It’s been already 3 years I truly began considering cycling as the good option of traveling in India. Starting with short distances reaching office daily to dreaming about 50, 80, 100 km or more! I was cycling in Chennai and now I do it on a daily basis in Pune. Especially traveling to office that happened to become a nice change in comparison to sitting entire day at your desk job in IT, eating in between and going to sleep in the end of the day. And to be frank enough, we all know that cycling can be healthier and cheaper than commuting by car or bike, but sometimes we need extra encouragement to give it a go (and some little knowledge to say so!).
Even though initially I decided to shift into cycling only for purpose of saving my personal comfort zone (have you seen these overloaded Indian local trains? Tuk-tuks? Buses?), saving money (obviously Indians would love to charge me more…) and be more eco-friendly, I’ve experienced dramatic lifestyle changes since changing my daily commute not only getting more fit but feeling less stress, feeling really satisfied and relaxed reaching home after tiring day in office.
Cycling became my daily habit, much better than other sports activities that I used to start and then stopped, due to laziness, boredom, due to generally just not liking it or any other more important things in life (can you imagine all these unused gym’s membership cards…?)
I learned many things starting with crossing my physical limits such as after first (not even so long) ride my legs were trembling to simple manual work as changing the tube / tire or fixing the puncture. I cycle because there’s no traffic for me in between endless cars and bikes lines, there is no waiting time for public transport, there’s no fare I get on, I can park my cycle almost anywhere (just in front of my office building! And there is always, ALWAYS a place to park), it’s there 24/7 for me (unless punctured!). It is also very energizing, it perfectly wakes me up in the chill winter Indian morning, which is always better than liters of coffee!
Cycling is freedom
It makes you fit
It saves your money (unless you start going for branded and expensive gadgets!)
You can get back to nature
It’s good for environment
My daily rides are my form of personal escape – nothing else than my cycle and me. They boost my energy and fight fatigue and I know that’s one of the most effective full-body workouts you can engage in. However, cycling in India and cycling in any other country in the world may look slightly different, I do like it and I’m actually proud of making it a daily routine. Let’s see why – what I learned from cycling in India for last 3 years.
Never ever underestimate other vehicles (and animals… cows, pigs, goats, stray dogs).
No kidding. Drivers here are literally crazy. There is no culture for regular cycling in India. Nonstop honking, overtaking with huge risk, continuously using long lights at night, breaking many traffic rules at one time. It seems to be survival lesson in the beginning but with time, you know you should ride with your fingers on brake levers always!
Regarding animals… nothing much to say than: just be careful! In my whole life I have not seen that many dead stray dogs as here in Pune during one year of cycling. Uncontrollable jump-ins under car wheels, barking at you as if you are an international thief, holy cows passing by in the middle of the road, goats crossing your way… day to day adventures! Again, watch out how you ride, your safety is more important than speed and street cycle racing.
Light up the night.
Making yourself visible on Indian roads is essential, keep in mind that only major roads, highways will have proper lightening. “Main” roads, in the end of the day are dark, and this kind of darkness you might experience once you go to any small village or when there is a long power cut in the part of the city you are in.
Keep the tires properly inflated.
Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer. And to say it in a very straightforward way – there is less fun riding the cycle with half air in your tires. If in India, also keep in mind that temperature differences also affect the tire pressure. Cold, winter weather may cause the pressure to drop while warm, summer weather may cause the pressure to increase, it is exceptionally important to check it when the season changes.
Learn few things about cycle maintenance.
I chose to learn because I really wanted to save money, trust me, if you do not know the price for the service, local mechanics always increase it for you. Tailor made foreign face look “discount” 🙂 One day after dragging the punctured cycle for 8 km I ended up knowing how to fix the puncture, how to change the tire and it seems to me to be quite a nice fun (especially as it was much easier than I expected). First and foremost: fear no punctures.
Ignore those “you don’t need a helmet” rumors.
I would add to this: watch out for street food stalls too.
Quite surprisingly many times on passing by a street food shop I got splashing hot oil drops getting into my face… wearing a scarf / helmet is quite enough, plus nice set of specs would keep your eyes safe. Dust, sand, small rocks, insects flying to your open eyes or mouth would be an unexpected (and unwanted) surprise.
Keep calm! Breathe and don’t get your emotions take over.
Always, always, always! expect someone to walk in front of a standing bus, expect a taxi to take a u-turn, expect some pedestrians going to walk in front of you (there are no separate pedestrian paths in India, people use roads to walk), some animals walking in the middle of the road and many vehicles overtaking you. Each time this happens just breathe and let it go! I know it might be irritating but trust me! there are plenty more things that are making your blood boiling, but if you focus on them you actually miss joy and fun of cycling.
When I first sat up on the cycle in India, I was petrified with traffic noise, chaos and unpredictable drivers. I remember hitting one old man walking on the roadside as I was cycling with shaking hands and legs. When I started I got an old, third hand, 3-year-old local gearless cycle to use and the shopping basket where I used to keep my lunch box was the only thing that kept me happy to use the cycle daily. I could not even fix a puncture properly!
Then, day by day, you find out a lovely feeling of satisfaction when you realize you learn about your cycle, about your possibilities, your physical and mental limits more and more, that you can fix things yourself. Now, I cycle mostly off-road to reach office. I changed my tired old local cycle to geared one and I have to say, just now I really loved my way of transportation.
Today I am not afraid to experiment with how my cycle is set up. I’m happy to do more and more kilometers having in mind that some day I’ll participate in some well organized event for cyclists. 100 km is in my mind! How about you?
Have any more lessons? Have any more cyclist dreams? Share them below!
I would love to hear your comments on this! Have you try cycling in India? How was your experience? Do you have any more tips or a question that I haven’t answered? Thank you very much for reading this article. I am curious if you have/had any experience of yours? Any comments? – please share your experience. And if you liked the article – share it, click “Like it” and subscribe to my newsletter.