Istanbul is known for many things, but a welcoming cycling environment is certainly not one of them. Anyone who sees drivers’ road etiquette might even be daunted to join the chaotic traffic mess in a car yet alone on a bike. Coupled with a severe lack of cycling infrastructure and a vehement devotion to car culture, urban cycling has become an increasingly marginalized faction over the years. Simultaneously, these conditions have led to cycling becoming a prominent and emerging topic regarding the city’s future growth.
Despite the difficulties, there are signs that the cycling community is on the rise here. More and more people are choosing to commute by bike in an effort to avoid the significant time and energy costs of driving. Estimates put the number of bicycles in the city at nearly 10 million, though how frequently they are put into use is another question. A growing body of organizations is also taking root here. Critical Mass is a San Francisco-based cycling organization that began hosting monthly rides in 1993 to gain recognition from the city and respect from a commuting scene dominated by cars. Today, you can find the group in almost every major city in the world, and Istanbul is no exception. They usually meet on the second Saturday of every month in Göztepe Park for group rides (check their Facebook page for the latest updates).
One of Istanbul’s most avid and organized groups working toward awareness is the Bisikletliler Derneği (Istanbul Cyclists’ Association), headed by longtime cyclist and advocate Murat Suyabatmaz, a former member of Turkey’s national cycling team, pulling in dozens of wins to his name over the years. The group organizes long rides in the country and also undertakes broader projects by lobbying with local government officials. Toward that end, for example, the group has recently been working with Aksaray University and the mayor of the municipality to create a bike-friendly campus that will be well-connected with the larger community.
These groups, along with a growing environmental awareness, are making strides toward carving out a place for cyclists on Istanbul’s roads. However, not everyone may be so quick to jump headlong into the city’s congested traffic arteries, so for those looking for a more relaxed ride, here are some of Istanbul’s more friendly (and aesthetically pleasing) pedaling places.
Places to Ride
The Princes’ Islands are a great spot to go biking, as cars, other than emergency vehicles, are prohibited by law. Büyükada and Heybeliada in particular are excellent places for this, with an extensive network of dirt roads. You can take along your bicycle on the ferry; alternatively, there are numerous places on the islands offering bicycles for rent. If you can, go off-season and/or during the week, and you may have the island (almost) to yourself.
The Belgrade Forest is an ideal and gorgeous place to ride, and affords Istanbulites the opportunity of enjoying the outdoors without (technically) leaving Istanbul’s city limits. The stretches of the Bosphorus with promenades (e.g. from Arnavutköy to Bebek) are also great places to spin your wheels. For those on the Asian side, in addition to the coast between Harem and Salacak, there are promenades on the Marmara seacoast in Kadıköy, Moda, and Kalamış, plus a miles-long stretch from Fenerbahçe all the way to Bostancı. CaddeBostan Park is one of the best addresses to cycle in as well, offering a peaceful view of the sea next to a long stretch of green.
Shops and Maintenance
Should you run into any trouble on the road, it’s good to know where to take your machine for check-ups and maintenance. Or perhaps you’re looking for a place to get started with biking. Either way, these shops have mechanics on hand as well as a variety of products from chains and derailleur gears to tires and saddles from a range of brands.
Pedal Bisiklet: This store stocks an exceptionally wide range of high-quality products from brands such as Schwalbe, Colony, and Continental. Mimar Kemalettin Caddesi, No. 29,Sirkeci; P:(0212) 511 06 54
Aslı Bisiklet: This bike shop is known for their reasonable prices, carrying hard-to-find products, and for a particularly wide selection of spare tires, something that you’ll always need on hand in Istanbul. Ebusuud Caddesi. No: 51, Sirkeci; P :(0212) 527 35 63
Delta Bisiklet: Other than housing an envious selection of high-quality bikes, they carry quality brands like Topeak and products ranging from cycling shoes, to helmets, and just about anything else you could want. Nispetiye Caddesi No:13-C, Levent; P:( 0212) 281 56 40
Aktif Pedal: A bike shop with more of a focus on mountain-biking, Aktif Pedal carries brands such as Specialized Schwalbe, Crank Brothers, Shimano, and Campagnolo. Staff members are also said to be involved in the city’s aforementioned Critical Mass movement, and seem to be deeply involved in Istanbul’s cycling community. Ayazma Dere Caddesi No. 26, Gayrettepe; P: (0212) 213 35 88
Bike & Outdoor: Not specifically dedicated to cycling, the store includes clothing and other products for outdoor activity in general. The store carries products that are geared more towards touring than inner-city cycling, making it a great stop to stock up for long-range rides. Giro, Schwinn, Shimano, and other brands can be found here. Barbaros Bulvarı Uzay No:63, Besiktas; P:(0212)259 74 76