Post the application of partial relaxation in lockdown, bicycle ridership has surged in Mumbai city complementing growth to retail business during unlock 1.0 (June 2020).
Cycling is the new fad – freedom from homesickness, fitness ritual and vehicle for social distancing.
The phase-wise guidelines issued by the Maharashtra Government has relaxed the lockdown rules. The dictate permits citizens to move out for essential work and pursue outdoor physical activities of their interest while maintaining prescribed hygiene norms.
However, access to gyms, clubs, sports and training centres, swimming pools, indoor stadiums, gymkhanas etc. continues to remain forbidden to avoid community transmission.
Ease in public movement – up to 2 km within the neighbourhoods came as a blessing in disguise. Gaining freedom after nearly 100 plus days from home confinement, people stepped out in large numbers for fitness and leisurely pursuits. Amongst these health aficionados, many cyclists were seen parading on either vacant or low-traffic streets in the morning and evening hours.
If we compare the scenario before the global pandemic, the number of cyclists are much higher than before; a positive outcome of adversity that has brought a significant change in our lifestyle.
Although, there is no official mechanism in place to record and report cycle traffic statistics, the increase in the number is evidently conclusive to the naked eye, yet not quantifiable.
To verify the surge in demand for bicycles and the resultant increase in ridership, a survey was conducted by me along with the major bicycle shop owners in Mumbai. A total of 22 bike shops participated in this survey.
Sales and Ridership data have a direct correlation and are strong indicators that define market trends.
Findings of the Survey:
- 88% of the shop owners have witnessed a growth in bicycle sales during Unlock 1.0
- In June, sales volume doubled for almost 2/3rd of the bicycle shops.
- Ladies bike segment garnered low demand with less than 20% volume share, Men’s category dominated with 63% uptake.
- 9 out of every 10 customers are opting for geared bikes.
- Hybrid and MTB bikes are the most desired category and selling in the equal split.
- 88% of the bike shop owners are concerned about losing business due to inventory supply issues.
“A lot of new riders are coming with inquiries. Due to shortage of inventory in foreign brands, people are ending up buying local brands” says Shahid Shaikh, who operates 3 bike shops in the Mumbai city. “Bicycles are selling like hotcakes! after exhausting my existing inventory, I have started accepting pre-bookings and will deliver as supplies resume” he further added.
All shops are operating with odd-even rules and safety measures like compulsory masks for staff and customers. At a time, only limited walk-ins are allowed which results in long ques outside the shops. “A lot of people don’t want to walk into the store. They want to make a selection over WhatsApp and prefer to take home delivery to maintain social distancing” explains Siddharth Vora, owner of Kohinoor Cycle Store.
Partial easing of lockdown and favourable weather conditions are additional factors that have created a spike with new and returning riders prominently visible on the streets. The average temperature in Mumbai has dropped to 32 degrees during the day (Average temperature between March to May was 34 degrees). Likewise, Air Quality Index has improved to a moderate level ranging 70 AQI (which is considered to be acceptable air quality for a healthy adult but still pose the threat to a sensitive individual).
Jashmeer Sahni, Owner of Sardar Cycles quoted “I have noticed that people are finally taking up cycling and everyone should, eco-friendly mobility is the need of the hour. Cycling benefits in many ways, more than people could imagine”.
What does Google Search Trends convey?
Google Data Speaks Volume!
A search volume analysis on google trends reveals spur in search requests for the key terms “Bicycle” and “Cycle” in June. At an all India level, more search queries were generated compared to previous months.
Following the implementation of lockdown, European cities took a lead in announcing economic packages for cycling infrastructure as a long term sustainable measure and resorted to ‘Tactical Urbanism’.
Temporary cycle lanes emerged in no time, and soon people showed up in numbers to reclaim the space previously occupied by motor traffic.
These developments were widely publicised by the media and caught the attention of the cycling community in India.
Cycling activists, advocates and manufacturers lobbied hard with the government to give ‘Cycling’ it’s due, and bring bicycle shops under ‘essential business’ category as it caters to the commuting needs of frontline workers, and reduces dependency on public transport.
The government reciprocated positively to the demands of the cycling fraternity and formally allowed ‘Cycling’ as a healthy activity in their notification.
People who already owned bicycles started cycling and under the practical influence, the demand increased amongst new buyers with a rub-off effect on the sales.
A bike shop owner suggests, “There is a surge in demand, but it might be short-lived if it’s not supplemented with adequate actions on the ground”.
How long will this Momentum last?
Macro-Policy changes and recent announcements by governing bodies played a significant role in triggering a shift in the adoption of cycling.
First, the World Health Organization recommended walking and cycling to maintain physical activity and meet travel needs.
Next, the United Nations recognised bicycling as a key component of post-COVID-19 green recovery.
A resolution adopted by the UN general assembly says “UN encourages governments to improve road safety and better integrate the needs of cyclists into the design of transport infrastructure. Measures to safeguard pedestrians and cyclists are a key part of building the urban spaces of tomorrow”.
Taking cognizance of the situation and acting upon the global development, The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MOHUA) under the central government of India suggested states to do holistic planning and make cities walking and cycling friendly.
The Press Release of 10th June read “As cities look to ease the lockdown and provide safe, affordable and equitable modes of transport while ensuring physical social distancing, the need for pedestrianisation of market spaces through walking and cycling-friendly cities is of utmost importance. The pandemic COVID-19 presents us with an opportunity to reimagine streets for people”.
More Concrete Steps:
NITI Aayog, the policy mastermind of Government of India that functions on the pillars of sustainable development goals on 24th June launched a project “Decarbonising Transport in Emerging Economies” (DTEE) along with International Transport Forum (ITF). The DTEE project as per NITI Aayog will help to set-up a road map for a low-carbon transport system in India and achieve climate objectives.
Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog at the launch of DTEE project stated “The increasing demand for mobility has contributed to air pollution, congestion, as well as the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. The future of mobility in India is shared, connected and autonomous”.
Given the situation, Durga Shankar Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, Government of India said
“We are promoting Transit Oriented Development Policy with ASI approach i.e.
• AVOID unnecessary trips
• SHIFT to sustainable transport
• IMPROVE performance through technology in all models”.
An advisory by MOHUA highlighted “Various studies conducted by MOHUA show that about 16-57% of urban commuters are pedestrian and about 30-40% of commuters use bicycles in the country depending on the size of the city. COVID-19 has allowed us to visit different Public Transport options and come out with solutions, which are green, pollution-free, convenient and sustainable”.
Walking the Talk:
To get the cities rolling with pedestrian and cycling-friendly infrastructure in a time-bound manner, Smart Cities Mission, MOHUA and ITDP have announced “India Cycles4Change Challenge”.
This competition intends to infuse enthusiasm amongst the cities to participate and implement quick cycling-friendly interventions in collaboration with citizens and experts.
Portal will be officially launched on 10th July covering all the details of this campaign.
Get Ready to face Cycle Traffic when you Travel to India in 2030:
Imagine a nation of *1.3 billion people cycling together on dedicated cycle tracks.
Sounds like a Dream!
With focused efforts by the government and public-private participation, it is a forthcoming ambition soon to be realized with systematic efforts.
COVID-19 has given us the start with Recreational Cyclists sighted on the roads, prompting an interim surge in cycle sales.
Hope the tribe grows with more diversity – young and old, men and women, rich and poor, people with disabilities – cycling for fun, fitness, work, shopping, school, college, sports or whatever reason.
The findings of this survey was published by Times of India, Mumbai Edition on 2nd August 2020.
Enjoy this photo album of Recreational Cyclist’s:
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai