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In Crowded Capital, Recreational Bicycling Gains in Popularity

Two cyclists are seen riding past the University of Health Sciences, on 8 August 2015. (Photo: Ouch Nida/VOA Khmer)
Two cyclists are seen riding past the University of Health Sciences, on 8 August 2015. (Photo: Ouch Nida/VOA Khmer)

The use of bicycling to get around the crowded streets of Phnom Penh has become increasingly popular. Not only do people use bikes more often to get around the city, but on weekends, cyclists can be seen on the outskirts of town.

For three years, Khim Sophana, a program manager at Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, has maintained a club called Cycling for Freedom, which has about 30 active members.

“We meet up once a month, cycling from 60 to 70 kilometers,” he said. “I do cycling for the sake of my health, fun, and strengthening networks, because the riders are all from different places.”

But bicyclists still face a lot of obstacles. There are no bike lanes, and the potential for an accident is high.

“If there were a bike path, I’d commute by bike to work, instead of the car, because [a bike] also helps the environment and health,” Khim Sophana, who is 53, said.

Hong Sokleng, 40, senior vice president for the corporate division at Canadia Bank, is also bicycling enthusiast. He’s a member of the Mekong Cycling Club, whose riders meet for the health benefits of biking. “Cycling is a simple way to exercise,” he said. “It doesn’t require an exact time or place.”

The younger generation has talented riders, he said, and the Mekong Cycling Club pooled its money to get bikes and allow some of them to take part in local and international competitions.

Still, the streets are very crowded, with vendors and parked cars spilling into crowded streets, so riding can be hard. A bike path would be ideal, Hong Sokelng said. But in the meantime, “people whose houses or shops are near the streets should leave the space for pedestrians and cyclists, and this is how we can help our country and public health.”

The European Union has had a campaign to promote bicycle use since 2013, which just recently ended. But Poun Pok, a spokesman for the EU in Cambodia, said many people continue to bike, helping the environment, reducing traffic jams and improving public health.

Ly Cheng Huy, who heads, says limited physical movement can lead to hazardous impacts on health; sports are good for health, he said, both physically and mentally.

“There is not only an increase in cycling, but in other forms of exercising among citizens,” he said. “They’ve begun to realize the importance of health.”

But cycling has now become a pastime not just for health. It is also a social activity, “We’ve noticed cycling has increased, for health, friendship, society, and so on.”

Tep Chansolyka, an engineer at Wetlands Work, studied in Germany, where she often saw people riding bikes, especially students. Her friends there lent her a bike, which she used to get around. Now that she has been back in Cambodia for about a year, she has invested in her own bike and continues to ride.

“There are some positive benefits from cycling, especially for our health and to save the environment, too,” she said. “If we bike every day, it will become our entertainment, too.”