People think of a bicycle as a poor person's transport instead of a means of living healthy: Haroon General
Haroon General is a certified coach from Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body of cycling, which makes him one of the two Level 2 certified coaches in Pakistan.
He raced for Islamabad between 1995 and 1999 in the National Championships and is now part of various associations and groups promoting cycling in the city.
We caught up with him to talk about cycling in Islamabad.
How do you find time for cycling?
I actually stopped for almost 10 years because of work and family but then I started again in 2009 and I realised that no one was cycling any longer. Most of my friends and colleagues did not like the idea of me cycling.
When I decided to go back to cycling I was overweight so I also had the health motive. In two years I came down to my current weight. But people were not interested; no one wanted to ride bicycles.
Who do you cycle with and how do you get people engaged?
I was one of the first few people in Critical Mass Islamabad (CMI). We started raising awareness and made pamphlets to get people to understand what cycling was for, what it could do for them. People thought of a bicycle as the means of transport for a poor person instead of how developed countries look at bicycles – a means of savings, a means of living a healthy life.
For me it was also important for my children to not be obsessed with tablets and electronics. When they asked me for tablets I told them I would get them good bikes or equipment for any other sport they were interested in, and when they did well at that they could also have the tablets.
"I was born and bred in Islamabad and I’ve discovered amazing Mughal sites, bird watching locations that you can reach via bicycles and miss entirely in cars on the roads."
Then, we formed the Islamabad Cycling Association (ICA) for two reasons. First, there was a gap as Islamabad was no longer being represented in the nationals and second, CMI was a volunteer group and didn’t have a legal entity and we needed an official platform from which to lobby with the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and other organisations.
With ICA we were able to push cycling forward. With some friends, we also set up a small business where we provide rental bikes and when people want to get good equipment or learn how to ride we facilitate that. It’s not a non-profit but it provides space and services that were lacking otherwise. Every Saturday Aero Cycling is open to anyone who wants to come learn how to ride or just to ride. People come with their children.
Is Pakistan cycling-friendly? Do you think it's practical to promote cycling as a means of transportation?
Islamabad is actually a very cycling friendly city in Pakistan. The issue is that people don’t know that they have you give you space. Incidents happen everywhere in the world but there are regulations and systems protecting you.
Now for instance the Islamabad Traffic Police fine cyclists if they run a red light, and we are very glad that they do because it is the cyclist’s fault and they should be aware and cautious. You need a licence to drive a car but no licence to ride a bike but both kinds of traffic is on the roads.
Islamabad in its master plan from the 1960s has bicycle lanes; we didn’t build them but no one demanded them either. We are now pushing CDA for them and things are moving forward. There are some beautiful bicycle tracks, possible areas to explore across Islamabad. I was born and bred here and I’ve discovered amazing Mughal sites, bird watching locations that you can reach via bicycles and miss entirely in cars on the roads.
Originally published in Dawn, November 15th, 2018