From Dadar, Worli and Marine Drive in the south to Bandra, Andheri and Ghatkopar in the suburbs, the city is suddenly filled with lycra-clad cyclists swarming through Mumbai’s usually gridlocked streets, that never really gave cycling culture a chance. If some unearthed old bikes hibernating in their garage, some plucked up the courage to ride one for the first time while regular cyclists—usually outnumbered by motorists and pedestrians — are all hankering after this open-air, socially distant alternative to exercising, playing a sport or sitting at home.
Vikas Rawat had never stepped on a pedal until the virus hit. Watching others cycle around the neighbourhood was enough for the 30-year-old to coast past his parents’ fears that had put a brake on riding a bike as a kid. “As an only child, my parents were too protective of me,” he explained. They weren’t completely wrong. After a few rounds of wobbling around quiet back roads in Juhu on a clunky bike borrowed from a friend and bruising his elbows, Singh is now venturing farther afield aided by self-taught tricks. “I stay close to the pavement and adjust my seat so my feet can land promptly on the ground if I’m shaky,” he says.
Aditya Pandey, 23 learned to cycle when he was ten but bought his first adult bike in lockdown. “It’s been a blissful escape,” says Pandey, happy to have found a way to bond with friends over socially distanced cycle rides on weekends. “It’s very calming and helped me reboot my system,” says Pandey.
For Pradeep Sharma and his family, it’s rarely been more tempting to ride out. Early every morning Sharma with his wife and eight-year-old son, strap on their helmets and file out of their home, zigzagging through less trodden paths. “It’s easier to cycle to Shivaji Park and Mahim, which were previously traffic choked,” says Sharma. For Lloyd Quadras, “It’s been as good as playing football that I was missing,” says the 40-year-old, who hopped on a bicycle after two decades and been exploring different shades of the city during midnight hours.
As Unlock 1.0 in Maharashtra unleashed the potential of a bicycle, unseen in decades, shop aisles have been swept clean. To determine the spike in demand and ridership, cyclist and blogger Vijay Malhotra, conducted a dipstick survey of 22 major bike shops in the city which indicates that 88% of the shop owners have witnessed a doubling of sales since June. Hybrid and mountain bikes, most suitable for Mumbai’s cratered roads are most in demand while social media groups have made the humble cycle fashionable.
On the flip side of this tidal wave, inventories are running low with bike manufacturers faced with the migrant worker exodus. Siddharth Vora, owner of the 93-year old Kohinoor Cycle Store in Bandra is struggling to keep supplies on the shelves but the increased demand is a welcome change. “There’s a 200 percent jump in sales but we’re asking customers to wait for a month. My earliest available slot for servicing is August 10, which also shows how bikes that were rotting are springing back to life,” smiles Vora.
Cycling activists are trying to seize the moment, too. Firoza Suresh, also known as Mumbai’s ‘bicycle mayor’ with a panel of urban planners, doctors and architects are in the process of appointing bicycle councillors in each of Mumbai’s 24 civic wards. by mid-August. They will liaison with BMC ward officers and relevant stakeholders to create cycling infrastructure including neighbourhood pop-up bike lanes.