If you talk to people who were children or young adults during the liberation period, when the population was still countable, they willl tell you that girls and boys would use bicycles to go to school and also to hang out with friends. It was a common sight to see a group of ten-year-olds strolling around on bicycles around neighborhoods. Back then the bicycles that you could see in every household were Phoenix, Rally, Gekko, and of course, Prince!
One common dynamic between the liberation period and now, when it comes to bicycles, you go to Bangshal. The added factor between the two eras is that now you can easily look up Bangshal on your devices, and you will have Bangshal in the form of a catalogue on your palms.
Bangshal has been the epicenter for bikes for ever. Now, with time there are bicycle brand options in abundance amongst more than 400 shops in that tiny area. You can find both Chinese and Indian brands like Hero, Avon and Atlas. Whether you want to buy a new bicycle or get it repaired, it is only common sense you take a trip to Puran Dhaka.
When you are in Bangshal, as a first timer, you may be overwhelmed by just how many bicycle shops there are in a narrow strip of land. But stroll around, go there early, talk to shopkeepers and take your time. And, if you have a particular type of bicycle in mind and you are also sure about the brand you want, do get yourself a decent bargain. Also, if you want an idea of the type of bicycle you want, most of the shops there have Facebook pages.
So, you can do your research ahead of going there. And if you are looking for Google ratings before you go to the shop in Bangshal, even that's available. Some of the popular to Bangshal are Lion Cycle Store, Cycle Heaven, GS Impex, Nazmul Cycle Store; all of which have four plus star rating.
All the shops there sell an array of bicycles from BMX bicycles to folding bicycles, mountain bicycles, bicycles for the road. You will even find bicycles, specially made for ladies and children. There are around 42 brands of bicycles you can choose from, and the prices range from Tk 1000 to Tk 5 lakhs.
The thing about bicycles is that no matter what the price, a well-made bike is meant to last generations. When you purchase a good bicycle, you buy its advantages. And when you want to purchase a bicycle here, you should know that Bangladesh is ranked amongst the top bicycle manufacturers that export to the world.
So, any bicycle you see is a well-made bicycle that complies to international standards.
Masudur Rahman Munna of Pervez Cycles sheds some light on the manufacturing quality, “I make tricycles for children, and not everyone can afford imported bicycles, so what I do is that I will look for the best alternative of materials and put it in the exact same frame, keeping the child's safety as a priority, however in the end, my tricycles are much cheaper. But these tricycles, as any good bicycles, can be passed down generations, and even be sold as a second hand in really good condition.”
There is quite a grey area in the discussion of whether the use of bicycles as a part of lifestyle has increased or decreased in Bangladesh. We know that bicycles serve as a recreational activity for groups such as BDCyclists.
BDCyclists took their passion to the Guinness World Records just a few months ago on 19 January, 2017 where 1186 cyclists joined to beat the record.
And there's more in Bangladesh's bicycle milestone achievement, which dates back to 2004: The Mobile Ladies, later Infoladies, of iSocial. It is a gender defying organisation where ladies deliver various types of information and sell commodities like sanitary napkins to isolated parts of the country, on bicycles!
From this perspective we can see that bicycles, whether or not we see them on the roads as much as we see rickshaws and motor bikes, it plays a significant role on the overall image of Bangladesh.
Dhaka may not be the best place for everyone including women and children to use bicycles for their daily commute as they did in the 50s and 60s, but it is not impossible to see a future Dhaka where people use bicycles regularly to at least reduce their carbon trace.
Hopefully, we will see a greater rise in the use of bicycles when there is a dedicated lane for bicycles in the city, as promised in 2014. Having a separate lane for bicycles could also possibly encourage women to start cycling to work or school. A separate lane also ensures safety, so parents can be at ease knowing their children are cycling to places. And of course, a rise in the users of bicycles with inevitably push organisations to make more safe parking spots.
Fun fact: There is an age-old village tradition where newly married husbands are given a brand-new bicycle as a wedding gift. It was still common in the 80s till Hondas came in the picture.
Photo credit: Ali Morshed Noton