Kerala

Kerala starts pedalling away towards greater goals on tough terrain

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Despite the absence of infrastructure such as dedicated cycle tracks, popularity of biking as a mode of recreation, exercise or sport is soaring

Not so long ago, actor Tini Tom used to be an avid biker who rode nearly 40 km between his house at Aluva and Mulavukad on a regular basis.

Then a stray dog gave him a chase, not once but twice, during those early morning rides. That coupled with the absence of a cycle track, which left him at the mercy of speeding trucks along Container Terminal Road, forced him to switch his preferred choice of workout from biking to swimming.

But old passions die hard. So, now he takes his bike to shooting locations. “There is no better way to explore new places. It also eliminates the boredom of cycling along the same route,” says Mr. Tom.

More cycling clubs

Biking, however, seems to have withstood the onslaught of unfriendly roads, chaotic traffic, absence of infrastructure such as dedicated cycle tracks and even stray dogs going by its soaring popularity as a mode of recreation, exercise or sport. The proliferation of cycling clubs and their ever increasing presence on social media do tell a tale.

“Biking has become a sort of fashion statement and its reach has only increased with movies such as Ambili and Finals showcasing it prominently even in posters. From not finding enough bikers at the time of forming the club seven years ago, there seems to be a bikers club at every turn now,” says Shagzil Khan, president of the Cochin Bikers Club (CBC), who believes that cycling along a quiet road can elevate one to a trance like state giving pure personal time for reflection and creative thinking.

 

Social media and technology are the other motivating factors that ensure that one’s biking exploits never go unnoticed or unappreciated. The gaining popularity of biking has also bred professional bikers competent for participation in national and international events as well.

Fresh from his success at the famed Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1,230-km biking event held every four years, Galin Abraham, also a trustee of the Paravur Cycle Club (PCB), is a perfect example.

“Biking around 50 km can make you at least five years younger,” says Mr. Abraham who is now preparing for the solo unsupported Ultra Space Race of 1,750 km to be held in Goa next year.

The PCB, with around 40 active members, conducts one long ride, a night ride, and a couple of short rides a month covering mostly hill stations such as Kodaikanal, Ooty, Munnar, and Kolli Hills. They even biked to Sabarimala four times before the uproar over women entry put an abrupt end to it last season.

 

The cost of new-generation cycles seems to have soared in proportion to the popularity of biking. Mr. Abraham rides a Canadian bike costing around ₹4 lakh.

Change in attitude

However, K.D. Leju, founder of Muziris Cyclists Club, vouches for greater respect for bikers unlike in the past when they were not welcome in public places such as eateries with their body-hugging attire.

“So, society has turned more biker-friendly unlike our roads, which leads to frequent accidents and damage otherwise durable bikes,” he said.

Unfriendly roads and chaotic traffic may be why biking is yet to gain traction among the 45,000-strong techies at Infopark, a community otherwise fit to embrace it considering their nature of work with little physical exercise.

 

Prabhu Prabhakaran, employed with UST Global, started biking to work six months ago when a young colleague who sat next to him was diagnosed with cardiac problem. Out of health concerns or not, the number, though, seems to be on the rise.

“From an almost vacant cycle stand when I started, it is now nearly full,” he says.

Bid to break record

That rising popularity has perhaps emboldened the organisers of Bicycle Parade 2020, considered the biggest cycling event in India. Over 3,500 cyclists from across the country will converge on Willingdon Island in Kochi on January 26 to attempt to break the Guinness World Record of Longest Single Line Bicycle Parade. The record is now held by Turkmenistan with 1995 cyclists.

“The larger goal is to replace 50% of the daily short-distance commute on automobiles with bicycles. The event is expected to inspire millions of Indians to take up cycling for short-distance commute,” said Nithin Palal, a lifestyle cyclist and event organiser.

The Pedal Force Kochi, which works towards promoting biking as an alternative transport system, echoes similar sentiments.

“While embracing biking for health and sporting reasons is good, the larger society will benefit only when it is made an integral part of commuting,” says Joby Raju, founder of the organisation that held a protest demanding dedicated cycle tracks long the State’s roads last year.

The organisation also calls for utilising medians along the centre of roads for cycle tracks considering the paucity of land in Kerala.

Government initiative

The government has already announced setting up dedicated cycle tracks along the proposed Thiruvananthapuram- Kasaragod coastal highway. “A two metre-wide cycle track will be built simultaneously with the highway. The work of the highway has started along a 15-km stretch in Malappuram, where land is readily available,” said a PWD official.

Mr. Khan, however, feels that demanding cycle track as a precondition for embracing biking is a bit preposterous in a State where even walkways for pedestrians have disappeared.

“Instead, there should be dedicated parking spaces for cycles, which will increase social acceptance of biking. Till then, bikers will remain a floating community driven by a crazy passion,” he said.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 7:01:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/roll-away-regardless/article30063812.ece

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