“Yes, yes,” says cyclist Martin Turner. “Cycling is good for the environment, yes, it’s often a faster mode of transport, so you can say all of these things of course, but why do I cycle? Because it’s fun!”
Turner, 51, commutes to work from North Point to Wan Chai. For the first few months after he moved to Hong Kong from his native Britain, he gave up on the bike. He was enamoured by the metal shiny MTR, seduced by the Star Ferry and would regularly jump on a bus.
“But then I realised that actually buses move quite slowly, and they do this inconvenient thing where they stop to let people off, and then I’ll see something in a shop window that I want to look at but the bus isn’t stopping right at that moment.” So it was time to get a bike again.
Turner, as chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, has been at the forefront of making Hong Kong more cycle-friendly. The Transport Department doesn’t even recognise cycling as a form of transport, he says, and he dreams of a time when Hong Kong will introduce the same bike-sharing systems now in place in any number of cities around the world.
Every year Turner organises a silent ride for those who have died on the roads that year. He says the yearly average in Hong Kong is 10, which is above the global average. Turner has been in court a couple of times for “careless driving”, even though he was struck by another car. Among fines he has had to pay was one for HK$1,000 for not having a bell on his bike.
There have been attempts to create cycle paths. But Turner doesn’t want them. He wants cyclists to have as much right to the roads as other modes of transport.
Now into his 30th year in Hong Kong, Turner, who does marketing for Red Edge Communications, is not a bicycle geek. When asked for the make he prefers to ride, he says: “Well it’s got two wheels, one at each end.” His bike is quite old, nothing flashy, no go-faster stripes.
Born in Birmingham but brought up in Surrey in southern England, Turner says bikes were the only way to get around when he was a child. And you were a loser if you didn’t have one.
“One minute you’d be picking daisies with your friends and then one would say: ‘Let’s go down to the river’, and you were all off and the kid without the bike had to puff along behind.”
Before coming to Hong Kong, Turner lived in several cities in Britain “and cycling was the only sensible way to get around. “It saves money, it’s sustainable, it’s good exercise and it makes you happy. Having a bike is fun. It’s brilliant to be under your own control.”
Turner says cyclists don’t need facilities in Hong Kong, what they need is understanding and support.
He says there is more understanding than a decade ago. Even so, the government still seems to think cycling is just for hobbyists.
“Three months ago New York started its city bike share, and that’s about the same size as Hong Kong,” says Turner. “In Wuhan and Hangzhou they have thousands of bikes for public use at stands around the cities. But the Transport Department thinks we shouldn’t have such a scheme.”
He says Sha Tin and Kai Tak would be good locations for bike sharing. He feels bikes should be integral to plans for the harbour front and West Kowloon.
“The point is, when a family visits Hong Kong they head to the harbour and instead of looking at it and then heading back into the big smoke, they could pick up some bikes and cycle gently along the harbour front and then drop the bikes off at the next cycle point and possibly even pay by Octopus. Then the harbour front would become an entity.”