Motoring

The hidden cycling clubs of India

They’re active at the crack of dawn, before the traffic comes alive, before the day’s work begins

Cycling in India can be a challenge, with unruly traffic, pot-holed roads, and no lanes for bicyclists. Yet, the community is growing, with some using it as a fitness tool, a few to commute, and some as an adventure sport. Specialist biking stores have opened up, there are niche races, and better cycling gear. All they ask is that you join the club, helmet firmly in place, even if you step out at 5 am for a 30k or 4 am for 80k. We asked people from across the country what their city’s bicycling culture was. Here’s what to expect.

Delhi: PASSION AND FUN

Malvika Jain, founder, Cyclop

The cycling landscape has changed over the last couple of years, says Malvika. It is marked with a growth in the number of people on the road, and encourages a lifestyle with lots of camaraderie. “There are comfortable spots in groups for people at various levels,” she says. She herself took up cycling in 2008 and was soon sponsored in 2009 and 2012 by Chain Reaction Cycles.

“They sent me a whole lot of items that I wasn’t going to be using,” so she put them on a Facebook group she’d created in 2012. “The idea was to exchange and sell among the community, record rides, share advice and tips,” she says. It’s a group that will help you with what cycle to buy if you’re a newbie, what routes to take, and of course gear to purchase. Today, the group works across the country.

In Delhi, she says there are three types of riding: casual, where people will get together and bike out to India Gate, doing maybe 20-30 km, and grab breakfast after; road, done for speed; and trail, which is more technical, often done in the Aravallis. “There are also a number of motorbikers becoming cyclists,” she says, extending their love for wheels and cornering.

Delhi’s poor rep for women’s safety doesn’t affect its cyclists, but traffic is a challenge, as are early-morning dogs that can chase bikers. The beggars won’t ask you for anything, and people will only look at you with curiosity. Groups tend to be area-specific because of the expanse of the city.

Hyderabad: THE NEW COOL

Gokul Krishna and Krishnendu Haldar, founders, The Bike Affair; Deenanath Harapanahalli, founder, Cykul

About a decade ago, Hyderabad was a backwater in the cycling scene in India. There were just about 200 riders and a cycling culture did not exist. It was in this climate that Gokul Krishna and Krishnendu Haldar launched The Bike Affair. It began as a cycling group, became a cycling consultancy and has emerged as a multi-brand cycle boutique, working with everything to do with cycles. He says, “We were part of a small community in 2009. Today, there are about 10,000 riders in the city and the numbers keep on increasing There are people who cycle for health reasons, some to exercise and many others because it is becoming the cool thing to do. I was hooked to cycling after I started commuting to work on my Hercules.”

Gokul says, “Initially, we kept our jobs and used to work on The Bike Affair on weekends. As demand increased, we quit our jobs and decided to plunge into this full-time. I have participated in multiple cycling events, including the tour of the Nilgiris.” Most cyclists go on short trips outside the city and ride in their free time. Motorists are usually friendly on the streets.

For Deenanath Harapanahalli, a need to build a community centred around cycling resulted in Cykul, a bike-sharing firm with over 2,000 cycles operational in Hyderabad, Gurugram and Jaipur. The company also hosts cycling events and promotes cycling trips. “When I came to Hyderabad in the late 2000s, there were hardly any cyclists in Hyderabad. That has seen a massive change. One of our recently-conducted events saw the participation of more than 11,000 riders. Cycling, much like the telecom revolution, is going to sweep across the country soon. The new rider with gear and new-age cycles are very visible on the roads. We aim at creating an ecosystem that will encourage people to start cycling. A change in attitude is the most important step.”

Deenanath admits that teething problems do need to be addressed. “For instance, bike-sharing is very popular in the west. In India, an issue of where to leave the bikes after use often comes up. Once such logistics are sorted, I am sure more people will take to the pedal.”

Bengaluru: COMMUTE CALL

Rupert Fernandes, xxxxx, Bums on the Saddle

With its temperate weather and shorter distances to get from one place to another, Bengaluru, with its surfeit of cycling clubs, both offline and online, is fast emerging as the place to be for cyclists across the country. Bike specialist, Rupert Fernandes, who works with Bums on the Saddle, a store that sells cycles and accessories, explains, “The numbers are seeing a huge leap. Bengaluru plays hosts to multiple events, including the Cycling championships.” Because safety is a problem, group riding is popular and there are a lot of collaborations, especially when they go out of town.

For IT professional Prashant Singh, commuting on his Hercules Fugitive 26 from Jayanagar to his office in Commercial Street is much more relaxing than driving or taking the bus. “It takes me just 45 minutes on the cycle. It is much better than travelling by bus or car. I began cycling as a part of an exercise regimen, but now find it an effective commute option in a congested city like Bengaluru.”

Chennai: FITNESS, ENDURANCE, AND FUN

Felix John, Head of the Marina Chapter, We Are Chennai Cycling Group (WCCG)

It is a risk to ride in the city, according to Felix, because the city is not cyclist-friendly. “Yet, we still take the risk because we want to educate passers-by, and if we are higher in number, they will understand,” he says, adding that it is the cab drivers and the autos that pose the most risk for cyclists in the city. “Even if we stick to the far left on the road, we are still chased away.”

The city laid cycling lanes only recently, owing to its interest in being part of the Smart Cities Project, for which the lanes are a prerequisite. “One of the first localities to get a cycling lane was KK Nagar, since a lot of children ride their cycles to school. Those lanes are predominantly used by cabs and auto drivers as a parking area. Most cycling lanes can be used only early in the morning when there is no traffic. They are impossible to use during peak hours.”

Felix has been part of WCCG (which has nearly 10,000 members, on Facebook), which has been in existence since 2012, only since 2016. “We organise several types of cycling activities annually, targeted towards fitness, fun, and for professional riders.”

He says cycling is more fun in the city, when there is an exploration activity involved. “Chennai is altogether different, early in the morning. We conduct various kinds of trips, from off-roading events to exploring unexplored locations, endurance rides (between 100-250 kms) and long endurance rides (between 700 and 1,400 kms).”

The most-used cycling spots, according to him, are the ECR (East Coast Road) and the OMR (Old Mahabalipuram Road), as they offer long stretches and most members who take up the activity do it to get fit. A part of the training its new members get is on how to navigate the roads safely. “It is never a good idea to listen to music while cycling because there is a risk of not hearing vehicles around.”

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Aug 3, 2020 12:34:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/the-hidden-cycling-clubs-of-india/article24705657.ece

Next Story