For the past seven years, even as Anil Uchil, 39, changed jobs, shuttled between two cities and stayed in Bangalore for a year and a half, his knees were getting steadily worse. Uchil has osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint condition. Now in Mumbai, he has begun to undergo treatment for his knees. However, instead of taking a taxi, he cycles down to his physiotherapist every morning.
"Cycling involves a smooth and continuous movement which doesn't have too much of an impact on my knees," he says. In fact, Uchil uses his trusty Raleigh Ridge Disc trail bike to commute everywhere in the city.
Making life simpler
The idea of using a bicycle to commute in city traffic seems implausible to many motorists. "The first thing that crosses everyone's mind is how uncomfortable it must be to ride on city roads. When I tell people that I ride to work and in peak-hour traffic, they don't believe me," says Sonu K, a legal advisor at a financial MNC in Mumbai.
Sonu, 25, used to drive a Honda City to work earlier. She began riding to her workplace, which is 10 km from her house, in February. She carries her work clothes in a knapsack. On reaching office, she takes a shower and changes into officewear. Delhi High Court lawyer Chander Lall, 44, keeps a whole week's supply of clothes at his workplace. He cycles from Saket to South Extension and back every day. "My car is parked at my office. On Saturdays, my driver transports all the dirty clothes back home, and returns with a fresh supply of work clothes on Monday morning," he says. Lall has been cycling to work since 2002.
Fit and fast
Dhaval Philip Mathew (24), a Navi Mumbai resident, takes an hour and 15 minutes to reach his workplace that is 32 km away. On days when he takes the local train, he takes a little over two hours to reach work. "On a bike, I'm in control. I don't have to rush or face a crowd," he says.
Sonu, too, is happy with the choice she has made. "I don't have time to go to a gym, and cycling keeps me fit and trim," she says. "If there's a traffic jam, I am the first one to get out of it," she adds.
According to Madhuri Ruia, proprietor of Half, a functional fitness studio in Mumbai, "Cycling is an excellent way of keeping fit as it improves overall fitness and keeps the body toned."
Dr Sujeet Rajan, consultant chest physician with Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai, believes pollution shouldn't discourage people from cycling. "You face the same amount of pollution when you take public transport, or when you're walking," he says. "The environment can't be helped. But riding to work sure beats driving to it, as it is a great form of exercise."
Ruia adds: "You contribute to reducing environmental pollution. You could be smart and choose a good time and a better route if you want to cycle to work." But for most cyclists who have made the choice of riding to work instead of driving, it's not the smoke-spouting lorry or Blueline bus that's the problem. The real issue is the attitude of other motorists. "They're so ignorant -- they drive on lanes made especially for cycles -- or they simply fail to see us on the road. Policemen arbitrarily take the air out of the tyres of the labourers' cycles," says Lall.
To ride a cycle on city roads means you've got to know traffic rules and follow them. It's also advisable to wear a helmet, says Uchil. "When motorists see a cyclist with a helmet, they tend to take him more seriously," says Uchil with a wry smile. Like Lall, Uchil too wears a bright coloured jersey, hand gloves, helmet, and shorts while riding. Sonu, who listens to her iPod during the ride, keeps the volume low enough to hear the honks.
They have fitted their cycles with a bottle stand, headlights and tail lights. Mathew has even insured his Rs 18,000 bike (a Trek 3700), and he only rides to places where there is safe parking.
An exercise regime that also doubles as a quick and efficient way of getting to work is perhaps just the thing for a large number of slick professionals intent on getting fit. But more than a pair of wheels, the thing that they need the most is a leap of faith.
Plan to cycle to work?
Congratulations, you're making a very environment-friendly decision that's great for your health too. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
As a motorist, you're probably one who doesn't take cyclists seriously either. Well, now that you've crossed over, here's something to munch on. If you want to be counted as part of the traffic as a cyclist, you have to know and obey the traffic rules. Don't break traffic signals, don't cycle on the wrong side of the road, or on the footpaths, and stick to your lane.
Invest in a good cycle
Getting the right cycle is important. It's generally advisable to buy a trail bike for city commute, and not a racer bike, as the latter is lighter and tends to gain speed, and is consequently more dangerous on city roads. Fix tail lights and a head light on your cycle. Get a rear view mirror fitted too, as it helps you judge your right turns better. Maintain your cycle well. Check the brakes, and oil the chains regularly.
Wear the right gear
Most cyclists we spoke to said that the motorists take them more seriously when they wear helmets. Wear bright jerseys so you can be spotted easily.