When it comes to getting a nation on their bikes it helps if you’re a totalitarian ruler backed up by all the apparatus of a one party state and the support of 97 per cent of the electorate at the last election. That should ensure that the central Asian nation of Turkmenistan gets behind its president’s recent call for the country to get on its collective bike.
Turkmenistan's President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has decreed that September will be cycling. In the early hours of August 3, President Berdymukhammedov marked the initiative with a dawn ride on what appears to be a Cannondale mountain bike complete with, appropriately for the dictator of a former Soviet republic, a Lefty fork.
Accompanied by dozens of government officials, his ride was covered on state TV and kicked off a campaign called “Security Of Traffic Movement On The Road And The Well-Being Of Our Life.” (According to Radio Free Europe, it sounds better in the original Turkmen.)
Berdymukhammedov has apparently decreed that “cycling should be part of the regular activity of people. Sport schools in the capital and provinces should prepare a road map for improving cycling activities.”
For a month from September 1, the people of Turkmenistan will be expected to ride bikes en masse, and in the meantime people should practice as much as possible. Berdymukhammedov’s initiative details a plan to increase the participants of all citizens in sports, and especially cycling.
And it sounds like Turkmen citizens won’t have a great deal of choice. Under the rule of Berdymukhammedov, a former dentist (so you can bet he's got the best bike) who was the nation’s health minister before becoming deputy prime minister in 2001, Turkmenistan is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, according to human rights groups. (Although to be fair not as repressive as his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, who amongst other things renamed the days of the week and the months of the year after himself and his mother).
One slight fly in the presidential ointment is that there is some doubt about the actual level of bike ownership in Turkmenistan according to Radio Free Europe most of those seen riding bikes in the video clip were given them beforehand.
Still, we bet Boris Johnson wishes he had that sort of power.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.