Recycling the bicycle

Recycling the bicycle

An air force base housing a fighter, transport or helicopter squadron is naturally spread over a large area. Traversing long distances on foot between its various units and even the sections within a unit is quite impracticable.

Just like today, even decades ago procuring a personal conveyance was the topmost priority for a person freshly joining the service. But Rs 350 was all that a young Pilot Officer of flying branch drew as his monthly emoluments then. Those who could manage help from home rushed to buy a bicycle immediately while others hired one at a monthly rental of Rs 30.

A popular story about the first purchase of a bicycle goes thus. A young Pilot Officer discovered that the new bicycle he had purchased had no stand to park it on, so he paid an extra amount to get one fixed. Then he realised that he would need a carrier too to take his briefcase along. But when he asked for the same to be fitted, he was politely advised by the wise old canteen manager: “Sir, better learn this now itself — while in service, you can either take a stand or have a career.”

Romance with the newly acquired bicycle faded soon as cycling up and down twice between the distant officers’ mess and one’s unit and to the sports ground in the evening took its toll of time and effort. One then applied for a motorcycle advance recoverable in installments from one’s salary. Bank loans for purchasing luxuries like motorbikes were unheard of.  

Then followed the endless discussions on the brand of mo-bike to be purchased. In mid-sixties, the Jawa (later Yezdy) was easily the most popular choice among air force officers. Admiration for the Royal Enfield Bullet with its more powerful engine was no less. Its deep resonant engine sound was itself an attraction, but its much higher price discouraged many.

Jawa was extremely moody on winter mornings. One revved up the engine by half a dozen false kicks, prayed for the real kick to succeed and when that too failed, sought help from buddies for a push start. Rajdoot set a new trend of colourful red, green and yellow paints while others remained stuck to black and maroon.

Graduating from other brands to the Bullet, one tended to drive into a ditch or a bush on the first ride itself as its brake and clutch pedals were on opposite sides of the convention followed in other brands. Scooters, whether the Lambretta or the Vespa, were a strict no-no for the macho male. It was only when one’s mo-bike had a flat tyre between the distant Air Force Station and the city while returning from a late night movie, that scooters gained respectability due to their stepney advantage.

How can one forget those halcyon days while riding the colourful, super-light, multiple-geared bicycle in its sports avatar today, that still takes a stand without bothering about the carrier?