Advocating champions

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The prime minster, an advocate of cycling and walking to work, referred to a certain setback in his State of the Nation address:

I would also like to report that the government has not given up on its dream to make Thimphu a bicycle and pedestrian city despite the initial setback.

What is that “initial setback” that the prime minister lamented? After all, the government has made no serious attempts to promote cycling (apart from installing a few bicycle stands in the capital) or to encourage walking (besides the agriculture minister’s famous HEHE walks).

Bicycles. In particular the 400 bicycles that were donated by a Buddhist group to the prime minister during his visit to Japan last year. The prime minister had boasted that he would distribute them to civil servants who promised to cycle to work. And they had responded, in overwhelming numbers, for the free bikes.

The bicycles have arrived, some 358 of them. But virtually all of them are not road worthy. Not in Thimphu, at least. All of them are single-gear bikes. All of them are used bikes (bought into the country despite the government’s ban on importing second-hand vehicles). And, most of them have been damaged beyond repair.

The bicycles must be fixed. As many of them as possible, even if two bikes have to be combined to make one. And they should be used, to whatever extent possible.

But, they are not mountain bikes. And they do not have multiple gears. So, they’re of little use in Thimphu. Dispatch them, instead, to Gelephu and Samtse, where the topography is not as demanding.

And close the chapter on that “initial setback”.

The prime minister can do more than “dream” of making Thimphu a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly city. He can lead by example:

  • He can bike to office once in a while.
  • He can walk around town occasionally.
  • And when he must travel by car, he can use fewer of them.

... for this!

Everything else – safer pavements, bicycle paths, educated motorists, bike dealerships, and affordable financing – will then fall into place naturally.

And our prime minister would become a true champion – not just a mere advocate – of biking and walking in the capital.


Facebook Comments:


  1. Oh! I didn’t know that the donated bicycles are second hand and not roadworthy esp. in Thimphu. It would be nice to see people cycling instead of using cars.
    But is it safe to ride a cycle in Thimphu? Do we have a separate lane for bicycle users? If not then what is the use of having bicycle stands. Even walking is not safe in Thimphu…look yourself around the town but be careful you will stumble and fall down, look down while walking you might put your legs in open drainage…look up straight…you ‘ll hit your head on electric poles or may be you’ll get hit by a speeding vehicle.
    Still I am positive that all Bhutanese will take up cycling and walking but we need good safety measures first.

  2. Deal OL

    From all these article by you on the PM`s address on the state of the nation, Public have suficiently learned that you have long personel graudge and no body has infact appreciated you for these opposings. As a oppsistion you have to oppose the issues which has meanings and also you should also aprreciate the govt when they do good, but you have failed in this coz u have big personel graudge with the PM. Be smart but not at the cost of loosing your own respect

  3. procycling says

    A very good topic and one that is close to my heart. The PM as he pointed out, does not look like he has not given up on this dream. there is a strong rumour that plans are afoot to not only provide cycling paths within the city but also around the city.

  4. lINDA WANGMO says


    Better go study some politic…

  5. This will just remain what it is, a dream.

    Come on, we cannot even develop a proper road system for cars, forget about bicycles, take care of the cars first. Make roads safe both for pedestrians and drivers. I have yet to see such road in Bhutan, except useless runabouts.

  6. Making Thimphu bicycle friendly is a great idea.
    Making Thimphu (and eventually the whole country) accessible for the handicapped, elderly and babies would be more meaningful.
    Do it one at a time, but do it.

  7. transplacement says

    Keep aside the issue of cycling in Thimphu for now! Topography is the real impediment. First of all, connect every nook and cranny of our country with paved roads, or atleast with feeder roads. Then only lets talk about cycling in the capital.

  8. There is time for everything. Making Thimphu a bicycle city is already too late. If we have to start, we must start with constructing the bicycle lanes first.
    My goodness!! What is happening to our people these days? Please shake off your premature ideas, your hallucinations and do that which is practical and doable. Kenchosum save Bhutan!!!

