The modest bicycle is a growing presence in Kozhikode

Flashy sedans and SUVs may still be our idea of a style statement and the glitzy four-wheelers may never lose their sheen incongruous as they may be on our thin, freckled roads. However, things are changing silently in the lifestyle of quite a few in Kozhikode. At the centre of the change is the bicycle which is dusting off it’s modest pretensions. The new riders have a sense of the high road as they are are not unleashing yet another another fuel-gulping monster onto the streets. The takeaways from this change is a fitter and environmentally sensitive you.

Kozhikode is just waking up to the bicycle’s varied avatars. While there are many solo riders, as a movement, it is yet to gain wind. A recent attempt was the cycle rally anchored by the young All Kerala Bicycle Promotion Council. The council headed by C.E. Chakunni is still drafting its vision, but goals include sustained bicycle promotion and creating a safer environment to use it. Cycle clubs and weekend city tours, though, are still not profuse.

For some the bicycle is a way of life, for others it is their daily dose of fitness. And then there are those who treat it as a ticket to leisure and adventure. Of course, there are also those who do not understand what the fuss is about. They stack cartons of soda bottles on the carrier and ride with finesse; a father lazily cuts through the crowd with his small girl perched firmly on the front bar while the older son pulls down the edges of his shirt at the back.

Seventy eight-year-old Sebastian Menampedath with over 60 years of cycling learnt to ride on a Hercules in his hometown Thiruvambady. On a Hero for many years now, Sebastian still rides an average 15 km a day. “From about 8 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m., I use my bicycle for every errand,” he says. The bicycle, he says, is now inseparable part of his identity. “In fact, my doctor says the day I stop riding, I may fall ill,” he adds.

For Krishnakumar Sreekandath, the bicycle is vital to the life style changes he brought about when he shifted out of England a decade ago. The energy a cycle ride grants is incomparable, he says. His 21-geared Firefox 700 c, which he bought a year ago for over Rs. 25,000, is a companion when he ventures out alone from home. So too is his BSA Foldman. His mornings are marked by an hour long cycle ride. “I cycle a little over 20 km. On some days, I ride from Chalappuram up to the Puthiyappa harbor and back, on others I go to Mankavu – Mavoor Road and back,” he says.

Krishnakumar feels Kozhikode has grown more bicycle conscious in the past two years. Where earlier there were raised eyebrows and snide remarks about his using the cycle, it is not so now. “But we still have a long way to go when it comes to cycling for pleasure,” he says. A hurdle is the very real safety concerns of riding on the city roads. “That makes most people reluctant to take out the bicycle.”

Anandakuttan B. Unnithan, Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, was sceptical about negotiating the hilly terrain at the campus. But now he cycles to work. “A colleague has been cycling in the campus and another got a bicycle for his child and started using it himself. That encouraged me,” says Anandakuttan. The bicycle, an inevitable part of the campuses in the past, has more or less disappeared from this arena. “I was an avid cycler in college. But this time, I was a bit worried if I was still fit enough to ride one. But I was okay and the ride was exciting. It is invigorating and no indoor exercise can match the experience,” he says.

Anandakuttan believes the bicycle as a mode of transport may not be big, but it can surely grow as a leisure machine. He admits he is brand conscious and picked up a Firefox model for himself. “I want a strong and light, sophisticated product.”

Biju Jacob, a trader, is a part of the Happy Bikers club and is used to cycling 75-250 km a day during their trips. “At least once or twice a month , we go for cycling expeditions in different parts of Kerala,” says Biju. With five Happy Bikers from Kozhikode, Biju says they get together almost every weekend. “On our weekend trips, we cover anything between 75 - 150 km and on weekdays about 25 - 40 km individually,” he says. The five of them decide on a track, download the route map and set out. “Among our favourite stretches are the Balussery route, also Thamarassery and Kakkayam, so too the Mavoor-Mukkam one. We find new ones too,” he says. Biju owns both road and mountain bikes, in fact, four imported brands which include Bianchi, Napier and Trek. Being summer holidays, a recent companion on his trips is his 10-year-old daughter Ananya Margaret.

Though bikers have grown in Kozhikode, Biju says the need is for a co-ordinated effort at awareness. “The right people should promote it. It is the bikers who know what the problems on the road are. The way forward is to have a body to enable people meet and spread the message of cycling,” he says.

Rozik Umar, managing director, Cosmos Sports, says bicycle sales have been encouraging since the shop started stocking sports and mountain bikes last year. “We are now contemplating dedicating a floor to cycles and fitness equipment,” he says. “People are taking to cycles to stay fit. In the past two weeks, I had a stream of doctors coming to buy cycles. Of course, people are brand conscious,” says Roziq. Cosmos, as of now, largely stocks Firefox priced between Rs.10,000 – Rs, 25,000. “The most expensive bicycle I have sold so far cost Rs. 35,000,” he says. But Roziq too says safety is a major concern for the growing buyers.

“Cycling can be a lifestyle statement, a sport, a hobby, a fitness technique. When I cycle, I do it for myself, my city and my planet,” says Biju.