Cycling in Istanbul
TDA first arrived in Istanbul back in 2005 at the finish of the Orient Express Tour. As any participant that year would tell you the entry into Istanbul was complicated. Local police were supposed to meet the tour at the edge of the city and guide us to the city center along the hectic road that runs along the Bosphorous. Unfortunately the police were both a couple of hours late and seemed to have no idea which way to take the group. The Bosphorous is lined with steep hills and the police decided it would be best if the cyclists avoided the flat but congested road along the water’s edge and instead followed every possible little road imaginable while climbing incessantly. There were no local cyclists to be seen and in general you could say the locals perception of our cyclists was mild incomprehension.
We’ve been bringing Tours through Turkey and into and out of Istanbul every year since and it’s been very interesting to watch how cycling in the city has evolved. It was extremely rare to see someone cycling in 2005 in Istanbul. It wasn’t only due to the lack of infrastructure but also a lack of interest by the populace. Cycling in Turkey never became an accepted mode of transportation as it did with it’s European neighbors to the west and as more and more Turks could afford cars the city streets became that much more unfriendly to potential cyclists.
However just these past 8 years, as our cyclists have crossed Turkey from west to east, we’ve noticed significant changes; especially in Istanbul. Where previously the main bike shops around stocked an incredibly high percentage of kids bikes and nothing for adults there are now many shops with all range of bikes including high-end mountain and road racing bikes. Where once you would see no local cyclists you now see many Istanbullis riding at the fringes of the city for recreation. Not only that though you see locals cycling along the very busy waterfront roads beside the Bosphorous on their way to work or school. Critical Mass, an organized group ride, on major city streets now has 3500 fans and gets local police support. There is also the Tour of Turkey, a major professional road racing event which now happens every spring. More positive steps can be seen here
While the infrastructure for cycling in Istanbul has not dramatically improved, the desire of the locals to cycle in the city is taking off. Now can we at TDA take any credit as being trendsetters in Istanbul? Maybe to a small degreeJ as I think it shows the more you cycle the more good things happen, each and every difficult pedal stroke on one of our Tours is promoting cycling and just might make someone, somewhere, believe that a bike can take them where they need to go.