Newer cars and motorcycles flood the market. Financial institutions offer attractive loans to buy them. As a result, the odds are against the humble bicycle. But the good news is there are still some people who love it. A small number of them even cycle to work. The others do so for fitness or the love of adventure. Prince Frederick meets three people who represent these categories.
Cycles to office in a far-flung Chennai suburb
Rangarajan's relatives have stopped arguing with him. He cycles to his workplace in Padi, 16 km from his home on Desika Road – which is okay with them – but the fact that he takes his bicycle to social get-togethers has not gone down well with them. After years of argument, they have learnt to just grin and bear it. “He can't look beyond the bicycle. When the whole family travels by car for a family function – say, a wedding – he alone comes on a bicycle,” says his son R. Bhargavan. “We are proud of him for his simplicity. And as a cycling enthusiast myself, I admire his love for cycling. But it just beats me how someone can reject all other means of transport.”
The Rangarajan household has a car and a number of bikes, but the man has never felt tempted to try any of them. Even the persuasion of a colleague at Brakes India, Padi, who parks his car at Rangarajan's house for want of space in his own, has had no effect on him. “After asking me a zillion times to join him, he gave up,” says Rangarajan. “A cycle is the perfect remedy for peak-hour traffic and bad roads. While the bigger vehicles are caught in a log jam, the cyclist can get out of the mess using tiny gaps. And, a cycle is ridiculously low maintenance.”
Rangarajan believes cycling around 32 km daily — to the Brakes India factory and back — for the last ten years has kept him in fine fettle. He also takes the cycle during the weekend to far-flung places such as Mahabalipuram and temples. Says the cycling enthusiast: “I am 56, but, thanks to constant cycling, I feel as fit as a 35-year-old.”
Toured Europe on a cycle
Vaidyanathan will not trade his old, ten-speed Puch bicycle for anything. He received this Austrian cycle from the Lion's Club in Denmark, in 1980, when he went on a cycling tour of Europe with his friend A. Ravishankar to promote world peace. In their twenties then, they managed to get permission to travel by a cargo vessel from Bombay to Rotterdam with two Grand Champion bicycles, gifted to them by TI Cycles, and just $700 between them.
The two Indians spoke to students and Lion's Club members about issues relating to the theme of the tour. They got a hearing wherever they went, because people were fascinated with the idea that the duo was attempting a European tour on their cycles. “Somewhere along the line, cycling became the major focus of our expedition,” says Vaidyanathan.
In Germany, they met the owner of Kalkhoff cycles, who arranged for them to be taken around his factory. As a memento, the technicians fitted their cycles with three-speed gears. In Denmark, they were invited to ride tandem cycles with visually-impaired youngsters.
For the rest of the trip — which would culminate in a journey beyond the Arctic Circle — they had to rely on other modes of transport and left their cycles at a Danish friend's house in Copenhagen. Unfortunately, one of the two cycles got stolen. “The fact that an Indian adventurer's cycle was stolen made big news in the whole of Denmark,” recalls 56-year-old Vaidyanathan. The Lion's Club solved the issue by giving both of them ten-speed Puch bicycles, now their most prized possession.
Cycling is a form of meditation for this busy executive
To Barbara, cycling at the crack of dawn is a form a meditation. A senior executive at Shell, she relies on cycling, besides yoga and running, for mental poise and good health. “Partly due to cycling, my overall health has improved,” says 45-year-old Barbara, who takes her cycle out three times a week, doing distances of 50 km to 100 km in each outing.
“Cycling serves one more purpose — it helps me connect with people. I am a Scot living in Chennai for the past three-and-a-half years. Through cycling, I have managed to make many friends,” says Barbara, who cycles with members of the Tamil Nadu Cycling Club. “Socialising through a fitness activity such as this is better than going to a pub.”
Cycle for a cause
Here's an opportunity to discover what pedalling can do for you. On February 26, professional cyclists will vie for honour while thousands of amateurs will pedal for fun. Called the “BSA Hercules Chennai Cycling 2012”, this city ride promises to be one of the biggest in South India.
The Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) has extended its support to this event, which seeks to promote the ideals of “healthy living, sport and sustainable means of transport” and help “United Way of Chennai”, an NGO that works at improving the skills of the under-privileged and the physically-challenged.
To join the ride, log on to bsachennaicycling.com