Rumor has it that cycling is the fastest-growing sport in Israel. Judging by the number of bikes on the streets of Tel Aviv, and even in the challenging terrain of the Jerusalem Hills on weekends, there appears to be substantial collateral for that claim. Another indication of the surge in popularity of cycling is the number of people who turn up each year at the City on Bikes event by the banks of the Yarkon River in north Tel Aviv.
This year's two-wheeler get-together will take place on Monday, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., at the Sportek in the Yarkon Park's Yehoshua Gardens and will feature a wide range of cycling-related items. Besides a bicycle exhibition, there will be safe riding instruction, Xtreme cycling, spinning sessions, competitions, cycling instruction for children, a second-hand bike market, biking acrobatics and a cycling Trivial Pursuit contest.
City on Bikes organizer Ha'ir journalist Gili Gilat (an enthusiastic cyclist who thought up the event) is, naturally, happy with the response to the get-together and with the number of people who regularly hop on a non-motorized two-wheeler in the Tel Aviv region.
"Yes, cycling is getting more and more popular in Tel Aviv," he says. "And why not? The terrain is convenient - not like in Jerusalem - and you can get to most places in the center of Tel Aviv using cycling paths."
On the subject of the latter, Jerusalemites can only look on in envy. While the capital's cyclists have to make do with a measly few kilometers along largely cracked asphalt paths through Sacher Park, Tel Avivians can merrily pump their way along a full 55 km of cycling paths. And there are plans to almost double that figure.
"Four years ago I couldn't even have dreamt of 25 or 35 kilometers of cycle paths in Tel Aviv," says Gilat. "Now there are 55 kilometers and a plan to reach the 100 mark by 2009 [Tel Aviv's centenary]."
It is no secret that if you want to pull in crowds in this country, it's a good idea to have some edibles on offer. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise to learn that City on Bikes was sparked by food-based festivities.
"I was involved in the first Ta'am Ha'ir festival," Gilat explains, referring to the grand gastronomic gathering that now takes place annually in Yarkon Park. "That started off small but now attracts over 400,000 people. When the Tel Aviv Municipality saw how successful that was, they asked me if I could put something together to do with cycling. They thought it would be a good idea to check on the popularity of cycling in Tel Aviv. I'm happy to say that City on Bikes has become a very successful event."
Entry to City on Bikes is free.