To ride a bicycle in North Korea, you must get a license.
In North Korea, bicycles must display a registration plate. Bicycle riders must pass a police exam and get a license. The license plate is small and round, with the name of the district where the certificate was issued. The number is printed in white on a red background. The registration plate is mounted on the front wheel of the bicycle.
The “ride license” system was first introduced in Pyongyang in 1997. Since 1999, license plates and licensing have become mandatory throughout the country. However, this seems to be neglected at times in rural areas. To get a license, North Koreans must show their knowledge of traffic rules in tests.
But again, the number of unlicensed people is on the rise. In recent years, many local bicycles have not had the required licensing pres. (Andrey Lankov, North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea)
It seems that women were once banned from riding bicycles.
In 1996, it was decided that bicycles were not appropriate for women. The North Korean press has described that “beautiful ethnic customs” do not allow such corruption. This judgment is said to be due to Kim Jong Il.
If it had been ten years ago, such a ban would have been implemented in a one-day notice and would have lasted forever. But today, things are changing. Initially, police worked hard to enforce the ban. Some women were confiscated by bicycles. But the situation has subsided, and some women have ignored the ban.
Television and print media have sometimes described such poorly behaved, lascivious behavior as unlikely to be a female citizen of Pyongyang, a “city of revolution”. The ban was not taken up satisfactorily because there are few alternatives to bicycles in rural areas. (Ibid.)
Bicycles are the status symbol in North Korea, and those made in Japan are the most expensive.
For ordinary North Koreans, bicycles are probably the most expensive household item. Therefore, it is a source of great pride, like a car in the modern West (or South Korea). Not only useful, but also a status symbol. Not every family can buy it. According to current estimates, one-third to half of North Korean households do not have bicycles. Not because you don’t need it, because even the cheapest bikes are out of reach. Thus, the North Korean joke, “I can lend my wife but I can’t lend a bicycle,” is a good expression of the people’s feelings. (Ibid.)
The real status symbol is a bicycle made in Japan, which is equivalent to about half a year’s income for a regular worker. This means that only a few privileged people can buy, and in North Korea they are equivalent to Jaguars and Porsche. Most such bicycles come from Japan as second-hand goods, but are considered much better than domestic ones.
The most popular brand of domestic bicycles is called Kalmaegi (seagull). It is believed to be manufactured by prisoners in a large camp near Chongjin in the north of the country. In the 1990s, the bicycle cost about 10,000 won, or nearly ten times the average annual income. With the wage and price reforms of 2002, prices are now skyrocketing.
However, their ratio to average annual income is almost the same. There are cheapest domestic products such as Jebi (swallows), which are about 30% to 40% of the price of genuine Kalmaegi, but are unreliable and regarded as awkward. Even worse, Chinese-made bicycles are very popular in the north. (Ibid.)
The ordinary people usually rode bicycles named “Swallow”, “Youth” and “Myongsasimri”. In contrast, party leaders, foreign currency earners, security guards, and other high-ranking people were riding “Seagull” -marked bicycles. In addition, those who have a lot of money bought Japanese bicycles. In addition, there are Chinese bicycles such as “Yuquenge” and “Parengi”, which were also luxury goods, but could not match Japanese-made bicycles.
“Seagull” is three times higher than “Swallow”, “Youth” and “Myongsasimri”. It will cost 266 won. The Seagull is sturdy and can carry a lot on the bed, and rarely breaks down. As soon as it arrives at an industrial store, party leaders, Kyokupo Kyokupo and foreign-currency earning merchants are fighting ahead and buying up. Resell the bike you bought in the black market with a premium of 10 times or more. (Ibid.)