[FOUNTAIN]Bicycles for lifeThe National Bicycle Industrial Co. is an affiliate of Matsushita Electric. It is the fruit of founder Konosuke Matsushita, who used to work at a bicycle shop. But this enterprise is more like a tailor shop ― salespeople measure customers, and along with customer preferences for model, design and color, the information is sent to the factory where robots cut materials, assemble pieces and color the bike, which is even engraved with the customer’s name. The company has custom made over 10 million bicycles. They are not too expensive compared to standard models. National Bicycle deserves to be called the Kingdom of Bicycles.
The paradise of bicycles is the Netherlands, which has 17 million bikes for 15 million people. If you commute more than 10 kilometers by bicycle, you get a tax break. Because there are so many bicycles in Holland, some of them are very old. When a bicycle gets too worn-out, it will get ticketed. Unless the owner calls the authorities within two weeks, the authorities will seize the old bicycle from wherever it is parked.
Havana, Cuba was made heavenly thanks to bicycles. In the early 1990s, the city’s traffic came to a halt due to the oil shock following an economic crisis. The government immediately purchased 1.2 million bicycles from China. Five bicycle factories were built. The government also manufactured buses that could accommodate bicycles on board for people traveling a long distance. By the late 1990s, the number of automobiles in Havana decreased to two thirds, and the number of bicycles increased by 40 times. Havana, which used to be polluted with engine exhaust, regained a blue sky. It was a so-called “bicycle revolution.”
The person who made bicycles fashionable in Korea was the late Yoon Chi-ho, the president of the Independence Club over 100 years ago. When he gave a speech, the meetings were always overcrowded, but many people were more interested in his bicycle than his speech. While the number of bicycles has increased steadily since then, still very few people ride bicycles in Korea.
Recently, bicycles ridden by neighborhood officials have made a comeback after disappearing in the early 1970s. The Cheongju City Government in North Chungcheong Province has prepared a bicycle fleet to cope with high oil prices. The operation of “government bicycles” is good for the economy, health and the environment. I hope the idea spreads to other cities and companies. Of course, the government needs to support safe and convenient ways to bike by constructing more bike-only paths.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.