DESTINATIONS in between islands Travel

Trying the tricycle in the Philippines

On the tricycle, I was shaken, not stirred.

I was shaken, not stirred.

Picking me up from Sandugan Point to take me to the Siquijor Port, where I was boarding the Montenegro RORO (Roll On Roll Off) ferry to Dumaguete on Negros Island, the tricycle I was on was a huge hunk of metal. Even the arm rest on the side farthest from the motorbike powering the tricycle was made of metal, painted bright blue like the rest of the vehicle.

The trip to the port was about 30 minutes, and it felt interminable.

First, the driver was in a hurry. The roads in Siquijor hardly see much traffic. Just a few motorbikes once in a while. So the driver could speed up.

And although the roads in Siquijor are reasonably smooth, as I had experienced on a motorbike tour of the island, there was something extremely bumpy and jarring about this particular ride.

As my brain bounced around in my skull, and my internal organs slushed around like bits of martini being shaken for Mr. Bond, I wondered what made the ride so uncomfortable.

“It was probably the suspension of the third wheel,” a friend who endured my account of the tricycle ride, offers as an explanation.

Tricycle design is essentially a sidecar attached to a motorcycle. The extra weight of the cab and the passengers makes it difficult for the third wheel to be attached like a motorbike wheel; it’s too much weight for a fork tube like the usual suspension a motorcycle would have.

So the suspension of the third wheel on a tricycle looks something like it does on a truck to allow a little more give when the cab is weighed down by four or five people in it.

Is this the suspension design that rattles teeth on a tricycle?

And it is just as bumpy a ride as being in the back of a truck on an uneven road.

On Siquijor, wondering why the ride was so bumpy distracted me while the tricycle ran over a particularly uneven patch of road. The sudden drop in the road surface sent me and the entire cab into momentary levitation.

As gravity interrupted the vehicle’s ambitions for flight, everything came crashing down in a clank. Including my arm that had been resting on the metal armrest, elbow bone slamming into the metal.

I howled from the sharp pain.

The tricycle driver glanced at me through his cool mirror sunglasses. He slowed down.

Internal organs rearranged themselves into a semblance of order as a few minutes later, we turned into the Siquijor wharf and he deposited me in front of the ticket office.

When traveling in the Philippines on a budget, I would definitely recommend motorbikes, jeepneys and dusty buses over the tricycle if you want to prevent injury from all the jarring on certain roads. But the tricycle, this iconic means of transport in the islands, does have its benefits.

In Aklan, the narrow two-seater cab is a better weight for the motorbike to drag around. Most motorcycles I’ve noticed attached to tricycles are about 150cc, and the heavier the cab, the more the third wheel feels like it’s made of wood or even square-shaped; it’s that bumpy.

Aklan version of the tricycle.

Guimaras tricycles have a closed cab, and each one seats up to 4 people, two in the front-facing bench, and two in the back-facing bench.

Cadiz also had smaller versions of the tricycle.

Guimaras tricycle.

In Dumaguete, the tricycles are similar-sized to the ones on Siquijor and heavier because there’s more metal in the larger cab. But in Dumaguete, the pace is a little slower than the F1 simulation of that tricycle ride in Siquijor.

Unfortunately, tricycles seem to account for a lot of the carbon emissions in the Philippines. And that’s unfortunate.

The larger tricycle that’s found in Siquijor and Dumaguete.

There is an attempt to convert to e-tricycles, but it has not reached the central and southern islands. I hope the initiative trickles down from Luzon where Manila is, to other provinces so the tricycle, cultural icon and very affordable transportation, manages to survive.

And maybe if the tricycle lasts as a sustainable means of transport, someone will actually think of the passenger experience in them and design a better ride.

I do hope that someone has no ambition to be Mr. Bond’s next martini.

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