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Bicycles, engines of change in Marrakech

By Mohamed Siali

Marrakech, Dec 21 (efe-epa).- A Dutch woman has launched an initiative to bring her nation’s favored mode of transport to Marrakech, where the majority of the population still views the two-wheelers as vehicles for the poor rather than a chic, urban alternative to cars and motorbikes that choke the city’s air.

“We want to teach that the bicycle is a way of life, and one can cycle on the street with the same approach that one drives a Range Rover”, Cantal Bakker, the founder of Pikala Bikes, tells EFE.

The project, launched in 2016, aims to transform the city’s inhabitants’ concept of the bicycle so that they see it “as an effective, simple and chic option”.

This is no small challenge. Bakker admits that most people who use a bike do so out of necessity because they can’t afford something better, which explains why there are so many “badly maintained bikes, which no one is proud to ride” on the street.

The project’s headquarters is a 500 square meter center based in the medina of Marrakech that houses small technical repair shops, vocational training and English teaching, in addition to a fleet of 150 bikes of all types.

The place is like a beehive: bicycles well arranged all over the space, technicians welding bicycle trailers, a group of girls around an office preparing the next awareness campaign for children.

INSPIRATION

The inspiration came to Bakker in 2015, when she visited Marrakech for the first time as a tourist and saw that it was not possible to discover the city by bike.

She finally got someone to lend her one: “when I started pedaling, Marrakech changed”.

Bakker, who studied Fine Arts, wanted to give other people the opportunity to share her experience because for her there is nothing comparable to “the freedom of the bicycle to discover a city”.

“That’s how Pikala was born, like a crush, like an inspiration,” she says.

To promote the bicycle, Bakker and her Moroccan colleagues try to create a “different energy” around this means of transport, with videos of famous people and foreign tourists as “mini ambassadors” of the two-wheelers.

“Our mission with Pikala is that the bicycle allows you to learn something, gives you the opportunity to work, and helps you in your mobility and your health,” she says.

OPPORTUNITIES

Bakker’s project, which employs 30 young people, is not only beneficial for its ecological aspect, but also because it creates opportunities for training and work and contributes to social action in Marrakech, especially amid the coronavirus crisis.

“We have looked for another way to help the community and since the beginning of the lockdown in March we have developed a project to distribute food by bike. So far we have delivered 1,200 solidarity baskets,” she says.

This initiative consists of making its fleet of bicycles and its staff available, free of charge, to humanitarian support associations to distribute their aid to the most needy.

In addition, a total of 5,000 menus for homeless people living in the streets of Marrakech were also distributed over the last nine months.

Bakker is tireless: this week she is going to distribute 300 bicycles for students who live far away from school to ease the cost of transport, one of the main causes of school dropouts.

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