I’ve cycled to work for the last six months in Bangalore, except when I was sick or have an important meeting to attend. I’ve lost six kilograms of weight, my productivity at work has increased and more importantly I’m happy with what I’m doing now.
Most problems in our world are problems of complex nature, they are what scientists call “systems problems”. Complex systems like environmental change or society behavior can be very hard to model. These systems will deteriorate very rapidly if we don’t act at the right time. Our Earth is one such system, we are rapidly changing it by burning fossil fuels at an ever increasing rate. We drive cars because the roads are bad and the air is polluted. The roads are bad because of our one tonne weighing cars. The air is polluted because the IC engine is only 20–25% efficient, it also releases dangerous pollutants as a byproduct. These feedback loops can have a multiplying effect on a system like Earth’s environment, we can soon reach a point where there is no looking back.
A cycle weighs 10–20 kg, it is very efficient in taking people from point A to point B. It requires only 100–250 Watts of energy, a typical car manufacturer would never measure the energy in watts, they measure it in Horse Power ( 1 HP = 750 Watts). In addition to the power efficiency, you get all the extra benefits like improved cardiovascular system, maintaining a healthy weight, improved cognition and greater levels of fitness. It is no brainer that people use cars for a short range commute. Cars are a wrong solution to the correct problem, they are excellent for comfort and long-range trips, but a nightmare for commuting in a narrow-laned city like Bangalore. Our one-size-fits-all attitude would not work when we exhaust all the remaining petroleum reserves.
Cycling in the city
I’ve kept things to a minimum, my commute is around 4km each side. After making the decision to cycle to work, I went to a bike shop, asked for the cheapest aluminium frame bike. I rode it back home. I’ve a got a bunch of lights for safety and a helmet. I’ve experimented with the route a lot in the first month. Upon a bit of exploration, I found a route which is safe enough to ride on, it was less crowded in the peak times.
The initial days were a pain. I was struggling to pedal, the constant sweating and the heat bothered me a lot. But, as time passed by, those early signs were gone. I was enjoying my commute, whereas previously I used to state at a phone trying to book an Uber or an Ola.
I’ve never had a single accident on the bike, I’ve done close to 2000 kms on the saddle. There were a handful of close calls where a vehicle has gone past by me very closely, that scared me, but that could happen to anyone, even for a biker.
Now, I commute to work in 12–18 min. My average commute time before cycling hovered around 40–60 min. Most of it was spent on trying to book a cab or auto, reaching out to the driver, and staring endlessly in pollution. As a child, I used to have this repeated dream of staring into open space with twinkling stars along with working a modern city. Our city never gave any hopes of seeing such a beautiful night, the smoke destroyed whatever childhood innocence I have left in me.
One word about pollution though, my commutes are fairly shorter in duration, I would suggest you to get a pollution mask if you are planning anything above 20 min. in Bangalore traffic. Other than that, just keep to the left, let the cars and bikes go, and pedal on!
I’ve taken my bike to places that I would have never gone to. I go for long weekend rides, trying to bring back that child into me. Unlike going in car, when you are cycling, you feel everything. You feel the ups and downs of the Earth, you are very close to the nature’s ecosystem, you can stop anywhere, enjoy the moment, click a few pics and embrace what nature holds in her for us. Like my favourite author, Ursula Le Guin says, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”.
I got to see the sun rise few times. It always feels magnificent to know our place, our tiny little habitable planet, a nature’s garden flourish with the dance of the sun. I’ve seen children pedal in this menace of traffic, we have to strive to make their future better. We have to keep this world beautiful to give them a fair chance at it.
Our ancestors understood the importance of harmony in nature. No matter how flawed we think they were, they lived in better harmony with nature than us. We tend to destroy everything that we get hands onto, we are like teenagers who never understood the importance of place that we live in. After all, this is our only one habitable planet. And, I believe, cycling brings back that harmony. It is one of the simple solutions to a complex “systems problem” like keeping Earth’s environment intact.