RIYADH: Irrational fear of the novel takes on many forms, but few can seem as irrational as the fear of the bicycle.
There was a time in the Kingdom when the bicycle was viewed with suspicion, a mechanical beast that carried its riders down the bike path toward immorality and vice. The bicycle was even at one point labeled the homaar al-sheitan, or the “devil’s donkey.”
Now, according to the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh, a man in the central city of Buraidah has preserved an artifact of this mentality and is happy to show curious visitors a 50-year-old bike-riding permit issued by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
In order to obtain this license the rider had to abide by the following rules: The rider had to be a man; he could not ride at night; he could not rent out the bike; he could not share the bike; and he could not carry food on the bike.
To get this permit, the rider had to appear before the local vice commissioner along with his local district leader and tribal chief and commit to abiding by the rules. For years, according to locals, people would look at bike riders with suspicion and derision.
Of course times have changed. With skyrocketing oil prices and growing concern over fuel-burning pollution, many people have embraced bicycles as an eco-friendly form of transport that also promotes exercise. And though bicycle riding is not extremely popular in the Kingdom (it might have something to do with the weather) at least bike riders aren’t looked at with scorn — at least until they swerve in front of your SUV.