India Cyclothon- Kolkata 2012 brings a change in the city of joy
Mark the date. 18 March, 2012. Something has changed today. Today over 5000 cyclists from 8 to 80 years of age came out to pedal together in the Avon Cycles India Cyclothon- Kolkata 2012. All they did was cycle together for three hours in various ride categories. (Green Ride, Amateur Ride, Corporate Ride and Junior Ride). But the impact of those three hours will be very far reaching for cycling in Kolkata.
What can you do in three hours to usher in a new culture?
The event lasted a little over three hours but the splash made by it will resonate for a long time, spreading its ripples throughout a city in need of it.
“The bicycle is the most efficient human-powered means of transportation in terms of energy a person must expend to travel a given distance.”- Wiki
Since bicycles were invented, there have been a slew of other faster and more comfortable means of transportation introduced to us through progress in science. In a case of misplaced priorities, sometimes the bicycle isn’t accorded the respect it deserves.
I’ve often felt that blind progress is like a guy with a wart on the back of his neck which keeps mushrooming bigger and bigger. Since our man Progress is always looking ahead and moving forward, he doesn’t notice the ever-growing ugly growth behind him. It’s visible to everyone else but him. Soon enough, the wart grows big and heavy enough to make Progress topple backwards and fall flat.
Vigyan: Vardaan Ya Abhishaap? (Science: Boon or bane?) In Hindi language classes, that used to be one of the most common topics assigned for essays. Now I realize why. That question is becoming more relevant every day. Is blind progress in science indeed a good thing? Nothing against progress here. It’s good that we’ve made advances in healthcare and innumerable other fields which have enhanced the quality of our lives. But we need to be selective in how we assign priorities to the new things science keeps coming up with.
For children, the major appeal in toys lies in unwrapping the package. As soon as the covers are discarded and the package unveiled, kids move on to the next one. Newer is often equated with better.
Everyday there are more and more new motor vehicles flowing into our metro cities. The bucket size remains the same and we keep pouring in more. Eventually it ends up overflowing. A city ought to have roads covering 20 percent of its space for efficient traffic flow. All Kolkata has is 6 percent.
To make more room for motor vehicles to fit in, expensive flyovers need to be constructed. To accommodate cycles separately, you need to paint a part of the road as a cycling lane. In the space taken by one car, a bunch of cyclists could commute comfortably.
Take speed and comfort out of the equation and one would rather pedal than drive. The increase in number of cars has taken speed well out of the equation in our metro cities, where the average vehicular speed is below 20 km/hr. And comfort is relative, I’d rather pedal away at a constant speed than drive around having to stop, honk, start, stop, swivel an inch forward, another inch back and crawl around the traffic.
There’s a separate kind of comfort that comes from cycling. If the sweating part bothers you, consider this: We eat food, and egest it out. We drink water and pee it out. Cars take in expensive fuel and bleach out pollutants. We perform a physical activity and we perspire. I’ve often cycled around in Kolkata’s heat on a bike with 20 inch wheels, and all I needed after an hour of pedaling to freshen back up was a spare shirt after drying off under a fan for 10 minutes.
It’s a lot less hassle to cycle than it is to drive in our metro cities for small to medium distances. And people are coming to realize that. Today, I saw many more high-end cycles than I expected in the Cyclothon. Not that you need anything more than two wheels and a frame to pedal around, but that turnout showed me that there are many who are really enthusiastic about cycling in this city. And today they all came out and perhaps realized the same, if they didn’t already know it: cycling is more than a fad and a pastime in this city. It’s a way of life.
If that sounds horribly clichéd and far reaching, ‘way of life’, it’s nothing less though. Just pedaling from here to there has a simple philosophy to it. Keep moving forward, one foot at a time. And it keeps you in shape, gives you a natural high, enables you to connect with like-minded individuals and is good for the society. Once on the saddle, you’ll see what you were missing. It’ll change your lifestyle, reduce stress, increase metabolism and heart rate, and whip away spells of bad mood.
In talking about making changes in this world, we often quail at the enormity of the task of such a magnitude. Yet we keep plugging, knowing that over time, the culmination of small efforts will eventually usher in the change we want to see. That there will eventually be progress down the line.
Slow moving water will eventually wear a rock into oblivion. It’s hard to keep any sort of a timetable to attain such a milestone but you have to believe that every move you are making is moving you closer to your goal.
There are many small and consistent forces working to wear away the notion of cycles not being what they are. The local cops doing their part by organizing bike patrols. Chayan Mondal cycling around the country to spread awareness about eye donation and cycling. Groups like Ride 2 Breath promoting cycling all around. Kids attracting people to the flashier aspects of cycling with stunts. A 17 year old kid starting Mountain Bike Mag India and doing bunnyhops all over the city. They all show the city what kind of life is possible on two wheels.
All these are little changes which will in time make a difference and help usher in the culture of cycling in the city.
Steady flow of water can wear a rock down over time. But if that water is collected in a large enough bucket and poured on the rock, it’ll serve the same purpose and flow the rock away. A few seconds of a huge wave can do the same.
When you are looking to change the culture of a city, you can wear it down slowly or collect all your chips and cash them in at one go to make it happen now. The Avon Cycles India Cyclothon- Kolkata 2012 was an example. Months of painstaking attention to detail went into creating a magical atmosphere for three hours which surprised every cyclist and everyone else who turned up, at how popular cycling is and has the potential to be in this city. Heading out in the evening, it was a pleasant surprise to see some guys racing around in their cycles on a isolated stretch of the road.
Here’s another stark contrast between cycles and motor vehicles. You can race without being reckless. You can commute without polluting the environment. You can do stunts without fear of heavy injuries such as you would sustain from doing the same on motorcycles.
And there’s another difference which was brought out by the Cyclothon today:
In the holding area, before the race began and the riders were being briefed on safety and guidelines, every instruction from the megaphone was followed with a collective sign of acknowledgement and assent from the cyclists: at first they were screaming out in excitement. Then one bell rang, then another and another. Eventually they began to answer Yea by ringing their bells in unison. Those were some of the most musical notes of the day.
Imagine cars answering by honking their shrill horns. That would lead you to imagine a future when we didn’t rely on cars as much as we do now and seeing more cycles on the roads.
The mass participation events were preceded by the National Elite race of 50 kms.
1. Sarpreet Singh (Eastern Railways)
2. Arvind Panwar (Eastern Railways)
3. Pankaj Kumar (Haryana)
The India Cyclothon has been to six cities:
Bengaluru (October 2009 & January 2011),
Mumbai (February 2010 & April 2011),
Delhi (August 2010 & October 2011),
Chandigarh (September 2010 & September 2011)
Pune (February 2011).
And now, we can add Kolkata to the list.
Here’s another list, of articles about cycling in our metro cities and especially in Kolkata: