The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart said Helen Keller. Most cycling enthusiasts would agree to this statement. The ubiquitous two-wheeled mode of transport has been gaining an increasing number of followers the world over and Kerala is not far behind.
Whatever the reasons — fitness, recreation, fuel conservation, environmental concern or ease in commuting — the humble cycle can be seen nimbly zipping through traffic blocks and congested by-lanes. The increasing number of cycle clubs are an indication of the popularity of the two-wheeler. The government agencies are also lending support in popularising this means of transport. The KMRL has initiated a bike sharing system in a bid to encourage environmental-friendly transportation modes with cycles parked at designated stations to be used by commuters. As World Bicycle Day is just a day away, we take a look at what avid cyclists have to say and their reasons for actively taking up cycling.
For Vinod Laxman, Assistant Professor in Visual Media and Communication at the Amrita University (Edappally campus), it was his teacher who rode to work every day who inspired him to take up cycling way back in 2002. It has been 16 years since but his fervor and passion remain the same. “When Manoharan sir started talking about the benefits of cycling
2.5 kilometers from his home, I got so inspired that I immediately went and bought a BSA cycle.”
The initial rides had his muscles cramp up, but he persevered and slowly reached a stage where he started using his cycle to commute within a 3-km radius. He landed a job, upgraded to a Hercules cycle and increased his radius to 10 km though he never rode to work. “In 2011, it was a cycle rally that I participated in that made me realise I could cycle to work easily.” So he upgraded to the super-cycle — the Bergamont Vitox 7.3 — that he rides to this day. His stint at the Thevara Sacred Heart College, Kochi had him meeting the college Principal Fr Prashanth — an avid cyclist who had participated in 200 km rides. He was the one who suggested that Vinod pedals to work. “Fr Prashanth said it would take me just 30-40 minutes and 22 km up and down every day.” Vinod now travels 44-50 km on his cycle and exults, “I go through lanes that I never knew existed and feel I am seeing new worlds! My cycle is now my companion!”
It is not only men, but also women who are taking up cycling with gusto. Sumangala D. Pai is the founding member of Pink — the women’s wing of Cochin Bikers’ Club. She initially started cycling with male members and felt there were times she could not travel long distances or keep up pace. A couple of solo rides later, she thought of forming a ladies group of like-minded cycling enthusiasts. On Women’s Day in 2016, Pink was born. The first ride consisted of 35 women. She says, “There are a lot of women who want to ride a cycle but circumstances force them to forsake that.”
The members make it a point to cycle 60-70 km during the weekends and even participate in long-distance competitions. The condition of the roads, Sumangala feels, is not favourable to cyclists and she hopes cycle tracks become a reality in the near future.
The condition of the current roads is cause for worry and there has been an increasing clamour for separate cycle tracks in the city. In fact, The Pedal Force Welfare Association submitted a petition with District Collector K. Mohammed Y. Safeerulla in early May seeking the construction of cycle ramps to boost cycling with a suggestion that the medians of big roads be converted into cycle tracks.
The same sentiment is echoed by a member of Pink — Priya Surendran, who has participated in brevet competitions, which is long-distance, non-competitive cycling within prescribed time limits, cycling even up to 300 km. Her husband Rajesh, also an avid cyclist, has completed 600 km and they can be termed as a rare randonneuring couple. “Fitness was my initial reason to start cycling and then a cycling event prompted me to pedal 15 km initially; increasing that pace to 50 and 100 km. My husband’s participation in the 200-km brevet had me thinking of the same,” she recounts. So in 2017, she participated in her first brevet event of 200 km and followed that up in January, 2018 with another 200 km and the most recent one in May of 300 km. She quips, “I never thought I would even complete 50 km.”
Before she participates in long-distance events, she practises for a week to avoid muscle cramps. For the 200 km-brevet, she says, “I talked to trained cyclists who gave me tips. It was not easy but I felt so happy after completing the event.”
She has plans, “I want to take part in the 400-km brevet in August and am preparing for that.” Anyone who completes one or two 200 km or 400 km brevets in a season is called a randonneur and she wants to be a super randonneur like her husband who has finished 200, 300, 400 and 600 km in a season.
Some of the clubs like the Paravur Bikers’ Club are also involved in charity events like stem cell donation, whereas the ‘Thrissur on a Cycle’ members ride regularly to nearby trails and even neighbouring states to raise awareness on social subjects....