Coronavirus fuels bicycle sales in congested Bangladesh cities

Commuters hitting streets again after months-long lockdown opt for bikes to maintain social distancing and beat traffic.

    Sellers in capital Dhaka report an 'historic high' in bicycle sales after the coronavirus lockdown was lifted [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]
    Sellers in capital Dhaka report an 'historic high' in bicycle sales after the coronavirus lockdown was lifted [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

    Dhaka commuters hitting the streets again after a months-long lockdown are opting for bikes to maintain social distancing - and are discovering that pedal power is a way to beat the city's notorious traffic.

    Bangladesh lifted restrictions on movement at the end of May to revive its stuttering economy, including on the fume-spewing three-wheelers and crowded buses that serve as public transport in the capital.

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    But the city's snarling gridlock - in which cars often crawl along at a snail's pace - has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

    That is partly because many are staying home over lingering fears they will catch the virus.

    But for increasing numbers thronging Dhaka's Bangshal Bike Bazar - home to some 150 speciality stores - pedalling to work or school is becoming the new normal.

    'Historic high'

    "Bike sales have grown to an historic high," shop owner Mohammad Ibrahim, who now sells nine bicycles a day instead of three, told AFP news agency.

    "Most people now avoid buses, taxis or auto-rickshaws ... [and] buying bicycles as alternatives."

    Barbers wearing protective suits provide hair cut service to the customers, in Dhaka
    Barbers wearing protective suits and face masks provide hair cuts to customers inside a salon amid the coronavirus pandemic in Dhaka [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

    Salesman Abdus Sobhan said mid-range bicycles selling at 10,000-25,000 taka ($120-$300) had sold out.

    "I think a bicycle would be much safer for my commute," college student and part-time call centre worker Toufikul Islam told AFP as he bought a new two-wheeler.

    Rezoan Mahbub, a senior executive at a paper-importing firm, said the lockdown made him realise the benefits of owning a pushbike.

    "Bicycles are more convenient than cars or motorbikes," he told AFP.

    Other major cities are experiencing similar spikes in sales, the Bangladesh Bicycle Merchant Assembling and Importers Association told AFP.

    "This year ... we expect bike sales will double," association spokesman Mohammad Rasel said of the $500 million market, where around 1.5 million pushbikes are sold each year.

    Mahbub said he was optimistic that the turn to two-wheelers in Dhaka would see residents breathing cleaner air in the city.

    "It is really encouraging how young people are getting used to bicycles instead of cars or motorised vehicles. It is indeed a positive change," he said.

    Coronavirus: Is Bangladesh putting its economy before people?

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    Coronavirus: Is Bangladesh putting its economy before people?

    SOURCE: AFP news agency