Motoring journalist and avid cyclist Andy Leuterio on the benefits of riding a bicycle
When did you start riding a bicycle regularly?
It would be around 2000, 2001. I had just quit my first corporate job and wanted to treat myself, so I got one from the local bike shop mainly because it was red and had suspension. I didn’t know much about bicycles back then. I ended up replacing so many parts because it was really a cheap bike. So I kept upgrading and upgrading, learning as I went along. Now I’m here with as many bikes as I want, and I want everyone to feel this same passion as I do.
Would you attribute the current popularity of biking to the worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila? Or are people just more environment- or fitness-conscious these days?
They complement each other. From our experience with our customers, not all bike commuters are hardcore athletes. And not all hardcore athletes are bike commuters. By ‘hardcore’ I mean the competitive ones who sign up for road races or triathlons. I’ve seen a lot of bike commuters take it up just to save themselves the trouble of public or motor-driven transportation. What I’m noticing is that quite a few competitive athletes have taken up bike commuting, too. While they most probably have one or two cars at their disposal, they’re just sick of wasting their time in traffic. If they have shower facilities at their workplace and the commute is not too far, chances are they will seriously consider bike commuting. When I was working in Makati, I rode to work on my car’s coding days. Now, I ride to work whenever I can.
So you ride your bicycle from your house in Parañaque all the way to your bicycle store in Mandaluyong. Isn’t it dangerous? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate riding safety in the Philippines?
YOLO! Seriously, it’s 16km from our home to our store. By car, I average 70 minutes to an insane two hours on very bad days. I would love to blame traffic, but then just using my car means I am also part of the problem, right? By taking precautionary measures on my bike commute, I find it’s no more dangerous than a longer—and more intense—training ride. I use blinkers, reflective clothing, helmet, eyewear, etc. I use hand signals, respect traffic lights, and “own my space” on the road without acting entitled to it. I give way when I have to. I make eye contact or hand signal if I need to cross a busy section or change lanes. In general, it’s a much more pleasant experience than driving. I don’t make a big deal about asshole drivers anymore unless they’re truly psychotic. Most of the time, a near-miss is just because they’re careless. I would say riding safety in the Philippines is a 7. Motorists aren’t out to kill you, but you have to have good handling skills, presence of mind, decent fitness, and a can-do mindset to stay safe.
What’s the longest distance you’ve gone on a single ride?
Around 220km. From our house in Parañaque, I rode with a teammate to Tagaytay, down Nasugbu, went back up Tagaytay via Calaca/Payapa, then went back to Parañaque. That was in 2005, I think. This year, my longest was the Audax Rizal 200, a popular epic ride for long-distance cyclists. Please note that by their standards, I’m still a baby since quite a few have done as much as 600km!
As a car enthusiast, which is more exhilarating for you: driving a car or riding a bicycle?
Racing a bicycle, definitely. As I like to say, nothing compares to the adrenaline rush and pain of a hyper competitive road race where it’s kill or be killed. There’s no physical contact, but the pain we inflict on each other goes deep. It’s about the ability to suffer the most in order to win. Then, of course, there’s the thrill of going downhill as fast as possible. For cars, with our gridlocked roads, they all pretty much feel the same. The only exception for me would be in a race car or a sports car on a racetrack. Of course that would be much more intense. But I suppose that would quickly get old if you did that every day on the same course. With cycling, every day is a treat.
What is the worst mistake car drivers make in relation to bicycle riders?
Assuming that cyclists can stop on a dime. When they turn into our lane, they assume it’s very easy for us to stop. We don’t have ABS. And even if we did, it would take a lot of energy to get back up to speed. All cyclists like to get into a rhythm. It pisses us off when a motorist just cuts in. I’m very grateful for considerate motorists. Maybe they also bike, so they know what it’s like to be in our shoes.
Conversely, what is the worst mistake bicycle riders make in relation to motorists?
Assuming that motorists can see them in the rear-view mirror. I teach clients to never assume they can be seen because of the blind spots.
What are the best vehicles to buy if you’re an avid biker and you want to transport your bicycle to places?
An MPV or an SUV is best for road bikes. You can store the bike inside by just buying an inexpensive fork mount and removing the front wheel. Pickup trucks are ideal for mountain bikers. You can put a muddy bike in the cargo bed and get going. Regardless of vehicle type, a popular mounting option is a rear mount like a HitchPro, or a rack like a Yakima.
Can bicycles ultimately aid in easing traffic congestion in Metro Manila?
Oh yes. Bicycle-friendly cities like San Francisco, Tokyo, Portland, Amsterdam and the like have shown that if you make concessions to cyclists—like designated lanes, bike parking, and showers—then they will leave their cars at home. The average car takes up as much space as four bicycles, but the average car probably has just one or two passengers on board.
You put up a new business called Maximus Athlete’s Shop Cafe, which doubles as a bicycle store and a coffee shop. Tell us about your vision and long-term goal for this undertaking.
I want to elevate the concept of a traditional bicycle shop to the standard we’re already seeing in cycling-rich cultures in the West. Cycling has its roots in Europe and the US: the gritty endurance bikes, the ultra-premium race machines, the “espresso” ride breaks, the Sunday cafe rides. With Maximus, we are more of a triathlon cafe than pure bicycles to reflect the triathlon-crazy Filipino market. We also have swimming and running stuff, but the brunt of our line is composed of road, mountain and triathlon bikes. Long-term, I want Maximus to be the standard for triathlon/cycle cafes in the country, with branches up north and in the VisMin region. Cycling has taken me to many beautiful places here and around the world. Now we at Maximus would like to spread our love for the sport everywhere we can go.