Doing My Biking Duty In Phnom Penh

According to Earl Blumenauer, founder of the Congressional Bicycle Caucus, bicycling is the solution for many world problems - from obesity to global warming. I, as well, am beginning to find this healthful and cost efficient activity an effective means of transportation around my adopted Phnom Penh community.

At the end of November, I invested in my new wheels. Now, I wouldn't say that it is anything fancy, but for $28, my one-gear street bike comes complete with breaks that do their job and wheels that only need the air re-filled every three weeks or so. Also included in the price: a lock and a stylish helmet. (Safety first, my friends.)

Up until recently, I have been hesitant to tackle the streets. While I've become fairly confident in stepping out in front of a speeding moto, rolling in front of one leaves me feeling a little shaky and ungrounded. (This picture might give you a clue as to why.) The past few days, however, I've really begun to breach that comfort barrier. While up until this point I've tried to avoid rush hour traffic and major city arteries, on Wednesday I traveled to the Toul Tom Pong area, crossing three busy streets during the busy homeward bound rush. As far as I can tell, this new leap of bravery is good and the benefits are mounting:

Financial Gains: Not that a moto ride costs that much at about 3,000 riel (75 cents) a pop (haggled down from $2, of course), but if you want to explore the town, these costs can add up. The moto drivers especially like to use the "Oh, but gas is so expensive!" plea, which thoroughly annoys me. Gas has gone down and it doesn't cost $2 to drive a few kilometers down the street! With the use of my new bike, I can easily say I'm saving myself $3-5 per week.

Physical Gains: Of course biking is good exercise. I tend to pedal more leisurely so as to enjoy the view of the city I've been missing while on speeding motos or walking with my nose to the ground. However, I step up the speed if the road is clear and I'm looking to get in some extra cardio. (Plus, the heart-pumping trials of dodging heavy traffic increases that blood flow and keeps my circulatory system in check.)

Environmental Gains: Phnom Penh is a dirty, polluted city. No need to add to that by driving a car or a moto. I'd like to say I'm doing my duty for the future of our planet by cutting down on toxic emissions through my bike riding excursions.

Emotional Gains: LIBERATION! Freedom at last! Finally, I'm no longer tied to the direction of my moto driver. I'm free to explore the confusing layout of the city and not have to have a particular destination in mind. I also am burdened with relatively fewer moto flag downs. (I surprisingly still get ride propositions while cycling, especially on notorious St. 278. Do they really think I want to chuck my bike on the back of their moto!?!)

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