Happy Turkmen Bicycle Parade Day to all those who celebrate

Nothing like a totalitarian bike ride to start your day right.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 04.06.2024 Photography by
Altyn Asyr
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In this world of ceaseless change, it’s nice to have something you can rely on. Every year, the 3rd of June – World Bicycle Day, to differentiate itself from the much trippier Bicycle Day – unleashes one of those dependable delights. It is, of course, the day that the good people of Turkmenistan put on their best tracksuits and ride around the capital in long lines behind their democratically elected (😉) president. 

Turkmenistan has a long association with World Bicycle Day, owing to the fact that its UN delegation sponsored the initial proposal put forward by Polish academic Leszek Sybilski. In the years since it passed, the country’s embrace of the day and its love of a good parade have made for some truly surreal moments. This year is no different. 

But while there are many similarities between this year’s Turkmen Bicycle Parade and the Turkmen Bicycle Parades that have preceded it, there are some key differences to the 2024 vintage, too. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov – the deeply eccentric bicycle-loving dictator that kicked the whole thing off – has retired, with his sinister son, Serdar, replacing him. Serdar doesn’t seem to show any visible joy, ever, and he’s especially joyless about wearing a tracksuit and riding a bike up and down a highway. It is now his solemn duty to schmooze with international sports governance bodies and pretend to care about the people who freely and joyfully elected him.

This year, we also have new songs (although none as good as the 2020 World Bicycle Day banger ‘Sport Sport Sport’). There are new dance moves, new tracksuits, new giant formations of bicycles made by dozens of people standing in shapes. And – because this country is an awful dictatorship with strict control of the press – it’s all on the nightly news. After sitting through the full 45 minute (!!!) World Bicycle Day segment, despite not speaking a word of Turkmen, Escape Collective is happy to bring you these highlights. 

Meet your cheerful host of this instalment of Watan Habarlary. He is stoked to spend the next hour telling us about all the things that are allowed to be mentioned on the news, which – on the 3rd of June – is almost exclusively bikes and World Bicycle Day (with a bit of weather [hot, dusty] at the end).
Meet Serdar, the unsmiling man with an ebike who rules his country with an iron fist. Unlike the personality-cult that his father built out of his many sporting and musical endeavours, Serdar is notably more boring; he hasn’t written dozens of books, and doesn’t appear to have any lurking skills as a rapper. But because this is Turkmenistan he at least has some fantastic honorary titles, which include the following: Hero of Turkmenistan, Defender of Homeland Turkmenistan, Meritorious Dog Breeder of Turkmenistan.
There’s a new song for the occasion. It sounds like someone with a drum machine falling downstairs, and has incredible dance moves. I both hate it and love it.
As is customary, all of this is taking place at the big blue World Bicycle Day statue at the intersection of Chandybil Avenue and Bekreve Street, which is also the gaudiest roundabout in the known universe. The golden cyclists at the base of the globe rotate on tracks around it. There are also camels, and it says ‘home of neutrality’ on it, which is all a bit of a vibe.
After walking around the statue gazing at it with wonder while the musicians play their opening number, everyone gets on their bikes and begins their big annual bike ride through Ashgabat.
Serdar is at the front, soft-pedalling with his typical joie de vivre.
Nice linework down the highway, as we approach the first of many roadside exhibitions …
… which, in this case, is karate in the smog.
Serdar is clearly delighted with his day’s activity.
Having slightly more fun are the synchronised dancers …
… and the synchronised clappers …
… all of which moves Serdar to give a very small, dismissive wave. Huge display of emotion from the big man.
And then he nabs the sprint by several bike lengths! God he’s good.
I thought that might be it for the World Bicycle Day stuff, but no, we’re barely getting started. Next stop: some sports facility where there are these fantastic dog things …
… and a very small track bike on an indoor trainer …
… and this artistic masterpiece.
We go to some wrestling stadium in Ashgabat’s ruinously expensive Olympic Precinct where hundreds of Turkmen and Turkwomen in matching tracksuits wave their flags …
… as they watch a video package of people congratulating Turkmenistan on its big day. There’s even a video from the UCI! Good to see that there is no lasting damage from that time the UCI invented an award, lied to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov about it, then lied to the world’s media about that for years.
Now we’re back outside at another tasteful statue, where there’s another song about Velosport.
There’s ANOTHER song performed by a third group of four tracksuited singers, this time on an enormous rug.
Another artistic masterpiece.
Yet another enormous carpet and more tracksuits…
… and meanwhile, the lines of synchronised cyclists just keep on coming.
We get a lovely glimpse of a local bike repair station, generously equipped with forks and mudguards and tyres that don’t fit any of the bikes here.
And then everyone assembles in cultlike rows to gaze longingly at a big marble building and watch some more sporting demonstrations.

Summing up: always good to check in with our friends in Turkmenistan! Everything is good and normal and democratic, and it’s good to see Serdar enjoying himself! Never change* (*this one very specific aspect of your culture; wouldn’t say no to democracy and human rights and press freedoms)!

10/10, already looking forward to next year’s Big Turkmen Bicycle Parade.

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