Arshel Akhter, a 40 years old cyclist from Assam in Guwahati shares his fascinating story and how life has taken a different turn post becoming a Bicycle Mayor.
I got back into cycling in 2016 and took it up as a fitness, leisure, adventure and exploring activity. I also love to commute within the city on my cycle.
I was appointed as the Bicycle Mayor of Guwahati (on 22nd April 2018 – World Earth Day) by a Netherlands based social enterprise named BYCS. This organisation has a global mission called #50by30 according to which they envision a world where 50% of a city’s trips are made by cycle by 2030. To work on this goal, they appoint Bicycle Mayors across the world. I was the 2nd one in India and globally 10th to be appointed as a Bicycle Mayor. The position of Bicycle Mayor is non-political and honorary in nature without any financial benefits.
The ‘cycle’ has been part of most people while growing up and for people like me who have taken up cycling again after a gap of 15-20 years the love has increased immensely. I have found cycling to be immensely beneficial both for my personal self, directly and indirectly for the ‘environment’ and the ‘economy’.
I was not much into sports during my growing up years but used to enjoy cycling with friends. We used to explore the nearby areas and even went for cycle picnics during Sundays. Assam bandhs (‘bandh’ means closure of cities or strike – that were frequent during the nineties) were an opportunity to explore the other parts of the city that we did not get to ride during the regular days. Later on when I started working after my studies I left cycling and decided to buy my own car and a two-wheeler.
One day the love for cycling returned back and in 2016 after I had left my job a couple of years earlier and was trying to be my own boss. I wanted to travel to see new places and meet new people. I decided to buy a cycle after I saw a couple of my friends going on long tours on their fancy looking cycles. Initially, the decision to buy a cycle to travel was simply to cut down on the expenses. Eventually, I found it to be one of the best decisions of my life.
I became fitter. My endurance levels started to increase. In the early days of my new cycling chapter I found it very difficult to ride for even 10 kms on flat city roads. It was a real challenge to ride up the hills in and near the city. But I always felt good even after a short ride inside the city. I decided not to give up and started exploring nearby areas during weekends. I would be off on my cycle at 5 am and would only return after riding to my heart’s content after many hours which on some days would be more than 12 hours. I discovered that I had this penchant for long rides and I found people who shared the same love for long rides. I had been to multiple day tours with a few of my friends ranging from 200 to 400 kms. Recently, I participated in a cycling event of 300 kms (I completed it in 18 hours) called BRM or Brevet in short and am preparing myself to participate in longer events.
I found great friends. After leaving my job I was looking for avenues to socialize. I found some of the best friends through my cycle rides. In fact I have met some of the most amazing people in my life through cycling who I doubt I would have ever met in any other way. I am good friends with many of these amazing people. These people come from various walks of life, like businessmen, bureaucrats, doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers, lawyers, sports persons, professionals from different fields, and the list goes on. I have friends ranging from age 10 to 75 and the common thread binding us all is our love for cycling. I am part of the biggest cycling community in the region called Guwahati Cycling Community which has more than a 1000 members now and growing.
I started commuting for my work. Even though my present occupation as a stock investor does not require me travel for my daily work I have made it a point to move around on my cycle for all my work inside the city. Recently I came across a report by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) which says that Cycling to work can lead to total benefits of INR 1.8 trillion. This amounts to 1.6% of India’s GDP for the year 2015-16. The Health Benefits account for 87% of the total monetized benefits of cycling. According to the study cycling also leads to benefits in terms of infrastructure savings, congestion reduction, road safety. However, these benefits have not been valued in the study due to data unavailability.
The growth in the cycling culture is palpable with a number of cycling events (rides, rallies and races) getting organized all year round and the number of participants increasing each time. I believe Guwahati with its beautiful hills, ponds, wetlands and the mighty river flowing together with its rich heritage can become one of the foremost cycle friendly cities in the country. We just need some support and investments from the government on improving the infrastructure conducive for cycling.
Responsibility as a Bicycle Mayor:
As part of my work as a Bicycle Mayor, I have to promote cycling as a commuting activity among the city residents. Accordingly, I conduct short interactive session (of 60 to 90 minutes) for school and college students to tell them about the benefits of cycling and road safety rules. I also contribute articles to local newspapers writing about the benefits of cycling and related topics.
As a Bicycle Mayor my primary areas of work are as under:
- To promote cycling among young children.
- To promote cycling as a preferred mode of transportation for people whose work or education centre is within 5 kms distance.
- To help prepare an online repository of cyclists in Guwahati to be maintained by the local authorities.
Apart from being the Bicycle Mayor of Guwahati I am also part of a few groups & a project in the cycling sphere. A brief about those are mentioned below-
GCC (Guwahati Cycling Community) – This is the biggest cycling group in North East India. This group organizes regular group and community rides to get more people into cycling.
GCT (Guwahati Cycle Tour) – This is a small riding group of close friends with people drawn in from different walks of life like bureaucrat, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc. and are from ages 34 to 64. This group organizes the biggest annual cycling event in the region called Freedom Ride to coincide and celebrate India’s Independence Day.
Wheelion – This group was created to organize cycling competitions for the competitively inclined.
Pedal for a Change – This is my personal project to promote cycling and cyclists of the region. I conduct interactive sessions for school and college students as part of this project. I also help and support other organizations or institutes to organize bicycle rallies in the city.
You can connect with Arshel Akhter on facebook – Bicycle Mayor Of Guwahati
Author – Arshel Akther is a cycling enthusiast and the Bicycle Mayor of Guwahati.