Wheels of fortune: How one cycle shop fared during a long and winding year
“I’ve seen many ups and downs, but two things never change,” says Abdul Hamid Khan, “people’s love for the sea and their love for cycling.”
Khan would know about both. For 36 years, he’s manned Mumbai’s quietly iconic Happy Cycle Shop in Colaba, set up by his grandfather 80 years ago and now a one-stop shop for local cyclists, long-distance rallyers, and more or less everyone pedalling their way on that increasingly trafficked route from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
“It was a big jolt when everything suddenly went still and quiet in March,” Khan, 52, says. Quietude is not something he’s used to, a stone’s throw away from the Gateway of India.
People stopped renting cycles (he has about 70 for rent), the tourists disappeared.
“That meant I didn’t have to answer ‘Causeway kis taraf hai? (Which direction is it to Causeway?)’, but I missed the general chaos of the city and I missed my cyclists.”
His cyclists include the cycling tours of south Mumbai — day ones and night ones — that invariably start at his shop, as well as the long-distance rally riders, the hippies with giant backpacks pedalling across the subcontinent, and the locals who rent or buy.
“We couldn’t open the shop open till the end of August as it wasn’t allowed. There was no business anyway,” says Khan, who takes pride in the fact that Happy Cycle Shop is open all day every day. But even in those months, he, his 32-year-old son Abdul Aziz Khan, and his five cycle mechanics, turned up every day. As they sat outside their shop, Khan says, they were surprised by how many people still needed their help.
“The workers from nearby grocery and medical stores were delivering goods on their cycles. Anything that went wrong, they called us to repair.” By May, renters were calling too. Everyone was working from home, the gyms and swimming pools were still shut. People wanted to cycle to keep fit, to get out, to get around, Khan says.
“Once people have got a taste for cycling, it’s very difficult for them to give it up,” he adds. “So people would call and we would deliver cycles to them and earn about ₹2,000 to 3,000 per cycle per month. It was better than nothing.”
Khan has an unusual rate card — the day rate to rent a cycle is ₹350 if you have a job. If you’re a school or college student, it’s ₹250. If you’re a kid from a local low-income neighbourhood, it’s ₹50.
Some of the sports bikes he sells cost ₹50,000 and the growing interest he sees across age and price brackets excites to him, Khan says. “I have been noticing more interest in cycling for 10 years. The city is not at all suitable for cycling but people have been taking it up, for health reasons, for the environment. And we have the gift of the sea. What can give you more joy than riding a bicycle along the sea? Whether it’s a toddler getting on their first bike or an office-goer getting back on a cycle after decades, I am always happy to see it.”
Sai Singh, 32, co-founder of Wandering Souls, an experiential travel and events company, says he feels lucky that a place like Happy Cycle Shop exists.
“We conduct early morning rides and midnight rides in south Mumbai which start at Happy Cycle Shop. Hamidbhai is always there to rent us the types of bikes we need, help us if there are any technical glitches or advise us on anything cycle-related.”