President Berdymukhammedov’s bicycle rush

by Kira Kramer

President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov will make it into history not only as a great dictator and author of many books, but also as an advocate of a healthy life style.

It is he who urged ministers and the country’s residents to ride bikes and introduced a new trend for bike races timed to coincide with various holidays.Moreover, bicycles are one of the most popular gifts presented to the Turkmen leader.

He has been presented with a variety of bikes, including gold ones.

The bicycle became part and parcel of the Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s life so that state-run media outlets informed the world when and how the President went on a regular bicycle ride or took part in a cross country bicycle race.

The state information agency TDH last reported on this on 19 May, when the President did a 30 kilometer bicycle ride and inspected the capital from his bike.

The next day a new large-scale bicycle race was held in Ashgabat.

Needless to say, members of Parliament and ministers participated in the event.

Doing sports, in particular cycling, should be encouraged.However, in order to urge residents to take up cycling, the relevant infrastructure equipped with bicycle tracks has to be created.

Secondly, bike sharing systems are needed which allow people to borrow a bike from a self-service bicycle dock and return it at another dock in the city.

From a live to an iron horse

Bicycles became a new Turkmen trend in the second half of 2013.It appears that at that time a new bicycle initiative meant President Berdymukhammedov’s transition to a safer sports activity, compared to horseback riding.

If one follows the chronology of events when officials and residents began to ride a two-wheel saddle, it can be noted that cycling gained popularity after the Turkmen leader, a big fan of horse riding, fell from his horse at the horse race on 28 April 2013.

Just over a month after the incident, on 7 June, the program for the development of bicycle racing for 2013-2017, which was personally approved by the President, was designed in Turkmenistan.

The head of state made his first “official” bike ride on 3 August on a green mountain bike accompanied by government officials. It was then when the world saw Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in the outfit which became historic white sports trousers, a helmet, gloves and sunglasses in Arkadag’s favourite colour green.

On 10 August Ashgabat launched a campaign to encourage cycling. The state-run media outlets report that “President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov personally initiated this campaign”.

On that day in a state television broadcast the anchor presented the new Berdymukhammedov’s initiative with the following words: “Cycling must be a regular activity for residents. Sports schools in the capital and provinces should prepare an action plan to improve cycling skills”.

The country’s residents were presented with the Presidential decree featuring a detailed plan “to involve residents of Turkmenistan in doing various sports” with special emphasis placed on cycling.

Thus, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov made cycling another distinctive feature of his regime.

To support the initiative and to attract the attention of the public to this sport, on 1 September 2013 the first “nation-wide bicycle race” was announced, which lasted for a month.

The Turkmen leader also instructed public officials and students to take part in bicycle racing.

“This campaign will contribute to improved health, ensure environmental safety and encourage cycling”, — the President said.

Thus, by 1 September 2013 all working age citizens and students should have had bicycles, the price for which skyrocketed.

Import of bikes

After that over 35 thousand Chinese-made bicycles were imported into the country. Bicycles made in Turkey appeared in Turkmenistan.

According to entrepreneurs, at that time the price for this means of transport of mediocre quality did not exceed $70.However, it was sold at $170 and higher.

As a rule, ministries and agencies made wholesale purchases of bicycles at one price, and sold them on to its staff at a higher price and if they did not have the money, the amount was retained from their salaries.

In the run-up to large-scale cycling marathons one could witness quite amusing pictures.Inhabitants of Ashgabat were informed that groups of females, who did not look sporty, tried to “saddle up” two-wheel horses and ride some distance could be seen in the city.

These were high-ranking female officials from ministries and agencies trying to learn to use a new means of transport.

Even during holidays Turkmen officials could not avoid taking part in bicycle races.In July 2014, a year after the bicycle rush started, a special-purpose flight of “Turkmenistan Airlines” loaded with bicycles which had been purchased for high-ranking officials the previous year, departed from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi.

Even during their annual leave in Avaza, members of Turkmenistan’s Cabinet of Ministers had to be engaged in bike races.

During a regular training session for executives of law enforcement agencies the President took the opportunity not only to demonstrate his advanced bike-riding skills but even played basketball with them.

The President’s hobby affects not only his subordinates and residents.Even President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev went on a bicycle ride with Berdymukhamedov during his official visit to Turkmenistan in May 2017.

Two-wheel gift

Since then the bicycle has been one of the most popular gifts for the head of state.For instance, on 27 November 2015 Sapardurdy Toyliev, Deputy Chairperson of the Cabinet of Ministers, presented him with a white bicycle equipped with a specialized computer system, according to TDH.

Gurbanguly Berdymkhammedov, who was coincidentally wearing a white sports outfit, immediately made a regular working visit around Ashgabat on this bike.

During his holiday in July 2016, the President went for a bike ride in the foothills of Kopetdag on a green bike with a gold-plated chain.

On 7 April 2017 when the President attended the opening ceremony of the sports complex in Avaza, he was presented with a gift a white bicycle on behalf of the athletes.

Then on 28 September, after a ceremony to award Asian Games prize winners with gifts, in return they presented him with a gold bicycle.

It appears that riding a gold bike was not as comfortable as a regular bike and a few days later “in a festive atmosphere it was handed over to the Presidential museum where numerous gifts to the head of the state from the country’s residents and official delegations are donated to occupy a place of honour in the sports section”.

At that time, there were 5 bicycles there.

Another bicycle was presented to the President after the field session of the Security Council in April 2018.The bicycle, featuring the symbols of the car rally “Amul-Khazar” which is scheduled to be held later this year in Turkmenistan, was presented by Minister of Defense Yalym Berdiev.

Four days later, on 7 April, Turkmenistan marked the Day of Health, which, needless to say, was celebrated with bicycle rides organized across the country.A 15 kilometer bicycle race was led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov who rode through Ashgabat on a new bike presented to him by members of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Later media outlets reported that it was an electric bicycle with a value of 5 thousand euro.

Cycling holidays

It has become trendy in Turkmenistan to celebrate certain events with bike rides. In March 2015 a bike race devoted to the vernal equinox holiday of Novruz was held.

In April 2016, within the framework of “Health and happiness” month, a large-scale bicycle race was led by President Berdymukhammedov with diplomats among the participants.

The next bicycle race was held in December 2016 in honour of the 21st anniversary of Turkmenistan’s neutrality.

Upon its completion the parade of cyclists and athletes was held on Independence Square.On 29 July 2017 a No Vehicle Day and a mass bike race devoted to the 50 day countdown ahead of the Asian Games 2017 was held in Ashgabat.

On that occasion bike rental centres, which charged 10 manats per hour, were opened in the capital.

On 17 August 2017, another regular No Vehicle Day, a bike race devoted to the 30 day countdown ahead of the Asian Games was held in Ashgabat.

On 26 February 2018 a cross country marathon and a bike race in honour of the car rally “Amul-Khazar” scheduled to take place in September kicked off in Turkmenistan.

Bicycle Day

The adoption in April 2018 of the UN Resolution declaring 3 June World Bicycle Day was the icing on the cake and a genuine Presidential triumph.

Despite the fact that 56 states co-authored the document, according to TDH, the draft resolution “was designed at the initiative of the Turkmen President”.

“The Foreign Minister cordially congratulated the Turkmen leader on major victories in foreign policy which illustrate an increasing credibility in the country on the international arena and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov addressed the Turkmen people on the occasion of this significant event”, — the news outlet said.

Following tradition, a decision was made to organize various events with the highlight of a large-scale bike race on 3 June.

In the course of preparations for the noteworthy date, the President held an unscheduled extended government meeting devoted to sports development.To give the event higher profile, the President of the Russian Cycling Federation and a three time Olympic gold medalist Vyachelav Yekimov, was invited as a guest to the meeting, who put forward an idea to hold the World Cycling Championship in Turkmenistan in 2019.

If this initiative is adopted, and it is a most feasible scenario, “the bicycle Asian Games” will be held in Turkmenistan when all resources including human and financial, will be focused on entertainments of the President which are actively forced on Turkmen residents.

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