(This article first appeared in Firefly News Newsletter Tour of the Fireflies 2013 edition)
The fact that the Tour of the Fireflies is now on its sixteenth year comes as a bit of a surprise for someone who was involved in it from the beginning. Sixteen years ago, a small group of bicycling friends, most of whom were women, thought that organizing a leisurely group ride around the Metro Manila area would be an interesting project. We were either part of Cycling Advocates (CYCAD) or regularly joined and assisted in their rides, the highlight of which was the annual century (a ride of 100 miles or 160 kilometers) held every February. The century was an endurance ride to test a cyclist‘s mettle, and attracted mostly men; the metro ride was envisioned to be a fun event for everyone, particularly for women, kids, and inexperienced cyclists, with the intent of helping them build their confidence for riding in the city.
|Mon Fernan reminisces, “The first years of the Tour were, to be honest, iffy. While we considered the idea of a regular annual urban bike ride, we only had hope — we did not know if the metro area‘s cyclists (most of whom we knew to be sport cyclists) would be won over by the idea of a leisurely ride around the city and whether we could inspire others to take up cycling and join the Tour.”|
Actually, the idea did not start out that simply. It was first designed to be a joint bike ride and run/jog/walk event, the bike part modeled after New York City‘s Five Boro Bike Tour and the run/jog/walk part after the Bay to Breakers foot race of San Francisco. However, the latter was to be more like a parade than a race, with bands providing music—it was to be a mobile street party celebrating Earth Day 1999, starting and ending at the Quezon Memorial Circle. In the end, the joint event idea was considered too logistically complex to pull off and only the bike ride part was retained. That is the short story of how Tour of the Fireflies was born.
The first years of the Tour were, to be honest, iffy. While we considered the idea of a regular annual urban bike ride, we only had hope—we did not know if the metro area‘s cyclists (most of whom we knew to be sport cyclists) would be won over by the idea of a leisurely ride around the city and whether we could inspire others to take up cycling and join the Tour. In fact, the initial Tours were only half encouraging: the number of registered participants did not increase significantly on a year-to-year basis, but the total number of those who joined the ride seemed to be growing. (Apparently, this is normal for these kinds of events but we did not know that then.) Maybe it was pure luck that this period coincided with a boom in local cycling, but it might have been partly fueled by the Tour‘s advocacy to reduce pollution and mitigate climate change with alternative and non-motorized forms of transport. Interest and participation in the Tour ballooned. That subsequent success was also a testimony to the persistence of the small group of Firefly Brigade members and volunteers who kept pushing the envelope and taking on the challenges of the early years.
|ToF Marshal Profile: Freddie Valenzuela
My first exposure to the tour of the fireflies was in 2006 the theme that year was “RECYCLE”. Two “sweeper” marshals encouraged me to join, and be a marshal…
The Tour in its early years was also known as the Seven Cities Bike Tour. The fifty-kilometer long route was designed to take participants through significant parts of the city—significant for historical, tourism, and commuting reasons. This was another of those unspoken goals—to rekindle in the participants an appreciation for the city that seems to have been lost with rapid motorization and the subsequent quickening of the pace of city life.
The Tour has changed since then, varying its length (this year‘s route is only 37 kilometers long) and changing routes. This is understandable given the huge increase in the number of participants yearly, from some three hundred in 1999 to an estimated 15,000 last year, and the significant number of young children and kids that now join the tour. The shorter route also makes it easier for those riders in costume who must deal with the sometimes cumbersome décor on their bicycles.
Encouraging participants to dress in costume and to transform their bikes into small floats (and awarding the most interesting ones with financial and other prizes) has always been unique to the Tour and sets it apart from the many bike events that now take place in the metro area. This is why this year the Firefly Brigade wants to reiterate this fun aspect of the Tour and encourages all participants to shun their bike attire, save their TOF jersey as a souvenir (which is what it is), and wear a costume, or at least an outfit that says cool rather than cyclist.