Sunil Gandhi takes a bicycle to work. It's a 40-km ride to and fro from his Vile Parle residence to his office in Crawford Market, and is 53-years old. "Given the current traffic condition, it takes me about as much time as it would if I were going by a car or bus," he said. Gandhi has been cycling since his college days.
Gandhi also organises 'food rides' - cycle rides that end at a popular food joint (like Bade Miyan or the Mafco food stall outside the Worli dairy). This, according to Gandhi, is a perfect way to convince bikers to go on long rides, and also gives them a chance to "eat well and remain fit too."
On No TV Day, get out that bicycle that has rusting away in your garage or the one that is rusting in your neighbours garage and hit the streets and see Mumbai with a whole new perspective. In fact, the Bandra Cycle Club has planned a special ride on January 28 (see events box).
You can also visit cyclists.in, or the several Facebook groups started and maintained by Mumbai's cycling enthusiasts.
Cyclists.in has about 8,000 members across the country. Started by Santa Cruz-based software developer Amit Bhowmik three years ago, the site was initially peopled by Mumbai's cyclists, and soon spread to other cities. "When I created the site, there were several disparate Google groups devoted to cycling. This site brought them all under an umbrella. There is something for everyone here, from the newbie looking for a small ride to a veteran looking to challenge himself with longer stretches," said Bhowmik. The site has hourly updates on rides in the city, and question threads on new bicycle models, safety precautions, technical advice and several other subjects. Members of the site's groups organise rides that everyone is welcome to join. If you want to go for a ride, browse through its list of cycling trips, and join what you like. If you want to cycle close to home, join the group dedicated to your area. If you don't find any trips planned, you can start one yourself; and chances are several will join you.
Anil Uchil, a veteran Chembur-based cyclist, has been commuting to work since the early 90s and organises rides all over the city. A few years ago, he came up with a ride called the Tour de Mumbai, where interested cyclists would meet every weekend and explore a suburb of Mumbai. "Within a few months, we had the whole city covered," he said.
Uchil is an endurance cyclist himself, but insists that distances are hardly a concern while planning a ride. "Route mapping, technical and medical support, backup vehicle, food/refreshments, lodging for overnight trips; these are the main issues involved."
He adds that initially he would go around picking up cyclists for Tour de Mumbai from city suburbs and ride through nearby areas. "But eventually, I had people coming in from across the city for these rides. Many cycled to the start point, while others would load their bikes onto an autorickshaw or train."
For Darshit Shah, who has participated in several city rides and organised a few himself, cycling is more about meeting old friends and making new ones. He took up the cycle again (he had cycled in his childhood) for health reasons and found it difficult initially, but developed enough stamina to go on long rides. Since then, he has been a regular cyclist. "The Internet allowed me to reach out to other enthusiasts, and make new cycling friends. Early morning rides are a refreshing break from your work schedules, and food rides are just plain fun. I don't have anything specific in mind when riding, but just do it to enjoy myself."