Across the nation, cycling has built a respectable number of followers over the last decade. FILE PIC

ON some occasions, middle-aged ladies with hijab billowing ride bicycles side by side with young men in aerodynamic jerseys resembling those worn by pro riders in Tour de France.

That is only a snapshot of the cross-section of cyclists on a car-free morning ride around the loops of inner Kuala Lumpur, specially set aside for early risers to exercise on Sundays.

Visually, the scene is a kaleidoscope of bicycles, cycling accessories, shiny sports attire and human faces looking vibrant and carefree. And purposeful too.

It is where people give some workout to their lungs and limbs by cycling, running, walking and the odd skateboarding, for about two hours shortly after sunrise.

A healthy hobby for some. For others, it’s a fitness statement.

Curiously, what fitness regime could they possibly have outside of that particular Sunday, other than staring at phone screens getting enraged at this or that faux-pas by discredited politicians or half-famous celebrities? Presumably, lifting weights.

Across the nation, cycling has built a respectable number of followers over the last decade or so, either for recreation or competition.

In the absence of official statistics, it could casually be said that recreational riders number in the tens of thousands.

Apart from officially sanctioned races and competitions with their strict rules, there are also obscure but lively cycling events being organised nationwide.

They are quite popular, too, among the more competitive cyclists to earn some side income from winning the races.

The so-called “fun ride” events often produce the most excitement as droves of recreational cyclists of various ages join in, for, as the name says, fun.

However, there is a huge gap in the wider scheme of things in the local cycling scene.

Oddly, there is a distinct lack of working people who choose to pedal to their offices as a daily commute. Few actually analyse carefully this disparity.

Every now and then, there will be some call by the people in power to promote cycling to work and, quite on cue, the ensuing derisions from lovers of the internal combustion engine.

The repetitive moan against the call to cycle to work predictably involves the climate: heat, humidity, haze and rain. Obvious discomforts, doubtless.

And just as obvious, a convenient go-to excuse to kill off the idea of pedalling to work for good. Add the lack of infrastructure, road hazards and any excuse that denies them the comfort of air-conditioning in cars, and it’s a winning argument.

The tropics and other climatic conditions, as nearly everyone understands, can never be reconfigured by human intervention, save maybe for cloud seeding. But to perpetually apportion blame on the weather is closer to being irritatingly daft than anything worthy of debate.

Perhaps there should be more rigorous discussions on the greater rewards and benefits to be derived from commuting on bicycles as a regular exercise that does not feel like exercising when it is routinely done.

Broadly speaking, there are certain other stuff to consider other than personal health benefits.

Off-hand, the main highlights include a 100 per cent fuel savings, breathtakingly low maintenance costs, the freedom from traffic gridlock and zero emission of toxic fumes.

If they insist on being Greta Thunberg, well, let’s save the world, babe. Keep debates on a multitude of perspectives, such as having experts address the rights of cyclists vis-a-vis other motorists, basic road rules and how to minimise risks on busy roads, for instance.

Quite important, too, is how commuter cyclists can reach a critical mass for stronger bargaining power to demand designated lanes and bicycle racks from the councils or even all the way up to the top policymakers in the cabinet.

Too often, it can feel a tad nauseous to hear the overused tirade against the suggestion that people cycle to work. Such a psyche is so deeply rooted that it is invariably acceptable in many social spheres to dismiss bicycles outright as a mode of transport.

That no one with power and influence in the public office challenges this national thinking is a bit of a letdown too.

Maybe most people prefer running to and from the office as a healthier alternative to cycling. Who knows?

But then, promoting the cycle-to-work concept is getting ahead of the original intention of this piece, which is only to shine a spotlight on cycling as a way of keeping fit.

So let’s just pump the pedals and speed past that struggling old lady on her five-speed folding bike on a car-free morning around the city.

Or, suffer some indignity if she happens to have stronger legs and keeps you in her slipstream.

The writer is an independent journalist based in Kuala Lumpur