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[Weekender] Cycling to work in need of systematic support

As the seasons turn and fall comes into full swing, the streets are seeing more office workers commuting on bicycles.

A recent poll conducted by job searching portal showed that 30 percent of office workers from a randomly selected pool of 440 people commuted on bicycles. The benefit of daily exercise and cost-efficiency of the man-powered vehicle were cited as the two major reasons for cycling to work. 

Park’s shot of a fellow cyclist returning home from work
Park’s shot of a fellow cyclist returning home from work
Civil servant Park No-won, 49, a devoted bike commuter, said he saves up to 680,000 won ($590) per year by opting for his mountain bike over public transportation.

Compared to the average monthly transportation fee of 70,000 won, Park only has to spend 160,000 won yearly for bike maintenance.

“I used to take the bus and metro before, but five years ago I picked up riding bicycle regularly, and two years later, I decided that riding it to work would serve as good exercise.”

He added that unlike going to the gym, riding to work allows him to exercise without having to set aside time or be at a specific place to work out.

Park pedals round-trip 45 kilometers from the southeastern corner of Seoul to its westernmost end every day. Not even rain or snow can stop him as he claims “it has become an addiction.”

After continuing the routine for over three years, Park, at 172 centimeters tall, has gone from 80 kilograms to a more self-satisfactory 70 kg.

“My colleagues used to joke about my protruding belly. Now they are surprised at how much I slimmed down,” he said.

Lack of infrastructure an inconvenience to bike users

Luckily for Park, his daily cycling route is mainly along the Hangang River, which cuts through Seoul with much-appreciated bicycle-only lanes. The short sections where Park has to run shoulder-to-shoulder with motorized vehicles are only at the very beginning and the end of his journey.

“I consider myself fortunate. Also, the office has all the amenities necessary for bike commuting,” Park acknowledged.

His workplace, being a government facility, has all the advantages of shower rooms and a bicycle depot, oftentimes a rarity elsewhere.

The lack of a bicycle-friendly infrastructure plagues many riders. Complaints about bicycle paths unexpectedly cutting off midway to car roads or staircases, along with other everyday inconveniences, are timeless topics on social media and in online rider clubs.

In the survey by, 40.74 percent of respondents pointed out the lack of bicycle paths as the biggest obstacle to their daily commute. Another 33.33 percent pointed out the insufficient shower facilities at work, while 11.11 percent mentioned not having a parking space for their bikes at work.

Park said that even if he had not been granted with such a boon as he has, he would still ride his bicycle to work.

“(If there wasn’t a shower room) I would have used the public bathhouse next to the office. I know plenty of people who do that,” he said.

According to Korea’s Road Traffic Authority, the highest number of bike-related traffic accidents happen during May-June and September-October, when the weather generally grows more pleasant for outdoor excursions.

The institution especially noted a climb during morning and evening rush hours, when 41.6 percent of bicycle-involved accidents occurred.

Since bike commuting began to gain traction in 2010, the amount of related traffic accidents climbed from 11,259 cases in 2010 to 16,664 cases in 2014, marking a 48 percent increase in four years.

Although the government is recommending safety guidelines such as wearing protective gear, legal boundaries for cycling have room for improvement.

Park stressed the need for bicycle riders to go through systematic training on traffic regulations, just as how automobile drivers acquire licenses prior to hitting the road.

“There are basic rules to riding a bike, but many venture out unaware of this,” Park said.

He has never been in an accident himself, but knows people who have fallen from bikes in the worst ways.

As the number of bike commuters continues to rise, government efforts to expand a bicycle-friendly environment must keep in pace.

In hopes of promoting the appropriate use of bicycles in daily life, Seoul City is hosting the “Bike Leading City 2015 Seoul” festival from Oct. 15-17 to raise awareness.

As part of the festival, a symposium inviting speakers such as the chairman of the German Cyclists’ Federation, CEO of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation, the Dutch ambassador to Korea and experts in the field of urban planning from France, Switzerland, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Korea was held on Thursday in Seoul to discuss the landscape of the cycling culture.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (