Ashgabat-Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader brought the Central Asian nation’s capital to a shuddering halt as he slipped into green lycra to spearhead a mass bike ride, state media reported Sunday.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov led a pack of officials along a 15-kilometre (9-mile) route through Ashgabat, the latest initiative by the sports-mad strongman to boost healthy living in his country.

A ban on private cars in the city caused major disruption during the event Saturday, which was also intended to promote the 2017 Asian indoor games to be held in the country in September. 

“The patriotic mood of the participants of the bike ride was strengthened by musical performances along the route,” noted a commentator on the state-run sports channel.

According to the broadcast, 7,700 people took part in the bike ride in the capital with other rides taking place elsewhere across the gas-rich country.

Berdymukhamedov himself hailed cycling as an “ecologically clean sport” gaining popularity across the country, “especially among youth” in comments broadcast by Sport TV.

But not everyone was happy.

“Large numbers of people were at the bus stops, people were storming packed buses whose doors could barely be closed,” said 28-year-old Selbi Bayramova, a businesswoman.

Former dentist Berdymukhamedov has become the subject of his own personality cult since taking over after the death of eccentric former leader Saparmurat Niyazov a decade ago.

A gold statue of the leader riding his favourite horse has been erected in Ashgabat and he enjoys blanket coverage in the fawning state media.

On Friday, state television showed Berdymukhamedov and three of his grandchildren performing a new song that it claimed he had composed himself.

The song, titled “In My Memory” bears witness “to the bright talent of the Protector,” the TV announcer said, using Berdymukhamedov’s popular moniker.

The song “glorifies the bright love in which all the beauty of the world is reflected” and was intended as “a wonderful gift to the Turkmen people”, the commentator said.