Civilised conveyance!

Civilised conveyance!


Something quite dramatic is happening to cycling. Normally, we think of cycling as a means of transport for the poor who cannot afford a bus or personal transport. But today, thousands of youngsters across the country are taking to cycling, not out of compulsion but out of choice. CEOs of companies and MDs are mounting their bicycles to go out on weekends and enjoy the bracing air of the rural outdoors. Many of them go out in groups and discuss business strategy and use the opportunity to network. In many parts of the country, cycling is becoming the new golf.

Says Siva Sai, the young owner of a technology company in Singapore who lives in Bangalore, "Cycling is also a great way to de-stress." When someone says that, you know cycling has arrived. Sai owns a high-end road bike with super-light carbon components and a sophisticated mountain bike with disc brakes and rear suspension.

In fact, high-end performance bicycles to fuel the outdoor passion are almost mandatory. It's become such a significant trend that outdoor and adventure equipment manufacturer Wildcraft introduced hydration packs last month to serve the growing community of bicycle riders. They believe it makes an effective and popular addition to their line of outdoor equipment. Wildcraft hydration packs sit on retail shelves competing with other world-class brands like Geonaut, Camelbak and Lafuma and make it possible for riders to undertake long rides through areas not served by modern conveniences like mineral water! Wildcraft's founder director, Dinesh KS, a trained and recognised mountaineer who also cycles on weekends, observes: "The future of cycling is here."

 It’s not just hydration bags. Cyclists are picking up sleek and safe helmets, cycling computers, expensive GPS devices, helmet cameras, sophisticated self-healing tubes, pumps, puncture repair kits and saddlebags. They are buying great looking cycling shorts and riding vests, gloves and fashionable cycling eyewear. It is really quite an exciting scene if you are part of the cycling community.

 But it is the events that the cycling community now has access to that tell you that the sport has come of age. Today, events like the gruelling Himachal MTB, the Khanchendzonga Mountain Biking Expedition in Sikkim, the Manali Leh Cycling Expedition and the closer-to-home 900-km Tour of Nilgiris beckon (see box).  It is easy to see that the cycling ecosystem is maturing rapidly in India.

Growing market
In the Indian market, where 12 million bikes are sold every year, about 3-5 per cent is now in the high-end leisure/ sports biking segment. Bicycles in this segment typically have price tags starting at Rs 15,000 and end around Rs 200,000. Add to this the cost of accessories and the average cyclist must be investing an average of Rs 30,000 on his first bicycle. This growing market has begun to attract international bicycle manufacturers like Merida, Trek, Bianchi, Cannondale and Rockrider. Other international brands are gearing up to make their presence felt. "Cycling enthusiasts have begun to purchase their second bicycle," says Ashwath Kapur, the distributor of Merida (www.meridaindia.com). "The market in India is changing. I expect sales of high end bicycles to go up by 40 per cent this year," says Kapur.

In Bangalore, Decathlon that retails the global Rockrider brand, has begun to serve the cycling community in a bid to build mindshare. Weekend riders who take the Sarjapur route are assured of free drinking water, hydration salts, a pump with a pressure gauge and puncture repair equipment. Sharath Raju, who manages the Decathlon cycling range and is responsible for their cycling accessories, says that it is the most effective way of understanding the needs of high performance cyclists and catering to them. Now, that's a sure sign of change!

Cycling eventsCycling events
An armchair tour of the truly serious cycling events across India.
n Trans Himalayan Spiti Challenge Race 2009 (www.mtbhimachal.com): Tough race that requires mental stamina and physical prowess. Attracts people from all over the world.  Soak in the grandeur of the Himalayas, inhale the clear air scented with chestnuts, oak and cedar. Reach altitudes of 3,600 mts across 9 days and 700 km.
n Manali Leh Cycling Expedition 2009 organised by the Pune Cycling Pratishthan (www.zenofcycling.com): This is a 587 km, 16 nights expedition that can take the mickey out of anyone. Cycling altitudes of 5,630 mts combined with the terrain can be difficult but rewarding. The expedition takes you over the Himalayan range from the southern lush green valley of Manali to the arid high mountain desert of Ladakh. The journey traverses high passes, such as Rohtang Pass, Baralacha La, Nakee La, Lachung La and Tanglang La (the second highest motorable pass in the world).
n Tour of Nilgiris (www.tourofnilgiris.com): This is a 919 km, 7-day tour of the Blue Mountain. The tour is the best way to experience the rich heritage and culture of south India even as you enjoy the amazing bio-diversity of the Nilgiris. The tour passes through three states — Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
n Khanchendzonga Mountain Biking Expedition (http://sikkimmtb.com/): The event covers 430 km over 9 days, climbing 6,700 feet, winding through a land that is preserved from much of the modern. The cycling route is a mix of single track, village roads and jeep ruts. Not for the faint hearted.
n Critical Mass in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune: These are once-a-month events held by the cycling community where cyclists meet on a pre-determined day and cycle through the main roads of the city in an effort to increase awareness of the rights of cyclists. This is part of an international movement now alive in 300 global cities.

The author is a communications consultant and a trustee of the RideACycle Foundation. On hard tarmac he likes to ride his Merida 880-24.

Comments (+)