A decorated bicycle is displayed in the small village of Gradisica. - AFP photos

In shop windows, backyards, on streets and public squares, many Slovenians have opted this year for unusual Christmas and New Year's decorations enshrining the humble bicycle. While the coronavirus pandemic may have hit the small nation of just 2 million hard, locals refuse to give in to the gloom. Instead they prefer to focus on one of the few bright spots of 2020: their country's success in cycling competitions, especially the Tour de France, where Slovenians claimed first and second place. "We wanted to honor the results of our bikers and to promote a positive approach to the current crisis," Tina Jancigaj Avsec told AFP.

Jancigaj Avsec is one of the organizers of "Life in Karst and Brkini spins on", the group that set off the decoration spree in the southwestern Slovenian region. The wheel, she added, also "symbolizes action, wind in the hair, moving towards the future to face new challenges." This year, Slovenian biker Tadej Pogacar won the Tour de France, while his fellow countryman Primoz Roglic came second in the Tour and went on to win the Vuelta a Espana. Vintage bicycles, racing models, children's bikes and even wheels from old horse-drawn carriages now dot the countryside in Karst and Brkini, home to longstanding cycling traditions and boasting many small hotels catering to pedal-powered tourists.

During a lockdown to stymie new coronavirus infections, locals have found welcome distraction in driving around to take pictures of the displays and sending them to the organisers, who promised prizes for the top ten. "We wanted to find a positive challenge for people to promote tourism in our region… and to avoid sinking into coronavirus depression," Jancigaj Avsec said. The Karst and Brkini economy is heavily dependent on the tourist trade.

Although Jancigaj Avsec insists the displays are in no way politically motivated, anti-government protesters have been riding their bikes through major cities while criticizing the handling of the coronavirus crisis. Protesters have posted photos online of the decorated bike displays from the Karst and Brkini regions, while left-leaning weekly Mladina described them as "monuments to resistance". - AFP