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Life On Two Wheels

Life On Two Wheels

April 26, 2012

Everything you wanted to know about cycling in India but were too afraid to ask.

Ever since I dumped the city bus for a bicycle, people have been asking me a lot of questions on the subject. I thought it would be simpler to answer them all at one place. Here are some Frequently Asked Essay-type Questions.

Is cycling for me?

Well, that depends.

Is my neighborhood a good place to cycle?

Pretty much every town and village in India is compatible for cycling irrespective of climate because the distances in towns are typically short and the traffic is bearable. Cities are different. Some cities are good for cycling, others – not so good.

for instance is good for cycling. It has pleasant weather for most part of the year, gentle traffic, wide footpaths and a relatively flat terrain. Delhi, on the other hand, is not so good because you’ll never know what hit you. Statistics, however seem to suggest that it is likely to be an SUV with Punjabi dance music blaring out of it!

is too big, too humid and too crowded to be cycling anywhere outside the IIT campus. I’ve never been to Calcutta, so I don’t know much about it. Hyderabad is another ideal candidate for cycling provided you’re insured for dehydration, sunstroke, subsequent hospitalization and possible death from an Uncle’s 25 year old Chetak.

I have been to Chennai recently and I can say with reasonable confidence that cycling there is not a good idea unless you work at a place where it is okay to come to office with a wet shirt, sticky face and badly in need of a shower first thing in the morning!

Is cycling popular in India?

About 40% of households in India have bicycles. That is almost a hundred million cycles spread across every nook and corner of the country. So I think, yes.

No, not like that! Is cycling like… you know… like, a thing in India?

Yeah, some people look at it that way. Typically upper middle class people who can afford (and probably even own) motorbikes and cars but still use a bicycle as a lifestyle choice. They call themselves Cycling Enthusiasts.

Then there are the others. Mostly middle and lower middle class people for whom the bicycle is the primary means of transport either to save a few precious rupees or for lack of any other option.

So these Cycling Enthusiasts, are they different from the Aam aadmi cyclists?

Yeah, there are some differences. For instance, Enthusiasts call their bicycles bikes whereas Aam aadmis refer to their bicycles as cycles.

Enthusiasts usually own expensive, imported bicycles with aluminum alloy bodies, fancy gears, shock absorbers and water bottle holders of the Raleigh, Schwinn or Trek make. Aam aadmis have robust stainless steel Hero or Atlas cycles that last for decades.

Enthusiasts take their bicycles out once or twice a month, drive to the outskirts and ride up and down a hill for the fun of it. Aam aadmi cyclists pedal dozens of kilometers everyday commuting to work, visiting friends, buying groceries and running errands.

Enthusiast Accessories:
Helmet, headlight, taillight, reflectors, elbow protection, knee protection, gloves, speedometer, water-bottle holder, water/energy drink of choice to protect the rider from injury and dehydration

Aam aadmi Accessories:
Hawaii slippers, Underwear (optional)

Is there anything else that I need to know about Enthusiasts?

Yes, Enthusiasts have an interesting social convention. They nod at each other whenever they pass by – even if they are complete strangers! I don’t know why but they do that but I have been nodded at a couple of times myself. I assumed that the nod was aimed at someone else but was slightly off-target until this one time when someone nodded at me and said, “Hi, same bike ;)” (Yes, he winked too!) That was when I realized it is a thing among Enthusiasts.

When it comes to nodding the class divisions are clear. Only Enthusiasts do it. Aam aadmis don’t care much for the nodding. The next time you see a middle aged blue collar worker waiting on his loyal Hero cycle for the light to turn green, don’t nod at him. He riding a bicycle and you riding a bicycle are two completely different things!

What if something happens to my bicycle on the road and needs repair?

Enthusiasts and Aam aadmis have their own cycle stores. Enthusiast cycle stores are hard to find and are quite expensive. Aam aadmi cycle repair shops are as abundant as Aam aadmis themselves. They usually announce their presence with an inflated cycle tube hanging from a tree holding a board that says “Cycle Puncher.”

When you go to a Aam-aadmi cycle shop as an Enthusiast, be prepared to be stared at for a while before getting into business. Sometimes they may, out of genuine curiosity, ask you how much your bicycle costs. The five digit figure you quote is going to attract a peculiar judgmental look. A look I personally reserve for people who eat mineral water pani puri inside the mall.

If that sort of attention bothers you, you should go to an Enthusiast cycle store.

What about negotiating the traffic?

A cycle by virtue of having only two wheels and no engine to boast of is damned into the lowermost category among the vehicles on the road. Sure, it has the same rights as a Volvo bus but gone are the days when a cycle can go straight in its lane peacefully. This segregation is reaching alarming proportions in the West. I hear they even have separate roads for bicycles now!

