Cycling in Turkey, it has to start somewhere

Monday 05 September 2022

Articles – She can’t smile off her face, her eyes are shining. Excitedly she jumps on stage beside her who has just won the bike. And she’s not the only one, there are at least two dozen children’s bikes that find their way to the lucky winners of the after-party raffle at the Sakarya Tour. Twenty happy boys and girls finally leave the stage as the proud owner of a brand new two-wheeler. A story about the changing view of the bike in Turkey and the possibilities it offers us bike lovers from the Netherlands.

Text: Erik Jan Jansen

New bike race

Sakarya Tour says; never heard of it! And that’s not surprising, as the four-day bike race will be held for the first time this year. It is a 2.2 competition, in other words, there are continental, regional and club teams at the start. And what kind of team, great international eclectic group! Teams you won’t see soon in Western Europe. Like Indonesia’s Roojai cycling team, South African ProTouch team, Kazakhstan’s Almaty cycling team or the national teams in Kuwait or Algeria. And not to forget the four Turkish teams. Sakarya BB Pro Team and Spor Toto Cycling Team (both Continental), Konya Buyuksehir Belediye SK Amateur and National Selection. To begin with, say and write one of the Dutch riders, 29-year-old Jeroen Myers of the Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team from Malaysia.

Four days will start and end at a fixed location on Atatürk Street Square in the city center. The large plaza next to the station is entirely dedicated to cycling these days. There are long queues around the start and end and the catwalk party can also count on the attention needed. Entire school classes are pressed into the fences to catch a glimpse of the riders. They are enthused in their enthusiasm by Başak Koç, and this well-known Turkish presenter talks tirelessly about the entire program together. I’ve already seen her on the Turkey Tour and am happy to see her again, especially because I know she translates everything into English.

There is a lot to be said about the race, Uzbek rider Gambalgamets Sinbayar of the Terengganu Polygon cycling team won all jerseys in the early stages but in the end he has to leave the overall win to Sakarya BB Pro Team Mikhailo Kononenko. After an impressive long solo break, this experienced Ukrainian rider managed not only to win the final stage but also the general classification by 11 seconds. As he crosses the finish line, he crosses his path and dedicates his winnings to his war-torn country. Deserved winner of Sakarya’s first round! For enthusiasts, on Sakarya Büyükşehir Belediyesi’s YouTube channel, all stages can be seen from start to finish, check.

“It was a beautiful mountain and green environment,” said only Dutch participant Jeroen Myers when looking back at the Sakarya Tour. “I thought the course was beautiful, definitely better than the Turkish matches in Erciyes and Alanya.” Like every new bike race, there are problems with growth, so the field for participants was not very large. “In terms of the competition, I think it’s a shame there were so few teams at the start. It’s always weird to race.” Meijers satisfied with the organization; “Few or no trips, good hotel with good food. And there were a few cars in traffic during the race.”

cycling and having fun

My visit these days is all about cycling and tourism. Since my first visit to this country, during my tour of Turkey last April, I have been touched by this country. I might say I was deeply moved by the friendliness and friendliness of the people, the landscape, the cuisine, but above all I was moved by the huge potential as a cycling nation. On the Tour Turkey, my hands were already eager to pull a spare bike out of a neutral Shimano and climb several winding mountain roads myself. In May the dream will come true and I can try for myself what it’s like to drive a race in this special country. I bid farewell to the Santini Queens of The Aegean Gran Fondo and discover how hard cycling here is, but incredibly cool.

Barely four months after my first visit, I set foot on Turkish soil for the third time. It’s a great reception, the harsh weather over Istanbul prevents my plane from landing. For more than three-quarters of an hour, I circle above the lights of this city, among a thick dark thundercloud and flashes of lightning. Even though it’s late at night, I can’t take my eyes off the beautiful scenery below. After 4 am I see my superb hotel bed. Sleep is something I rarely get these days. It doesn’t matter, you can always sleep.

Sakarya is a special city. With around a quarter of a million residents, it’s not a big place by Turkish standards. The city also known as Adapazarı has a rich history and was first mentioned around four hundred years BC. At that date it was part of the Greek Empire but also of the Roman Empire. Part of the population is still descended from loggers who for a few centuries moved from the Balkans to what is now Turkey. They left their mark on the area for some time, but they also left it after most of the forests were cut down. A sad note in history, in 1999 the area was hit hard during a major earthquake that destroyed about 18,000 homes. Today, the region is famous as one of the largest producers of hazelnuts in the world. It is, as cyclist Jeroen Myers pointed out, a green environment. All this has to do with Lake Sakarya and the river of the same name that flows through the region.

