The last time. Now, there’s a phrase guaranteed to wreak havoc on my innards. You work hard to make every moment count, but there’s always this thing nagging at you. I won’t do this again. I won’t see this place, or this person, again. I won’t get to experience this rush again. Hoard memories. Store feelings. Embrace as much of it as you can, tight, tight, tight.
Last night, I traded Facebook messages with my low rider bike friend, Oom Djoko.
Djoko: Are you going to go to your hometown tomorrow Christine?
Christine: Hi Djoko! Im coming to the carfree event tomorrow, but going home on the 9th, next weekend. Will you be there tomorrow?
Djoko: Yes, I will go to CFD tomorrow and I hope we can meet each other there in front of HI as usual.
At 6:30 a.m. this morning, clear skies met me on Radio Dalam, as did several cyclists riding in the opposite direction. I now know to wave or to make eye contact and nod. The greeting is always returned, energetically and happily. We are in on it, together.
My sign, kita bisa naik sepeda; di Jakarta! finally succumbed in a two-hour storm on Friday. All that was left by the end of the evening was the single bit of cardboard I’d later inserted as a correction to my original sign (‘sepeda’, replacing the less correct word ‘bike’.) I didn’t want my bike to become a boorish vocab lesson, so the entire message had to come off. Only now did I realize how much I had enjoyed the conversations with perfect strangers that this bit of cardboard had caused.
“Hello Sudirman” I waved to my favourite landmark. Once inside the barricaded route, I removed my now unnecessary helmet and took off into the crowds, handsfree. Thanks to one of my interviewees in Toronto, I’ve taken to riding as much of a safe route in this manner, giving the playful message to others that a bicycle is more than a mode of transportation: a bicycle lets you feel your youth again. Weaving in and out of the throng, I pushed harder on the uphill portions and sailed into the downhills. Fun.
As always, there were lots of interesting sights. For instance, there was a man proudly showing off his Burlap Bike. Then, I found a Garden Bike, something my friend Amy in Toronto would like. In this case, the girls are bearing fresh roses home! Then, there was what I can only describe as the Propeller Bike. Neat, neat, neat.
I bid farewell to the Dutch Commuter community, which drew the attention of many other cyclists today. It’s wonderful to see people of both sexes and all ages dressing up for an occasion like this.
At Bunderan HI, I met up with Djoko again. Several other cyclists cruised over and joined the conversation, two of them being Matt and Nineth.
They are also big proponents of cycling to work, so we discussed the likelihood of bikes ever developing into a recognized form of transportation. Matt commented that the whole Carfree Sunday event is becoming ineffective; the more vocal riders feel almost patronised.
“It’s a joke,” he laughed. “We can’t even call it a carfree ‘day’ because it’s only a few hours. A Carfree Half-Day is more like.”
“I can’t miss this event,” I told them earnestly. “It does something to me, makes me more myself. In my mind, it’s not Carfree Sunday but Carefree Sunday because of how I feel, both while I’m here and afterward. To be able to do this every day, on your way to work, would make such a difference in this city!”
Jakartans need to press for infrastructure and inclusivity. Worldwide, we need to change the average person’s perception of the bicycle’s role. Politicians must make cycling to work an easier, more acceptable mode of transportation, one that people can and want to embrace.
“If one person rides to work,” I argued, ” it makes no difference. But of all of these hundreds of thousands of cyclists who attend the Carfree Sunday event, if even half of them rode their bike to work tomorrow, think of the possibilities!”
On the way home, I took to the quieter side lanes to bid my bike polo friends farewell. A few were seated along the curb, post-game. We waved. “Hello, ma’am,” they called, reinforcing the memory of my beloved Jakarta greeting.
Bike traffic being lighter in these lanes, I went handsfree at once. The lane marker presented itself, and with hardly a thought, I weaved—sometimes easily, sometimes with effort—in and out, in and out, in and out of the broken line. On the easier stretches, I made eye contact with other cyclists, all of whom invariably nodded and waved and offered me that one reliable moment that’s gotten me through these five months: the broad, genuine, kind Indonesian smile.
At one of the intersections, I stopped for a red light. Above me, a tobacco company’s billboard cunningly employed lifestyle advertising. Today’s Spirit, it recommended, should Talk Less, Do More. As much as I hate this underhanded method of making a buck, I had to admit their slogan was excellent.
An hour later, a friend had emailed to say he’d been thinking of me on my last ride. “It must have been emotional,” he said.
“Yes,” I responded, “The ride was very emotional. Extraordinary that a regular event could have this effect on me. I shall miss it with my very being.”
Think about cycling to work under your own steam. About getting exercise and being healthier, both physically and mentally. About saving money and time, every day on your commute. These are what a bicycle can mean. It’s only a dangerous or a rebellious act if that’s how you choose to perceive it.
You want change, Jakarta? It must come from you, the cyclists, those who believe. Lobby your politicians. Tell them that the Carfree Sundays are nice, but not nearly enough. Demand change.
Get out there on your bicycle and make a statement: I ride Jakarta. Jakarta will only remain an unsafe place to ride, with polluted and unwelcoming roads, if you let that continue. Think of the effect that clean air, better infrastructure, and an even stronger community could have on your economy, on tourism, on how Jakarta is viewed globally. Don’t wait for others to effect change. Do more than talk about change. Get on your bicycles tomorrow and ride to work. Ride to your lessons. Bike to the pool, to your football game, to get your hair cut. Get on your bike and ride, just for the fun of it. Ride, Jakarta, and effect change. You have the will.
Kita bisa naik sepeda.