November 9, 2011
On an average there are about 25 cycling related events that take place in India every single day of the year. Cycling in India has indeed come a long way from a vehicle of commute from the 70s to where it is today. There was a time when cycles were used by the police, used as a gift for the wedding, used for commuting to work and were a sign of prestige. The traditional Indian bicycle has gone through a circle wherein even just a decade back, it was seen as a poor man’s vehicle in India. Bicycles are coming back in to fashion and now there are so many domestic and international bicycles available in the market. This is because cycling is one of the most eco-friendly means of transport whilst at the same time keeping you fit. This combined with the rising fuel prices has helped cycling grow prominence in urban India. In an era of tablets, apps and mobiles, it is also the perfect vehicle to keep the kids outdoors and fit.
While there may be well over 50 cycling clubs in urban centres across the country (some of whom have a few thousand members), the bicycle penetration could be a lot better in urban and rural India. Economic Times reported that India has one of the lowest bicycle use in the world — about 1% of all commuting. So inspite of the few thousand cycling events that take place in India every year, the country has a long way to go.
There are a few things that are helping to build the momentum. Firstly, bike rental and bike sharing programs are beginning to be piloted. Many global cities like Paris, London, and Amsterdam, provide user friendly facilities for parking and renting bicycles and we are starting to see that in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore. Three students from the social entrepreneurship batch of the b-school NMIMS, started a cycle sharing program in Mumbai two years ago called Cycle Chalao. The idea was apparently born out of the everyday frustration of dealing with autorickshaw drivers. Now, they have been invited to build and operate India’s first city-wide bike-sharing system in Pune. They are also working with India’s Ministry of Urban Development for a bike-sharing pilot across 10 cities. A similiar venture has also been started in Bangalore.
Secondly, some states have even started initiatives of bicycles lanes and bicycle racks in local buses. For instance, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, which runs the city’s fleet of commuter buses, has now come up with a bicycle rack in the buses for cyclists to mount their bicycles on. This would shortly be implemented in inter city and interstate buses. Such infrastructure is slowly encouraging more and more young professional to cycle to work. One can find communities in Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Chennai of professionals who ride their cycle to work. They use protective gear, safety accessories (reflectors, lights). Some even carry a whistle to attract people’s attention when there is traffic. They do manage to get to work in less time and also complete their fitness workout enroute to work. Some restaurants have also started having cycle stands to promote cycling.
Then there are others who are taking up cycling as a sport. Such as F1 racer, Karun Chandhok who cycles 60km to 120km a day depending on the day and route. While he is not a professional cyclist, cycling is an integral part of his fitness regime. Mountain biking has also become a sought after adventure sport, again driven by young professionals. Competitions like the nine-day endurance race called MTB Himachal further help this cause. Each year there are over 120 professional and semi professional cyclists who take up this 540km endurance race.
But it’s not just a urban india phenomena. Cycle is also becoming a wheel of social change with various Indian states having welfare schemes to give out bicycles. This helps children, especially rural girls to become more independent. It is making it easier for students to travel to school to the nearest village. It is empowering the youth and allowing them to be part of the circle of change and development that India is going through.
So, if you haven’t got a cycle or haven’t ridden one in a long time then you should get one or rent one and experience the thrill all over again. I myself bought one 2 months ago. I have clocked only 20km till date but its a start – Now, its your turn