The joys of cycling

25 May 2017

One of my favourite pastimes is cycling. I make it a point to cycle every single evening, covering my usual 20km lap which grows on weekends by about five to ten kilometres. It is not much, but it is something I enjoy considerably and it is a simple pleasure that not enough of us appreciate.

I remember even back when getting your first vehicle was all the rage, I was rebelliously cycling around. In fact, I never got my first vehicle until after I was eighteen and, at sixteen, I had proclaimed that I would not buy a motor vehicle for another two years and struck with it. (I changed three cycles over those years.)

As it turns out cycles are not the most economical way to get around, so, like it did for so many others, cycling was soon no longer my preferred means of travel. However, unlike many others, it did not disappear from my life, rather, it became a hobby.

My cycle, an integral part of my daredevil evening road trips

That is not to say nobody else cycles. Many do, but I wonder how many do it because they have no choice and how many do it without really appreciating the little things it affords us. Cycling is not as mechanical as it seems.

Perhaps the first thing you notice while cycling is the road. Quite literally, the minor rises and falls a foot apart from each other, the small indentations, the constructs of the road we never can hope to notice from inside a car are all things you become unusually familiar with while on a cycle.

The second thing you notice is the wind. I ride by the highway on a side track that is almost always empty (see picture above), which makes it excellent to build up and maintain pace. There is no fear of crossing the 60 km/h speed limit since I have only ever hit 45 km/h on level ground (unfortunately, I am not a Tour de France regular). Downhill rides can be much faster, but they are hardly representative of the majority of the lap.

Until last year I was using a fixie (single gear/no gear) cycle, which is what I love to ride. Gears undoubtedly make the ride less strenuous, but they also make it much less fun. It turns out, though, that getting your hands on a fixie is harder than you would imagine. Once I sold off my old cycle, therefore, my solution was to buy a geared ride with the most comfortable stance and then manually ‘fix’ the gear to the top-most one and leave it there. Over a year later I do not even know if my cycle is still capable of shifting gears at all.

In all this, what I found most surprising was how welcoming people are when you are cycling. In a society that sometimes feels like it is wired to look down upon cyclists, many people consciously leave the track free when they notice a cycle approaching. This goes a long way in ensuring a smooth ride. In a month I might find myself stopping for the disrespectful civilian less than a handful of times, which is something I can definitely live with.

Gear: I planned to buy a Cannondale Synapse, but, since I like to change my bicycles regularly, I opted for a low-cost but generally good one instead and Firefox fit the bill here. (I would recommend you look up Pashley if more classic cycles are of interest.) Besides a GelPro saddle cover, though, my gear is pretty light: I carry a black Puma water bottle, and wear Nike Havoc training gloves and an old Schwinn Thrasher helmet.

En route I notice a few other cyclists like myself, only about ten of whom (from my unscientific but daily observations) are regulars. This is a poor statistic. Cycling in India has to pick up pace (no pun intended). When I was in Europe, I always found it a delight to see so many cyclists going about. There is an enviable cycling culture there that most other countries will do well to emulate. At least, thankfully, all the cyclists I see (and myself too) follow safety norms: helmets and gloves if nothing else
1

.

Since a couple of years now I have also been using a black GelPro saddle pad for comfort (see picture above) but I stopped using my old speedometer that used to hook on to my wheel, choosing to leave the latter job to my Fitbit Charge 2 instead. The cycling market in most of India is uninspiring as well: upscale vendors like Cannondale, Canyon, Trek, Bianchi etc. have made halfhearted attempts to sell their products, sometimes not even offering their entire catalogue. Indian brands on the other hand seem uninterested in general, and this includes former-British brands like Birmingham Small Arms and Hercules, that have been sold under the BSA banner for decades: they are loved and they are good but are often not stellar.

So far, things are great and I wish more people learn to cycle or at least learn to appreciate it, but, ultimately, I wish this whole city is filled with cycle-only tracks. To me, cycling is the classic analogy to life itself: keep pedalling no matter what, high or low, easy or tough, and you will go far; stop pedalling and you will get left behind and end up watching others fly past you. For now, to (mis)quote Lennon, I'm just sitting here making the wheels go round and round...

  1. This practice was unheard of even among motorists until recently in the city where I live. It still is not uncommon in most of India to ride without helmets or drive without seat belts.