Teams of women and girls are among numerous cycle groups increasingly to be seen on the streets of the frenetic Pakistan megacity
Saba ImtiazLast modified on Wed 26 Jun 2019 22.34 BST
Early on Sunday morning in Karachi, a group of girls are riding loops around an empty stretch of road outside the colonial-era Custom House. At 6am they left the narrow alleys of the old neighbourhood of Lyari, branded a war zone by national and international media after a lengthy and brutal gang conflict. Two hours later they are still happily pedalling away, in ballet slippers and with headscarves tucked under helmets.
“I used to cycle alone,” says Gullu Badar, 15. “It’s nice to cycle here because there’s no danger, no cars. It feels good that there are other girls cycling with me too.”
“Don’t you want to take a break?” asks Zulekha Dawood, their instructor from the Lyari Girls Cafe collective. “No,” they shout, and continue chasing each other around.
It is rare to see women cycling in Pakistan but scenes like this are increasingly being played out across Karachi on weekend mornings. Numerous cycling groups take over the empty streets, such as the Critical Mass movement. Cycling initiatives have made their way to campuses such as the NED University of Engineering and Technology. There are also sponsored and themed bike rides, including ones to raise awareness of polio, to mark the start of mango season and to honour Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder.
As cycling becomes more popular, many people are returning to bikes for the first time since childhood. For Aliya Memon, 30, who climbed on a bike last September after a 15-year gap, the memory of how to ride immediately came back. “I started cycling again because it is an emotional outlet,” she says. “You release endorphins when you cycle. You have a sense of achievement.”