Ready for a bike ride?: Cycling to change

Published: January 8, 2013

During the three months that I spent in Berlin this year, I learnt to envy the typical German woman. She lives in the same universe as me, she walks the same Earth as me, sits across from me at work, yet the rules that she lives by in her country, the opportunities that are open to her and the independence that she experiences everyday — these are all things I could never imagine for myself  in my own country, not in this lifetime.

However, this envy goes to another level when I see a German woman whizzing by in her second-hand bicycle while I trudge along with my heavy bag. The heavy bag I carry has not so many physical contents as emotional ones. Because I packed with me from Pakistan all the arguments I’ve had over the years as to why a woman should not dare to get on a bike. And despite all my best efforts, I still haven’t learnt how to ride one.

The first rationale given to make Pakistani women stay away from biking is that if they went out in the streets of Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad on a bicycle, it would be inviting harassment.

But aren’t women already facing harassment when they ride public buses with men, take taxis, drive alone or even sit in the back of a motorcycle awkwardly holding a tiny infant? How would the harassment they face riding a bicycle be any different?

Then there are the reasonings of the moral police. Actually, there’s not much of an argument they offer after they declare cycling ‘haraam’. For some even a fully-covered woman travelling on a bicycle is supposedly promoting vulgarity and enticing men. One wonders if men are just innately enticed by anything that moves. But no, cycling is declared uncouth, unladylike and ‘westernised’. Of course, it’s more ‘ladylike’ to depend on a man for all your activities throughout your lifetime.

And then there are the circumstances and the realities on ground that are hard to argue with. Pakistan does not have the infrastructure to support this activity: no tracks and paths for bicycles, or the kind of roads that permit cycling. But my sisters in most of the developing world face pretty much the same problems, yet they are on their cycles everyday.

But all the reasons and baggage aside  — if we start doing this small painless activity, if we had the liberty to go as and when we please, Pakistani men could no longer control our lives. If we could go to school or work on our own, we’d be equal to them in standing. We’d be healthier, happier and more willing and motivated to break the chains that bind us. We could be contributing to environmental change, earning our living more independently and spending it as we please. In a country with high income disparity, biking would erase the differences between the rich and the poor.

And maybe that’s a scary thought for some.

Maybe these were the reasons why I was never taught how to ride a bike in Pakistan. And so as an adult when I saw the biking culture of Europe, I felt idiocy, estrangement and loneliness — all at the same time. It was hard for me to imagine cities where 50% of all trips to school and work were made on cycles. In Copehagen, there was a biking highway, a biking embassy, biking blogs, and even Presidents who cycle every day. And for immigrant women who have never had the opportunity to learn how to bike, there are special institutes where they are taught to face the streets.

Compare that to Pakistan, where we sit around forever and wait for someone to take us around.

I’m tired of hating cultures and all the liberties they offer. It’s hard to live a life of envy. It’s hard to walk with all this baggage. Quite frankly, I’d rather cycle with it!

So I’m sending out this message in a virtual bottle hoping that Pakistani women interested in learning how to bike will give me a shout out. I’m hoping that Pakistani organisations interested in this concept will help us get enough bikes to get us started with this activity. I’m hoping that people will volunteer to teach struggling biking newbies like myself to learn how to cycle. And we, in turn, can multiply this effect and teach more women.

For now, I’ll go back to dreaming what it would feel like to have Seaview’s sandy wind in my hair as I whiz by the colourful camels and horses and brake just in time for some delicious gol guppas. And when I do brake, I don’t end up with eight stitches or with gol guppas in my hair and the gol guppay wala in my arms.

Let’s all go out together for a bike ride.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, January 6th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Aijaz Haider
    Jan 8, 2013 - 2:23PM

    Hilarious!
    “For now, I’ll go back to dreaming what it would feel like to have Seaview’s sandy wind in my hair as I whiz by the colourful camels and horses and brake just in time for some delicious gol guppas. And when I do brake, I don’t end up with eight stitches or with gol guppas in my hair and the gol guppay wala in my arms.”
    Lucky gol guppay wala!
    Excellent!

