North Korea began building bicycles for the first time today with the opening of a Chinese-financed bike factory in Pyongyang. The factory will build up to 300,000 bikes per year to cut reliance on the second-hand bikes that have been imported from Japan and China.
Bicycles are used almost exclusively by men, and women find it difficult to ride bicycles even if they want to. But since the acute food shortage prompted housewives to secure food by all possible means, the number of women riding bicycles has increased in recent years. "It's a matter of life or death for housewives to ride bicycles," [a Chinese resident of North Korea] observed, "Accordingly, it's doubtful if the ban on women's bicycle-riding will be effective."
It's possible that the ban was imposed in the name of appearances. Bike-riding is periodically restricted in Pyongyang because bicycles make the country's showpiece look untidy and gives the place a third world air. Ironically, many middle-class professionals (presumably capitalist and non-communist) also dismiss utility cycling as something that only "poor" people do and seem to dislike the untidy, third-world appearance of cycling.
Han Young Jin, a defector from Pyongyang, writes that women were banned from bikes because 'one day Kim Jong Il saw a woman riding a bicycle wearing pants. He ordered, “It looks horrible. Do not let women ride bicycles.”' Jin has more fascinating anecdotes about bicycling and living in the worker's paradise.
North Korea and Peak Oil
North Korea, which uses 86,000 barrels of oil per day, must import all of the petroleum it uses for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent drop in economic and energy aid from the Soviets, agrarian North Korea experienced a dramatic drop in its agricultural output. The lack of diesel fuel to operate tractors and irrigation pumps and the lack of natural gas to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer -- coupled with mismanagement and natural disasters in the mid-90s -- has resulted in famine in the Democratic People's Republic.According to the World Food Programme, the food deficit in North Korea has been in excess of 1 million tons per year since 1995. Many Peak Oil theorists point to North Korea as an example of what can happen to food production when oil becomes unavailable.