I love bicycles. They took me to places where one has virtually nothing to do. I remember riding into ‘my’ unknown – by rail road tracks, finding shrubbery-plots meant for future real estate (as I now recollect), where there was no sight of humans; and if there was anybody at all, they would be very different from the society I was being introduced to through my parents and friends at school. It was fun to be where no one could find me or knew who I was. I was happy being lost and proud when I found my way back. When I dragged my cousins out of their homes to join me in my spontaneous adventure, I was the stooge because the big price I had to pay was a flat tyre or sometimes two for my never-ending curiosity.
I’m a little stubborn about fixing my own problems. To the extent that they would remain unfixed if it has to involve another person. Recently it dawned on me that if I learn to fix a puncture, I could pretty much go anywhere. I could even tour on the bicycle for months at a time. I need to bother nobody. I’d have to carry a few things but that’s OK. The thought of getting lost on a bicycle for prolonged periods blew me. After hearing about it from a friend I got around to it online. Lots of people have done it, and are doing it – riding across continents, around the globe, few countries, or just exploring the neighboring village for the weekend. There’s all kinds of bicycle touring. In India, it still isn’t a thing, and if at all, it was mostly for a cause to raise some kind of awareness or something like that. Few people actually ‘toured’ on a bicycle. I had no second thoughts and got straight down to it (I still wonder why I had to rely on a virtual community to solicit my romantic adventure. It is the power of the internet bringing random crazies together. We need to coin a term for them is, or is there one already?).
During my research, one thing popped up indefinitely – that it is important to choose the ‘right’ bicycle for my needs. I found out that the bicycle can be stripped down to its frame and every component can be altered to suit my preference – handlebar, saddle, tyres, racks, mudguards, pedals. I gave myself a big budget to splurge because I was so impressed by bicycles all over again. In terms of economics, the bicycle – no matter what price you pay for it – is still cheaper than your motorized vehicle in the long run if you factor in all the costs. I am now thinking about using this bicycle pretty much for the rest of my life. I’ll add another one or two to the stable for sure, but my point is I feel convinced enough to give up on owning any form of a personal motorized transport. So I indulged myself in this new thrill. And this has been one of the best decisions of my life.
The choice of transport is in itself a statement on sustainability, adventure, and freedom. Look around and tell me if we have got the right modes of commuting in our cities. Forget what scientists say about climate change. Does smoking a pile every time a person needs to get a few blocks down the road seem alright? Do cities really have the space to accommodate cars for everybody? Oh no, I’m not against automobiles all together. But we don’t need them the way we use them today. If you realized the potential of your body, you needn’t break a sweat to move around 25 km per day. It becomes easy if you just ate right, stretched your muscles, and exercised them just about 30 minutes a day or less.
We are immersed in a society that teaches us to consume oil. Our society has made us believe that commuting on a bicycle is to regress. It is every individual’s dream to move on to an ‘effortless’ mode of transport. A rage to switch to motorcycles or cars, when the household income increases, clutches the people of this country. That the bicycle has come a long way in terms of technology to suit the needs of the rider in several aspects is overlooked. It is comfortable enough to travel long distances provided the rider understands basic aspects of nutrition, fitness, and bike maintenance. The effects of this is long term, both to the individual and to the society—low costs on transport, good health, clean air, and congestion-free cities. I can go anywhere on a bicycle. I don’t need any documents. The risk is mine. To me, everything I do out of a bicycle seems like playing a character out of a book. The only difference is that it is exceptionally real.
The bicycle is serene; it is silence in motion. This quality of a mode of transport can probably never be outdone. When I saw the streets of my hometown in the middle of the night on a bicycle, I understood the calm of the night which falls upon chaotic, daylight city-streets, usually filled with blares all day. When I bicycled through the hills in Kerala, I felt I was part of the forest. If you ever snorkeled with fishes in the ocean, you eventually learn how to not disturb the water but glide gently and hover about the reefs to connect with the surrounding life. You can do that on a bicycle. Your surroundings begin to accept you. Trees greet you. Birds cheer you. Everybody is welcome. Dogs are irritated by noise or speed. I slow down if I see a stray looking for entertainment. Unlike the rumbling automobile, a bicycle emits tranquility.