Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, wants more Egyptians to cycle — and to show he means business he took hundreds of cyclists, including public figures, through Cairo on Friday.

A set of surreal photographs showed a helmetless Sisi straddling a Peugeot bicycle at the head of a vast swathe of all-male bikers as he led them — like a puffing Pied Piper — through the streets of Cairo.

“This is the only way to build Egypt,” he said before the rally, claiming that cyclists would save Egypt money. The average two-way bike trip costs the state about £ 1.30 less than if the same trip was by car, Sisi said. Egypt spent £14bn, or about a fifth of its budget, on energy subsidies — a bill it can no longer afford.

Sisi’s move was met with bemusement in Egypt, where Cairo is seen as hell for those on bicycles and temperatures can reach 46C. But he was welcomed by a small but growing band of cyclists.

“Of course it’s great,” said Ahmed El-Dorghamy, co-founder of Cairo Cycler’s Club, who says the capital’s flat terrain and sunny weather has the makings of a safe place to cycle. “We are always trying to get celebrities to join us — and the ultimate goal is to get ministers and even presidents.” Increased bike use, he said, could help counter a rising obesity problem — Egypt is the seventh fattest country in the world. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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