Do not despise that man or woman riding a bicycle on the street. An expert says they are simply on their way to a wholesome, happy, healthy life. That is the verdict of an exercise physiologist, Dr (Mrs) Uchenna Azubuike. “A happy rider is a happy person. Those who indulge in healthy exercises are happy people,” she declared.
Mrs Azubuike told Sunday Sun in an encounter that bicycle riding is a sure way to longevity, adding that “studies suggest that citizens of communities with bicycle-riding culture, live a longer healthier life.”
Her comments came on the sideline that bicycles are steadily staging a serious comeback in Lagos and towns across the country. All around, people are enjoying themselves riding their bicycles.
At the moment, large quantities of used bicycles are in both the markets and the streets. They are not the type of bicycles older folks rode in ages past. They are bicycles designed largely for pleasure. Some are sports bicycles long discarded overseas, though they are still good enough. Some are bicycles for both children. Many families now have bicycles and are gradually imbibing the riding culture.
In the beginning
Long ago, bicycles were very important means of transportation. Their arrival represented such a massive improvement in the way people commuted. But only a negligible few could afford them.
Apart from helping people to move around, bicycles then served other purposes. For instance, they were helpful in carrying heavy and light loads. They also served as a status symbol. Owning a bicycle then equals owing a custom-made exotic car today. Only a few rich could afford the luxury then.
But as the days wore on, cars came on, the same for motorcycles. Both craft brutally pushed aside the bicycle. So, in no time, bicycles began to take the back seat. Relegated, they gradually assumed a property for the poor.
By the fall of the 70s, bicycles were already well out of the way. They could only be seen among the rural or urban poor. They gradually went out of fashion. Owning one became an association with poverty.
The come back
But over the past few years, bicycles and the cycling culture have been clawing their way back. People are once more returning to the old turf and finding good reasons to do so. But the old bicycles everyone used to know have all disappeared. Now, new ones are here. So, people are returning to riding bicycles largely to keep fit. With the recent increase in petrol pump price, and the attendant increase in cost of transportation, it is being expected that more and more people – particularly the poor – might resort to cycling to save cost.
“I bought a sports bike last year for my kids. That was after the youngest of them, 10, could not give me a breather. He saw some kids in the neighbourhood riding bikes and also wanted to have one.
“But I fear they might get injured since our roads are hazardous and unsafe for riding bicycles,” Ikechi Abua, a trader in Lagos, recalled.
He disclosed that the bicycle he bought for his kids was for their recreation, adding that “of course, many families are now buying for their children. In my area in Surulere, the kids are often seen in the streets riding their bikes.”
Tony John, a private security man working in Amuwo Odofin Extension in Lagos, told our correspondent that his friends encouraged him to get a bicycle for himself to cut cost of transportation and that had paid off.
“I live in Surulere,” he said, “There is no way I can get a straight commercial vehicle from my home crossing the Oshodi-Mile 2 expressway to Amuwo Odofin Extension. For me, that makes going to work difficult.
“If I were to use Okada on a daily basis, I would probably be spending every dime I earn as salary. That was why I bought a bicycle and have not regretted doing so. I could ride all the way from Aguda, crossing the expressway to work. That saves me a lot travel time and nearly N600 daily.”
Bicycles as items of trade
Interestingly, the rising demand for bicycles among Lagos residents is encouraging the dealers. Most of them are importing large quantities of the commodity from Europe and the Americas. There is something for everyone. And because of the growing demand, many people are going into the trade and making good cash. All over Lagos, large quantities of used bicycles are seen displayed for sale. Retailers are buying them off the importers to resell.
When our correspondent visited some areas around Ijesha bus stop along Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway, heaps of used bicycles arriving from Europe were seen stacked away. Some were on display.
A man who identified himself as Hyginus said: “There is a growing demand for bicycles of course. Years ago, I began selling children’s bicycles and later adult bicycles. It is not a bad business after all.
“Sometimes, customers from other states come here asking for quality ones.”
He did not disclose the number he sold daily, preferring to say: “In every business, sometimes there is a high and sometimes a low. But all the same, we make some money to sustain our families.”
Hyginus, it was observed was steadily expanding into bicycle repairs, a trade long forgotten.
He said: “Sometimes, some of the bicycles might not be in the best of condition. So, you have to learn a few things to enable you repair them for the customers. It might the pedals are loose or a part is malfunctioning. So, one has to learn to repair at least minor faults and even fix some bicycle parts too.”
Bicycles now expensive
But ironically, many of the bicycles in the market at the moment are not for the poor. Sunday Sun gathered that some bicycles sell for N15,000. Then hold your breath. There are bicycles, though not new – that are costlier than brand new motorbikes. These expensive bicycles sell for as much as an amazing N200,000.
“Because of increases in demand, bicycles are becoming expensive. We have bicycles for N15,000, N20,000 and more. We even have bicycles that sell for N100,000; we have the ones for N200,000. The latter bicycles are not for the poor. When you see them you will know that they are different.”
His fear was that with naira’s abysmal exchange rate against the dollar, the prices of bicycles would continue to rise even when some people wonder what is in a bicycle.
“The people who are importing the bicycles are in business. The prices at which they sell to us reflect the prevailing exchange rate. That is why the bicycles you see around are all expensive. They will continue to be as long as the naira continues to depreciate,” he predicted.
Health benefits of riding bicycles
According to Dr Azubuike, a lecturer at the Nigerian Institute for Sports (Nisports), Lagos, “bicycle riding has a lot of health benefits.
“Doing so regularly increases the cardiovascular fitness of the rider – the lungs, heart and arteries. It also increases muscle strength; it helps the joints of the muscles and improves their flexibility, making them to move freely, meaning that you can squat and stand, with no joint pains and complaints. It reduces the stress level and improves the rider’s posture and co-ordination.”
She added that the practice “strengthens the bone because it is an exercise; it equally decreases body fat level and for that reason, it is helpful in the management of diseases such as cancer, diabetics because one burns down lots of body fat. So, that helps in obesity and weight control as it increases the body’s metabolic rate. For anyone who wants to lose weight, it is a great idea to include cycling into a healthy eating plan.”
She disclosed that riding a bicycle could be useful in rehabilitating people who have stroke. “They can be encouraged to ride stationary bicycle. That reduces high blood pressure and fights heart attack.
“Riding bicycle helps in fighting mental illnesses. It reduces mental stress such as depression, anxiety. When you are riding a bicycle, there is this happiness that envelops you. You feel this sense of happiness; you experience a certain feeling of greatness,” she said.
But here is a caveat
Cycling unarguably is a high-impact exercise, which needs to be approached with caution.
“In my community,” Dr Azubuike recalled, “kids start learning to ride bicycles early. That is why till today, there are 60 to 70-year-olds still cycling because they are already used to it.
“For any person who is not used to cycling, there is an inherent risk in doing so. First, try and check your health condition before embarking on the exercise.
“Of course, in every exercise, you first try to know your health status. That is why old people or the ones with underlining health challenges like stroke or high blood pressure, are not encourage to ride a bicycle. A doctor should be able to tell one the level they should go.
“It is not about one’s age. Some might be 60, yet their heart is strong. Some might be 40 or 30, but have high blood pressure; they are not encouraged to ride bicycles. They can start with other exercises and then move on progressively.”
Cycling in other climes
Mrs Azubuike noted that “cycling is one of the best ways to keep oneself fit and healthy. In Europe – Italy, for instance, everyone in the home has a bicycle. They ride to wherever they go.
“But our culture and planning do not permit cycling. There, they plan for bicycles as part of their movement. But here, we have phased out cycling.”
Nigerians ride bicycles
“Let people keep riding their bicycles,” Dr Azubuike enjoined, “I have seen people in Lagos doing that. It is wholesome. They should not be deterred by our drivers’ attitude on the roads. But they need to be careful.
“If we have paths for bicycles, why shouldn’t people ride their bicycles?”
Let government encourage cycling
The NISport teacher urged the government to encourage people to ride their bikes. “They have to create paths for riders. Government should realise the health benefits of this to the citizenry and think along that line.
“In areas that are not by half as busy as Lagos, I would encourage people to take to riding their bicycles.”
Benefits to the economy
She noted that if the citizens are healthy, their productivity will improve. “People will be able to work. A healthy nation is a productive nation. If the people are not healthy, they will spend their time and money in hospital while remaining unproductive.
“On the part of the government, a lot of money is spent taking care of aliments simple exercises could have taken care of.
“For the citizens who are on their own, their businesses suffer. The profit they make go into taking care of their health needs. If people do not have health issues, they would work better and live better. Let people go cycling. Why not?”