Bicycles are everywhere, but most riders look strange

IMG_4464It took me an unpardonable while to figure out why all the men, women and children riding bicycles looked odd to me in the course of their normal activities in Phnom Penh.

The great majority of them pedal upright, looking to me like so many prim, pert and possibly priggish individuals.  They remind me of a 19th- or 20th-century painting that I cannot easily locate showing a woman in crinolines on one of those old-fashioned bikes with one outsize wheel.  (If you locate the image, do please send it along.)  You’d think they were posing for pictures,

What are they doing with handlebars up high, forcing them to ride with back perpendicular to the frame and, of course, the ground?  The riders are reminiscent of steamships making their stately progress, a bride stepping deliberately down the aisle or a royal procession.

IMG_4455The answer is simple enough: The bicycle frames are too small, even for many Cambodians.  The seats need to be elevated to what seem like precarious heights, raising the center of gravity.  It’s unnatural, and the sight invariably entertains me as another wonder in a land of many wonders.

You won’t find me atop such a vehicle.

One reason: I prefer the exercise I receive walking.

Second: I’m scared. I may well be no match for the eddying motos, cars, trucks and other vehicles sharing the road in what could be described as organized chaos.

Friends confirm my fears.  One who has ridden a bicycle for a month or so already reports two close calls.  A couple of months back, another had his bike destroyed and leg injured by an SUV that, typically, hit and ran in the presence of underpaid police officers who couldn’t be bothered to engage in pursuit.

The dangers of walking aside, and they are many, I’ll stick to having my two feet on the ground, thank you very much.

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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