The bicycle has been around for 201 years, but only recently did it get the global recognition it deserves. After Montgomery College Professor Leszek Sibilski and his sociology students successfully petitioned the United Nations, the General Assembly (UNGA) established World Bicycle Day as an annual celebration on June 3 during a ceremony that he and 12 students attended at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The resolution passed on April 12 by a consensus of 193 member states.
Out of the 17 UN sustainable development goals, 12 directly connect with the bicycle and four of them link indirectly. “Our first goal for promoting the bicycle should be achieving 100 percent global cycling literacy. The bicycle should be a central tool of physical education, as well as civic and economic education, in schools the world over,” Sibilski said during his address at the UN. “Contemporary society must come to appreciate that it is not only a means of active mobility, of competition by elite athletes, or of recreation, but also an affordable readily available tool for living healthy, productive lives. This goal can create a truly clean and green bicycle revolution for upcoming generations.”
It was a three-year process from idea inception to its adoption on the floor of the UNGA Hall. Sibilski has been a guest blogger on the World Bank site, and his blog focuses on sustainability and sports. The blog and several posts proposing a day to celebrate the bicycle became popular in 2015. He brought those ideas into the classroom, and throughout the years, each wave of students supported the project in various ways, especially via social media. One of his students, Isaac Feld, designed the World Bicycle Day official logo, and the accompanying animation came from MC professor John E. Swanson.
Contemporary society must come to appreciate that it is… also an affordable readily available tool for living healthy, productive lives – Leszek Sibilski
After unsuccessfully petitioning non-governmental organizations and another diplomatic mission at the UN, Sibilski approached the mission from Turkmenistan. Ambassador Aksoltan Atayeva with her team of diplomats took to the project with excitement and was instrumental in delivering the idea of World Bicycle Day to the General Assembly. Ultimately, 56 nations cosponsored the initiative. People in Taiwan, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Nepal, Germany, France, and Zambia, among others, got their bikes out to join the new worldwide celebration.
From a sociological perspective, Sibilski believes there is undoubtedly a love affair between women and the bicycle. He received tremendous support from women, including Turkmenistan’s ambassador and several others from cosponsoring countries. It is no coincidence, he said, as the bicycle was relevant to the suffragist movement. “In the late 1800s as women started to look for opportunities to become independent, the bicycle became the instrument of their independence. They started to communicate with each other by using the bicycle, so we can compare it to today’s cell phone. They were able to talk to each other, they were able to exchange their experiences and thoughts.” In fact, all 12 students who accompanied Sibilski to the ceremony at the UN’s headquarters were women.
The bicycle has been an essential part of Sibilski’ s own story. He competed professionally in his native Poland from ages 12 to 23 and was a world-class member of the Polish National Olympic Cycling Team.