The sight of several thousand cyclists gathering on Bangkok streets might be unthinkable. But what seemed beyond imagination became reality when over 14,000 cyclists turned up in force in a campaign to mark the recent Bangkok Car-Free Day.
Nobita joins his cycling buddies on a trip upcountry.
Apart from the Thai Cycling for Health Association and its partners that helped organise the event, the webmaster of www.thaimtb.com who is known in the cycling circle as "Nobita" _ the name of a spectacled boy in the popular manga series Doraemon _ has every right to claim credit for the event's phenomenal success. The webmaster prefers to go by the pseudonym as he's an executive of a big company and afraid his career will be affected.
Weeks before the car-free day, thousands of members of the popular website worked out the 10 or so meeting points where cyclists could gather in groups before heading to the official venue at the Royal Plaza at 8am. Riding in groups was safer for a trip that began at the crack of dawn.
"Without an online meeting room on my website, it would've been difficult for them to gather that morning," said the webmaster, who was also taken by surprise with the huge success. He was one of the cyclists joining the campaign, aimed at reducing the use of motorised vehicles and improving the environment. It's the first time the webmaster, a professional computer engineer, has ridden in the city as he prefers take his two-wheelers on trips upcountry.
His website over the past decade has played a crucial role in enabling thousands of cyclists to stay connected. Nobita started it as an archive called Nobita's Home Page about 13 years ago, and the website first attracted serious cyclists from the community, Blue Planet Mountain Bike (BPMTB) web forum, and www.pantip.com's travelling section. A year later, he renamed the archive www.thaimtb.com after it included an online marketplace for two-wheel vehicles because pantip.com prohibits buying and selling.
On another trip, Nobita reached the country’s highest spot on his bicycle.
The website is where many get their first bicycles _ brand new or used. It has also become a platform where groups of cyclists, mostly living in the city, exchange new routes, riding techniques and experiences. People from around the country also visit the website to swap used bike parts.
In the past two decades during which Nobita has cycled as a hobby, he has witnessed the evolution of the good and the bad. The good is the increasing number of city cyclists, but the bad is the higher number of stolen bikes.
He's now working on a system to archive the ownership of the bikes. The archive, hopefully complete in about four months, requires owners to send photos and serial numbers of the bikes to the website. The registered information can be evidence of ownership if the registered vehicles are stolen in the future.
Cycling is unique, said Nobita, unlike badminton or jogging. A cyclist needs riding buddies and new routes to enjoy the sport. Badminton is confined to a stadium. Jogging can be practised alone, but [runners rarely] go beyond 10km.
Cycling is a social sport and brings riders closer to nature and other people on the way, he added. A bicycle can take one as far as 100km or more in a day.
"And [cyclists] like sharing photos of the places visited during the trip," he said. That's why thaimtb.com has become so popular among the cyclists around the country.
With over 40,000 registered members, the website boasts about 50,000 clicks every day. The website usually gets busier in the evening and attracts about 1,900 users at peak times.
But despite the large gathering on Car-Free Day, Nobita became even more worried about the image of cyclists.
That morning, the cyclists, who wore jerseys in red, white and blue to form a long national flag, occupied almost every lane of the road, starting from the Royal Plaza to Sanam Luang, before heading to Lumpini Park.
"It looked as if we, cyclists, were protesting against something, rather than campaigning for a car-free community."
The long parade blocked the traffic, which was supposed to be light on a Sunday morning. And there was no prior warning about the annual campaign.
"People are going to hate us for real this time," pointed out Nobita.
He explained the roads weren't made for any particular group of people, but to be shared among all commuters, no matter what type of vehicle they use _ motorised or non-motorised.
And Nobita didn't agree with the idea of having a separate bike lane on the roads, a common site in many European cities. What if motorcyclists ask for their own lane too?
For him, the best and simplest solution is to share the road.
About the author
- Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai