The Turkish bicycle factory
HDN | 12/20/2009 12:00:00 AM | JOOST LAGENDİJK
Amidst all the reporting about the Copenhagen climate summit, one tends to overlook the "small stories."
Amidst all the reporting about the Copenhagen climate summit – the efforts of heads of state, the commitments to reduce emissions and the enormous amounts of money involved – one tends to overlook the “small stories.”
One of these little-known narratives is about a successful Turk who made a career in the Netherlands producing environmentally friendly products that cause no emissions and are not too expensive: carrier bicycles.
His name: Yalcin Cihangir. Born in 1968 in Büyükcamili, 150 kilometers east of Ankara, Cihangir first visited the Netherlands 13 years ago as a lorry driver. He immediately liked the country and decided to stay. Having no diploma apart from his drivers license, he first became a jack of all trades and master of none – until one day his neighbor asked him to repair his bike.
Cihangir discovered that he liked fixing bicycles and wanted to make his own bikes; after six months, he started his own business in Amsterdam. Teaming up with a local colleague in 2004, he started the Bicycle Factory (www.defietsfabriek.nl). Having lived in the center of Amsterdam myself until spring of this year, I have vivid memories of all the eye-catching carrier bikes that you see moving around, used to transport goods or to take children to school. They are a great, clean alternative to having a car that you can hardly use anyway in the middle of cities such as Amsterdam.
Within five years, Cihangir and his partner have managed to establish a brand name and increase their production to the level of 3,500 bikes per year, creating a business volume of almost 3 million euros. Shops have been opened in several other Dutch cities and bikes are being sold in Berlin and Tokyo. This year, the Bicycle Factory crossed the ocean and started selling in the United States, where a day-care center in Chicago now uses their bikes to transport the children.
Cihangir has already announced a special white bike for the most famous Chicago inhabitant, U.S. President Barack Obama.
I read Cihangir’s story in a special Dutch magazine called People Planet Profit, which is dedicated to small and big initiatives that try to create jobs in a social, sustainable and profitable way. It made me happy to see this Turkish adventurer being so successful at producing things that make living in a big city fun and at the same time doing this in a nice and respectable way.
Bike parts are produced in Büyükcamili, creating jobs for almost 30 men in a small place in danger of being abandoned. Cihangir opened the factory in his home village in order to give something back. People working at the factory have reasonable working hours and get a decent salary, between 1,300 and 1,700 Turkish Liras. Next to the bicycle factory, an atelier has been created where women make special clothing that is sold in the Netherlands and returns the revenues to Anatolia.
Cihangir is also financing a local agricultural project to grow products in an environmentally friendly way. His final goal is to make his home village an attractive place for young people to stay and make a living.
It sounds almost too good to be true. But it is happening. In Amsterdam and in Büyükcamili. And probably in many other places around the world as well that we don’t know about yet.
Of course, we need big summits and good agreements to deal with global issues such as climate change. But we also need small stories of inspiring personalities, showing that it is not only world leaders who can have an impact on the globe and the people living on it.