Seven weeks ago, eight teenage cyclists were killed and eight others injured in Johor Baru when a car ploughed into a group of 30 to 40 cyclists in the wee hours of the morning.
Despite the horrific incident, the Mat Lajak, as the teen stunt cyclists are dubbed, were not deterred.
On April 1, 22 teenagers aged between 14 and 17 were detained by police at the same spot during those early hours. It was April Fool’s day, but it wasn’t a joke that the kids were fooling around, with 14 of them riding on illegally modified bicycles, and eight watching.
What are these teens doing on the roads at 3am, with their modified bicycles, some without brakes or lights?
Is this what cycling is all about? Star2 talked to five cyclists to find out their thoughts on what real cycling is. We discovered that Malaysians cycle for three reasons: leisure and recreation, health and sport, and transport.
Dr Chung Tze Yang, 42, who hosted a recent Critical Mass Ride in Petaling Jaya, made an interesting observation: “I see three different groups of people cycling in urban areas. At one end are the lower socio-economic migrant workers who commute on cheap bicycles.
“Then there are the other upper and upper-middle class who ride for leisure or sport on expensive, branded bicycles with fancy gadgets and gear. They ride for the challenge: distance or speed, and usually share it on social media, but they mainly drive to work. In the middle are those who cycle-commute to work on moderately-priced bicycles.
“As a cyclist, we should ride on the left side of the road, but then, the left side is often filled with gravel, dirt, uneven surfaces, potholes, and even parked vehicles.
“But when I cycle on the left, most cars will give me lots of space on my right,” said Dr Chung.
Joshua Tan, 36, a cyclist who often goes for the PJ Critical Mass Ride, said: “The Critical Mass Ride is a monthly awareness ride happening in cities around the world. The PJ Ride is usually attended by 20 to 50 cyclists, while the KL one, has close to 200 cyclists. Both happen concurrently, and sometimes we converge at the end of the ride in Dataran Merdeka by midnight.”
“It’s like a bicycle flash mob ride to remind other road users that cyclists also share the road. This monthly bicycle party draws 40 to 60 groups of cyclists from all walks of life and they cycle at night in different parts of KL, PJ and Klang,” said Tan, an IT manager.
Faizal Sohaimi, 47, commutes to work using the bike lanes on highways and city roads. He says that in the city, the drivers of buses, trucks, cars or even kapcai (underbone) motorbikes will watch out for cyclists.
“Since the city traffic is basically crawling, the kapcai will hog the middle lanes. So I would stick to the left-most lane and try to avoid being squished by the buses!” he said with a laugh.
“In the city, 90% of the dangers I face are from pedestrians and parked cars. Pedestrians would cross in front of buses or when the pedestrian lights are still red because the cars are stationary, and I can’t see them. So I’ve learnt to ride slowly and cautiously along roads like Jalan Ampang, Lebuh Ampang, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur. I also have to watch out for motorists exiting their parking spot, or even double-parked cars,” he explained.
For Edwin Ng, 38, cycling is an endurance exercise that he enjoys.
“Although I don’t bike-commute to work, I sometimes cycle to meet up with friends. Even so, I still face dangers when cycling on the road. Motorists often cut lanes, or turn left or right without signalling, and some don’t even stop at red lights,” said Ng, a professional photographer.
He admits that this issue is compounded because the road design is not cyclist-conducive, with a lack of cycling lanes and connecting paths in many places.
M. Farid Rahmat, 38, who conducts workshops on cycling and bicycle repair at Bike Kitchen Kuala Lumpur, advised: “As a commuting-cyclist, it’s important to always be alert on the road, especially when it’s busy, whether day or night. As for other road users like motorists or motorcyclists, please follow the traffic rules. I often see motorists and motorcyclists running red lights when there is less traffic. Many accidents happen at junctions when people don’t follow rules.”
Tan added: “A lot of accidents involving motorists and cyclists occur on highways like Lekas and Kesas. Between 2am and 6am, you may find drivers who are either too tired or drunk, and they may knock down cyclists who adhere to traffic rules and have proper reflective clothing, lights and helmets.”
Tan, who cycles for leisure, often rides from his home in Petaling Jaya to Kuala Lumpur.
“In most highways, there are street lamps, and most cyclists ride in the bike lane. But there are parts of the ride which require integration with a major road, such as the road that leads to Summit (USJ, Subang Jaya), for cyclists to make a U-turn and turn back to Bukit Jalil. Many accidents, even deaths, occur on that road,” he said.
“On the Federal Highway bike lanes, the danger comes from the slower motorbikes, not the fast ones. The fast ones would already see me riding on the left-most side of the lane, as I am lit like a Christmas tree (there are 10 blinking lights on me and the bike – front, back, left and right), and they would take the outer or right-most side of the road. The danger comes when a slower motorbike wants to overtake me, while a fast bike whizzes by. Sometimes I’m squeezed further by the slow bike when the fast bike honks!” Faizal said.
“Tunnels are another concern. They have to be well-lit, but they aren’t. And the volume of motorcyclists on the bike lanes along the Federal Highway is really high, so the lanes should be wider and divided into slow, fast and overtaking lanes,” added Faizal, a sales account manager with a software company.
Farid shared: “Many cyclists prefer to ride at night because there is less traffic and it’s cooler. The most important thing to remember when cycling at night is visibility. We need to use bicycle lights, wear bright clothing and reflectors. If riding after 3am, we need to be extra alert. People usually go home from night spots around that time. The roads are empty so a lot of cars will speed, so as cyclists, we need to be extra careful.”
Faizal concurs: “Visibility is very important and besides the ‘Christmas tree’ lights, I wear bright outfits like orange or yellow. Even my backpack is orange and fluorescent green. My helmets too!
“There are many good bus drivers but, of course, there are some bad apples. It’s the same with car drivers. It’s a hazard when motorists weave in and out of lanes. If only drivers would just stay in their lanes, it would make things so much easier for bikers and cyclists,” said Faizal.
“More public awareness campaigns, roadshows, and workshops can be held to educate the public,” Ng suggested.
“Education is a good start. Everyone should learn the importance of good road etiquette and road safety rules from a young age,” said Tan.
“We can learn from developed nations. In England, they have a law that states that all motorists need to maintain an arm’s length when passing cyclists. They also fine cyclists for riding without helmets or lights. The rules are not to punish cyclists but to protect them. London recently implemented the cycling super highway to encourage more people to cycle. In Perth (Australia) and Amsterdam (the Netherlands), there are segregated cycling lanes,” he added.
“Yes, ideally there should be segregated bicycle lanes along busy main roads, and safe crossing points at all major roads,” Dr Chung added.