Ask any cycling fan to name a Central Asian republic with a name that begins with the letter ‘K’ and the most likely response will be ‘Kazakhstan,’ home to the Astana team, named after its capital. Now, the neighbouring state of Kyrgyzstan hopes that its name too may become equally familiar, with plans afoot to attract touring cyclists by building a 300-mile cycle path around a lake.
The Telegraph reports that the project would see an asphalt track encircle the picturesque Lake Issy-Kul, which in the days of the Soviet Union was used by the USSR’s navy to test torpedoes. That alone would have put it out of bounds to foreigners, with or without bikes, but now the authorities are set to seriously court cyclists from abroad.
“Cycling is very popular in Europe, the United States, Russia and China and this project will be good for tourists,” explained Almaz Aiylchiev, who is the director of the project, which has been named ‘Bai Issyk-Kul.’
“In the Kyrgyz language it means rich Issyk-Kul but in English it sounds like bicycle,” Mr Aiylchiev added helpfully, going on to explain that the scheme was supported by governments at both central and regional level, but needed a commercial partner to help fund it.
Mr Aiylchiev’s plans would see a cycle path follow the shore of the lake, separate from the road, with locals opening catering outlets and hotels to provide for the expected trade.
“There are a lot of benefits for both locals and tourists,” he maintained, although as The Telegraph points out, Kyrgyzstan, which has a population of 5.5 million, has gone through two revolutions in recent years, as well as ethnic violence in the southern region of the country in 2010 in which 400 people lost their lives.
Canadian citizen and now Dutch resident Friedel Grant, who cycled in the country as part of a three year round the world trip, told The Telegraph: “I remember taking a detour up to pastures and pitching our tent among the nomads. It’s definitely become known as a destination for adventurous cyclists already.
“The new path could definitely attract attention to cycling in Kyrgyzstan and be a good starting point for people,” she added.
Writing afterwards on her own website, Travelling Two, which gives advice and tips to cyclists looking to undertake round-the-world or other long-distance journeys, she outlined her further thoughts on the issue.
“Will this project fly, or will it be a flop? Will it attract the more gentle, less adventurous cyclists who currently cruise around the bike paths of Europe? At this point, it’s hard to say,” she said.
“Much will depend on how well the path is built and maintained. Cyclists can be a finicky bunch. Nothing ruins our enthusiasm more quickly than a poorly thought out path. It’ll have to be easy to navigate and smooth to ride. Otherwise, we may all well prefer to be on the road which (at least in our experience) wasn’t that busy or unpleasant to ride in the first place.”
She went on: “We also wonder if the kind of people who decide to bike tour along the famous Danube River bike path would be willing to take that long flight and get a visa for what is essentially quite a short path?
“If the Kyrgyz government is lucky, it could attract a whole new group of cyclists to Kyrgyzstan, and once they’d tried the bike path they might branch out to other routes through this beautiful country.
“One thing is for sure: if any country in the region can do it, Kyrgyzstan can. They already have the most tourist-friendly policies of any of the ex-Soviet countries and a growing tourism network that organises experiences such as homestays and trekking trips,” she concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.