Debahuti Bora’s first 100-km ride did not go exactly as planned. With extreme humidity and steep climbs on the route, Bora gave up after hitting 85km. But that is still a lot of cycling—especially for someone like Bora who had started only during the lockdown. Her main motivation for cycling was to explore Mumbai at her own pace.
Meanwhile in Delhi, Nitin Negi has been cycling regularly in order to stay fit. “During the lockdown, I thought I would start running but was also scared because parks were crowded. From the point of view of social distancing, cycling is the best option we had,” says Negi, who works at an MNC. He says that adding a few days of training to a week is a good idea. Negi has replaced his six-day cycling routine with a three-day cycling and three-day running schedule. While planning the route, he takes special care to make sure that the roads are in good condition. “I ride a road bike, and if the roads are not well-maintained, it can be quite challenging,” he explains.
Bora and Negi aren’t the only ones of course. Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad has seen a sudden flurry of cyclists after the nationwide lockdown was eased. While Delhi sees a large number of cyclists collecting outside Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sundays, the airport road seems to be the most preferred route in Bengaluru.
“Earlier, it was probably 5-6 cyclists on airport road. But now the number is easily around 50. I think it’s a very positive sign and about time for India to adopt the cycling culture,” says Bengaluru-based Ankush Sharma, an avid cyclist and a cycling coach.
With no proper infrastructure in India for cyclists, regular cyclists have always asked for cycling lanes in cities. Sharma hopes that rising interest will increase their bargaining power. “Governments should also encourage people to cycle more. It’s healthy, and cyclists naturally maintain distance between them as long as they are riding. But yes, a little extra care must be taken. Safety, for a cyclist, should always be the top priority,” he says.
His advice to new “lockdown” cyclists is to wear bright or neon clothes, put reflective strips on shoes, clothes and the pedals, to be aware of their surroundings and to try and avoid busy roads. “And please stop carrying tons of stuff on your back. Carry some money instead to buy water on long rides. Keep yourself as light as possible,” he adds.
Bora agrees with these rules. The former HR professional has learnt it the hard way after all. Having started cycling in June, Bora, with her husband and a friend, had started with regular Sunday rides, while carrying bags full of snacks and water. But soon they realized that this just made the ride more difficult. Now, just one of them carries some food in the carrier of the cycle, keeping the others free for strenuous rides.
“I had initially bought a low range cycle, partially because I was pretty sure I would get bored of this. But I got hooked. From 10km (rides) four or five times a week, we changed our schedule to do longer rides (20-30 km) but on two or three days only. This let our body recover before we started again. I had to change my bike too, because the first bike could not take longer distances comfortably,” she says.
Gautam Verma, a fitness trainer based in Gurugram and founder of Spin Life, a cycling community, has seen such instances with many amateurs. “Many people buy cycles without thinking much or they don’t want to spend much because they aren’t sure yet if they will pursue biking. I take the beginner cyclists on rides on weekends… starting with 20-30km.., and increase it gradually. Once they reach 100km, they invest in a good bike,” he says, adding that renting is a good option until a rider is convinced that she would like to do this regularly.
Verma hopes new cyclists will focus on the correct posture and get the right fit (of the bike) for their size. “The right size of the cycle, of the saddle and distance to the handle … all these are things which need a proper fitting. Otherwise, you will end up getting back pain and chances of injuries will go up as well. Other than this, if you want to invest, then strong rear and front lights, helmet and a speedometer can be helpful,” he says, adding that training is important in order to comfortably complete long distance rides.
Becoming a better rider might take some time, but most cyclists—even the pro ones—are hoping that this is not just a passing fad. And for that, they are willing to help newbies in several ways, from planning to posture guidance. Now seems to be the best time to finally pick up the cycle, if you haven’t already.