Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cycling on City Streets - The Attitude!

Rajendra Dwivedi, a senior media professional was run down on the Eastern Express Highway near the outskirts of Mumbai on September 30, 2012. This is a really unfortunate incidence and an eye-opener for us cyclists.

My condolences to Rajendra Dwivedi’s Family. May his soul rest in peace. 

This incidence set me thinking about the new craze of cycling and how people's attitude towards this new found love has taken a drastic turn in its favour, but not without its consequences. I find it neccesary to point out some concerns regard this. I have a few points to make about riding on the gullies, path, streets, roads and highways around any urban location.

While understanding the risks of riding on the highway and main roads, I have always ridden on all kinds of roads and terrain and shall continue to do so. Over the years of experience, it is a learning that ‘of prime importance for the cyclist is to be aware of his/her environment’. Nouveau cyclists are often blind and deaf to their surroundings. By Nouveau Cyclist, I mean all those people who have only recently acquired a bicycle and taken to the saddles after years since their childhood (mostly for fear of traffic) or really the newer breed of cyclists who have only recently set out exploring the world of cycling.

Since my first year on the saddle in 1987, I have never changed my attitude towards traffic and cycling. Initially even I was tentative, and it took a few years to test the attitude. What this 'attitude’ is, is not something I can say. But it exists and it shows on the roads. Think Krishna Kumar and Prashant Patil were privy to it when we went to Mumbra the other day and in Thane on the EEH saw me riding bang in the midst of speeding traffic. I know they were extremely nervous seeing me do that and may take some time to get that under their skin, but it will come with consistency and vigilance. Your attitude as a cyclist shows on the way you ride and motorist will respect that. Mebbe its body language, posture, you mannerisms on the roads as you ride, your communication - spoken and unspoken, etc. But guess you cannot see that yourself. However, it's a two way communication.

Recently i rode with a cycling activist from Bristol, who said that he likes the way I ride on city roads with full awareness and attitude towards the traffic. Easy friends, that observation does not make me more confident on the saddle as it's about my life too, right? It does seem dangerous and fatalistic, but I never understood people when they said it's too dangerous to ride on Mumbai roads! It still is and isn't. Just because now there are hundreds riding the bike does not mean that it's that safe. It's just the statistics and idea of looking cool. I am not saying that we all ride to look cool, but after all it is! Isn't it?

Here, I must agree a wee bit, that many motorist who own a bike (so what if it's not used) or is an active rider or has friends / family riding, does look at you with respect. Likewise for the Thumpers, Davidsoners and the Ninjas. More people ride, more will awareness be until a point it becomes a real movement. Yes, some like Rajendra will perish.

JJust a few questions here:
  1. Do we know how well protected was Rajendra while he was riding?  
  2. Where on the road was he riding when the knock down happened? In the middle or sides? What was he doing when this happenned?
  3. Did he take any panga (scuttle) with car fella while riding? (Do we realise that we are miniscule compared to the power of even a Maruti 800 at 60kmph! The laws of momentum are not in our favour (m1xv1 = m2xv2, remember?). 
  4. Was he completely aware of his environment while riding? 
  5. How long has he been riding recently or after he took up cycling again?  
  6. Did he believe that a better cycle made him a better cyclist or gave him the right to own the road? 
  7. I am not even asking if he had rear blinkers, helmets, reflectors because they mean nothing or add only that micro-extra protection!
The above questions by no means challenge Rajendra's abilities, character or preparedness, but they allow us to introspect and ask ourselves the above. It is an opportunity for us to STOP for a while and ask ourselves the same. 

After all, how well do we know ourselves, cycles, motorists, roads, rules and attitude?

May Rajendra's name go down in the "city's cycling martyr's" names as this incidence will force others like us to ask the authorities for our share of the road and bring awareness.

Here are some tips for ourselves that will bring about that attitude:

(I am assuming that your bicycle is in absolute spic conditions, oiled, brakes checked, chains cleared and bearings greased. As also the bike is well fitted for you to ride and has no cause of concern or worry on the ride.)

  1. Learn to look over your shoulder every moment there is a chance.
  2. Respect the motorist. Because, other times of the day, you are behind the steering, no? You have no choice. If you are in his way and he throws a tantrum, smile or just move away! Do not argue for arguments sake. For now, he is stronger, faster and mightier than you.
    • And Of course, do not try to race with unequal competition. Will you ever catch a car / motor bike? Further, how do you know his state of mind.
  3. Keep your ears open to the traffic moving around you.
    • Do not ride with iPods and mp3's on! I hate it when people do that even in the outdoors. Itna hi music sunana hai toh gharpe baitho. Bahar kyon aaye? Aur horn kaun sunega?
    • A speeding car or motorbike makes enough noise to sound you off much in advance. But are you listening to it?
  4. The corner of the eye has great vision! Have you tried and trusted it ever?
    • Do not wear dark cycling glasses when not needed. Kya matlab hain yaar? I understand that the sun is harsh, but early mornings? If you must protect your eyes against grime and dust, wear a neutral colour. But remember, any eye wear will block vision. Most of us like to wear the wraparounds and Oakley’s to look cool! But why block that danger when you can better spot it without the sunglasses! And after all the sun is much bearable until 9-10am when you return home after the morning ride. 
    • Here's a fact: 'a human mind riding on a bicycle processes and stores data faster than the fastest supercomputer in the world'.
    • I will add a corollary: 'provided the input ports are free of clutter'. The processing and assimilation of information will be highly reduced if the senses are blocked, occupied or obstructed. This is a mantra not only for cycling, but for all outdoor activities!
  5. Use a red 'blinker' light  (though I never used one until last couple of years and never felt threatened).
    • Though as in Pt 1, looking over the shoulder is still considered the best practice even in western world. Practice this on crowded and safer roads.
  6. Keep your bicycle uncomplicated and clatter (and clutter) free. Any unfamiliar noise can distract you greatly and any distraction can be dangerous at those speeds / conditions.
  7. Equip your bike with the right (and only necessary) tools and carriages. Do not carry too much on person. Just keep an identity card, basic phone, some small monies (to have a snack and/or carry you and your punctured bike home on a taxi) and maybe a key or two. If you wish to carry a small pack and has waist and sternum straps, use them. Have no straps hanging loose. They are not a show!
  8. Keep gadgetry and hi-tech gizmos off your bicycle for another time, not while training. Learn to operate your gadgets on other leisure rides in safer environments and times. Then get them to the ride so that you are not distracted and precisely know how to use it.
  9. Early Mornings though a pleasure, are dangerous times too when cyclists cannot judge speeds of vehicles and many fatal accidents will continue to happen then. Most fatal car accidents and two-wheeler mishaps too happen at that time. But does that mean we give up? Guess we all play to the mass statistics. The better your awareness the better your survival chances.
  10. Know your tires, many imported tires are not made to ride well on wet Indian roads they slip on the smallest metal strip like man holes, tiles etc. So, beware! Likewise, learn the other stuff your bike has. Many pieces on gear on a modern bike may not be best suited for our kind of weather and road conditions.
  11. Keep cool and don't get flustered with what motorists say and how other bikes look!
And finally, what if Rajendra had qualified and passed all the above and many more tests? Why him? Well, that's what luck is all about, Right? And we cannot question destiny. 

Do we stop living even when we know that one day we will go?

Okay too much gyan and my attitude for now. But guess have made my point. You guys ride safe!