Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Wheels of delight

A whiff of winter chill did little to deter young Alexandrians from cycling their way around town, Ameera Fouad joins them late Friday morning

Al-Ahram Weekly

Remember the feeling of pure air flowing through your nostrils in the early morning, the gusty wind wafting through your hair and sending your locks fluttering in the air, as you pedalled your bike as fast as you could to outdo your friends as a child? Those childhood moments cycling in Maamoura, Montaza, Agami or the other resorts frequented by families on summer vacations held with them such unforgettable feelings of excitement, freedom and joy.
As we grow old, the things we cherished so in our childhood regrettably exist only in the realm of our forgotten past and we find ourselves moving further away from simple pleasures that enriched our true nature. Looking at old photos brings back such nostalgia as we recall how we felt on our bikes during our days of youth. Cycling in all its forms — whether it was on a two-wheeled bike, a unicycle, a tricycle or a quadricycle — brought on such a joie de vivre, which is exactly the sentiment recaptured on the streets of Alexandria this weekend.
Cycling is the great equaliser — male or female, young or old, student or professor, rich or poor — all differences are transcended on wheels and cyclers only feel they are part of a community united in a love of the sport. Helmets on, water tubes in mouth, pedalling and pounding trying to stay inside the white line, and aiming to cover a six-kilometre distance is a far-fetched group endeavour one would never associate with Egypt’s streets. Such a dream, though, could materialise if there was a well-organised plan, if the streets were relatively empty, if the weather was mild, if the pavements were wide and straight and if there were good bikes — factors that all exist in a city like Alexandria.
Throughout Fridays, last summer, I was stunned to see our famous Corniche Street overcrowded with myriads of bicycles and cyclists going back and forth between Montaza and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. They would usually gather at 7am at Montaza and take off on their bikes towards the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Al-Shatbi — a distance of about six kilometres. At first I thought it would happen just once or twice a year, after which everybody would rush back to their cars and comfortable means of transportation. It was not until a month ago that I realised that there would be more to it than met the eye. I came across two young females in my neighbourhood on their bikes, not to do some exercise on a weekend, or to bring back some childhood pursuit, but using cycling as a means of transport. I suddenly realised with utter glee that cycling in Alexandria might just reshape this city’s public transport landscape for arguably the next 20 years.
So I took a deep breath and decided to try it myself. Yes, I did it. At last, I rode a bicycle along the Mediterranean coastal city. In spite of the Herculean task of trying to convince my friends to get on bikes and join Cycle Egypt — the largest society for amateur cyclists in Egypt whose main goal is to spread the idea of using bicycles instead of cars as a means of transportation — we never enjoyed an outing as much as we enjoyed biking this Friday.
To its credit, Cycle Egypt has been able to successfully introduce to Egyptians the novel concept of seeing young women and men cycling on the streets of both Cairo and Alexandria every Friday morning. “Cycling Fnon”, a Facebook event organised by Alexandria University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in collaboration with Cycle Egypt, advertised the event on Alexandria’s streets. Despite the early onset of rough winter weather, scores of young men and women showed up for the event.
While making my way to our gathering spot at Sheraton Montaza at seven in the morning, I came across another group of female cyclists waving banners that read “Women Against Violence”. Brimming with passion for the message they wanted to convey, they distributed brochures inviting more women to join in raising awareness against harassment. Though a few in number in comparison to the masses of other cycling groups, their message was strikingly delivered. Sitting atop their bikes felt empowering; a form of defiance of male chauvinism and a rejection of sexual or verbal aggravations they might encounter. They daringly cycled their way through town, shouting aloud against any form of violence against women.
Having reached my destination at Montaza, I found hundreds of youth on their bikes waiting for the whistle: Ready, Steady, Go. Can they give our Egyptian streets full of beggars, hackers and harassers a much-needed facelift; a new vision of a young and hopeful Egypt? They certainly believe it and so pedal away they did, against the tedious traffic jam.
Two large trucks filled with bicycles of all kinds and sizes were tailing us. Amm Saber, the owner of the largest bicycle store in Alexandria, located in Al-Mandara, accompanied by his five children, were distributing bicycles on demand. Every once in a while, Amm Saber would offer needed assistance to the cyclists. Hazem Zakaria, a second year student at Alexandria University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and the organiser of the event, provided logistical support to many people who did not know how to pedal. Cyclists submit their identity cards and LE22 as a fee for participating in the event and renting the bicycle. Zakaria was in charge: he made sure that no one would get hurt, no girl would be harassed by passers-by and that everyone was having a good time.
For Zakaria, who bought his own bike five months ago, cycling has become a lifestyle. “I hate being stuck for long hours in traffic and Alexandria has become terribly jammed with cars at all times of the day,” explained Zakaria, who decided to use his bicycle to get to his college every day, in addition to other places. “Sometimes, I reach my destination hours before my friends who use their cars,” Zakaria added, laughing.
Only at Gleem did we rest for a little while, after which we resumed our pedalling till we reached the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. “Well, I love cycling on our winding streets. I ride my bicycle everywhere. I don’t care who says this and that,” said 26-year-old Sara Youssef, whose bike was in a much better shape than Amm Saber’s set of bicycles. “I do have a car of my own, but I drive only when it’s absolutely necessary and for long distances, like going to Cairo, the North Coast or to go shopping.” Youssef is not bothered by aggravation she invokes on the streets from some people, she only focuses on the cracked streets and pavements and tries to heed the traffic rules. “Most times, I put on my headphones to avoid hearing the abusive comments flung at me,” added Youssef.
I might have been dead beat, my knees strained, gasping for air and cramming down endless bottles of water, but nothing could have taken away the feeling of plain joy I felt when we reached the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Joining the other female cyclists who had arrived earlier, we all cheered “Freedom! Freedom!” That was when I recalled the famous H G Wells quote: “After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.” — The Wheels of Chance

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