Cycling in North Korea

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A man riding a bicycle along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, 2008

Cycling has become a common mode of transport in North Korea since its economic transition in the early 1990s.[1][2][3] For economic and political reasons, fuel is scarce and private automobile ownership is nearly unheard of, so ordinary citizens must rely on human-powered vehicles and public transport.

A ban on bicycles in the country's capital and largest city, Pyongyang, in existence for decades, was suddenly lifted in 1992, and according to Andrei Lankov, bicycles have since "proliferated" and their use has "visibly increased" in other urban areas. However, their price, meager by international standards, still puts them out of reach of a significant portion of the populace.[1] A modest infrastructure, including bicycle lanes and bicycle parking, has likewise developed.[3] Foreign and domestic bicycles are available, with used Japanese models particularly coveted.[1] The most favored domestic model, the Kalmaegi (갈매기, "Seagull"), produced with prison labor at a concentration camp in Chongjin, cost "almost ten times the average annual salary" in the 1990s.[1] Electric bicycles are also popular.[4]

Cyclists must reportedly obtain a license by passing a road safety test, and must register bicycles and display a corresponding tag as proof, though the law is often flouted outside the capital.[1] Conflicting reports exist that women are, or have been, banned from riding bicycles, with some claiming the ban to be a personal edict of Kim Jong-il;[5][6] however, female cyclists are a common sight in North Korea's large cities, indicating this law, too, if it ever existed, is widely ignored.

Ryomyong bicycle-sharing[edit]

A station of Pyongyang's bicycle-sharing system

In 2017, Tongil News reported the introduction of a bicycle-sharing system in Pyongyang, called Ryomyong (려명 "Dawn"), sharing photographs from the Russian embassy.[7] The Pyongyang Times later published photographs of stations, reporting that the system is overseen by the Pyongyang Bicycle Rental Office (평양자전거임대관리소), with bicycles manufactured domestically by a North Korean/Chinese joint venture, Phyongjin Bicycle Cooperative Company (평진자전거합영회사), located in Sosong district (서성구역). Reservations may be made for 50 won per minute with a stored-value card at one of five locations on Kwangbok Street in the city's scenic Mangyongdae district.[8]

As with other reports from North Korea, whether the bicycle-sharing program is intended as a service for actual use by citizens (and not simply propaganda) cannot be confirmed.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lankov, Andrei (2007). North of the DMZ: essays on daily life in North Korea. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-7864-2839-7. OCLC 81252830.
  2. ^ "70% of Households Use Bikes". The Daily NK. 30 October 2008. Archived from the original on 6 July 2014. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  3. ^ a b "North Korea introduces cycle lanes in Pyongyang". The Guardian. July 14, 2015. Retrieved September 28, 2019.
  4. ^ Frank, Ruediger (6 April 2017). "Consumerism in North Korea: The Kwangbok Area Shopping Center". 38 North. U.S.-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Archived from the original on 11 April 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  5. ^ "North Korea Bans Women From Riding Bicycles...Again". CBS News. 17 Jan 2013.
  6. ^ Seok, Kay. "Human Rights in North Korea". The Korea Times.
  7. ^ "'평양 거리에 자전거 대여소 설치...7월부터 운영'<주북 러 대사관". Tongil News (South Korea). 7 July 2017.
  8. ^ North Korea Economy Watch: Pyongyang Bike Share