The Future of Cycling in Georgia – Caucasus Cycling Network

With busy traffic and reckless drivers, Georgian roads are not best suited to cycling. However, the arrival of summer and coronavirus are encouraging more cyclists to take to the roads.

Georgia is taking small steps to becoming more bike friendly. Earlier this month, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze announced plans to introduce a bike-sharing scheme and add more cycling lanes to roads. GEORGIA TODAY sat down with Mar Mikhelidze, co-founder of the Caucasus Cycling Network (CCN), to discuss all things bike-related in Georgia.

CCN was created by a group of friends who are keen cyclists to confront the challenges of riding bikes in Georgia. “There are a lot of problems for us,” Mar tells us. “There are no bike lanes, and drivers don’t respect cyclists.”

To improve the culture towards cyclists, CCN runs not-for-profit bike tours and other activities to promote cycling. “One of our goals is to improve group riding culture,” Mar says. “We think CCN is important and necessary for our region, and we want to create a bike-friendly environment.”

Mar was given her first bicycle, nicknamed “Qriala,” by her brother, and she started cycling with members of the Tbilisi Bicycle Group who ran trips around the city. “I felt how beautiful it is to ride in nature, climbing with all your power up mountains, and I realized how cool life can be.”

With her second bike, named “Jeep”, she has ridden all over Georgia and ventured abroad (from Samsun in Turkey and from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan).

Although Georgia is a beautiful place to discover by bike, cyclists still face some prejudices. “Basically, when people see you riding a bike, they either think you’re a foreigner or a ‘Kataob,’ someone who enjoys extreme sports,” Mar explains.

“Bikes are not commonly seen as a form of transport in Georgia. Drivers either scream “get out of the road” in Georgian or say “what is your name, beautiful?” in another language.”

Often, there are no safe roads for cyclists to use as an alternative to the highway. There are currently just three bike lanes in Tbilisi, with one more planned to open in September. “That’s all the government has done for cycling,” Mar says.

In many countries, cycling is often perceived to be a sport or hobby for men. Since 1992, the Georgian Cycling Federation has only trained men; there is no women’s team.

“I once asked why they train just boys,” Mar says. “The answer was that they don’t have enough resources. I think that it’s simply discrimination.”

So what changes should be made to make cycling safer in Georgia? “First, in my opinion, the government should change the laws around cycling; perceive it as a form of transport and make roads safer. I know many people who are scared to ride a bike because of crazy traffic and drivers.”

However, cyclists themselves should also be aware of traffic rules and safety. “I think every cyclist should take an exam, like a driving license. There are still people who think it’s safer to ride in the opposite direction of the traffic. I just want to cry when I see this,” Mar says.

Mar is motivated to see cycling conditions improve in Georgia. “There are many routes in Georgia which are stunning, beautiful, and amazing. I want Georgians to enjoy it just like foreigners do!”

You may recognise Mar as your Glovo delivery person. During Covid-19, her work in a kindergarten stopped, so she started working part-time for Glovo, delivering orders on her bicycle. “Customers are surprised because I’m a girl and I’m biking. I don’t like it, but I just laugh about it,” Mar says.

With enthusiastic riders pushing for a change in perception, we can expect to slowly see more riders travelling by bike around Georgia. “I love travelling by bike,” Mar says. “I dream about it before I sleep – mountains, climbs, new people, new experiences.” Hopefully others can experience this in safety too.

Mar’s favorite routes in Georgia:

Tsana to Ushguli;

Bzhuzh-Hess to Khabelashvilebi pass to Gomismta;

Truso Valley;

Korsha to Roshka;

Ananuri to Bzikurtkari;

Abastumani to Khani.

You can connect with the Caucasus Cycling Network here:

By Amy Jones

28 May 2020 21:06