Cycling has, like in the rest of the world, become big in Brunei these days. You cannot help but notice them on the road; packs of determined looking cyclists (the majority invariably men) eyes covered in fancy shades, ruffled brows riding in mini “pelotons”, recreating a stage of the Tour de France.
There is a name for them – men aged 35 and up, who have discovered the joys of Lycra. This new tribe has been dubbed ‘MAMIL’s’ or Middle Aged Men in Lycra. The ‘middle age’ in the term is rather telling. Instead of buying a flashy car nowadays no mid-life “transition” is complete without wriggling into a pair of spandex shorts and climbing onto a bespoke, upgraded and eye wateringly expensive bicycle.
I speak from experience, I fear that my beloved husband Bobby has signed up - though not for the full Lycra experience - into the sub group who ride mountain bikes on off-road trails. Weekends at the GoodEggs now consist of early Saturday night pasta festivals, and Sunday mornings up at the crack of dawn to apply sunscreen and to click off on cycle shoes for a three hour “kayuh” (“paddle” in Malay).
Although it would seem that the cost of the five carbon and alloy bicycles that now grace our store room would have depleted the children’s education fund, the total cost would appear still to be cheaper than a sports car. Or a mistress.
As I grunt at him not to wake the children, I get, “mun paham bisai dang”. Bobby is not known for his use of the vernacular. I think he may be spending too much time on this Facebook page, “Cycling Buddies Brunei”.
These days, a persons' identity is not just defined in the traditional manner - country, family, occupation, but also by the way that a person spends their leisure time. Social media has given a platform for people to group themselves around their passions and to interact with like-minded folk. There appears to be social media sites for all types. The aforesaid popularity of the Lycra clad road biking gang cannot be missed. There are groups for the rather hairier and generally Lycra-avoiding mountain bikers. For the young and urbane, there are groups who ride “fixies” a stylish subset of cyclists, whose bikes are based on the simple engineering of courier cyclists. Watch the film, “Premium Rush“ for the cultural reference.
All this pedal pushing can't really be a bad thing - it gets people together, out in the fresh air and living healthy lives. Bobby claims never to have seen more of the country and from so many different vantage points and perspectives. According to him anyway, as I have never seen the muddy side of a jungle trail, it has given a greater appreciation of the closeness that we in Brunei have with nature, something to appreciate and to treasure.
Given that it is a popular leisure activity, I wonder if cycling may one day be seen as a viable alternative means of everyday transportation. The heat and humidity may deter me for one, but I don’t see why it should deter many others. In other places, cycling is not just a lifestyle statement but “driven” by real economic factors such as high petrol prices, taxation and cost of parking. One could say that it is one of the best form of mass transportation. It's all about the healthy lifestyle, it's emissions-free and runs on pasta. The obvious challenges for cycling as a form of real transportation here in Brunei would be the lack of school transport as many people shuttle the children to school, shower facilities at work places and the most obvious - the lack of cycle lanes and proper cycling infrastructure. At the moment, perhaps, the message must be to cycle safe and to encourage helmets and lights where appropriate, and importantly, for motorists to accept that there are other, much less shielded road users with whom they should share the roads.
My final point is as it should be, on fashion. Beloved Bobby has recently purchased his first Lycra - a “team” jersey and some bib shorts. For the uninitiated, bib shorts comprise of a one-piece singlet - attached to Lycra shorts with padding on the rear. Unfortunately, on their own they would make even James Bond come off like Borat. I have managed so far to discourage their use, despite their obvious practicality. But of bib shorts, I shall speak no more. On colours, I would say only this - less is more.
Illustrated by Cuboi Art.
For the online version click here.