Indonesia Bike Tour Puts Female Mettle to Pedal
Last year, Tense Manalu was among 21 female bikers who made a bold trip, pedaling their bicycles from Jakarta to the Central Java town of Jepara, the birthplace of national heroine and women’s rights pioneer Raden Ajeng Kartini.
“We wanted to celebrate Kartini’s birthday in our way,” Tense said. “I believe that in some ways, women are more resilient than men when it comes to hardship and challenges.”
Tense’s team was named after a mighty heroine character in the Mahabharata epic, Srikandi. It took the modern-day Srikandis seven days to complete the journey, which stretched across more than 450 kilometers. Detractors said women weren’t strong enough for such a long trip but the weeklong trek proved otherwise, Tense said.
“I think all of us learned the most important thing was to set aside our egos and focus on our goals,” she said. “We didn’t see any bickering or emotional drama throughout the journey. We have became like sisters. We supported one another because we only had one shared interest: to make it to the finish line.”
She did not deny that there were times when they had to make unplanned stops due to female-specific problems, but said they took it in stride.
“Unlike men, we can’t stop anytime we hear nature’s call. With all women on the team, we had to hold it for hours until we found a proper place to heed the call of nature,” Tense said.
She added that there was also a case of dehydration after one of the members of the team cut down her water intake during the trip for fear of having to stop too frequently.
“All in all, it was really fun for all of us who have adventurous spirits,” she said.
For Tense, a freelance event organizer, the achievement of completing the long-distance tour with all women bikers was a personal dream.
“If we’re in a group with men and women on a long bike trip, sometimes we take things for granted. If there is something wrong with your bike, you don’t have to worry about it because there are some boys in the group who can help fix it, for instance,” she said.
But since they were traveling with only women, all of the team members had to know the mechanics of their bikes in case a problem came up.
“We’re trained to be really independent,” Tense said. “And throughout the coaching process, my admiration for my fellow team members, who demonstrated commitment and were willing to travel that extra mile to make the team solid, grew.”
Tense first developed an interest in cross-country biking, or mountain biking, in 2004. Three years later, she joined the Bike2Work community. Bike2Work, founded in 2004, aims to get more people to use bicycles as a means of transportation. The community has grown exponentially and now has more than one million members across the country.
“The idea of long-distance biking from Jakarta to Jepara has helped spread the word about bicycles as a form of transportation, in addition to commemorating the birthday of Kartini,” Tense said.
The successful Kartini trip helped strengthen the biking community’s spirit and determination, she added.
This year, another group of women between the ages of 25 and 40 will make the journey from Jepara to Bandung to mark Kartini Day on April 21. “The route covers more or less the same distance. We will have pre-Kartini events before kicking off the biking tour,” Tense said.
Unlike last year, the community’s biking tour has been warmly welcomed by female riders across the country. Forty people expressed interest in the event and after a series of tests and physicals, 21 women were chosen to make the trip.
“This year is special because we have 21 female bikers and we will make stopovers in 21 cities during the tour,” Tense said.
Coached by national biker Marta Mufreni, the selected riders have been undergoing Spartan-like training.
Fannie Waldhani Christinari, one of the lucky selected bikers, explained that the coaching was primarily focused on physical fitness and team building.
“I feel like I’m a professional biker now. I can use the biden [the drink tumbler attached on the bicycle] while pedaling the bike. In the past I had to stop and pull over just to drink from the bottle,” she said proudly.
Feeding oneself while on the road is another thing that was taught to the female bikers to make them more efficient on the trip.
Every week the team was trained to build teamwork by biking at the same pace.
“It’s very important to keep the same pace because we’re biking in a group,” Tense said. The selected members of the team were put on trials, which consisted of some mid-distance trails.
“Last time we had a trip from Jalan Bangka Raya [in Kemang, South Jakarta] to Alam Sutra in Serpong [Tangerang]. It’s about 77 kilometers,” Fannie said. “And we also went from Pondok Indah [South Jakarta] to Alam Sutra another time.”
Fannie, who works at a public relations agency, began biking about four years ago. She didn’t expect that she would fall in love with her bicycle or that she would be able to bike to work on a daily basis, but that is exactly what has happened.
It was not an easy decision initially. It was hard physically — and culturally. Her mother constantly reminded her that a woman should keep her skin fair and light, and was afraid Fannie’s biking would expose her more to the sun.
“It’s an old-school perspective that girls should be delicate, like fragile ceramics,” Fannie said. “Girls can bike to work and not worry about getting pimples or dirty skin caused by the pollution.”
Frannie added that since she joined the community, she has rarely been sick.
“Put on a mask, helmet and bike suits. We’re OK,” she added with a laugh.
The bikers leave today for Jepara, where a series of pre-Kartini Day events are scheduled.
The team will then make its way through Central Java, Yogyakarta and West Java. The 21 members come from diverse backgrounds and none of them is a professional biker or athlete.
“I think I learned a lot as a person,” Fannie said.
“As a team member we are trained to put our egos aside in order to make the team successful. That skill is something that can come handy in other circumstances like at the office or in social life.”