  9. pem tshering says

    It’s an old and clever man’s dream. Ps. give him a chance so that he can at least see some poor people cyling and remain in good health, while the few rich can drive on their prados and catch up with all sorts of sicknesses. Thank you, OL, for the information. We can only pray that the old man will not bring in second-hand experts, consultancies and professors to this land of GNH, for he is not going to be affected by all these ideas in any way.

  10. Practising GNH says

    I support the idea of promoting cycling in Bhutan for the following reasons:
    1. Good for heath through exercises. Will prevent non communicable diseases.
    2. Good for environment – no gas emissions
    3. Good for economy – no fuel expenses, less cost for drivers, no maintenance cost, less procurement works, etc.
    4. Good for space management – less parking areas needed.
    5. Will promote equality – all will travel in cycles and there will be less differentiation.

    But I see the following disadvantages in cycling:

    1. The infrastructure support is not there and will need additional costs.
    2. More traffic jam as a result of large no. of bicycles in unfriendly road conditions.
    3. High risk for road accidents.
    4. Topography is no suitable for cycling in Bhutan.
    5. Longer travel time required – less efficiency and effectiveness
    6. Cost for time lost

    Overall: Good idea, lots of benefits, doable but there will be some trade-offs.

  11. Perhaps what he meant by “setback” was that when the roads were widened initially prior to the Coronation of K5 sidewalks and bike paths were not considered/put in/planned?

  12. Dorji Tshering P says

    I would like to see the PM talk the talk and cycle to office once a week.

    Otherwise all he (PM) is doing is talking the talk and asking people to do the walking.

    But Bhutan is famous for our double standards.

  13. PM can lead by example all the things OL has mentioned but he forgot one:
    PM should learn to drive around without his whole entourage and pilot. We even see HMK4 driving in a hilux pick up these days…why does PM and DPT have to be so ostentatious?

  14. While Bhutan has been praised for its unique culture, tradition & prestine environment, it has also become the dust bin of the developed worlds. The Government after having banned the import of reconditioned cars are today happy to receive all those junk bicycles dumped into scrape yards in Japan and PM boost’s about receiving them and plan’s bicycling in the capital town. Before that does our PM realise that the service facilities in the country are not even favourable for the disabled. They cannot even travel in the public services, there is no provision and also the concern. I suppose GNH also includes the disabled.

  15. as an outsider in bhutan, i can say that the change towards cycling is slowly but surely coming – no comments on implementation. if, and when thimpu becomes a truly cyclist friendly city, it would be another feather in the cap. but for now, my honest opinion is that bhutanese drivers go too fast for their own and others’ good! this innate insensitivity of the bhutanese driver is quite shocking and dangerous to all cyclists.

  16. Why did he bring those junks if it cannot be used . it is a national disgrace . we are acting more than beggers . looks like b he didnot even bother to look at the bikes . what I heard is the may be only around 20 bikes can be repaired . U can easily buy good Indian cycle or bikes with few gears withe the money that was used to send the bikes from japan . R we bhutanese really that desperate

  17. Actually these garbage should not brought to Bhutan if they were in such a miserable condition.What are they really thinking about Bhutan???

  18. Boris Johnson, the elected mayor of London (a city of 7.5 million people)regularly rides to work and has also lauched a bicycle scheme in the city.

    The previous mayor of London, Ken Livingston, used to always take regular public transport (buses) to work.

    Even the PM and president of India manage with lowly Hindustan Ambassador cars.

    In Bhutan it seems almost no politician can travel in anything less than a Prado or Santa Fe. [so much for the environmental concerns]

    With the amount of money the government spends on Japanese vehicles – you’d think they would at least give Bhutan new bicycles.

    P.S. “Practising GNH” – Within a city it can often be faster to go by cycle when there are traffic jams.

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