Letter from…Bangalore

A new wave of cycling enthusiasts are taking to the streets of India 

Bangalore is a place not known for its road infrastructure. Residents are frustrated daily by the potholed streets, traffic pile- ups and almost non-existent footpaths.

But the IT capital of India is defying the conditions to pursue a growing pastime. In the wee hours of the morning, when the city is still waking up, there’s a flurry of activity in a distant suburb. Roads are being marked, and men and women in the latest cycling fashion are emerging from their vehicles. A few are warming up by doing laps. Others stock up their water bottles, energy drinks and bars. It’s the racing season and Bangalore’s cycling population is out to prove its worth.

Well-meaning friends ask me with some curiosity, “Where do you cycle?”, “Why do you cycle?” and “is it safe?”. In their mind, cycling is for those who can’t afford a car. Why would anyone spend half a lakh of rupees (US$900) on a form of transport that requires your own effort?

cycling India
Cyclists enjoy the quiet roads on the outskirts of Bangalore

On the other hand, there is a growing band of determined enthusiasts who think otherwise. Who rise up early in search of those rare abandoned, well-tarred and low-traffic roads, where cyclists can find a bit of pedalling paradise.

Dedicated cyclists form groups, and encourage non-cyclists to get into the saddle by organising different kinds of rides to suit every level. But the challenges of Bangalore’s roads are always there. A fellow cyclist, Dr Arvind B, who makes time in his intensive schedule as a heart surgeon to cycle, commented recently, “We are moving further and further away to find places. Soon, we’ll probably have to go down to Mysore to race.” (Mysore is located around 150 kms away.) While this was said in jest, there is a grain of truth.

In an average month, there are two or three cycling events and organisers usually have to search far from the city to find suitable venues. And the increasing population means decreasing tolerance on the city’s roads for the cyclist. The larger the car, the bigger the attitude and greater demand for road space.

Why would anyone spend half a lakh of rupees (US$900) on a form of transport that requires your own effort?

But growing visibility means an increased interest in this beautiful two- wheeled machine, whether as a recreation or as an essential mode of transport. An array of bikes are now imported in varying shapes, styles and materials – titanium, alloys, metal, carbon, tourers, foldies – to cater to the growing interest of the city’s newly minted cyclists.

So here we are, on a Sunday morning around 30kms out of the city. Nearly 150 cyclists are giving it all they have to win a 100km race, battling headwinds, and stiff competition. Some of these cyclists are now “professionals” – the firm Specialized was among the first to sponsor a racing team in India, and others such as Trek, Giant and Scott are now entering the Indian market.

But as Arvind commented, will we have to go to far-away places to compete in a cycle race? It could well be true. But one thing is for sure, Bangalore’s roads are not going to stop us.