The pair of bicycles painted salmon pink, sunshine yellow and electric blue stands out among the hotchpotch of colours that swamp the Promenade beach in Puducherry.
When motorbike junkies and car crazed fans are investing in pimping their mean machines, Fiona Guerra and Idriss Madir from Puducherry have chosen to customise the humble bicycle. Their initiative My Vintage Bicyclette is all about making people rediscover the simple joy of cycling on a bike that bears their signature style. They let you choose from fully customised new cycles, a re-hauled second-hand bike or the charming accessories they design. There are hand-stitched leather grips for handlebars, good old-fashioned bicycle saddles and seats in leather, quaint locks and the best of the lot — the cycle bells. Thanks to Idriss, a graphic designer, each handpainted bell is designer material — bears a flower, or Ganesha or an autorickshaw. “All our ideas are inspired by what we have seen in India. There is so much colour here,” gushes Fiona. “But we are planning to borrow elements from various cultures across the globe. My bicycle will have Mexican skulls all over, in March.”Desi only
Though both hail from France, it was in India that they met and fell in love. But their amour for cycling dated long back. “My father is past 50, but he cycles 100 miles every weekend,” says Fiona. “I used to love biking up the hillside in Italy and France. But Idriss is a hardcore cyclist. He has been around France on his cycle.” Their product though, is firmly rooted in India and their cycles are Indian brands. “When we started out, we were keen that this would be a locally sustained project. We do not want to import anything. Everything we need is here.” They work with three different craftsmen in Puducherry who carry out individual tasks of painting the frames, decorating the bells and stitching the leather accessories. “We are one big DIY project,” smiles Fiona, the chatterbox of the duo. “He thinks he is not fluent in English, but he is just shy,” Fiona teases Idriss, who cracks a grin, as he does throughout our conversation. “I am the graphics guy, you are the communications girl,” he defends.
The young couple hit upon the idea a year back, when they decided to start a creative business of their own. Puducherry, with its reputation for cycling as a favourite mode of transport, turned out to be ideal. “It is flat and less crowded than any other metro. It is great for cycling,” says Fiona. “But not great for business,” chimes in Idriss. “That’s only because it is a small town. We could do better in a metro like Bangalore that has a strong cycling community.” But Fiona reminds him, “We would never be able to cycle all over the town like we do here.”
Through their website, the couple customise and ship accessories for clients in other cities. All accessories come in ten different colours, but specific designs are done, after many chats through email, or over phone and in person, if in Puducherry. “A French lady was enamoured by an exotic flower she spotted in Myanmar. We customised the bicycle with the flowers on the frame and colour coordinated the accessories,” says Idriss. They ultimately hope to make their own bicycles in the future. “We need to work with engineers and mechanics for that and invest more. As of now, we are just the two of us handling design, marketing and manufacturing.”
The couple are keen on planning activities around cycling. The first step is a vintage guided cycle tour they offer from mid-March. “What we want to do is create an interest in cycling. It is healthy, it is non-polluting. If you cannot drive a cycle to work, you can ride it as a hobby,” suggests Fiona. “It’s the perfect go-between walking and speeding on a motorbike.”
(Log on to The Tadpole store, or http://www.myvintagebicyclette.com/. Prices for accessories start from Rs. 700, customised cycles from Rs. 5,000. Special student prices on offer)