If you have ever wondered about Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak being a scientific possibility, try riding a bicycle on Pune roads. That educated executive, who drives to work in his fancy SUV, loves to indulge in water cooler conversations about the adverse effects of climate change, and about the city’s worsening traffic situation. He/she will, in all probability, ignore you like you do not exist at all!
Cyclists stand way down in the urban jungle hierarchy, possibly at par with the equally ignored pedestrians. This, along with pollution, weather, and lack of cycling lanes are reasons enough to understand why cycling, as a mode of transport, is not as popular in Pune as it ought to be.
Why then, do certain Punekars, as limited as they are in number, ignore these unfavorable conditions and choose to cycle their way to work? We speak to two of these road warriors and find out.
Sandeep Menon has now been cycling the 11-odd kilometers from Viman Nagar to his workplace in Magarpatta for over a year. Cycling, for him, is a hobby that helps him exercise and he finds it extremely therapeutic. Sandeep says, “The fact that you are using your body, expending energy and not burning fuel idling in traffic is brilliant. Personally, all physical activity excites me and cycling is no different. No thoughts stay in my mind for more than a few seconds while riding, and there’s really no stress or tension while riding.”
He also goes for longer rides on weekends venturing to the outskirts of the city. The boy in him still wants to see if the route he did last week can be done in shorter time today. On being asked about the future of cycling in Pune, Sandeep adds, “I would like to see it become popular enough to be termed a ‘culture’. However, the culture should be comprised of those folks who ride into work not because they are forced to but because they want to. Almost all security and housekeeping personnel at work cycle to work, but what I’d like to see are the engineers, the doctors and other blue-collared employees ride into work. It’s very easy to start small – once a week and then try to get it to as many times as possible.” He also points out the support his company provides by way of a special bicycle stand for employees and good shower facilities to get ready after riding into work.
Abhijeet Patil is another dedicated cyclist who has been pedaling all the way from Wagholi to Magarpatta for the past 5 years. He’s carried over his love of riding from school and was inspired by seeing people cycling to office when he moved to Pune.
He says, “Since the nature of my work is sedentary, which means almost no physical activity throughout the day, I’ve taken to cycling to work. Apart from being able to maintain my health by just adding 15 minutes to my commute, cycling also allows me to be more environment- friendly.”
More than infrastructure, Abhijeet thinks the most important change Pune requires is our attitude towards cyclists. We need to give way and be patient with cyclists on the road and the same holds true for pedestrians.
Clearly factors like infrastructure and the populace’s outlook is not going to change anytime soon, nor will Pune transform into Amsterdam overnight. But folks like Sandeep and Abhijeet will hopefully stir a lot more Punekars to get their bums on the saddle.