In Delhi, I met a lady called Anita, who had sold her car around 10 years ago and now cycles around instead. She told me that with her workplace and home not too far from each other, she manages on two wheels most of the time. And this too, in Delhi!

She said something else that struck a chord: “Do you notice that a large population of any city is on cycles. You just don’t notice them.”

And this is so true. When I wasn’t cycling (and didn’t know how to!), cyclists never registered in my vision – at least consciously. But there’s a huge lower and middle class population that relies totally on cycles. If you start looking, they’re everywhere. On the road, they’re a bunch of folks who come to your notice only if you happen to be behind them at a traffic signal and in your way. Otherwise, they’re a largely anonymous lot, who are either in front or behind the traffic, or on the side of the road. Sometimes, they’re also on the pavement 🙂

When I began cycling, I realized that it is not easy being a cyclist. That cyclists definitely deserve much more respect on the roads. In fact, even when I drive now, I am more mindful of cyclists because I have new found respect for what they go through everyday to survive on the roads. Roads filled honking and inconsiderate drivers. And a lot of rude, idiotic people in a big hurry to get… god only knows where.

Under these conditions, cyclists need to device their own ways of being safe on the roads and getting through traffic (sometimes they’re faster than you in a four wheeler).

The hazards of being a cyclist:
1) The honking: Everyone honks. And most of the time, you’re at the receiving end because drivers perceive that they’re in a bigger vehicle and therefore have a higher claim on the road. Honking is also the past time of Indian drivers. Whether there’s someone in the way or not – they will honk. As a show of anger, irritation, impatience (any emotion, actually) – this is all conveyed by one constant finger on the horn. In fact, I suspect that a large percentage of our drivers were born with a horn stuck to their fingers.

2) Getting bullied by bigger vehicles. And everyone is bigger. I have had vans, trucks, jeeps and even city buses getting really close for comfort. There’s a huge big road that I’ve left for them (I’m the extreme left corner) and yet they only see the exact position right next to me so that they can just about brush me as they go past.

3) You are perceived as an inconvenience on the roads. Wake up people, I want to scream. A cyclist take up around 1/10 of the space you do in a gas guzzler. It’s not only the most eco-friendly machine, the person is doing your city, your town and your environment a big favour – so respect that!

If you need any more convincing, look at this visual…

So they next time you’re on the road:
1) Respect others, especially cyclists
2) Take your hand off your horn. Give yourself a challenge to go an hour without honking. It’s not as hard as you think.
3) Especially don’t honk at people (and cyclists!) at a red signal (they can’t fly).

They’re cutting down trees, bringing down buildings in an effort to build wider roads. But when will our city planners realize that these measures will never solve a city’s traffic crisis? What happens when there are no more trees to cut down, and no more cars that will fit onto these already widened roads? What then?

I think it will be too late by the time we as a city come to the realization that alternative measures to public transport, improving the current road networks and encouraging means like cycling are the best ways to tackle the traffic problem. What about just making our city bus drivers and our jeep drivers more aware of how to drive on roads (and not to honk constantly). To respect others on the road – all companies and the state transport folks should have some kind of training for their drivers. They are the ones who are a menace on roads. If not for them, a lot more people would take on cycling.

We have a great city in terms of both climate and terrain and it’s actually perfect for cycling. Prabhakar Rao (aka GoGreen Rao because of his green efforts) is doing some great work with the Go Green Go Cycling initiative. These are rides to basically show that cycling is a very feasible alternative way of travelling. And in Bangalore, the traffic should be a reason to cycle (and not a reason not to). The group organises regular campaign rides on weekends to create bicycling awareness – do join in!

Here’s the TV coverage of a recent ride:

When people ask whether it’s safe to cycle in Bangalore, I ask them to check the statistics. What is safe nowadays? You could be hit on the road, while crossing it. You could be hit while driving in your car. You could even crash when you’re flying. How safe is cycling then? I would say, as safe as it can get in today’s times. And there are no guarantees. If you’re on the road, you take all necessary precautions to keep yourself safe. But apart from that, figures also say that there are more pedestrian deaths in Bangalore than… cyclists. That should be a good enough statistics.

Rideacycle Foundation is doing some great work to increase awareness about cycling, especially at corporates and we recently organised a bike workshop in my company. If you want to get this done at your workplace, do get in touch with the folks at Rideacycle.

This is a video I saw recently that is pretty amazing. It also brings home the fact that we really make excuses because we can and we have so many of them (it’s unsafe, my wife/mother won’t let me, i don’t know how etc).

Let me leave you with this perfect place in Netherlands. Many countries in Europe have long since discovered how important cycling is and take it really seriously. And Netherlands is no exception.

I can’t but help thinking that one day, if we can do this in Bangalore, it will be the most perfect place!

Where to get a cycle in Bangalore

RR Cycles, Madivala
Decathlon Sports Store, Sarjapur Road

Cycling Groups
Go Green Go Cycling
Bangalore Bikers Club

30 thoughts on “Saluting an invisible population

  1. Came through your article when browsing thru Blogchai. Nice write up and a lot of insights. Next time i will think twice before pressing the middle of my steering wheel. Thanks for the knock on my head!

    Ramesh fm Chennai

  2. Yes, there are significant number of cycles on the road – I was worried about cycling in traffic, but then I observed that there were many of them on the road who were far less covered than myself if something happens. So I started cycling a year back and find it far more safer than it is perceived to be.

  3. I though about this during my ride to office. Actually the drivers and the motorbikers should be thankful to us. It is because of we cyclists that they can drive on the road, there is one less car on that red light, their kids will be breathing less carbon monoxide. Just imagine if 30% people on any random redlight hop on to the saddle, it would change the world. I think we are doing it, making our mark slowly but steadily. There are more number of cyclists on the roads of Bangalore and Pune now. ….

  4. 1. Did you know that drivers & motorbike riders get angry when you ask them why they are honking.
    2. Learn the slang in local language, its required to survive in the mad traffic and when other vehicles bully you.
    3. If you want your space on the road you got to be aggressive.
    4. Keep a mobile phone always and have the police contact numbers. I have seen cops at junctions who are very curious and happy to have a conversation with a cyclist. They can never get a conversation with other vehicle drivers other than issuing challan.

    The above are from my personal experiences of riding around in a city on a cycle.

    While “Ride A Foundation” is doing an awesome job attracting corporate employees to take up to cycling. I would be happy to see them targetting/attracting college goers to cycling. For instance, when I pass through CMRIT there are so many motorbikes entering the campus. If these guys take up to cycling tomorrow there is always a possibility that they would continue it (though money can divert).

  5. The visual was awesome. I was in Amsterdam for a week and saw first hand their way of travelling.

    The rush hour video is a future I want to see for India.


  6. well written and a concerned blog post. Wish, people learn etiquette before blaming goverment for bad road and path for cycle. Even if we get seperate lane, I am sure other vehicles will enter in that zne too.

  7. I perfectly agree with you Anita. Even though I’m not a cyclist, I have deep reverence to cyclists and I make sure that I never ever honk at them. They don’t contribute to either air or noise pollution & they occupy less space! Hats off to all cyclists!

  8. you rightly said the cyclists dont contribute anything to the global warming but it is the rich car people who do it. Infact when our fathers used to cycle their way to work the city was much greener and healthier a place to live in. I am not against people who drive big cars but it is the arrogance which has crept in which is resulting in scant respect to the pedestrians as well as cyclists.
    The most simplest thing is to cut down trees but transplanting them to another place or planting saplings in place of them ..we wont do it , we are too busy for that.

  9. @ ramesh: thanks! and yes, just being a little sensitive on the road goes a very long way. and once you do it, someone else will also learn from it!

    @ jayadeep: totally! it is definitely much safer than it’s perceived to be. there are a lot of “close encounters” but i guess it’s always a hazard on our roads in whatever mode of transportation we’re using!

    @ shantanu: absolutely, which is why i really love the last video – it shows how things can actually be if we made an effort! and, yes you’re right – there are many more joining in the population!

    @ sathish: i think the workforce is the area that is needed in terms of awareness. college kids will naturally gravitate towards motorbikes because they need a taste of it. later, they will come back to cycles (hopefully)! it’s only when you’re slightly older and wiser when you see sense in these things.

    @ keshav: wow, lucky! i’d love to visit someday and maybe cycle around too 🙂

    @ paavani: separate lanes won’t work here simply because people have to first learn basic manners! even if we can get across that hurdle, it will be a blessing :0)

    @ sachin: awesome! i know everyone can’t start cycling, but at least drivers should become more aware on the roads – even that is such a good feeling. i had a guy who waited behind me without honking when i had to get off the cycle and get on again and i felt like thanking him for being patient! because its such a rarity.

    @ ravi: true. but unless we rediscover some of these ways soon, we’ll never regain the earth back. also, transplanting doesn’t really work on a larger level. a lot of these old trees when replanted suffer from shock and it’s actually not so easy for them to grow in the new location. the other problem is that even when you’re planting trees, they will take at least another 10-12 years to grow (and if it’s looked after), so you’ve actually lost out on many years. additionally, there’s no use planting the wrong kind of trees just to make up for the fact that you’ve cut down others.

    @ srinidhi: thanks!

  10. Good article… thank you. Our traffic problems will reduce by 60 – 70% if we learn how to respect others, thinks everyone has right on the road/rail/infrastructure. polite to others (of course you’ll get it back)…. we should know how to share….

  11. I think cycling is really good for the environment, also for personal health (assuming the cyclist takes precautions not to breathe the polluted air).

    But how safe is it really? If someone runs down a cyclist in Europe, the chance that the law with track down and punish them is very high. This makes them more careful. I doubt that this is so in India. If an Indian driver ran down a cyclist, s/he would flee and it’s fairly unlikely s/he would be caught. This makes drivers less likely to care. (Perhaps this is why they get “too close for comfort”.)

  12. @ young: so true! maybe we’ll get there some day!

    @ armchair guy: true, i think drivers generally think they can get away with “anything” actually – till something happens. but safety – as i mentioned before – the numbers indicate that it’s as safe as anything else on the roads…

  13. Landed here through Blogbharti. You are right – cycling is not just eco friendly, it is also great for exercise! I wish city traffic was made a little safer for cyclists though I guess you are right, cycling is not as unsafe as one is made to feel it is!

    If students are encouraged to start cycling, like a commenter suggested above, it might just become a life long habit…

  14. I checked the video of cycling on a rainy day and read this in the description,
    …What makes the intersection really safe are the separate cycle traffic lights with separate green phases for cyclists.

    Utrecht is the 4th largest city in the Netherlands with a population 300,000 and 33% of all trips in the city are made on a bicycle.

    I wish we in India also made cycling a convenient option for more and more people.

  15. Very very nice post. I wish your post about cycling or honking is read by those who unnecessarily honk. It is just so damn irritating to hear honking on jampacked Bangalore roads, no idea if people think that by honking some virtual flyover will come up and they can fly over that!!!
    Great to know about all these cycling initiatives in Bangalore.

  16. Stumbled on your blog when I was looking for a listing for top indian blogs. Looks like you started with something on those lines but haven’t been able to update it.

    ‘Saluting an invisible population’ is such an insightful article. Got the feeling that you have said all that I would have wanted to!

    I totally agree with you when you say ‘a large per­cent­age of our dri­vers were born with a horns stuck to their fingers’. It is the greatest irritant on the roads. And people are so insensitive, they seem to deliberately use horns with high decibel levels which not only grates on your nerves, but may have the potential to damage ear drums.

    Cycling is such a great option, but many of us can’t seem to garner the courage to use one on Mumbai / Bangalore roads. I wish the government would do more to create dedicated lanes for cyclists. As of now, all cyclists certainly deserve our salute!

    Thanks for this article.

  17. @ indian homemaker: undoubtedly! i know a handful of folks who have lost oodles of weight. and become much fitter.

    @ kanupriya: i know – i don’t know how i can make those idiots read this! sometimes i think i’ll carry a huge placard saying: “IN A HURRY? TAKE A PLANE!”

    @ shilpa: that’s a very OLD list started way back… i had to stop updating it since I was doing it manually and there were new blogs everyday 🙂 nowadays there are more efficient technology enabled lists so i gave up!

    about drumming up the “courage” – all i can say is that once you do it once or twice it gets much easier. and your survival skills come into play so you get smarter on the road too!

  18. wow! I remember the pictures of you trying to learn cycling not very long ago. 🙂 Now that you on bangalore road, you must be a pro.
    I always thought that the CBD (central business district) of MG road and around should be made vehicle free zone. Only with specific access, can one drive through these areas in car, motorcycle etc. There should be cycle rentouts, where I can rent a cycle and then drop it within the CBD. Am I dreaming!

    Anyway, take care

  19. Hi, have been reading all the comments on road traffic in Bangalore.I am also impressed with the good response that you seem to have got as far as cycling is concerned.But we need to observe the following facts :
    1.The proliferation of IT industry in Bangalore has increased employment opportunities but has also brought in arrogance.It is this arrogance of the so-called IT crowd that has resulted in so many cars zipping in and around the city.
    2.Is there no way the erring auto drivers will be brought to book ? Today, the arrogance of these auto drivers is being attributed to the arrogance of the IT crowd.Indira Nagar to K R Puram – Take this 500Rs and keep the change !I have witnessed such conversations.So, the auto fellows never come when you need them or ask for exorbitant charges.Many auto drivers have fixed the minimum of Rs 20 on their own…..I dream of a time in Bangalore when auto drivers will be crying for passengers to come and hop onto the auto….
    3.Isn’t it sad that no one ever thought of improving the transport infrastructure in a city for more than 50 years after independence…. I fervently hope that Metro brings in some relief.
    4.Metro + Cycling + an efficient public transport is what is going to rewrite the future of this city….

    5.Going to a laundry …. ? Where is the bike ?
    Buying groceries from Food Bazar ? Take the car ?
    School ? Take the car .
    Movie ? Take the car.
    Going for a walk in the garden ? Take the car from home to garden or ride a bike.
    Unlike Mumbaikars, the citizens of this city seem to find it difficult to walk on the road, forget cycling.
    So far so good, but eventually it will only benefit the cardiologists in this city,.

    6.Newspaper vendors,milk vendors,roadside persons ironing your clothes – everyone has a bike or a scooter.The housekeeper who comes to our building comes in a TVS suzuki.
    The guy who runs the newspaper raddhi shop has a Honda Activa.

    7.Bangalore is the only city where I see 12 and 13 year olds driving a Honda activa or a bike.Does the RTO in Bangalore give licences to such children ? I do not know.There are fathers who teach their underage children to drive a motorcycle or a car.Brazenly, without a care.

    I really feel sorry for this city. So, when someone takes a green initiative, it seems to be a reprieve for a good cause.But will the heady, flashy, flamboyant IT crowd which has spolit all the service providers in this city allow this green initiative to succeed ?

    PS : Last evening, I witnessed a couple in a i10 near Koramangala BDA flashing a 500 Re note for buying 2 kg apples and generously telling the shopkeeper “Change rakh lo”.A crowd such as this may find cycling very down market, plus what to do with all the lakhs that they earn ?

  20. Hi,we also wanted to go all the way till Ladakh…me and one more guy…but the idea is to be pro-planet….Humans are killing the mountains,while they wish to reserve their romance for them.
    If we have a common agenda,find me on facebook (,thru the group below…My idea is to bring the cycling community together and make it recognised,and make it atleast as large as the SUV and the Tourist community….Green is the colour /:)…

  21. I agree with Angshu…..infact ,i wrote to the press that certain areas,(be it in city or Mountains) should be made only hiking/cycling zones…what has happened in ladakh is partly because its not able to take the Human load,partly because the topogarphy is not rain-friendly and second,because there are no trees to hold the soil together or convert the Carbon emissions to Oxygen…
    OS ,i made a cycling group on FB…its called Ladakh-the ZEN (Zero EmissioN) mission,mainly for people who like to travel to mountains,and also to maintain them as they are….no distortions….hope we become big enough to bring policy changes regards to how tourists travel….WIth RESPONSIBILITY ..

  22. Very nice and inspiring article Anita !
    I think we all need to take initiative to use cycle instead of automated cars and bikes running on expensive fuels.
    I liked this article and comments too.
    Bookmarked the blog as well.

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