In India, motorbikes, autos, cars or anything with a horn is going to arrogantly honk at you suggesting that you either move faster or get off. But the joke is on them because two minutes after honking at you, they are going to get stuck in traffic anyway while you can just ride past the half a kilometer jam along the footpath.

Remember to make an eye contact with all those people who have honked at you when you go ahead of them. That is fun. If you have a lot of time, get on the traffic island and announce like a Messiah, “You’re not stuck in traffic. You are the traffic.”

What about the Police?

The automobiles face the constant danger of being stopped by the traffic police constable whenever his wife pesters him for a new Sari. The cycle is in no such danger. The constable won’t even bother stopping a bicycle, even if it breaks a red light. After all, what is he going to do? Ask for the license, insurance and pollution certificate?

The police are not a problem but be wary of Bullet Dude. He can hit and run anytime!

Who is Bullet Dude?

Bullet Dudes are a special class of Dudes who have Royal Enfield Bullets. It’s not just any Bullet but a customized Bullet with red-oxide paint, twin silencers that thump like a machine gun and a 1940s style camouflaged inverted bell jar-like helmet with a leather strap and other accessories. It looks fantastic, like it has time traveled from World War II.

But the Bullet is not just about the look. It’s the attitude that counts and Bullet Dude has lots of it. He drives through traffic like a soldier on a mission to rescue the captured General from the hands of the enemy before it is too late but the Nazis are tailing him with tanks and choppers and the fate of the world rests on his shoulders or something like that.

Yeah, that is their attitude but in reality, I am guessing Bullet Dude just overslept and is late for his Weekly Status Report meeting on Friday morning and his boss is not going to be very happy about it especially with the appraisals coming up next month and all…

Yes, Bullet Dude is a Software Engineer.

Wow, so the cycles are always on the receiving end of other people’s peculiar traffic behavior?

Not always. Cyclists do amusing things too. Imagine you’re in the car on an empty road with no traffic signals, no intersections, no police, no blind turns and no potholes. You know how rarely you come across stretches like that in India and you want to use this opportunity to zoom ahead full speed.

But between you and the thrill of maximum speed is a lone cyclist riding in the middle of the road like a boss. He terribly slows you down. You gently honk and his first impulse is to race you to the next signal.

Have you noticed that? They don’t give way for the car. They just pedal faster – like it is going to make a difference! Seriously, honking behind him is a 1000 horse powered Honda and this guy thinks he can out-pedal it with his skinny legs? What’s going on here?

I think all cyclists have a streak of awesomeness in them, or at least delusions of awesomeness. How else do you explain this?

Photo credit
: Attila Siha


  • zafar
    19.04.13 11:55 AM
    "Cycle Puncher"
    "If you have a lot of time, get on the traffic island and announce like a Messiah, 'You’re not stuck in traffic. You are the traffic.'”
    "..the lone cyclist.."
    Whoa! Fantabulous!
  • Rajpriya
    04.12.12 10:06 AM
    Holland is said to be the most bicycle crazy country in Europe. The Dutch Govt. provides the best environment for bike riding.

    However there is a downside to this popular way of commuting in Holland. If one visits the Amsterdam Central Station they could find it has the most infamous graveyard for bicycles. Around ten thousand bikes left abandoned by their owners.

    China is supposed to produce the cheapest bicycles in the world. The most basic bicycle for commuting in China costs US $25,- where as in Europe a bicycle mirror might cost that much. Competing with China in any kind of manufacturing is the worlds’ problem today.

    Engaging the poor class of India in every kind of Indian manufacturing could be one way of reducing the poverty levels. Chinese women play the biggest role in all types of manufacturing in China. A way India could empower women instead of forcing them in to prostitution.
  • kross Bicycles
    kross Bicycles
    03.12.12 06:23 PM
    We feel bicycling has a great future in India. we have been manufacturing bicycles for decades here in India and our major chunk of our business is manufacturing bicycles for Europe. we may quality bicycles for Exports and feel India is the next big thing. people are getting aware of fitness and how important cycling and gyming is. looking at the potential that India holds, we have launched WINN Bicycles in INDIA. they are the best bicycles in their category in comparison to what is available in market. if you get a chance do visit the website or email us at
  • susheel yeshala
    susheel yeshala
    27.08.12 02:47 PM
    absolutetly of my friend is a BULLET
  • Mamatha
    04.05.12 06:13 PM
    good one!! njoyed a lot reading it!!
  • Jyoti Swaroop Repaka
    Jyoti Swaroop Repaka
    29.04.12 07:18 PM
    A very funny and casual way to promote cycling and ask people to give-up cars.
  • Rajpriya
    27.04.12 04:39 PM

    It really did. In those days stamps were larger in size and it all started when we were stuck with a puncture close to a post office instead of a cycle repair shop. We stumbled upon the only option that came into our head and it sure worked and is no fiction. Believe me.

    Along the hilly route there was the river and waterfalls where we stopped to bathe. I am dreaming of those yester days once more if it were ever possible.

