6:30 a.m., Saturday December 1. To remain true to the Ghost Bike ride in Toronto, I’m riding at exactly the hour posted on Facebook. Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (www.respect.to/wp/) is combining the Ghost Bike ride with the monthly Critical Mass, leaving at 6:30 p.m. on Friday November 30, but because I’m in Jakarta that means a twelve-hour time shift, ahead.
At the gate to my kost, a photo is wanted to preserve this moment. The attendant kindly takes the shot and then holds the gate open for me.
Just then, a mother rides past on her bicycle, her young daughter contentedly seated on the crossbar, travelling to the nearby school.
While the traffic will be much lighter because of the hour, I still feel it’s important to follow a known route. I head to PIM, where I taught for three months. Within ten minutes, I’m having trouble breathing. Luckily, my flight leaves in a week: I need to get out of here.
Along the way to Sudirman, I join a surprising parade of people out on bicycles, some because this is their only available mode of transport, some because it makes sense to use a bicycle, and some just because they want some exercise. Bicycles are still used to transport work supplies around town, so I’m not so surprised to see this.
I am surprised to see this.
There are several cyclists out for pleasure rides at this hour. And suddenly, a whoosh of road bikes screams past in the other lanes! Until now, I’ve been moving slowly, respectfully, thoughtfully. When I see the road bikes, I pick up the pace, hoping to catch them and find out where they are going.
When I first got my bike, I heard rumours of people cycling out to Puncak, a two-hour drive from Jakarta. Was this them? It was a little late in the morning to start their five-hour cycle tour. Even now, the humidity is overwhelming.
At the turnaround for Hotel Indonesia, I spot a couple of touring bikes. They lead me straight to a group cycling around the neighbourhoods, between central JKT and Kramat Sentiong. They have chosen this hour to get some exercise in the slightly better air quality and reduced traffic.
Not a minute later, I cycle into this pack. They’ve been doing the same thing, only their destination is Kelapa Gading. Back and forth, round and round, until they’ve had enough.
I needed to see this, this inspiration, this dedication in the face of difficulties. Thinking of the ride in Toronto, I stop for a moment of silence.
Last week, I started working at a new school, just interim because they were desperate to fill an unexpected teacher vacancy.
I teach a Grade Three class. Tom Samson taught Grade Two.
“He was a teacher!” I scream at the universe unexpectedly. “What the hell are you playing at?”
Tom Samson rode his bicycle to work, and one day, he died doing so. Did he need to ride a bike for transportation? Well, no I doubt it. I suspect that he, like many of us, did it because he wanted to.
But look at this. When someone rides a bicycle, in any city, it helps reduce pollution,
it builds community
and it inspires.
Do we need bicycles? Yes, I believe we do.
For Tom Samson. A father, a teacher, a cyclist. And an inspiration to us all.