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Pedalling passion: India takes to cult biking

An artist. A businessman. An entrepreneur. A doctor. A dentist. A software professional…

delhi Updated: Nov 11, 2012 23:50 IST
K Hari Warrier

An artist. A businessman. An entrepreneur. A doctor. A dentist. A software professional…

No, this is not a Google group or a Facebook friend list.

These and some more people who make up one of the dozens of bicycle groups that have mushroomed in Delhi and NCR, and reflects the biking boom that has the country firmly in its grip since Samim 'Sam' Rizvi became the first Indian and only third Asian to complete the coast-to-coast, 2,989-km Race Across America (RAAM) in 2010.

The extent to which the biking bug has spread was showcased earlier this week, when Firefox Bikes organized a short ride with legendary Gary Fisher of the US, considered the pioneer of mountain bicycling.

Their event saw over 250 Delhiites turn out on a cold and hazy Sunday morning with their bikes, in impeccable cycling gear, taking the organisers by surprise.

“Four years ago you would not have found such response,” said Shiv Inder Singh, MD, Firefox Bikes.

“It just shows how much cycling has spread…and several of those riders were women.”

Cycling tours are a rage.

Tour operators offer cycle tour options these days ranging from Manali to Leh-Ladakh to the countryside in Maharashtra or Rajasthan or Goa, to early Sunday morning exploratory rides through the bylanes of Old Delhi. Road races, dirt tracks, mountain races… Have wheels, will ride is the buzzword.

“Typically I cycle about 20 kms every day,” says Dr Sanjay Dhawan, a director at Fortis Hospitals and one of the members of this group.

“The weekend rides are longer, maybe 50 kms.”

Dhawan is a votary of outdoor exercise.

"Choose whatever makes you happy, but outdoor activity is preferable to indoors, pollution notwithstanding. The air indoors or outdoors is the same, in fact indoors is worse because it is stale, while outdoors you get the benefit of plants and trees."

The virtual word is full of forums and blogs on rides, equipment, experiences, photographs and advice. Men and women, old and young, the bug has bitten them all. And even a Rs. 1 lakh price tag for a bicycle is not seen as preposterous.

“The choice of the cycle depends on the requirement,” said Kavitha Kanaparthi, cyclist, athlete and bike race organizer in Bangalore.

“The high-end bikes are meant for professionals, not for casual. In our team (Team Shift), for instance we have 8-10 high-end cycles, in the Rs. 4-5 lakh range.”

So why does a casual rider, who may ride 5-6 kms a day, need an imported cycle? Our homegrown Hero and Atlas and Avon, are they not enough?

“The imported cycles are a completely different quality,” said Kanaparthi.

“Domestic cycles look good, but performance lags."

Agreed Dhawan, “I started with a Firefox in 2009, and later bought a Trek that cost about Rs. 60,000. The quality difference is palpable.”

Firefox cycles cost Rs. 7000-Rs. 30,000 range.

“Where our range ends, is where the Treks and the Cannondales and the rest begin,” said Ajit Gandhi, deputy general manager, Firefox.

Interestingly, Firefox sold about 40,000 bikes last year. And about 15% of these were the expensive Trek bikes.

"The recent duty hike (to 39% from 14%) has made imported bikes even more costly, which is a killer for the cycling enthusiast and the new-found popularity of the sport," lamented Kanaparthi.

So who is buying these wonder-machines? The spoilt brat? The potbellied executive type looking to cut down on weight? The politico's offspiring?

“We view anyone who owns a WagonR or a Santro as a potential Firefox customer,” said Gandhi.

“Someone who owns a Honda or a BMW is a potential Trek buyer. The ride with Gary Fisher mostly had riders on premium bikes: CEOs, executives, senior officials, all kind of people who know their bikes.”

“High-end cycles matter only for people who are into cycling in earnest,” said Dhawan.

“For someone who is going to cover 600 kms in a day, a half kilo lighter cycle makes a big difference.”

He gave his old Firefox bikes to his friends. Let the bug travel.

Said Gary Fisher, who launched a range of Trek cycles named after him in Delhi: “This is the Ferrari among cycles. You may not be able to afford a Ferrari, but if you are serious about cycling, you can surely aspire to buy this cycle.”

Interestingly, Kanaparthi and her team missed a Firefox ride with Fisher in Bangalore on Thursday.

“We have a race coming up, and cannot miss the practice commitments," she said, sadly.

Professional priorities come before living legends.

What does the future hold?

“The government should build infrastructure for cyclists and make cycling safe. And cut some of the import duty on bikes,” said Kanaparthi.

And set the rider free.