There are plenty of benefits of cycling. For starters, it’s a simple, affordable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transportation. That’s what the UN says. The World Health Organization goes on to add that “safe infrastructure for walking and cycling is also a pathway for achieving greater health equity.” During the pandemic, thousands of people in India turned to cycling when lockdowns and work-from-home routine made the traffic disappear from our roads. With all those restrictions gone, it’s back to business for most, including the rush hour, so we look at how accommodating some of our cities are to cycling enthusiasts.
Bengaluru: Admittedly most of the city is pretty much a construction zone, yet it remains one of the best cities in India to cycle in. There are two reasons for this, explains cycling coach S. Sriram, also the founder of Sprocket Science India, an on-demand doorstep bicycle servicing start-up. “The Garden City is blessed with good weather. It is one of the best in the country and that makes weather a silent ambassador for cycling. The other thing that makes Bengaluru a city conducive to cycling is its vibrant cycling community,” he says.
However, he also admits that the city is going through a transition, and the only places one can cycle are in places that are away from metro construction. He suggests the outskirts of the city as the best location, and early mornings as the best time to cycle. “People are aware of cycling as a sport, exercise, leisure and a means to commute. Once the metro construction is wrapped up we are likely to have a better infrastructure for cyclists.”
Delhi: If there’s any place in India with good to great roads, it is the National Capital Region. “There are some great stretches of road in the city where you can ride really fast without fearing for potholes or loose gravel,” says Abhishek Mishra, an ultrarunner and triathlete. But that’s just half the story as safety has become a big concern of late. “Recently, there have been several of instances of cyclists being mugged. Many of my friends have had their phones and wallets snatched from them while they were out cycling early in the morning,” says Mishra.
Another problem on the capital’s roads, adds Mishra, is the vehicular traffic that just doesn’t care for or take into account cycles. “I have been hit by a motorcyclist that was coming the wrong way right in front of a cop. And when I asked the policeman why wasn’t the motorcyclist pulled up, he just said, ‘Aap bhi toh bahut fast aa rahe the (You were also riding very fast).” However, despite this not being a cycle-friendly city, the cycling community here is huge and has grown manifold during the pandemic.
Chennai: If there’s one city where leaders and celebrities are leading by example to promote cycling, it is Chennai. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, and plenty of high profile celebrities such as actor Ajith and director Aishwarya Dhanush can be seen taking their bikes out along the East Coast Road, especially on the weekends, along with other cyclists. Despite this, most of the city remains not fit for daily cycling, says Padmapriya Venkatramani, a diplomatic staff, who commutes to work on her bicycle on most days.
“The government is doing a lot and making plenty of changes to accommodate the growing cycling community of Chennai. They have promoted city cycle tours and even the chief minister and many film stars cycle, which is encouragement plenty for the common folk. However, to make cycle commute more popular and safe, a lot more needs to be done,” says Padma. “For now except for few stretches, and that too only on certain days, are closed to traffic so that cyclists can have a free run. We need a lot more education and infrastructure before we can call Chennai a cycle-friendly city.” The cycling community in Chennai is growing fast and the pandemic got plenty of people to try out cycling for the first time and plenty of them are still pedalling away.
Mumbai: This is not a cycling city, says HRX business head Pallavi Barman, without pulling any punches. Yet a huge number of people cycle and Barman is one of them. “Mumbai’s famous for its potholes and bad roads. The monsoon months leave the city even more unsafe,” says Barman. While cycling within a neighbourhood is still feasible and practical given the city’s infamous traffic, the city’s roads and infrastructure are really not amenable to long distance cycling. “With traffic back to its peak there are fewer long stretches available to cyclists. As a cyclist you are almost always cycling with the usual traffic comprising of pedestrians and vehicles,” says Barman, adding, “But Mumbai being Mumbai, people still cycle and enjoy it. They come up with solutions. Cyclists start early morning before the traffic starts and get their rides in.”
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.