Like a lot of people, who have discovered new hobbies or rekindled old passions, I (Pradosh) discovered cycling during the covid pandemic.

I had picked up a simple gearless cycle, just a week before the covid tsunami hit our shores in Feb 2020. The idea was to do errands and maybe ride around my locality. But the whole country ended up in a 4 month lockdown and my new cycle just sat there in parking. And honestly, with all the chaos around, I completely forgot about the cycle.

Once the worst had passed, one of the first lockdown relaxations was for morning exercise (walking/jogging and cycling). So in July 2020, I wheeled out my still-new cycle and went on a 5 km ride to BKC and back.

To be honest, even to cover just 5 km, I huffed and puffed and my body complained loudly. I have never been the exercising kind. But despite the protests from my muscles, I loved the wind-in-the-face feeling, the heightened senses and the freedom the cycle gave me. In a couple of days, I tried again, seeing if I could reach Bandra West (I managed, again with lot of huffing and puffing – but the sight of the Arabian sea at Bandstand made it worth it).

With my first cycle, on Vashi bridge

In the next few days and weeks, I kept stretching the boundaries, cycling all the way to Juhu, Shivaji Park, Mulund and even Vashi Bridge – while getting used to the small seat. My derriere, which spent first 38 yrs sitting only on chairs or comfortable car seats, really complained about the 4 inch wide seat. And soon I discovered padded seats -and then eventually, padded shorts, which finally fixed the problem of sore bums ! And just around this time, by luck, I found a cycling group – CycloFunatics – on Facebook. They were really welcoming to beginners and I joined my first group cycling ride to Worli Seaface on Aug 20, 2020

That first ride in a group of fellow enthusiasts lit a fire inside that I didnt know existed. Most of the people in Cyclofunatics werent hardcore cyclists – they were recreational cyclists like me, who were using cycling as a way of socializing amidst restrictions. It helped that cyclists from all walks of life were present, from 16 yr old school kids to 66 yr old retirees – and from entrepreneurs to lawyers/architects/pilots etc

Within no time, riding with the group became the high-point of my week. We would cycle 3 times a week – usually on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Saturday rides were special, as we would do long rides out of the city to some picturesque location. The admin of the club, Vipin Arumugham, knew almost every lake/waterfall/attraction in and around Bombay and was a great photographer to boot too. Not only did we ride to great locations every weekend, we got great photos as a bonus. Vipin’s ability to ride one-handed, while shooting photos with the mobile, is quite legendary !

Within 3 months of starting cycling, I did my first 100 km ride – I think it was to Uran beach. And after that there was no looking back. With the rest of the city still in lockdown mode, we cyclists were exploring all nooks and crannies of Bombay, and every picturesque spot around it. I had been in Bombay for almost 15 yrs, and I had never once visited the Sion, Worli, Sewri or Madh Forts. Or explored Aarey colony trails. Or visited Yeoor Hills in Thane. Or Gaumukh Chowpatty in Ghodbunder Road. Or the Jogeshwari Caves (not Mahakali). I had never even heard of Mandapeshwar Caves in Borvali IC colony (they are 6-7th Century Buddhist caves, similar to Kanheri, Mahakali or Jogeshwari caves).

And I saw all these, on my cycle, with my cycling group, in 2020 alone!

My Scott @ Vihar Lake

Since then, I have upgraded my cycle to a slightly nicer one – a Scott Sub Cross J1 (pic above). It is a mid range hybrid cycle and it allows me to do longer distances without being completely drained out.

I have done a 200 km BRM (that’s the equivalent of running a marathon in cycling terms I guess).

I have visited practically EVERY waterbody/attraction in a 100 km radius of Bombay 😀

And I have made some great cycling buddies, with whom I ride nowadays. We share the common interests of exploring new destinations every weekend, and we really enjoy each other’s company

I will write about some of those rides in subsequent posts.

Cycling is an amazing way to explore any destination, because all the smaller details we normally miss – the detailed sights, the unique smells and sounds, the small joys of conquering a tough climb, the exhilaration of speeding downhill, feeling of all the contours and bumps on the road etc – we cyclists register it all. In fact, in my mind, the definition of good road has changed from a wide 6/8 lane straight highway, to a smooth rolling country road flanked by trees!

On a personal level, cycling has brought some much needed physical activity to my life – and has introduced me to a new bunch of friends. 

My cycling buddies

Concerns

When most people learn that I ride regularly for long distances around Bombay, the first questions raised are 1) safety 2) traffic and 3) exertion (too hard) 

1) Safety : As with any two wheeled vehicle, falls remain a hazard. Bombay roads, even without the current massive construction works, are full of potholes, especially during and after monsoons. And suddenly landing into a big pothole can destabilize any two wheeler. I myself have fallen twice during the last monsoons, thanks to an unseen pothole and slippery roads respectively. 

The way to avoid these is to (a) be very vigilant of the road conditions (b) ride with a good cycle light when riding early morning and (c) always wear helmets, gloves etc to save you in the case of an eventual fall

In my cycling gear @ Gadeshwar Dam (near Panvel)

2) Traffic : Riding on two wheels in Bombay traffic is challenging. Bombay’s roads are much narrower than what they should be (given the city’s population) and the cyclists/bikers are crowded out by the larger vehicles. You can expect people to inconsiderately squeeze you to the side, take abrupt turns in front of you, or not bother slowing down at intersections. In a few rare cases, cyclists have gotten hit from behind. But I believe as long as you are not riding in the middle of the road or weaving about or generally being poor drivers, you are safe from any serious accidents.

BUT, you need to have good road awareness. Reading traffic patterns, anticipating if the vehicle ahead is slowing down or about to take a turn, hearing an approaching vehicle from behind etc are necessary skills for anyone on Indian roads. A lot of cyclists, especially non drivers, start out without it, but build it up over time. 

The easy way to beat traffic problems is to start early. Every serious rider in Bombay tries to finish their rides by 0800 at the latest, before the office traffic picks up. And if you are concerned about traffic on the major roads, ride on the quieter roads in your locality till you gain some confidence. And always seek out group rides, because in numbers lies safety. Following the surge of new riders after the pandemic, there are cycling clubs in every locality of Bombay now.

Light morning traffic in Bombay

3) Hard Work : Riding a cycle is much less strenuous than running. Anyone with knee issues is usually advised to start cycling instead of running/walking. Yes, riding 100 km + is pretty hard work. But no one did a century ride on their first day. Start with a 5 km and make small increments till your body gets used to the cycling posture and your leg muscles get used to the pedalling. Pretty soon your stamina will increase and you will be doing 30-40 km rides. Again, group rides can be a great blessing, as kilometres roll by effortlessly, while chatting with fellow riders.

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