Bringing back the bike: Beirut’s cycling initiative

Rami Abi Ammar
Contributing Writer

Credits: CyclingCircle Facebook page; Cover Photos.

You may have seen them cutting through Beirut’s night traffic–a large group of helmeted cyclists following a lead marshal that signaled directions. They stop at traffic lights, move in organized formations, and wear reflectors. It is a level of road conduct and safety, let alone a mode of transportation, that is uncharacteristic of our Lebanese streets.

This group wants to change that. They are the riders of CyclingCircle, and their aim is reviving bike culture.

CyclingCircle was initiated in 2012 and has grown ever since to become the largest cycling community in Lebanon, with events in over 20 locations around the country. Their Beirut night rides, taking place every Thursday at 8 PM, have become increasingly popular amongst locals and tourists alike.

The tours are open to everyone and cater to all levels of cyclists with 15 km, 25 km, and 35 km tours around the city, starting in Gemmayze. Professional cyclists guide participants, ensure their safety, and manage traffic, all while promoting safe bike riding as transportation, leisure, and sport.

In line with CyclingCircle’s aim to popularize cyclo-tourism, ecotourism, and sustainable means of transportation, they also conduct bicycle tours outside Beirut, in places such as the Chouf Cedar Reserve in Barouk, the shores of Amchit and Anfeh, and the Aammiq wetland in Bekaa.

The initiative even supported the use of bicycles in business when it started its own bike-based courier service, Deghri Messengers – now discontinued.

To encourage its growing community, CyclingCircle also opened Bike Kitchen in Furn el Chebak, a hub for cyclists that also serves as a repair shop, workshop venue, and coffee shop all at once. The Bike Kitchen holds workshops and screenings that teach bikers how to repair their bikes and nurture Lebanon’s growing interest in cycling.

Another group of bicycle enthusiasts, The Chain Effect, have taken a different approach. Their initiative focuses more on the culture and the city’s attitude towards cycling. For the past three years, The Chain Effect has worked on promoting bike use through street art, installations, and community projects all around the city.

Credits: The Chain Effect Facebook page; Cover Photos.

Their signature is a spray painted stenciled bicycle and it marks over 18 murals, some with calligraphy and striking patterns. Slogans such as “If you rode a bicycle, you’d be there by now”  painted across walls strike a particular chord with the Lebanese public amidst chronic traffic jams. The Chain Effect hopes to provoke people to think about cycling as more than just a sport or leisure activity but as a worry-free means of transport.

CyclingCircle and The Chain Effect collaborated on the event “Bike to Work Day”, on May 17, during which they provided free bike and helmet rentals for those commuting to work or university.

Their work has not been easy with obstacles such as lack of infrastructure and government policy. Both initiatives remain adamant and are still working collectively to promote cycling, encourage better relationships between motorists and bikers, and push for policies that protect bikers.

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