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  • Faisal
    Jan 8, 2013 - 8:22PM

    Sweet piece. Wish it was that easy.. :(

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  • Nauman
    Jan 9, 2013 - 4:57AM

    Cycling is easier than you think. Get on a bike, with a helmet if you can, while someone holds the seat behind you for stability. Start pedalling and have this person walk or run behind you while still lightly helping your balance holding the seat from behind. With in a few hours, as you learn to pedal without looking down at the pedals, have this helper periodically let go of the seat without your kmowledge. A couple of more hours like this and you will be able to ride unassisted. Wear gloves, as you will inevitably fall, and your palms will need protection against road rash. Of course, find an area with no traffic for this exercise!

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  • Jan 9, 2013 - 11:29AM

    I think the author needs to be told about Critical Mass in Pakistan.. specifically in her own city..
    http://goo.gl/HDEPA

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  • Jan 9, 2013 - 11:47AM

    Critical Mass Karachi is a cycling movement out there on the streets of Karachi. The group sets out at a set location and time, to pedal through set routes. Lets join together and reclaim our public spaces and view our city through new angles.

    All bikes and bikers are free to join and play an essential part in promoting our nation and saving our environment!

    For those interested in purchasing bikes see the Discussions section of this page for information.

    For more info of a Crtical Mass:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/criticalmasskarachi/members/

    Recommend

  • Jan 9, 2013 - 11:55AM

    Critical Mass Karachi is a cycling movement out there on the streets of Karachi. The group sets out at a set location and time, to pedal through set routes. Lets join together and reclaim our public spaces and view our city through new angles.

    All bikes and bikers are free to join and play an essential part in promoting our nation and saving our environment!

    For those interested in purchasing bikes see the Discussions section of this page for information.

    For more info of a Crtical Mass
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/criticalmasskarachi/members/

    Recommend

  • sajida
    Jan 9, 2013 - 2:04PM

    oh god! WHEN will ppl stop being so fatalistic and whiny and wishy washy?! Just get on a bike and ride if you want to! you want someone to come and make it possible for you to cycle? and what will you be doing in the meantime? dreaming about it? smart.

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  • Jan 9, 2013 - 3:30PM

    I cycled a lot in my childhood in england, but for the past ten years that I spent in this country I had not cycled. Recently I got up the courage to buy a bike and started cycling in the closed community where my grandmother lives. It has wide enough roads to cycle comfortably without the the stress of random creeps staring at you with their eyes popping out when you whizz past. The residents used to stare, but now even they’re used to the sight of me meandering past them, ipod in ears, wind in hair and smile in place.

    However, not everyone has the luxury of a safe space in which to cycle, and its not really a solution to the dearth of citywide cycling. I really hope we can have more men and women cycling on the main roads. If there is a revolution in this regard in the near future, count me in.

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  • Saba
    Jan 9, 2013 - 3:39PM

    @Mustansir: Thank you so much. I look forward to joining these activities

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  • zahra
    Jan 9, 2013 - 6:37PM

    Haha.. this reminds me of all the funny reactions i got when i used to ride a bike around clifton.

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  • ali
    Jan 14, 2013 - 2:37PM

    @sajida:
    you are right

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  • Amna
    Jan 21, 2013 - 5:05PM

    Ms. Saba it’s all in the head. I have been cycling since I was a little girl. While growing up all over the country I met amazing women who had no qualms about cycling. My grandmother always boasted how she would cycle to her college in Quetta in her ‘gharara’ . I remember living in the small city of Okara where our ‘darzan’ would cycle herself to our house to collect clothes.

    Recently I joined a group called Critical Mass Islamabad which arranges bike rides across the city and beyond. Its healthy, people are helpful and riding in a group always prevents people from gaping at you.

    I think I feel more comfortable cycling then walking at the street. Because the moment someone starts staring at you, you peddle faster leaving them to wonder behind.

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  • Zehra
    Jan 21, 2013 - 9:00PM

    Saba, I am a regular and avid cyclist and have been at it for long. I ride alone as well as with a group called ‘Critical Mass’. Do check out their facebook page Critical Mass Islamabad, there is one in Karachi and Lahore too. Initially I would bicycle with my dad in the early days when I was young and much later I realized that I just have to be out there and let people think what they want to. Its our space that we just have to claim, The more I go out alone, the more confident I am getting and the more ‘used to people are getting’. So join in :)

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  • Zehra
    Jan 21, 2013 - 9:05PM

    Saba, I am an avid cyclist and bicycle alone and with a group called Critical Mass Islamabad. Initially when you go out alone, its scary but we just have to get on a bike and be out there and do what we enjoy and claim our space. People get used to us being around on the bikes. I know its not easy with people glaring and staring but you just have to not give up and finally they do :)

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