Cycling in Sakarya

There are many beautiful cycling routes around that lake. And so we come to cycling. Because cycling in Turkey is still in its infancy, especially compared to our small country. The car is clearly still the sacred cow, and owning a car is status. This becomes clear when you see how much time it can take to get from one part of the city to another. As a Dutchman, the first thing I thought of was that the city had a big problem. A problem that can be solved but that requires major change. Any acceptance that the bicycle is an appropriate means of transportation and not a sign of weakness. Until now, many Turks still consider the bicycle a means of transportation for the poor.

But there is hope on the horizon. Sakarya is working hard on this change. The municipality is busy building bike paths and this goes a long way. In the plans, the municipality indicates more than 500 kilometers of bike paths through the city. In implementing this, other solutions suitable for bicycles from different cities of the world are considered. The International Cycling Union has now declared Sakarya as an official city for cycling.

Zonnebloem Bicycle Park

The master plan to turn Sakarya into a bike-friendly city also includes interest in cycling. The first edition of the Tour of Sakarya is one of the initiatives. Another initiative is Ayçiçeği Bisiklet Vadisi (Sunflower Bicycle Garden). This is a free-access park for everyone, just outside the city center and located entirely in the bike frame. There are many challenging tracks for mountain bikers and motorcyclists. For the racing cyclist who wants to shed their power, there is a great outdoor oval bike path, perfect for a challenge with your bike-riding friends or just for a nice little traffic circle. And it is not finished yet, it will soon begin construction of a real bike track and it is expected that track races will be held on it as well. The park also regularly hosts BMX and mountain bike competitions. Last month, the Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships dominated the park.

Local government efforts mean the city and area are also open to cyclists. There are now many so-called “bike friendly” hotels. Hotels where you can store your bike or do a simple repair in the workshop. It is also equipped with everything needed to recover after a hard bike trip, sauna, Turkish baths and a swimming pool. Hotels provide cycling routes, and sell some small parts like spare tires and power bars. You can identify these hotels by the official green quality sign “Bisiklet Dostu” (suitable for bicycles). See We had a look at Seçkin Hotel Spa & Wellness Sakarya, a three star hotel a bit far from the center and therefore convenient for cyclists.

For more information about cycling in Turkey, check out

Sakarya City and Region:

Sakarya is a typical Turkish city, full of activity and life. It has a convenient center with thousands of shops and restaurants, each with its own specialty. Turkish entrepreneurial spirit makes shopping a real adventure. If you are looking for something specific, everyone is ready to help you. Books about Turkish cuisine can be written, but it is better to just try them. Feel free to enter a small restaurant with barely more than twenty seats. You will likely be served delicious local dishes. In most of these places it is not possible to get alcohol, try real Turkish yogurt or one of the juices that are often homemade. And don’t forget to order a dessert, a feast for taste buds! Besides the small eateries, there are more than enough great restaurants. Dozens of them can be found on the shore of Lake Sakarya. Dinner in these places is a real feast, take your time and don’t forget to wear something nice.

Food in and around Sakarya:

Improved! Hakiki Rumeli Koftecisi In the center of Sakarya, the family that runs this restaurant has been making the most famous meatballs in town for years! The restaurant serves its specialty of Rumeli köfte (meatballs) on specially prepared bread. Check this video

Another recommendation! Gölevi Restaurant by Lake Sakarya! Dinner with a great view at sunset. This restaurant is one of the best in the area and has an extensive menu of lovely dishes. If you want to fully enjoy yourself, rent one of the hostels in the restaurant.

lunch! Köfteci İsmail, on the edge of the center is the contemporary Köfte (Turkish meatball restaurant). Again, in his own way. Take a moment to look at the activity behind the counter, it’s very busy.

Istanbul!

Secret tip! Ali Okakbashi Karakoy in the center of Istanbul! A hidden gem in an old commercial district near Galata Bridge over the Bosphorus. The restaurant is located on several floors and has a rooftop terrace. From there, half of Istanbul is under your feet. The menu is very exclusive and delicious. Don’t count on big portions, but enjoy the specials and the view. With delicious raki on hand! Don’t get caught up in the rather dirty cul-de-sac, enter the hall on the left at the end and hit the elevator button. This restaurant is located on the fourth floor.

a picnic:

Tarakli, this UNESCO village is about a two-hour drive from Sakarya and is definitely worth a visit. The old center takes you back to the past, and the old wooden houses show what life was like before. Around the central square are shops where you can still buy hand-cut cutlery, linen clothes and homemade jams. The old mosque can also be visited outside prayer times. Please note that the shoes remain outside. Opposite the mosque there is a small tea house. The owner will welcome you warmly. Take a moment for a cup of tea (Turkish tea) or real Turkish coffee.

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