DHAKA commuters hitting the streets again after a months-long lockdown are opting for bikes to maintain social distancing — and 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.
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’s 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.
“Bike sales have grown to a historic high,” shop owner Mohammad Ibrahim, who now sells nine bicycles a day instead of three, said.
“Most people now avoid buses, taxis or auto rickshaws… (and) buying bicycles as alternatives.”
Salesman Abdus Sobhan said mid-range bicycles selling at 10,000-25,000 taka ($US120-$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 said 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 said.
Other major cities are experiencing similar spikes in sales, the Bangladesh Bicycle Merchant Assembling and Importers Association said.
“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.