In Love with Bicycles
BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 23 Apr 2018
23 Apr 2018 – In today’s complex and fast moving world a bicycle (or cycle for short) may appear to be an anachronism. Speed is the buzz word so we have fast moving cars and SUVs that can go up to 160 km/hour or even more on highways or the German autobahns (short form of the term Bundesautobahn). On these highways there is a limit on the minimum speed that one may travel, not on the maximum speed.
There are also aircraft where one can travel large distances within a country of between different countries in relatively short times. Faster and faster aircraft are being deployed for air travel. Another relatively new invention is the so called bullet train in Europe and Japan which travels almost as fast as an airplane. Even some developing countries like India are going in for these bullet trains that will cut the travel time to half. One may be able to travel from New Delhi to Mumbai in about eight hours’ time instead of the regular 20 hours or so by ordinary trains.
However, for several reasons including those of health, one can see the reemergence of fancy looking cycles in many parts of Europe and elsewhere. People including relatively elderly persons aged 60 years or more are going in for these cycles that allow them to exercise instead of jogging or working in a gym; they are also good from an environmental point of view – less pollution and less space required on the roads. These cycles are easy to handle – one can even carry them over a bridge or over any impediment. Even when the roads are covered with snow, one can use these bicycles relatively safely.
When I was participating in a Conference in Belgium a few years ago, I remember vividly an incident that I saw in the early mornings. Although the University was closed at that time, office workers and some teachers continued to attend to their duties during the student vacations. There was also a day care center for parents to drop their kids while they worked. It was a common sight to see small kids maybe three or four olds, riding in the front basket of the bicycles that their mothers were riding to office. They would first drop the children in these centers and then proceed to their offices. But one morning I saw an unusual situation which I still fondly remember. The mother was using her cycle but the child who may have been about five or six years was pedaling on her tricycle in front of her mother. A beautiful and lovely sight with the mother and the child travelling together but separately on their own cycles.
Another incident that I remember about my European trip was when I was travelling from Brussels to Paris by train. Apart from the regular coaches for passengers, there was a separate coach for bicycles. If a person was travelling from one city to another, his bicycle was also accompanying him in another coach.
Of course in today’s situation, people both young and not so young feel pride in their Rolls Royce or Ferraris, Bugatti’s or Mercedes Benz and other such expensive automobiles. How wonderful! But I sometimes wonder whether the joy and pride of possessing such expensive contraptions can equal the joy and excitement that I had felt as a boy when I was presented my first bicycle.
Why am I writing so much about bicycles and tricycles? Well I cannot help remembering the first time I was presented my own bicycle by my father more than half a century ago. Before that I would get a small change — one or two annas (One Indian rupee was equal to 16 annas at that time) with which I would hire a cycle for one hour from a nearby cycle owner’s shop. Cycling was fun and a wonderful way of spending the evenings after school when there were few other gadgets to keep one busy.
Once I got my own new cycle the world almost changed for me. It was a wonderful present and I would clean and polish it vigorously every hour or so; I would show it proudly to my friends living in the neighborhood especially those who did not own their own personal cycles. If my mother asked me to buy some vegetables or milk or any other item for our home, I would willingly complete the errand on my new bike. My mother would complement me for being such a helpful child.
When school reopened after summer vacations obviously I rode to my school on the new bike. Again I showed off to some of my classmates but with less success than at home.
Fortunately, no one stole my prized possession. One hears of cycles being stolen in many modern cities including in Toronto, Canada where my son lives and rides his cycle to work even in winter when the snow is not too heavy. One day his cycle was stolen and one can only imagine how tormented he felt at this loss. He was more careful after he acquired another travel companion, but one can never be too certain that this unfortunate incident does not recur.
There is an old low budget Italian film named Bicycle Thief that describes the loss of a poor man’s bicycle in post-World War in Italy. After his prized possession is stolen the man is crestfallen because loss of his bicycle would result in the loss of his job. The cycle was not just a means of travel but a salvation for the man to survive with his family in the war torn city.
Today it is no wonder that there are cycle races in many parts of the world. One such famous event is called the Tour de France which started in France more than a century back. The race is not just a race as to which rider comes first but is also an endurance test since the race is about 3500 km long over hills, rivers and undulating countryside and lasts for about three weeks. The man who wins this grueling test becomes a hero overnight and gets all sorts of prizes and accolades. Chris Froome of England won the last race and became the darling of the crowds.
Cycling is fun and is big business now as seen from events such as Tour de France. Who could have imagined a century back that people would fall in love with bicycles and tricycles?
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Apr 2018.
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