Photo: Francisca Sousa, Goran Zec
If you’re living in Zagreb you might have noticed winter weather doesn’t affect the bike enthusiasts who keep on cycling despite the cold. A survey conducted 5 years ago showed that Zagreb was ranked 6th most bike-friendly capital in Europe. To find out more about the rising trend of using bicycles as a sustainable form of transportation, we spoke with Eugen Vuković, the man behind Biciklopopravljaona (BICPOP) - Zagreb’s free and volunteer-based bike repair shop founded by an NGO Zelena Akcija.
Zagreb is, geographically speaking, a perfect city for cycling as it’s mostly flat. We have noticed how the network of biking-paths has been expanding and yet we witness not all of these newly-formed bicycle lanes were given too much thought. - The cycling infrastructure in Zagreb is not good. In the past ten years a lot of new cycling roads were constructed, but their quality is very bad, and they’re connected quite poorly. These roads do not allow decent bike traffic around the city - explains Eugen, pointing out how
Zelena Akcija was addressing infrastructural problems since its very beginning. - One of the earliest activities of Zelena Akcija regarding sustainable traffic was related to cycling infrastructure. It was an issue Zelena Akcija was addressing since the 90-s. Meanwhile, a lot of new roads popped up, but what’s problematic is their quality and poor traffic regulation which doesn’t encourage people to use bicycles to get around the city - adds Eugen.
Zagreb might not be the brightest example when it comes to biking infrastructure, so we asked Eugen if there is a Croatian city
Zagreb could look up to. - When it comes to the topic of cities with a solid cycling infrastructure, it’s difficult for me to say much since I don’t have enough insight into the topic. I know of examples of some smaller cities that have put a lot of effort into creating decent cycling infrastructure, such as town of Koprivnica, but when it comes to most other bigger cities in Croatia, I would say that situation isn’t that great - points out Eugen.
As a part of NGO Zelena Akcija/Friends of the Earth Croatia, BICPOP or Biciklopopravljaona has been open since 2009. We were wondering how they came up with the idea of starting a volunteer-based and free bike repair shop and this is how Eugen explained it: - The idea of starting a bicycle repair shop (BICPOP) came up because of the activity of Zelena Akcija, an NGO which was promoting sustainable traffic since the 1990, when it was founded. In 2009. we started BICPOP as a fun and relaxed way of encouraging people to use bicycles more, because cycling is a form of sustainable traffic - says Eugen. He summed-up the activity of BICPOP in a couple of sentences: - Another thing we promoted from the very beginnings of Zelena Akcija is saving and reusing/recycling resources, which is exactly what we do at BICPOP. We collect old bicycles and old bike parts which are all free to use and available to citizens.
In case you want to use BICPOP’s free services, Eugen points out you should announce your arrival, as they’re trying to regulate the number of people in the bike repair shop: - Before the pandemic, people who needed their bicycle repaired could just stop by our BICPOP shop every Thursday from 5 PM to 8 PM and fix their bikes with the assistance of our volunteers. Now, after the pandemic has started, we need people to announce their arrival just to avoid overcrowding the shop space, which would be unacceptable considering the given situation - says Eugen.
Those of you who might have struggled with finding a decent bike-repair shop or wanted to learn more about repairing bicycles, here’s what to do in case of a bicycle emergency: - The whole concept of BICPOP is based on mutual cooperation of users who need their bicycled repaired and volunteers who help them do it. Users don’t necessarily need any knowledge about repairing bikes, but they do need to show interest and engage in the process of repairing your bicycle - help volunteers by assisting them with the repairs (at least holding the bike, handing the tools etc.). It’s not acceptable to simply drop off your bike at BICPOP and come back next week to pick it up once it’s repaired. Anyone who needs our services can call +385993149694 and arrange a visit or contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org - explained Eugen.
Last year, in 2021. BICPOP was awarded with a prize “Croatian Pride”. BICPOP is not only promoting sustainable use of bikes, but social solidarity as well. We asked Eugen more about the programme of donating repaired old bikes to socioeconomically most vulnerable citizens. - Since the very beginning the basic idea was to collect bicycle parts from bike owners who don’t need them anymore and make them available to people who do need those parts. Bicycle parts are free and available to everyone, but we like to keep aside entire functioning bicycles and save them for those groups of people who cannot afford to buy a bicycle. These bikes are usually distributed with the help of different NGOs, organisations, and institutions of social care. The idea of promoting social solidarity was one of our core values from the start, we created a space where people can help each other for free. Another aspect of promoting social solidarity is donating bicycles. First larger donation of the bicycles was to the village of Gunja which was struck by large floods in 2014. and that concept intensified in 2015. That was the year when Croatia, as a part of the Balkan route, became one of the main migratory paths and a lot of migrants resided here, at least temporarily. At that time, free public transportation was not available for migrants, and we wondered how they could move from the hotel Porin where they were situated to the city centre. The initiative Are You Syrious? proposed to the citizens of Zagreb to donate bikes and we partnered up with them and started repairing donated bicycles, together with migrants. It was a very successful initiative and there was a lot of interest - explains Eugen.
- After the number of migrants in Croatia has decreased, we continued to repair donated bicycles and forward them to other socially vulnerable groups: to people of Banija/Banovina region we donated before the earthquake of 2020 (and after the earthquake we donated even more), to homeless people, to the Roma community and so on. We are continuing the activity of donating bicycles and this year we have donated over 250 bicycles - adds Eugen.
We were curious where did this sudden rise in cycling culture come from - is it just another hipster trend or are people seriously becoming more aware of the (environmental, social, health and other) benefits of choosing a bike as a form of transportation? This is how Eugen explains it: - A lot more people are becoming aware of the environmental and health benefits of cycling, and this became clear to us in the first couple of years of our activity at BICPOP. Around 2010. / 2011. there was a sudden rise of people who used bicycles as a form of transportation. Ever since then, the number of cyclists continues to rise, as the people are starting to use bicycles not just for recreational and sport activities, but as a form of transportation - concludes Eugen.