Through loud cacophonies of car, bike and rickshaw horns emerges a bright neon yellow mountain bike. Tires clutching the crease of the road; the extra foot long cemented area, assumably the only cycling track available for Mumbaikars. As notorious monsoon drenches my face, humidity tickles down the end of my spine and the grip of hand fatigues, the elder brother of my brain screams in slow-mo –
This could’ve been funny but it is the gripping reality of cyclists in Mumbai. Cycling on the haphazard lanes of Mumbai suburbs is the quintessential balancing act. An inch to left side could land you into tumbling fall on the rain-washed asphalt and an inch to the right would lead into kissing the cheeks of raging vehicles.
I like to experiment on different terrains, discover new lanes and mostly follow the pace of my wandering heart. This sounds good on facebook profile but honestly I end up riding through traffic jams, inhumane gullies, crowded bazaars and the wannabe Hollywood aka Lokhandwala all the way upto the Malibu of Mumbai aka Carter Road. Sometimes its the urge to move the ass out of the cozy house cushion, sometimes its an on-the-spur recreational jolt, at times its just to meet a friend, or perform chores, or pick up grocery from the market. But most of the time I ride during peak hours. For a non-groupie (I do not ride in groups, at least not yet) riding alone is the ultimate experience of freedom. As soon as you snap out of the dream you find yourself amongst the 20 other vehicles struggling within one square feet of potholed road.
Cycling lets you breaks all rules. No literally you can break all traffic rules if you are on a cycle. The first time I jumped a signal on cycle and found drooling wolflike cops, I slowed down and was willing to bribe my emergency cash Rs. 100 to the first officer but he ignored me like just another white hair on his senior moustache. Since then I proudly jump signals, (of course on cycles you need to check left, ride, down and even up before you cross a signals). But I can ride on footpaths, carry my cycle over a divider and start riding on the other side. And the best part is even beggars don’t hassle you at signals. I think the cyclist’s aroma does the trick.
With the advent of most of International cycling brands coming to India, there has been an onslaught of cycling groups, morning rides, weekend rides, long rides, short rides and cycling treks. But my intention is to use the urban velocipede(cycle) for some practical use. I have read blogs of urban cyclists in other countries and subscribe to some youtube channels. Compared to some foreign countries Mumbai is fairly accommodating to cyclists. Cycling here is the mode of transportation for lower class and the iron clad black cycle with curved handlebars is the silent charm of every busy street. But for the elite – cycling is restricted to only recreational purpose.
But a shout out to all fellow cyclists out there – lets scratch the head under our helmets and think – no doubt cycling in Mumbai is difficult but its surely greener, reduces pollution (air and noise), solves the parking hassles, promotes healthy lifestyle and has the superpower to solve all problems of the overcrowded city like Mumbai. Till the time we do not act on the change we cannot expect governments and BMC’s to improve facilities for cyclist. If there are enough cycles on street the government will have to create dedicated tracks, provide parking facilities and perhaps encourage more people to join in. It is easier said than done. It’s rains in Mumbai. Well hello! it rain in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Australia, America and the whole wide world. In fact we just have rainy showers but some countries like Netherlands – the cycling capital of the world – also receives snowfall. A foot long wall of snow is a real problem, riding through five inches of clogged water is actually fun, perhaps you just need a mudguard. People ride motorbikes in windcheaters, scorching sun, burning heat, atrocious humidity and the single weekend of winter. So why we cycle.
Cycling makes me feel wonderful… but the road to wonderfulness is not paved yet and that’s why I ride a mountain bike on Mumbai streets.