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The Bicycle Diaries

I cycled the eight kilometers from work to home, and cycled back to work the next morning. This was part of ‘Bike to work Day’ at work. This got me thinking about my bicycle-borne adventures, bringing back a flood of memories.

When we were kids, we did not have bicycles – we had to hire them for a rupee an hour. These were small, kid-sized bicycles, and my brother and I used to look forward to the weekends when we were given money to hire them – we did not have allowances, and it depended totally on if we had been well-behaved the previous week. Of course, thinking back on it now, it also got us out of the house and out of our parents’ hair for a few hours.

When I was nine years old, we (my brother and I – everything was shared between us) got our first bicycle. It was a second hand Raleigh roadster with a weird U-shaped handlebar. It was adult-sized, which meant for us to mount it and ride, we needed to wheel it to a large stone, climb on to the seat and push off. Then we’d wobble along precariously for a while, before hitting a rhythm and cycling furiously away. Of course, this would last till we had to stop – which was a ridiculously risky affair. We’d pull alongside a stone or an electric post and stop with a leg or hand resting on the aforementioned stone or electric post. Of course, about 50% of the time, there was no stone or electric post handy, and that’s when the stunts kicked in. Once we were in a reasonably non-crowded area, we would leap off the bicycle, all the while holding on to the handle bars. Then, as we hit the ground, we’d attempt to stop the bicycle without dropping it. We succeeded about 30% of the time. The rest of the time, as soon as we felt that the bicycle was out of control, we’d concentrate on not being under it when it hit the road. We succeeded in it about 90% of the time.

As expected, the bicycle (and we) was pretty banged up in the time it took for us to grow up to the height where we could reach the ground while seated on it. They built pretty sturdy bicycles in those days – when we were grown up enough to ride it properly, we promptly fitted a carrier on it and included our friend Baburaj in our bicycle-borne adventures. We would ride triples everywhere – my brother on the bar in front, me on the seat pedalling and Baburaj on the carrier in the back.

This idyllic state of affairs prevailed for a couple of years, after which Baburaj got his own bicycle, and Nitin grew too big to sit on the bar in front. By this time we had (wisely, I would say) eschewed riding around on the bicycle and walked or took the bus instead. The Raleigh languished unridden at home.

In 1989, when I was 14, for the first time, I was given a bicycle for myself. It was a black BSA Street Cat, and I would ride everywhere on it. The 7.5-kilometer ride to school was an everyday affair, and from there I would ride to tuitions, the lending library, friends’ places – everywhere. This cycle mania lasted till 1991, when most of my friends had moved on to motorbikes, and suddenly cycling was infra dig. That was the last time I ever cycled anywhere – my parents got me a moped that I used for the next six years. I never cycled anywhere after that.

In 2008, when I was in California for a stretch, I cycled around on an 18-gear beauty, but the longest I went was about five miles, and that was occasionally. I’m not counting that as part of my cycling life – it was too easy, and everywhere there was space for cyclists.

On Thursday, after a gap of 22 years, I surprised myself by riding the eight kilometers home without a single stop. I didn’t think I was fit enough to do it, nor did I think I would be able to navigate the mess of traffic between work and home without stopping for a breather.

While I am not convinced that I should bike to work every day – the pollution, especially in the evenings, is horrendous – I am not beyond being convinced to bike occasionally!

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