Friday, September 26, 2008

Lianga's Street Kings

When tricycads first appeared in Lianga almost a decade ago, they were simply bicycles strapped to sidecars that could seat two persons. They were the town's first form of public conveyance and quickly caught on with the local folks. The sight of local residents riding sedately along the streets on three-wheeled vehicles powered by the frantically pedaling legs of tricycad drivers became a familiar part of the local scenery.

In the local parlance, the term "tricycad" is a combination of two words, the "tri-" from the English word "tricycle" and "cycad" from the Bisaya word "sikad" meaning to kick or pedal.

Creative and enterprising souls soon began experimenting with putting small, lightweight, two-stroke, gasoline engines in the back of the sidecars and connecting them by drive belts and wheel pulleys to the rear wheel of the bicycle. Presto! The motorized tricycad was born and soon replaced their smaller and slower, human powered predecessors.

Bigger and more powerful versions with improvised gearbox transmissions soon came out and it became commonplace to see these souped up models rattling along the dusty roads of the Lianga countryside and transporting people and light cargo between the barrios and the town center. Some tricycads have even evolved into multi-seater models that can accommodate six or more people with ease and could be mistaken for a small jeepney from the distance where it not for the basic tricycle configuration.

There is something primordial and essentially original about riding the tricycad. It is motorized road transportation reduced to its most lowest and basic form. No sleek, contoured metal shell separates you from the outside elements. The engine is an abrasively noisy, bone shaking power plant that should be more at home powering a water pump at a ricefield rather than pushing a vehicle along a road.

As one holds on for dear life, the occasional, loud squeaking of the belt and pulley system powering the drive wheel can be heard above the rough, roaring snarl of the engine pushed to high speed. A first time rider cannot be blamed for thinking that he had pushed his luck too far by hitching a ride on a contraption that may fly to pieces at any moment.

But such thoughts do a great disservice to the tricycad as a showcase of Filipino ingenuity and creativity. After all, this three-wheeled phenomenon should be taken simply for what it is, a mechanical and engineering marvel that is striking in its simplicity and tailored specifically to the transport needs of the countryside. It is simple, relatively cheap and easy to put together and maintain and it does what it is supposed to do superbly -that is, to move people and cargo over short distances with the minimum of fuss and frills and at low cost too.

So when you are in Lianga and get the chance to clamber aboard this wonder of the town streets and country roads, hold on tight and enjoy the ride. It will certainly not be smooth, comfortable or quiet as one would like but who cares. You will get to where you want to go soon and cheaply enough.

And that is really what matters in the end.

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