Cycling gains speed in Brunei as obesity epidemic mounts

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, January 21, 2019
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BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- The aggressive push by the government to promote a healthier lifestyle, helped by Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's enthusiasm and support for cycling, has bolstered the sport in a country that strains against an obesity epidemic that effects nine in every 50 adult residents.

Through the country's Bandarku Ceria (My Happy City) initiative, started in November 2016, cycling has now emerged as the activity of choice among locals who want to keep fit.

The 2016 edition of the Global Nutrition Report has ranked Brunei as the top country for obesity prevalence in adults among the southeast Asian countries, with 18.1 per cent of Brunei residents aged 18 and above grappling with the condition.

The report ranked the sultanate 111th out of 190 countries polled, with Malaysia trailing at 128th. Thailand was in 145th place, Singapore in 163rd place and Indonesia 165th.

Under the Bandarku Ceria initiative, all the roads in downtown Bandar Seri Begawan, the country's capital, are closed from 6am to 12 noon local time every Sunday to encourage residents to exercise -whether by walking, jogging, cycling, or through other means.

Cycling started becoming popular during the carless hours at Bandar in no small part because the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has been visibly promoting the sport. He and other members of the royal family often participate in cycling activities that mark special occasions during Bandarku Ceria hours.

Residents, who take joy in being able to interact with their beloved leader, would show up in the thousands to participate in events that the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his kin would join for a chance to meet, mingle and ride with him.

Later, the sport took off even outside the confines of carless Bandar. Cycling enthusiasts - both veterans and neophytes - can now be seen sharing Brunei's roads with other vehicles at any given day.

Douglas Chua, a science teacher at a private school and a cycling enthusiast, said the prospect of riding with royalty was what made him take up cycling.

"I went out to get a new bicycle when I heard that I could ride with His Majesty. It was a great opportunity and a good experience. I enjoyed it so much that I now cycle as a means to keep fit," said Chua.

The 33-year-old told Xinhua that he now cycles with a group of five to seven people at least three times a week, with each outing covering a distance of approximately 50km.

"We are all friends from secondary school. Two of us decided to start cycling so we could ride with His Majesty. After that we started pulling more friends into the sport," he said.

Chua went on to say that the rise in the number of cyclists in Brunei has also led to a safer riding culture.

"Almost everyone in Brunei knows a cyclist now. It could be a family member or a close friend. Because of this I feel that most drivers are more careful when they see people cycling on the road. The roads here are also very good and smooth. They are perfect for cycling."

For Anton Lim, a manager of a retail chain in the sultanate, the growing popularity of cycling has erased the stigma of it being a dangerous sport in the country.

"Cycling has always been a sport that I enjoy. I had been afraid that drivers here might not be aware of how to share the road with cyclists, but this is no longer the case," said Lim.

Like Chua, Lim also observed that Brunei's roads are conducive to the sport.

"The road shoulders here are wide and drivers are a lot more careful now due to the increasing number of cyclists," he noted.

Apart from the Bandarku Ceria initiative, Lim believes the explosive rise in the popularity of the sport is also due to its accessibility.

"It is a way to gather and spend time with friends. You do not require much skills when it comes to cycling. You just need a bicycle and know to pedal," said Lim. "Cycling is different from other sports that usually require skill to play. People of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy cycling." Enditem

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