By: Ashwin Tahiliani
(all illustrations in this post have been created by the author)
Before I come across as a cross-country cyclomaniac, let me tell you that my puffing-panting is the subject of daily ridicule at my workplace. Ironically, and sadly, it’s by those who, like me, drive in their own vehicles to work (although my vehicle is ridden rather than driven)! The original title of this post was to be ‘cycling in cities’ based on facts, graphs, and boring instructions, but has evolved to narrate the pros of cycling based on some of my personal experiences as a cyclist in our cities.
My cycling experiences in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Goa, Himachal and currently New Delhi, have made me realize that the most crucial of the problems we cyclists face is the lack of acknowledgement or consideration by other vehicles on the road. There are more and more ‘brave’ cyclists joining the traffic every day even in the face of this. A change in the attitude of the masses is a slow process, but it must begin. Nevertheless, we know of the many benefits of cycling, the most notable and obvious ones of them being:
- Being good for health – runs on body fat !
- Causes zero pollution !
- More economical to own, use and maintain.
- Causes less congestion – saves space on the roads – both when moving as well as parked.
In this post, I’ll try and illustrate some of the lesser known advantages of cycling, which are probably not listed in any environmental sustainability manual.
Cyclists look cooler !
When you are a cyclist, people notice you although they might not acknowledge you. A cyclist is quickly recognized by the people around and gets oneself in the hatke category. You hear whispers and murmurs and see pointed fingers – ‘that is the one who cycles to office’. Some people are surprised, others envious, still others are downright shocked. After all, even with so many travel options to choose from, people sweating it out to reach their destination are not many. My current office building houses a staff of about a thousand people, and I am the only employee riding a bicycle to work – and swerving in style in formal attire. And the intrigue continues to linger…We cyclists have a unique air around us, whether we’re riding or not!
It is romantic, with a rhythmic pace.. just like heartbeats !
You do not require Bollywood movies to teach you the romance of a cycle ride together. Life at 20kmph is just about perfect – slow enough to stop, enjoy each other’s company, and fast enough to reach your destination in reasonable time. Unless you both have just one cycle (Which makes it even better!) Remember scenes from 70s movies with the heroine and her friends on cycles and the hero following them at the same speed in a car (aka Rafi’s ‘Pukarta chala hoon main’)? Or, ‘Mana Janab ne pukara nahi’ with Dev Anand and Nutan on cycles… Of course no one can forget ‘Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar’ and more recently the silver screen saw Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma in the streets of Istanbul on their cycles in ‘Dil Dhadakne do’…. (too many to mention here – but you get the idea?)
It’s faster !
Cyclists relish traffic jams even more than the strawberry variety, because stationary vehicles only make the streets safer for us. And with more and more private transport being added to our streets, it’s just a matter of a few years when cycling shall be winning the race. But please be sure to wave at them as you pass by. You could also blow kisses…!
A cyclist is most generally a foodie !
As a cyclist, you can munch as much as you want, and get away with ‘Oh, but I cycle!’ Not only does it have no decent comeback, but makes the other person(s) go green with envy. Cycling entitles you to good food which ends up fuelling your biking. Having street food is easier on a cycle… you don’t have to look for parking space… or park illegally as your vehicle is parked right under you the whole time – while you gobble the treats.
Free parking and no towage !
Anybody would agree with the logical benefit of this one! Hunting for a space to park is so common and time consuming and mood altering, that people have begun to factor in extra time to find space and park cars. Some people just take a cab and spend extra money despite having their own ride due to these parking woes. It has become so nightmarish that event invites nowadays carry parking details…and people accept or decline invitations based on parking availability ! However, the story is entirely different for us cyclists; we don’t need to miss even a single party! With so many light poles, railings, trees, signboards, etc. a cyclist is never short of parking space. Of course, these are to be used sensibly when a designated parking isn’t available. And, can you imagine anybody ever wanting to tow away a cycle?
What a cyclist needs?
Respect. More than expensive biking lane infrastructure, cross-country network, or special signalling systems, what a cyclist needs is respect. With the already-congested shared streets that we drive in, the best ‘way’ one can assist and encourage cyclists is by actually giving us ‘way’! When you’re driven on hydrocarbon fuel, it is just a flick of the wrist or the press of a button that’ll up your speed to zoom past anyway, but imagine yourself on the cycle and then behave accordingly.
Cycling in our cities is a fancy idea. And certainly not easy. Monsoons are a nightmare, especially if you are carrying something that you cannot afford to get damp. Cycling is also not suitable for all age groups and health conditions. But one thing is for sure – we have many more people capable of cycling than we have actually cycling. It is this group of people who have to take up cycling or walking seriously… With more and more people on foot and on cycles, it is foregone conclusion that street design will have to become more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. So, to guarantee lower medical bills, to stay healthy and remain a perpetual foodie, or to be a plain show-off – pick any reason. Better idea – pick a cycle and pedal away!!!!