The First Mountain Bike in the Philippines

by Oliver Carlos

I owned the first mountain bike in the Philippines. The first batch of such bikes entered our country in 1984. They were about a dozen and I got one of them, for free!

Before the influx of mountain bikes, the coolest bike in town was the BMX. I used to envy the kids who had their own BMX. I never had any kind of bike when I was a school boy, until an American named Douglas gave me his mountain bike. He told me that the bike was the first of its kind, it had multiple gears like a motorcycle so it could climb mountains.

My siblings (left to right): Joan, Jay-R, and Lenlen posing at UPLB Baker field with my mountain bike in 1985. (photo from the Castillo Family collection)

Douglas was a Christian missionary to China. He belonged to a group of around a dozen Americans who went to communist China in the 1980s to share God’s word in that closed country. This was during the Cold War. They rode mountain bikes and distributed secretly Gospel tracts written in the Chinese language to people in the rural areas. They needed cheap vehicles that can climb the rolling hills and sprint through the vast plains of China. The mountain bike was perfect for that purpose.

When their mission was over, Douglas and friends made a stopover in the Philippines before flying back to Hawaii. They went to a Los Banos-based Christian fellowship, Lakas Angkan (LA). They donated their bikes to selected LA people. Douglas actually planned to give his bike to my aunt, Paz Tamolang, who was an LA member at that time. But Auntie Paz probably thought that I needed it more, so she introduced Douglas to me. He handed his bike over to me instead.

Douglas’ bike was blue. It was big and very heavy. At first, I had difficult mounting it because I was barely 5 feet tall at that time. The handlebars were very long, so when I rode it, my arms were really spread apart. The bike was 15-speed, meaning, it had 3 front gears and 5 rear gears (3 x 5 = 15).

A few years later, more and more mountain bikes were imported by the Philippines. Some were also manufactured locally. The new generation mountain bikes were a lot lighter in weight, had shorter handlebars, and had more gears. The standard would be 18-speed, while the high-end ones would be 21-speed and 24-speed versions. My Gen-1 bike suddenly became outdated. Honestly, at that point in time, I found my bike ugly.

But even though my bike was ugly, I still loved it. It was my everyday buddy until I finished college. I rode it everyday to school. I chained it to metal pillars in the UPLB buildings where I had my classes. I even carried it to the 3rd floor of the PhySci building even though it was so heavy. The other students carried their paper-weight bikes too on their shoulders going up that building. As consolation, I just told myself, at least I got my bike for free!

After graduating in 1992, I met a guy in church named Reden. We became friends. He later became a pastor and was assigned to plant a church in the Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon province. That place was really mountainous and secluded. I heartily gave him my bike so he would have some transportation to use in his ministry. Anyway, my Dad and I were sharing together a Yamaha V50 motorcycle, so I thought Reden could have my bike.

Years later, I heard Reden moved on to the island of Marinduque to plant another church. He said he left my bike to the local pastor he trained in the Bondoc Peninsula. I never heard about the bike since then, but I’m so happy that it had gone a long way. I can exclaim the Tagalog expression: Sulit na sulit sa gamit! It had served its purpose so well, it had over-achieved. I wonder how many people had come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, from the mountains and plains of mainland China to the hills and villages of Bondoc Peninsula? My ugly bike isn’t so ugly after all. In fact, I think it is the most beautiful mountain bike in the universe! We read in Isaiah 52:7 (NLV):

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who tells of peace and brings good news of happiness, who tells of saving power, and says to Zion, “Your God rules!”

Friends, let us strive to be beautiful or handsome in God’s standard. Let us be a blessing to others by becoming instruments of God in bringing them good news. People need to hear that there is a God who cares about them, and is willing to rescue them from all their troubles and worries. People need to feel God’s love. Let us be his hands and feet in accomplishing this task.