The French lady who bikes in Metro Manila

Clémence Ratto, a French language instructor at Alliance Française de Manille, says that cycling in France is very scenic and refreshing. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, she likes that Filipino cyclists are nice, helpful and friendly.

With her bicycle, she weaves through the city’s traffic with grace and confidence — just like the typical French characters you see on movies and TV shows. Biking with cars seems too easy for this lady. Well, she’s already accustomed to Metro Manila roads.

Clémence Ratto has been cycling around the busy metropolis for more than a year now. She is a French language instructor at Alliance Française de Manille and she’d always bike to work. But prior to the opening of the school for its employees, she has been using her bicycle to go to different places.

“I got my bike during the beginning of the lockdown. At first, I didn’t use my bicycle for work because we’re not yet allowed to go to Alliance Française. I used it for grocery shopping and we would go to Manila Bay on the weekends,” Clémence told First Bike Ride.

She said that it’s her boyfriend Lance who influenced her to get into cycling in Metro Manila. He’d take Clémence for short bike trips — she’d sit in the middle of the frame and they would just wander around the slow and calm inner streets of Mandaluyong. It’s a bit sweet but at the same time quite dangerous, she quipped.

Lance thought that maybe it’s better for her to own a bicycle so they can go to farther places. It can be an easy way for her to move around too since there was no public transportation available at that time.

“He said that I should get a bike and we should go biking on weekends because we don’t have any activity to do during the weekend anymore. And the next thing I knew, his auntie drove to Manila from Pampanga to give me a bike,” she recalled.

The bicycle she’s currently using was formerly owned by Lance’s grandfather. It’s actually the old man’s first mountain bike, something that he bought because he wanted to learn cycling back in his 50s. He now has his own bike and is still actively biking after more than twenty years.

The boyfriend’s relatives in Pampanga also got into cycling this pandemic. The couple recently visited the province and had a fun cycling weekend activity with them. Clémence’s family back in France is also into bicycles. In fact, it’s one of their favorite things to do together.

“My dad was a bike enthusiast and ever since, we had bikes as kids. We live in Nice, in a quiet village near the sea so it was easy to bike around,” she said. “Back home, we also do errands like getting bread using a bike.”

She added, “My mom used to use the normal bikes but now she has an electric one. When I visited France recently, we would go to the grocery every Sunday by bike. There’s actually a big biking culture there but it’s a bit different compared to here.”

When someone thinks of French and bicycles, the popular multiple-stage cycling race Tour de France might come first in mind. But for Clémence and her family, biking is more of a leisure activity and a form of transportation rather than speed and competition.

The bike commuter said that cycling in France is very scenic and refreshing. For her, biking near the sea is probably one of her favorite things to do on a bike. In the Philippines, particularly in Metro Manila, the landscape is very different.

However, she noted that cyclists in the Philippines are nice, helpful and friendly. One time, they were in Ortigas and her boyfriend’s chain snapped. She thought that it’s impossible to get it repaired unless they replace it with a new one. Then, a group of old bikers saw them, stopped and lent a hand. In just a few minutes, it got fixed.

Bikers on the road would greet her and be pleasant while respecting her space, something she usually doesn’t experience when she’s biking in other countries. Even though she said that some motorists can be really aggressive, she said that Filipinos are commonly delightful and polite. And it was proven by her students in Alliance Française.

“I like working with Filipino students because they’re less shy and more open to sharing, in general. When we teach language, the easiest way to learn it is by sharing things about yourself first because everyone’s used to it and it’s the most comfortable topic,” the French teacher said.

Teaching French in the Philippines for Alliance Française has been a pleasing experience so far, thanks to the students and its culture. She arrived in the Philippines in early 2020 and even though she mostly taught online sessions, it’s still enjoyable.

She admitted that it’s unfortunate that she’s missing the other face-to-face events of Alliance Française like live musical performances, Fête de la Musique, art exhibitions and other social gatherings. But she’s hopeful that it’ll be better soon and the usual activities will go back like how it used to be pre-pandemic.

Traveling is something that she’d love to do in the Philippines too. It’s just hard this time, she related. She had many trips that were cancelled because of the changing restrictions and difficult requirements. For the meantime, she’s just happy with small adventures that she can do using her bicycle.

“I like my life here. I like teaching, that was my career plan all along,” Clémence said. “And what’s nice and interesting, since we’re online, is we get to meet these students from all around the world, mostly Filipinos from Canada, Australia and the US. There are even students who are now based in different provinces of the Philippines.”

Traffic in Metro Manila is getting crazier now that more cars are out on the streets. It’s way different from how it used to be during Clémence’s first bike rides in the city last year and a lot more chaotic than what she’s used to in France. When we asked her if she’s still going to bike in the coming months, especially if roads get more congested, she told us that she will continue biking.

Using a bicycle to Alliance Française is faster than walking, Clémence said, adding that it is a bike-friendly workplace, which makes it so convenient. She said that with a bicycle, she can easily access places like the bakeries and carinderias unlike when she’s on a four-wheeled vehicle.

“Metro Manila can improve by adding better bike lanes. There are already good bike lanes but not everywhere, or at least on the big street,” she said. “Traffic became harder but I got used to it and it’s progressively getting worse. I’m not going to give up cycling just because of traffic,” she said.

This article was done in partnership with Alliance Française de Manille. It’s an institution in the Philippines that promotes French language and culture. For more information about it, visit its website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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