Along For The Ride

Verve|April - May 2020

Along For The Ride
Navigating Indian streets as a woman is hard enough. But what is it like while riding a bicycle? Bengaluru-based Shreya Dasgupta, a regular cyclist, speaks to five urban women about the pros and cons of this increasingly popular means of transport.
Shreya Dasgupta

As Bengaluru goes into lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19, I contemplate the fate of my morning cycling routine. It’s the only mode of travel, or physical activity for that matter, which makes me sit up and admire my surroundings.

The city’s traffic manners aren’t anything to boast about. The exhaust fumes of the motor vehicles and dust from the incessant construction also make my throat scruffy. So, I tend to cycle on smaller, country roads on the city’s outskirts instead, or ride my mountain bike (with its fat, shock-absorbing tyres and suspensions) on off-road trails — away from the traffic and into the cradle of nature.

I’m fortunate to live close to Avalahalli State Forest in North Bengaluru, a place I’ve grown deeply familiar with over the past seven years, a place that is comforting to me. There’s the predictable: a hardpacked mud path lined by silver oaks splintering into a network of trails running through a ‘forest’ of mostly eucalyptus trees, peeking granitic rocks that create tricky descents and gruelling climbs, and thorns of shrubs that hook onto my exposed skin — sometimes drawing blood. Then there’s the unpredictable: changing conditions that alter my tyres’ traction, darting hares or skulking mongooses that startle me, and gliding peacocks that distract me from the trail.

Usually, the only time Avalahalli attracts a ‘crowd’ of more than five people is on Sundays. In the past two weeks, though, after companies instructed their employees to work from home, I’ve seen a surge of activity. There are a lot more runners, cyclists, walkers and people sitting idly. And I’ve also seen a lot more women riding their cycles for leisure, both on the road and inside the forest.

These sightings make me wonder. If there were fewer vehicles plying our roads, even past the lockdown, would more people be willing to ride? Would more women feel encouraged to reclaim public spaces and bring their cycles out, perhaps to get fitter, perhaps to have a lower carbon footprint, or perhaps just because they once enjoyed the feeling of being on a cycle?

For Payoshni Saraf, the call for social distancing was also a call back to cycling, something she’d given up after being diagnosed with a health issue. The gym in her building shut down and so did the group fitness classes. So, she got her old cycle repaired in order to go on a 30-minute ride every morning, now that she is cured of her ailments. She needs that time alone to think and reflect on things. “Walking wasn’t doing it for me,” she explains. “We have two dogs who we have to walk, so I wanted to do something else.”

Saraf, now in Bengaluru, grew up in Kanpur, where she would regularly cycle around her colony. “I always liked cycling. I think that just the sense of being able to slowly get to somewhere is very precious.”

Growing up, I would ride my cycle around my house, round and round, nearly every single day until a neighbour told my mother that I was making her dizzy. I rode to stores, friends’ homes and to school. Cycling allowed me to move around the city independently, away from my parents’ watchful eyes. Cycling gave me time to think, to create fictional worlds and to witness the real one change every year. Cycling was a way of life: it’s what everyone my age seemed to be doing.

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April - May 2020