An Ode to Bicycling
I learned to ride a bicycle much later in my life compared to all the children around me. I still remember the first two-wheeler bike my parents got for me when I was like five years old. It was white and red, and of course, shaped like children’s bike. But I didn’t get to ride it for next eight years.
I was a sickly child, and my parents were very protective of me. I fell off the bike a few times in the beginning, so they didn’t let me ride it after that. Many kids in my neighborhood borrowed my bike and learned riding on it, while I just sat on the sidelines. Even my younger sister learned to ride before I did.
For many years I used to have these vivid dreams of cycling everywhere. In them, I’d be cycling on empty rural roads, or weaving through the crowds of city roads. And I loved them! They were full of adventure and fun. Eventually, when I was in my early teenage, I requested my sister to teach me how to ride a bike. She was still riding the same old white-and-red bike, and so I learned to ride a bicycle as a teenager on a children’s bike. But to my credit, it took me only two days.
Learning to ride a bicycle was such a liberating experience for me. Finally after so many years, I did not need to ask my parents for a ride to go somewhere I wanted to. I spent a lot of time just wandering around on my bike in my neighborhood. But my parent were still not sure if I could cycle longer distances. So in the neighborhood I remained.
Then one day, after a year or so had passed, I decided to cycle to my school on a whim. My parents did not object but they were very worried. This was before cell phones, and all they could do was to wait for me to come back home after school. Fortunately, I always rode carefully (and still do), so they were placated in some time, and I started to cycle to school every day.
Not long after that, I was cycling all over my small town. I went to my friends’ houses to hangout with them, to far off playgrounds to play, and to neighborhoods I had only heard names of before. I was free, and I spent a lot of time cycling in back alleys and empty roads.
That was the golden age of my cycling, and I was in love with it. The time passed, as it does, and I left my homewtown for college and moved into this sleepy campus town. I still cycled quite a bit, but most of it was to my various classes. Soon after, I decided to teach myself programming, and spent hours in front of a computer screen instead of the outside. My bicycle—I think it was a Hero Nitrogen—spent most of its time in the garage.
After graduation, I got a job and moved to Bangalore, the IT hub of India. I left my cycle behind in the college. I found a house five minutes away from my office, and commuted by walk. When I needed to go to somewhere else, I took the bus. I quickly forgot about cycling in the new routine of working a daily job.
Four years later, I happened to meet some like-minded people whom I found on the internet, in real life. It turned out, they were really into bicycling, and cycled absolutely everywhere. It didn’t take long for the love of bicycling to reawaken in me. After a few months, I bought a bike—a Cannondale—and started to use it to commute to my new office that was an hour away by bus.
It was difficult in the beginning. Not only I was not used to cycling anymore, but I had also gained a lot of weight eating pizza for dinner most nights. Also, I had never cycled in a busy city like Bangalore, which, if you know about it, is notorious for its bad traffic. Nevertheless, I kept at it, and slowly I gained speed and stamina, and reistence to all the traffic smoke (I’m kidding, I probably damanged my lungs quite a bit.)
Thus began my silver age of cycling. This time I had a grown-up bike, and friends who liked cycling as much as me. Luckily, cycling became quite popular in Bangalore at the time, and there were a lot of organized group rides. And ride we did!
I soon realized that I liked cycling fast, so I got myself an expensive road bike, a Giant Defy. It was the lightest bike I ever rode, and riding it felt like a dream. That year I rode 8000 kilometers, the most I’ve ever done in a year. I did century rides and climbed to hilltops. I rode so much, I started having knee problems.
So with a heavy heart, I decided to stop doing long rides, and started using the bike only for commutes. I also moved twenty minutes away from my office, and spent considerably less time cycling. But I kept at it, riding few thousand kilometers every year. That was until Bangalore traffic went out of control.
Bangalore traffic was always bad for people in cars and busses. But as a cyclist, I could take the back alleys and the narrow roads, and walk across busy traffic junctions carrying my bike. So for years, I had an advantage. Then one day I got a new job, and my office happened to be right on the busiest highway in Bangalore. The traffic was getting worse by day, and my work hours were long, causing me to slowly burn out and lose interest in all my hobbies, including cycling. So cycling took a back seat again in my life, and I started commuting by car.
By the time I left that job and recovered from my burnout, we were deep into 2020, the first year of the pandemic. I was working from home, and my cycle sat in a corner, gathering dust (Really! there was a thick layer of dust on it when I finally decided to clean it up after months. India is very dusty.) In retrospect, it was a great time for cycling, with all the roads empty. But I was too anxious to go out and have fun.
That brings us to now. The shadow of the pandemic seems to have lifted, but the roads are full of traffic more than ever. The air quality has taken a nose dive as well, with all the paused construction projects resuming. My friends have moved on to doing new activities like gymming and rowing.
Recently, I have started riding my bike again. I do short rides within my neighborhood, going in circles. I hope some day I’ll be able to move to a more cycling friendly city, and commute on my bike every day. Till then, the short rides will have to do.
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