Friday 18 November saw more than 5,000 Cairenes gather at 7am in front of the Fish Garden in Zamalek, all on bicycles and dressed in orange, for what has now become a dynamic tradition: the Orange Bike Day. The bicycling marathon organised by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Cairo is now in its fifth year. The event was planned with the support of Egypt’s Global Biking Initiative and Abul-Goukh Co. bicycle dealer, as well as sponsors Fayrouz, E7gezly for online booking, and the Dutch companies Farm Frites, Frico, and Unilever.
At 8:30am the marathon started. The riders, individual amateurs and members of bicycling teams, cycled through the leafy neighbourhood of Zamalek, crossed Qasr al-Nil Bridge to Tahrir Square in central Cairo, then back to the Fish Garden where they were welcomed with refreshments of water and fruit juice, as well as potato chips, biscuits, and sandwiches of ful and taamiya (cooked beans and falafel) freshly made on the folk carts that usually to sell them on Cairo streets.
The event aims at promoting bicycling as a clean, healthy, affordable means of transport; the Netherlands is famous for the use of bicycles as a means of transport.
The Dutch ambassador to Cairo Laurens Westhoff emphasised that the cycling tour is part of the embassy’s continued efforts to promote bicycles as a clean, efficient, and sustainable alternative means of transport in Egypt. He proudly said that Orange Bike Day has grown from only 400 participants in 2012 to more than 5,000 cyclists this year. The ambassador also explained the relevance of the colour orange to the Netherlands, stating: “Orange is the colour of the Dutch royal family. The Netherlands closely identifies with this colour, which has come to symbolise our country.”
Despite the large, enthusiastic participation in the event, it was obvious many saw cycling as a sport more than a real means of transport. “It’s next to impossible to go to work in Cairo on a bicycle,” said Muhammad Magdy, a young participant in the Orange Bike day. “What with the hot weather and humidity most of the year, you’d arrive in a state not fit to be seen.”
Another participant, Mona Tamer, did not agree with Magdy. She said she has been an avid cyclist since childhood. In reply to a question of whether this ever made her an object of harassment, she said: “No, never.”
Ahmed al-Dumyati who created the page on Facebook “Explore your country on bike” said he has cycled not only through Egypt, but also through other countries. One of the Facebook page friends, Muhammad Nofal, left Cairo on bicycle last month. He plans to arrive at Gabon next January, Mr Dumyati said, in time for the Africa Cup games to cheer for the Egyptian team. On the way, Nofal will go through Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, and Cameroon.
Dumyati said he has been all through Egypt on bike. “It’s an exhilarating experience,” he said. “You deal with places and humans on a totally different level than if you were travelling by car.” In total agreement was Michael Michel who described how “close and warm interaction with people is when you travel by bicycle”.
For his part, Bassam Ramadan who founded the Gang Bike group goes to work on bike, travelling some 20km twice daily. He chose to have his wedding procession on bicycles in his neighbourhood’s streets.
20 November 2016