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.
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.