There was a man named Rama in his mid-thirties who decided to start cycling again in adulthood. One day he went to a bicycle shop and inquired about various types of bicycles available in the market. The shopkeeper explained the USPs of all the models and gave Rama a test ride of three major types of bicycles – Road Bike, Hybrid Bike and MTB.
After listening to the sales pitch, Rama got confused and asked for a recommendation from the shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper said “Sir, I suggest you should go for an MTB with your eyes closed.”
Rama reacted curiously “There aren’t any mountains in Mumbai, it’s primarily a flat city. Then why are you suggesting a Mountain Terrain Bike?
“Sir, I agree we are in a flat city, but there are enough potholes that gives us an off-road ride experience” the shopkeeper responded.
Rama thought for a few minutes and got convinced since it was a practical insight. He bought an MTB and another sale was made for the shop owner.
The story doesn’t end here.
If you analyse, this was the first compromise made by Rama and that too at the beginning of his cycling stint. His choice was heavily influenced by the external factor – “bad roads” in this case.
Once he started to ride, he learnt to manoeuvre through uneven roads, street barricades, route diversions, potholes, construction work, gravel surfaces and gaps between manhole covers.
He adjusted to the situation by avoiding certain routes and pedalled slower than he should have and skipped long rides. So, this was the second compromise made by Rama.
Next, he met with a lot of traffic on the streets. Rash driving, wrong side driving, motorcyclists and scooters on sidewalks, haphazard parking, excessive honking and signal jumping were some of his everyday observations.
These instances feared Rama and he went onto discuss his concerns with a fellow cyclist.
Rama was advised to wear a bright coloured safety jacket to be visible. He must wear a helmet and have front and rear lights and use hand signals – were some of the major suggestions made by his friend. Rama did what he was expected to do. But he still rode in fear.
This was the third level of compromise he made to overcome lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure.
One morning Rama was cycling to work and got hit from behind by a speeding vehicle. Rama fell on the ground and suffered minor bruises in his hands and legs. The driver didn’t stop and fled from the scene. Rama’s bicycle also got damaged.
He recovered somehow and sought medical treatment at a nearby clinic. He felt helpless as he had no evidence against the driver and in it’s absence, he couldn’t pursue legal course nor claim damages. At this point a fourth compromise was made.
After a few months Rama went to a local cafe for a meeting and locked his bicycle. Upon his return, he found that the lock was broken, and the bicycle wasn’t there. He panicked and inquired at nearby shops and asked pedestrians if they saw anyone taking his bicycle.
Angry and nervous, Rama went to the police station to register a theft complaint. The officer on duty registered an FIR and told Rama that there is a grim chance of finding his bicycle again.
“Our past records suggest it’s difficult to track down petty thieves in such cases and the success rate is nearly nil. Plus, we have bigger cases to solve.”
The officer gently advised Rama to return home and forget about his bicycle. This was the final compromise in Rama’s cycling journey.
He no longer rides a bicycle but uses public transport and drives occasionally.
Accidents, thefts and poor infrastructure are the most evident issues cyclist in Mumbai and many other cities are facing. Rama’s story is relatable and everyone’s story as we as cyclist’s face at least half of his problems. Our concerns are the same and we are riding in a state of fear and insecurity.
To be specific, the current state of Mumbai’s roads is worst, risky and unsafe. Nearly fifty percent of the roads are engaged in metro projects, coastal roads, highways and bridges that have ruined the entire road conditions.
Although I want to ride carefree and live every moment of freedom, I feel that cycling in Mumbai is a compromise. Forget cycling, even walking has become challenging.
The present conditions are bad, and I can only hope that in future the situation will improve.
What’s your experience of cycling in your city? I would like to know your version of the story.
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Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai