21 August 2012


I like to ride my bicycle. If India is what brought you to Awesome Adventures, then you may not know this about me. Here's a good place to get a glimpse. This past weekend I enjoyed a couple of specially fine days on my bikes - a leisurely 40 miles in Wheaton and on the Prairie Path; and, well a lot longer on the road with some friends. A lot longer . . . like, 3x as far.

Anyway, naturally during those rides I was thinking about India. It's what my mind does these days.

We saw bikes everywhere, all the time, in India. They were on the downtown streets of Delhi. They were in the narrow lanes of Varanasi. They were Delhi, and on the Indian National Highway out to Agra.

Cycles are used for personal transportation, for "mass transit," and for cargo. Sometimes they function as 2-wheeled "carts," pushed by the vendor or delivery man. Not once did a bicycle appear to be recreational. None could have been ridden fast.

Because all the bikes I saw, at least, were built like tanks. They appeared to be identical, and if I'm not mistaken I'm pretty sure I was told they are all made by the same company. Which, you know, seems unlikely from our U.S. perspective, but is plausible from theirs.

If there's anything like Indian road cycling races, I'd like to hear about it. In fact, I'd like to see the roads on which racing would even be feasible. Roubaix, sure:
File:Paris-Roubaix, Secteur pavĂ© de Capelle – Buat.jpg
 Cyclocross, definitely.
 Time trials on a short course, maybe.
Multi-stage long-distance road racing? Wow, I'd sure like to hear about that!

Bikes are used for personal transport:

And for mass transportation:

For cargo:

But not always ridden. I can't find a picture online of something I frequently saw, but did not photograph: a 2-wheeled cargo bike, fully loaded, and pushed along because it couldn't be ridden.

And sometimes, if the bicycle is one's source of income, it is also a home:

In fact, this (though again, I need to say, none of these photos are mine; all are from Google images) was my first close-up of bicycles in Delhi. We arrived at our hotel around 9:30pm. We had seen many cyclistst on roads that I wouldn't dream of riding in the daytime. But when we left our hotel to find some hot food at around 11pm, just down the street from the hotel entrance was a string of rickshaw operators, asleep in the dark, on their bikes. Surrounded by sleeping dogs. All unmolested from the many people walking at that late, late hour. Day One.

And my last day, finally, I got to ride in a bike rickshaw. Of the entire team on this trip, only 3 or 4 of us actually had this very cool experience. My ride was with Brad, the other adult leader from Wheaton, and Philip, our expat host in Delhi. We got off the Metro in Old Delhi, and Philip found a guy willing to take us to the old red mosque - our first stop for the day - for a price Philip thought was fair. This very slight man set off with three adult American men behind him.

Now, none of us are what would be considered large men; but we are all full-grown, and as Americans tend to be, larger than the average Indian. Not to be prurient or weird, but as a cyclist I would have wanted to see this guy's calves. He was working it, and we had to be quite a burden for him. And to think, he does this all day long, day after day. If what we saw was any indication of "normal," he would rarely have a single passenger. He could never really open up and get some speed (and some momentum, which one would want with weighty loads); could never really relax into the effort. I've done a little bicycle touring, and now I have determined that I'll stop whining about the weight of a fully loaded touring bike!

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