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Riding high

With high-end bikes making cycling a fun alternative to driving, enthusiasts are de-clogging city roads, reports Suhas Munshi. See graphics

health and fitness Updated: Aug 08, 2010 00:29 IST
Suhas Munshi

Driving 35 km one way to work each day in city traffic is a nightmare for most people, but not Amitabh Pandey, 53. “Traffic jams are not a problem, I always find a gap,” said Pandey, founder-president of SPACE, an organisation promoting amateur astronomy.

Pandey finds a way through all kinds of traffic jams because he pedals to his office in Janakpuri from his home in Mayur Vihar in east Delhi.

It’s a long 35-km stretch, but many cycling enthusiasts with overlapping routes join him every morning. “Sometimes, we even stop for chai-samosas before parting ways to our respective destinations. There is no better way to exercise, have fun and socialise,” he says.

Cycling is gaining popularity because it offers greater mobility without being intensive like other cardio-workouts such as running. Pandey’s colleague Vikrant Narang, 30, a scientific officer, says, “When I jogged, I needed to motivate myself to go out every day. But on my bike, it’s hard for me to stop.”

Bicycle trader Gaurav Wadhwa, who became a cycling enthusiast after he lost 68 kg (he weighed 140 kg earlier), says the trend has picked up over the past year. “Sales of high-end bikes have gone up and as a trader I can tell you they are now at an all-time high.”

Innovative public and private initiatives have rekindled interest. Dutch national Jack Leenaars has started a cycle tour called DelhiByCycle that gives a new perspective to Old Delhi. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s Rent a Bicycle initiative is already a hit among college students. More than a 100 participants turned out for the Dare to Change event organised to mark the closing ceremony of the prestigious Tour de France last week.

And on August 29, the Tour de Delhi - Cyclothon 2010 will be kicked off, where participants from 15 countries are expected to test their mettle.

Nishant Tyagi, 31, a supply-chain manager with a Delhi-based firm, is training for Century Ride, a bicycle event where participants have to cycle 100 km without a break. “It was my childhood passion to cycle but over the years I became indifferent to it. Now I’m trying to make up for the lost years.” Tyagi, who is also a member of the DCC (Delhi Cycling Club), added that one morning is all that is needed to get addicted.

Almost anyone can cycle but it’s advisable to get a health-check done before going on high-intensity tours. “Although cycling provides a great cardio-pulmonary exercise and causes relatively less wear and tear than jogging or running, some caution is needed. People with high blood pressure, obesity, epilepsy, asthma, ligament tear/instability or recent injuries should get a clean chit from a physician before starting outdoor cycling tours,” said Dr S L Yadav, associate professor, department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, All India Institute of Medical Sciences. And like for any other activity, it’s also advisable to gradually increase the distance and pace.

However, for all their enthusiasm, bikers complain about insufficient parking facilities and the absence of cycle lanes. Anuj Srivastava, 42, says, “Although I am obsessive about fitness and care for my environment, I cannot use my bike to travel through the city, because there are no parking facilities. I ride an expensive bike — worth Rs 25,000 — with GPS, which costs about the same, cadence metres and other accessories. I cannot just leave it anywhere.”

With a little help from civic authorities, this new addiction is likely to encourage people travelling short distances to pedal instead of pollute.