    How is it that you missed Germany? We live near the Dutch border and Holland just 10 minutes away, Belgium 30, Luxemburg 45 and France one and a half hours away. Many people take Two-wheelers at the back of their cars fixed on to special stands and use them to explore the local areas at their holiday destinations.

    Get a three pals (in all four people) get the International Driving licenses and have the Visas for Schengen States and Switzerland for its nicer to travel by car. You can rent out the best of German cars at any Airport and drop them off at any Airport. Remember you keep to the Right on German Roads. If you keep to the left you will named a ghost driver with fatal results.

    Almost all cars are fitted with navigation systems and one warning to using them very literally. If it says take a U-turn if possible while you are on a motorway for God’s sake if not for your own, don’t do it. There is no possibility of U-turning on motorways in Germany.

  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    27.04.12 03:13 PM
    @Rajpriya: Wow... A stamp can last for 5 km? That's pretty amazing! I did not know this. I am thinking of a sequel for this post, I'll probably steal this story :)

    I have been to Europe a couple of years back for the whole Summer for an internship. I traveled a bit around France, Italy, Netherlands and Belgium with a EuRail pass.

    The next time (if) I go Germany, Austria and Switzerland it is :)
  • Rajpriya
    27.04.12 02:37 PM

    Germany surrounded by so many countries is never boring.
  • Rajpriya
    27.04.12 02:33 PM

    To be very honest I would have loved to but I regret I never have. The village I live with my family is a small one 40 minutes away from Düsseldorf Airport with around 300 families. I have had several invitations to join the village groups on Sundays to go as far as 30 km and back.

    In the first place I never got round to buying a two-wheeler. Secondly these tours mostly depended on sunny and warm weather. For this reason tours were arranged spontaneously and even though there was always some one to lend me a two-wheeler I could not change previous plans thereby missing the fun.

    However, I wish I had your talent of creativity to describe my cycling experiences of my younger days in a humorous way.

    “What if something happens to my bicycle on the road and needs repair?
    Enthusiasts and Aam aadmis have their own cycle stores. Enthusiast cycle stores are hard to find and are quite expensive. Aam aadmi cycle repair shops are as abundant as Aam aadmis themselves. They usually announce their presence with an inflated cycle tube hanging from a tree holding a board that says “Cycle Puncher.”

    During my youth I used to undertake long bicycle trips with my cousins and friends. These trips meant a lot of preparation days before. One was to buy postage stamps to encounter punctures. Believe me sticking a stamp on a puncture took us at least 5 kilometers before it gave way and needed a second stamp.

    Today I am riding a bicycle without wheels (Kettler Home trainer kept in the cellar) to keep my tummy flat. However if you ever visit Europe take trip from Vienna Austria to Lausanne Switzerland a 650 km stretch of beautiful landscape through the Alps of course not on bicycle but a car.

    Even though I have driven down this stretch at least 20 times in the last 30 years it never fails to fascinate me every time. Germany surrounded so many countries is never boring.

  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    27.04.12 01:10 PM
    @MaitreyeeChowdhury: *nods back*

    @Rajpriya: Interesting. Have you been on one of those tours?
  • Rajpriya
    27.04.12 01:39 AM

    Here's some news about "Life on Two Wheels" in Europe.
  • maitreyeechowdhury
    26.04.12 10:07 PM
    From one cyclist to another..Cycle cheers!
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    26.04.12 02:17 PM
    @Jalpa: Thanks :)

    @Sreechand: Wow... interestin. Didn't know about that.

    Yes, many of the parts originally invented for the bicycle like the chain driven system, ball bearings, spoked wheels etc. eventually played a crucial role in the making of automobiles
  • Sreechand
    26.04.12 01:16 PM
    Bangalore has the perfect weather for cycling, that is another reason why you have such a good cycling community around.

    And for the west, I don't think it was always that way. They say motoring caught on more quickly because of good road campaigns by cyclists a century ago.

    There is a book 'Roads were not built for cars' on the history of the cyclist campaigns.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    26.04.12 12:25 PM
    @C. Suresh: Thank you :)

    @Rajpriya: "You make fun out of life so seriously" -- thank you for that!
  • Jalpa
    26.04.12 11:54 AM
    Omg! Its so awesome! I couldn't not stop laughing. Its very close to reality. Very nicely written. Looking forward to read more such articles from you, Janyanth.
  • Rajpriya
    26.04.12 11:30 AM

    It was around 6 am I read your two wheeler story. Yes in the West and I really don't know when I would stop laughing to say anything about it. Even Hitler would be laughing if he gets a chance to read this stuff.

    Simply put Great and entertaining. It's so sad the West is missing so much fun. You make fun out of life so seriously.
  • C. Suresh
    C. Suresh
    26.04.12 10:32 AM
    Absolutely hilarious! Difficult to pick a quote since there are too many gems in this one

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