Women cyclists demonstrate with bikes, powder & paint

Izmir’s women like to boast that they bring grace and style to everything they do, including public demonstrations. That is probably why “Chic Women’s Bicycle Tour,” participated by some five hundred women, may well be the most ornamented demonstration in the country. This year, other cities joined the Izmir initiative, from Bodrum to Antalya.

Last Sunday, the “chic” women from Izmir and other towns, rode their bikes for a few kilometers to support cycling for women. The third one since 2012, the event was designed by Sema Gür, an Izmir history teacher and late bloomer in cycling.

Gür’s movement was born out of a desire to add femininity to mobility: “As I started cycling, I saw how male-dominated the whole thing was,” Sema told a conference at the Aegean University. “The routes chosen, the lycra clothes, the soberness of bikes… So I decided that I would wear skirts, put flowers on my bike and create a movement that encourages women to cycle on their terms, with their idea of aesthetics. I put the idea of having a ‘Chic Women’s Bicycle Tour’ on Facebook, not sure whether it would take off. [In 2012], 600 women signed up and 200 showed up.”

Other cities embraced this friendly demonstration heartily from Istanbul, Antalya, Mersin and even Kars. The cycling demos coincided with the Global Mobility Week – a European Union initiative that aims to promote alternatives to cars. An old tradition in Brussels, men and women of the European Commission leave their chauffeur-driven cars and ride bicycles to work on Global Mobility Day.

Last Sunday’s tour included mostly women, but a few men entered as well. There were only four conditions for entry:

• You have to dress up

• You have to decorate your bike

• You have to ride about 10 kilometers an hour

• You have to wave at the people

Despite the hectic political agenda, the movement stayed true to its slogan “Perfume rather than smell of gas on the roads” – preferring not to mix the ride’s message with a political one. But many Izmir participants believe that the ride is a display of what Izmir stands for: Liberal, free-thinking and proud of its women’s creativity. In other words, bikes rather than börek!

Izmir’s Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu added, “We hope that this demonstration, from the most enlightened city of Turkey, extends a message on mobility, on violence against women and on terrorism.”

Cycling on the coast

Izmir, admittedly, is a city that courts bicyclists. With reasonable traffic (unlike Istanbul), flat geography (unlike Ankara) and a great bicycle path with a sea-view that stretches across the bay, it is reasonably easy to bike in Izmir. The city’s People’s Republican Party (CHP) municipality is also very supportive of the bicycles and has made 311 bicycles in 29 stations available for the public to rent. The bicycle path aims to complement the municipality’s master plan called “Izmir re-embraces the sea” where the famous sea front is filled with squares, piers and other public areas the whole city can enjoy. Bicyclist groups are numerous and vocal, with the most famous “Thursday cyclists” who meet every month. Even the police has announced that they will go on bikes, to ensure that the roads are safe for bikers and those who err against them (trucks are [in]famous offenders) are duly punished.

So what prevents us from seeing chic women (and men) cycling to work a la Parisienne?

The first reason is bike paths are only on the coast rather than in the city, so unless you live and work on the coastal line, you have little opportunity to use a bike for transport.

Second is culture: Most Izmir teenagers get a bike to ride in summers at Çeşme but they look at it as an adolescent summer pastime until they get a car. Our 16-year-old son, who rides from school to exercise lessons on his bicycle, has already started nagging his father to get him a motorcycle as soon as he hits 17. While I am fervently lobbying against the motorcycle, I do entertain thoughts of inheriting the bike.

The chic women who bike also warn manufacturers and retailers: “A women’s bike is not simply a man’s bike that is smaller and painted hot pink. It needs to have a different structure and weight.”

The Chic Women’s Bicycle tour is probably not the most vocal demonstration in Turkey now, but to paraphrase H.G. Wells: “Every time I see a chic woman on a bicycle, I despair less for the future of the human race.”

Published in Hürriyet Daily News on September 2015