Late for Nowhere

From life in Southeast Asia to backyard adventures in Kodiak, Alaska

Commuting by bicycle in Yangon

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May 20 was Bike to Work Day in the United States, where, according to the League of American Bicyclists, the number of cycling commuters grew by 62 percent from 2000 to 2013.

Bike advocates are keen to point out that riding to work can help protect the environment, cut transportation costs and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. These are, of course, universal concerns, and there’s no reason why Bike to Work Day can’t serve as inspiration to change your commuting habits no matter where in the world you live.

In urban areas suffering from excessive traffic congestion – here’s looking at you, Yangon – cycling can actually be a faster way to get around than driving. At a casual pace, my own commute across downtown takes about 30 percent less time on two wheels than on four.

For any Yangonites thinking of taking the plunge into two-wheeled, human-powered transport between home and workplace, here are some tips on how to prepare for your ride, and how to survive when you’re on the road.


A little bit of planning can go a long way toward making bike commuting an activity to look forward to rather than something to dread.

Buy a suitable bicycle

The best bikes for Yangon are those with wide, grippy, jolt-absorbing tires, such as mountain bikes or hybrids. Half a century of monstrous anti-people rule by the Myanmar military left the country’s roadways in shambles, and while the infrastructure is slowly (slooowly) improving, you can still encounter broken pavement and crater-sized potholes in many areas around the city. These obstacles can be doubly hazardous during a monsoon deluge, when they can be obscured under a few inches of murky water.

Get organized

Have your cycling and work clothes, work supplies, bike tools and – if you return home after dark – blinking lights ready the night before. Your determination to cycle to work might not last long if it adds time and complication to your morning routine. The cheapest way to carry your stuff is in a backpack, but you’ll be more comfortable if you let your bike bear the weight: A rear rack with waterproof panniers is the best setup but might be hard to source in Yangon. Add them to your list of purchases during your next trip to Bangkok.

Wear appropriate clothing

Many bike commuters cycle in the same clothes that they wear at work, but this might not be practical during the sweat-inducing hot season or soggy monsoon season. Consider riding in sporty clothes made with quick-drying material and then changing into your work clothes once you reach the office. During monsoon, work clothes will need to be carried in waterproof bags or wrapped carefully in plastic.

Clean up at work

The ideal for bike commuters is a workplace equipped with a shower. If that’s not available, it’s easy to clean up quickly and efficiently in the bathroom using a small towel and soap, or with snow towels or baby wipes.


Here’s a quick quiz: A slow-moving car is in front of you on the road and begins drifting across the center line. The driver a) is preparing to make a left turn; b) is swerving left in preparation for making a right turn; c) is “steering” with his wrists after spotting a pagoda in the distance and clasping his hands together in prayer; or d) assumes he is King of the Universe and can do whatever he wants, screw everyone else.

Experience will teach you that the answer could be any of the above, or something completely different. To coin a phrase: Expect the unexpected when you ride a bike in Yangon. Imagine the worst possible driving behavior, and then be fully prepared to watch it unfold over and over again right before your eyes.

Avoid the door zone

The mass-scale importation of vehicles with right-hand steering wheels into a country where driving is done in the right-hand lane might be a symbol of deeper civic woes, but for cyclists it has the curious advantage of reducing the number of car doors that open in front of you as you’re cruising down the road. Still, people do occasionally emerge from the passenger side of parked cars, so it’s safest to pass with a 1-metre buffer to avoid nasty surprises.

Keep your eyes moving

Keep your eyes about 5 meters (16 feet) up the road to take note of the pedestrians, potholes, vendors and sleeping dogs in your path, and at the same time 100 meters (330 feet) ahead to register parked cars, merging traffic and other hazards. Simultaneously, remain aware of what’s happening to your left and right.

Don’t hug the curb

Riding too close to the curb will result in a noticeable increase in incidences where cars and buses fly past and then box you in, either swerving right to pick up passengers or making a very dangerous, full-on right-hand turn. Develop the habit of riding about 1 meter out from the curb, even where there are no parked cars. It will make you more visible and it gives you more room to maneuver if you need to take evasive action.

Avoid sudden changes in direction

Sometimes it’s necessary to swerve to avoid clueless drivers or insane pedestrians, but if you see a car parked in your lane up ahead, don’t wait until you are 2 meters behind it before abruptly changing lanes. About 50 meters out, start slowly angling away from the curb so that by the time you reach the car you’re already in position to pass it. Make copious use of hand signals to let drivers know your intentions.

Try not to mind the honks

Drivers in Yangon are more far more likely to use their horns than their brains, which results in an endless chorus of obnoxiously redundant bleats emitted by cars approaching from behind. This can be annoying, even maddening, but it does have the advantage of letting you know that the driver has seen you and is unlikely to knock you into the gutter.

Wear a helmet
Just do it.


Written by latefornowhere

June 5, 2016 at 12:57 am

One Response

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  1. […] while I am all about taking it easy and natural when cycling in Yangon, this guy here takes it more seriously (and I know he’s got a point) and if someone is considering taking […]

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