Saddle up and ride 'em

By Joyee Chan

A cyclist has 3,500 people backing his idea to promote slow living and bike use in the city.

By Joyee Chan |

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Campaigner Man Lee wants urban planners, lawmakers- and the general public- to recognise that bicycles are a good way to travel in the city.

If you were to meet your best friends for lunch in Causeway Bay after tutorial lessons in Sheung Wan, you are most likely to take the MTR, bus or tram. You would rarely think to go by bicycle: pedalling on busy roads with impatient drivers honking their horns is very unpleasant - not to say dangerous.

Yet urban biker Man Lee thinks the city is not as unfriendly to cyclists as we might think. And he's determined to change our minds.

In 2012, he started a Facebook group, Slow Mo Classic, to promote the idea of slow living and urban cycling: it has 3,500followers.

Every month, he holds tours to show Hongkongers how to appreciate the urban landscape and culture - on a bicycle. Half of the participants, he says, have never experienced seeing the city's business areas this way before.

"Based on road safety considerations, the administration does not encourage the use of bicycles as a transport mode in urban areas," a Legislative Council report noted in 2011.

"Hongkongers see cycling as a sport or something only for recreation," Lee says. "I think the bicycle can play a more important role in commuting - as it did before.

"It's still a common sight for cha chaan teng staff to deliver dinners, and gas companies to send gas bottles, by bike; that's how elderly ladies travel from home to their friend's house to play mahjong. I'd like to see people in business attire and students in school uniform on the pedal in the city one day, too."

One of Lee's five-hour, night-time tours takes cyclists from Jordan to Yau Tong, passing shopping malls, public housing estates, temples and promenades. When businesses close in the evening and shoppers return home, the roads - typically after 7pm - become less crowded and more bicycle-friendly.

Lee, who lives in Sha Tin, discovered this particular route when trying to find the best way home after attending a car-free day rally in Causeway Bay. He had taken his bicycle on the Star Ferry across the harbour, but decided to cycle as far as he could because he didn't want to go to the crowded MTR station in Tsim Sha Tsui. He ended up reaching Kowloon Tong after a short leisurely ride.

Lee found that Kowloon is perfect for cycling. "Compared to Hong Kong Island, Kowloon is flatter and has more side paths that allow cyclists to avoid traffic and make a safer journey," he says.

The good thing about a bicycle is that it can help a person cover a greater distance using less energy than by walking, Lee says. Also, cyclists can stop almost whenever and wherever they want - something that is not possible when driving a car.

"Sometimes we become so focused on the finish line, we fail to find joy in the journey," Lee says. "With a bicycle, I can stop to take in the views and sites of interest."

He believes more can be done to encourage bicycle commuting. For example, cyclists have had trouble transporting their bikes to the starting point because the MTR now treats bicycles as "bulky luggage"; they must be folded or have their wheels removed, and bus companies require cyclists to place bikes into a bag.

Bicycle theft is common in parking areas that have no security cameras, and many motorists lack respect for cyclists.

Lee believes it's time urban planners and lawmakers looked again at their planning blueprints - and recognise cycling as a good mode of transport around the city.