarta however and Indonesia's Bike2Work community goes from strength to strength, encouraging more and more mentally unstable individuals such as myself to head to the office under their own pedal power. Looking further a field, I was also encouraged to read last week that my home city of London has just introduced a new scheme whereby 5000 bicycles will be made available at a number of special stations around town for anyone who wants to borrow them for a short trip and a very modest fee. Perhaps London's just trying to burnish its image with the IOC ready for the 2012 Olympic Games, however a genuine bicycling revolution seems to have been underway in the UK over the last few years.

Well, not to be outdone by my homeland, I saddled up last Sunday and headed down to Bike2Work's new headquarters on Jl. KH Achmad Dahlan, which lies between Blok M and Radio Dalam in South Jakarta. The group currently has over 10,000 members in Indonesia, although this is a long way from the one million cyclists that Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo insists will be needed before he starts building dedicated bicycle lanes in town.

If he did show a bit of vision on this issue though there'd certainly be less pollution. In fact, if you compare calories of human energy expenditure whilst cycling with the energy present in gasoline, then the bicycle is the most efficient machine ever created and can get the equivalent of about 3000 miles per gallon. As iconic author Iris Murdoch once said, "The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart." Pure in heart perhaps although in shirt and trousers one can get awfully sweaty in this climate and that could be a serious disincentive to the considering the further bicyclification of Jakarta.

As it is, many of Jakarta's motorists, to my endless consternation, double park and cause bottlenecks just to avoid walking an extra 100m to their ultimate destinations, so what chance is there of getting them wobbling through town on two wheels? Perhaps an evening Bike2Bar scheme, when it's a little cooler, would be better? Erm…on second thoughts perhaps not, I don’t think the casualty departments could cope.

Anyway, down at the new Bike2Work HQ, a rack of top-flight machines was parked outside. I dismounted and chatted to some of the friendly gang of cyclists who were visiting the center. Friendly they may have been, however they take their cycling very seriously, a lot more seriously than I do at any rate. They even had helmets, the big softies.

One married deaf couple that I met were just stopping by in Jakarta as part of a tour around Indonesia. Then, as I was weighing up the pros and cons of being a deaf cyclist in Jakarta, a guy called Edwin came up and introduced himself to me. "Where have you just ridden from then Sir?" I enquired. "All the way from Tangerang," he replied, "but that's nothing" he continued, "me and some friends recently did a fun ride from Tangerang all the way to Bandung, that's 170 km. It took us 16 hours."

"Fun" ride ay? I guess that the vast majority of Jakartans would sooner eat a portion of rat fried rice at a roadside warung whilst being loudly serenaded by a tambourine bashing lady boy with laryngitis and an Adam's apple the size of a grapefruit than put themselves through this amount of "fun".

Fit, amateur club cyclists can indeed cover enormous distances though. In my formative years, I used to enjoy the annual London to Brighton cycle ride, during which literally tens of thousands of riders would spend the day covering the 80 odd kilometers between the capital and England's south coast.

Maybe a similar ride here would help to publicize the whole biking shebang. Jakarta to Cirebon perhaps, along the north coast road? Then back by special train? Possibly such an event would end in carnage and hundreds of juggernaut related fatalities by the end of the ride so some kind of mass burial site in Cirebon itself may have to be employed.

After half an hour, the esteemed Mister Edwin set off back to Tangerang on his metal horse while I took my leave of these strapping, tree trunk thighed kings among men and headed off to the nearest Circle K in order to fill my panniers up with Bintang. Life on the open road is a thirsty business you understand.