Power to the pedal
- 31 Aug, 2014
- The Telegraph
Cycling has never been this chic. High-income professionals in many
cities are dumping their fancy sedans for souped up road bikes. Varuna Verma pedals to catch up with them.
are known as the Mamils — Middle-aged Men in Lycra. Go to any cycle
store and you'll find them — senior executives, all — peering intently
at the mean machines they hope will help change their sedentary lives.
It was at one such store that Arvind Sinha, the Gurgaon-based senior
programme manager of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found not
just his road bike but two eager companions as well. Like him, they
were professionals in their 40s who had been initiating into cycling for
"We became a threesome, going on long Sunday cycling trips," says
Sinha, who started cycling after his doctor advised him to exercise once
he had turned 40. Soon other friends joined them. In 2008 the group
gave itself a name, Pedalyatri. Today, Pedalyatri has 800 members. "We
are more diverse, with women and young members. So we've started
sub-groups to cater to all interests — such as hardcore trail riding and
400km extreme endurance rides," Sinha says.
In 2010, UK-based market research firm Mintel conducted a study on
Britain's bicycle industry. It noted that a growing number of men in
their 40s were buying expensive bicycles and hitting the road for
fitness reasons. It was the study that named them Mamil.
Urban India, clearly, has a booming Mamil brigade as well —
high-income professionals who are dumping their fancy sedans for souped
up, carbon-fibre road bikes.
"Cycling is the new cool in corporate circles. With high-end bikes
available off the shelf, a lot of working professionals are
incorporating biking into their lifestyle," says Pavan Muthanna,
founder, Crankmeister Bicycle Works, a Bangalore-based firm that
customises high-end bikes and conducts do-it-yourself bike maintenance
workshops. The company has notched a 60 per cent year-on-year growth in
sales, he adds.
Some 15.5 million Indian bicycles are sold a year, the bulk of them
being the standard, black Atlas, Avon and Hero cycles that middle-class
India rides. But sales in the mid-premium segment increased from 34 per
cent in 2007 to 44 per cent in 2011. "Brand names like Trek, Giant,
Schwinn and Bianchi are now part of the urban lexicon," Muthanna says.
Prices of the bikes range from Rs 80,000 to Rs 8 lakh. Health and
wellness consultant Saurabh Gupta considers it money well spent. "The
benefits are big — wading through the Colaba traffic can't get smoother,
it's free and I feel fit," says the 39-year-old Mumbai resident who has
pedalled over 50,000 kilometres within the city in the last two years.
Like Pedalyatri, cycling groups have sprouted across Indian cities.
When IT professional Sridhar Birlangi relocated to Hyderabad after a
work stint in Germany, he imported its cycle-to-office culture. In 2009,
he launched the Bike2Work Club to get people on to pedal power. The
club currently has 200 members and an active Facebook group spreading
the word further. "The social media are the best places to sell an
idea," Birlangi says.
Corporate India is also promoting biking. In Bangalore's Electronic
City everyone cycles to get around. Four-wheelers are banned in the
Infosys campus. A few Gurgaon firms have set up showers and locker rooms
for cycle-commuting employees, Sinha adds.
At The Fuller Life, a Bangalore-based sports management firm,
employees get travel reimbursement for cycling to client meetings.
"About 20 per cent of our workforce cycles to work," CEO Arvind Krishnan
Krishnan leads by example. He cycles six kilometres from home to his
office daily. "The net impact of bad traffic is never more than five
minutes, as I run on the pavement with my cycle during a jam," he says.
The CEO believes that with traffic on Indian city roads heading for
logjam status, cycling will soon be the only sensible way to travel.
But bikers have to contend with the state of traffic and urban roads.
In 2013, pedestrians and cyclists accounted for half of all deaths on
"Urban planning in India does not take cyclists and other
non-motorised factors like pedestrians into account. Roads are designed
to move automobiles," rues G.V. Dasarathi, director, Cadem Technologies,
Bangalore, who started cycling to office 15 years ago.
IT professional Rohan Kini, who opened his store Bums On The Saddle
(BOTS) in 2006, however, believes that if all safety precautions are
taken, cycling is as safe as riding any other vehicle. "Wear helmets,
sport headlights and paste reflective stickers — you have to be visible
on the road," he says.
Across the metros, a great many women are biking too. When Mehvash
Arslan joined The Fuller Life, the first lifestyle change she made was
cycling to work. "It's the fastest way to get around the city," the
maritime archaeologist-turned-sports professional says.
Anita Roy, director at publishing house, Zubaan, found driving in
Delhi — with its road rage and parking hassles — depressing. "Cycling is
far better. I am as fast as a car without the stress," says the
strictly utilitarian cycle-commuter.
As the numbers of cycling converts grows, an industry is developing
around the sport. When Gauri Jayaram turned 40, she sold her sedan and
gifted herself a new commute vehicle, a Trek 7.1 road bike. The bicycle
gave the Bangalore-based travel professional a new business idea.
Last year, she launched The Active Holiday Company, offering
international and domestic cycling-based tours. "We've taken clients on
cycling tours in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from Pisa to Florence in Italy and
organised cycling trips along the Danube," Jayaram says.
More and more cycle shops — exciting new avatars of the old cycle
stores — are springing up too. "Besides selling bikes, we build
excitement around the sport — by organising cycling events and
celebrating global competitions like the Tour de France," says Kini.
Kini started his own store after an unpleasant retail experience — he
was in a shop that was essentially a godown; the salesperson was rude;
and he was overcharged. So he launched BOTS — now present in Bangalore
and Pune — to plug this retail gap. "In 2006, ours was the only bike
store in Bangalore. Today, there are 15."
Pedalling has never been this chic. As the old ad says, it's boom shaka laka boom time.
• Mostly Mamils — middle-aged men in lycra
How much do high-end bikes cost?
• Rs 80,000 to Rs 8 lakh
How many cycling groups are there?
• Pedalyatri, Bangalore Biker's Club in Bangalore
• Bike2Work Club, the Great Hyderabad Bicycling Club in Hyderabad
• Delhi Cycling Club in Delhi
• Everyday Short Night Rides, Lakecity Pedalers in Mumbai
• Goa Cycle Club
• Indian Cyclists Network, BikesZone (both are online networks for cyclists)