Thursday 30 May 2013

A date with History of Bicycle Shops

Established in 1910's at Mount Road, Madras  
After a break of more than 20 years I began riding bicycle from 14th February 2010, it was puzzling and shocking to hear the names of Cannondale, Bianchi or Schwinn and most importantly the cost of the bikes, my friends bicycle shop with swanky interiors, air conditioned and having huge TV screens was a sea change to the shops I vividly remember as a child. Located in the neighborhood these shops would be small mostly with shed type structure and thatched (Pandal) or tin roof extending to the front, my wait here was with my uncle and his cycle or during later days to rent a hire cycle, most of these shops usually had tools in tin boxes with a aluminium vessel containing dirty water used for identifying punctures and the same old red color rubber solvent for fixing it, few youngsters would be seen requesting for worn out tires and tubes to use them for their solo tire races, making catapult or soft ball. A peep into its history shows that these shops usually had its share of humble beginnings and ran through generations of the same family. Possibly the oldest bicycle shop in the world is Pearson Cycles in United Kingdom (1860) while Kopp's Cycle Shop (1891) claims itself as the oldest in USA. In India to mention which is the first bicycle shop is a daunting task and secondly its doubtful that it could have survived till this day, a Raleigh cycle advertisement of 1930's mentions of one Wellington Cycle and Motor Company having branches in cities like Mumbai, Kolkatta, Delhi, Nova (Goa) and Chennai (Mount Road), on further study we get to know that it was started in 1900's at Mumbai before they ventured into manufacture of Record Discs, others of the time included Singh & Co in Railway Road, Jalandhar and Kulkarni & Sons in Pune, here in Chennai at Mount Road (Anna Salai) P.Orr & Sons the timekeepers dabbled with bicycles for a brief time.In 1910's R.Nataraja Mudaliar closely relative of Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar (doyen of theater) started Watson and Co in Anna Salai (Mount Road) which sold imported bicycles from Britain before venturing into car dealership and film production. He could possibly be the first Indian to dabble with Bicycle sales since P.Orr & Sons (1873) the time keepers of Chennai also took a short excursion from their traditional business into assembling of bicycles and Addisons (1889) were the first to venture into import and sale of Pneumatic tires. But it is in Broadway also called as Parry's Corner which has the distinction of possessing the oldest bicycle shops since 1930's named Best Cycling Importing Co and another B.M. Davey & Co, they imported bicycles from abroad until 1950's before venturing into sell Indian made bicycles, from 1950's onward with the booming domestic bicycle industry there came into existence many shops around every nook and corner of India which included our friendly neighborhood bicycle shop but the upsurge of two wheeler automobile segment by mid 1980's brought about dramatic changes leading to vanishing of many road side bicycle shops by 1990's and thereby making major bicycle manufacturers get into retail segment in the later years, TI Cycles Ltd opened their first retail outlet "BSA Go" in 2006 at Ahmedabad followed by many across India. I conclude this rhetoric on a nostalgic note remembering the neighborhood bicycle shops and trusting you will share some of your experience on the shops you had known, till next time ...
During GT & Mongoose launch in India with Edward Vlutters (Director) GT Bicycles on 29th Oct 2010


Thursday 23 May 2013

Chennai's tryst with Bicycle History

From early morning hawkers on their daily errands selling Kolam Powder (Rangoli), Keerai (Green Leaves), Flowers (Malli'Pu) and Waste Paper Merchants with their ever familiar voices and tinkling sound of their bicycle bells merging in with the bizarre sounds of the metropolis to the first generation entrepreneurs, aspiring intelligentsia, upcoming artisans or be it with the reminiscence of ester year black and white classics of Tamil cinema portraying the grandeur of cycling notable being the immortal song with the lyrics of Kannadasan in the legendary Sivaji Ganesan starer Pava Mannippu (1961) "Vantha Nal Muthal" (From the day of Arrival) bicycle has evolved and integrated with the daily life of the people in Chennai. Such was the co-relation between both the C's (Chennai & Cycling) that when I was gleaning through The Hindu archives I came across a weekly column of Madras Miscellany dated 16th December 2002 in which S.Muthiah Sir mentions about one S.A.A.Annamalai Chettiar as the pioneer of bicycles in India and how during on of his sojourns to Great Britain for the Wembley Exhibition in 1924 he tied up with a German firm and on his return home started manufacturing the frame with other parts being imported from the collaborators and in 1925 was born the "Swan Bicycle". Thus he started the assembly of Indian Bicycles but unable to compete with the imported ones like Raleigh or Hercules he had to close it down. Another interesting information available in that weekly column of Madras Miscellany is of how the founders of TI Cycles Ltd especially A.M.M. Murugappa Chettiar provided an helping hand to Hero Cycles Ltd during its formative years. On reading these interesting revelations perhaps felt that "Swan Bicycle" could have been the first Indian bicycle but one thing for certain was the role of TI Cycles Ltd in making Chennai the powerhouse of bicycles from 1950's, we can divulge into their history on some other occasion but for now my mind conjures with the silence of the night remembering this great multifaceted personality S.A.A. Annamalai Chettiar and his contribution to cycling, till next week ...
An artistic imagination of Swan Bicyle

Thursday 16 May 2013

Nostalgic Rides and History of Bicycle

The recent night rides to meet my cycling community friends at Beasant Avenue brought forward many of my childhood memories with bicycle during late 70's, occasionally my uncle was given the job of dropping me home after my evening class,one late evening while he was bringing me home on his bicycle the front light was not functioning properly and the Cop clad in Khaki Shorts uniform with an unique cap stopped us and book him on another occasion in spite of repeated warnings I just crazily kept my foot into the running wheel causing injury and followed by a strong reprimand. My uncle kept his bicycle in an meticulous condition and loved his daily commute sometimes taking me on those almost lonely roads having the occasional two wheeler or car passing by with cycles and rickshaws ruling the road, most of these bicycles looked the same to me be it with the morning newspaper guy, the milk man bringing the milk supplied in bottles,my school teacher's or the Ice cream vendor and many more such sequences through the day.The lingering image of this cycle which played a pivotal role in daily life of the people propelled me to know more. This bicycle called "Roadster" has its origins from United Kingdom, with the invention of pneumatic tires, starting of Raleigh Cycles in 1887 and fast growth of bicycle technology in the early 1900's there began mass production of these bicycles which had impetus on safety,utility and durability, until mid 1940's these were the most sold bicycles and had already become practical form of personal transport, other cycling houses of the time like BSA, Hercules and Phillips also played a major role in its innovation and production that some of them were inducted into the services of few armies. In India cycles were imported from beginning of 1900's till the complete ban on it by the government in 1953, TI Cycles Ltd established their first A factory in 1951 and the first to roll out was Hercules Bicycle along with the then best seller Phillips, by mid 1960's Hero Cycles started exporting bicycles, others like Atlas Cycles soon joined the bandwagon. And as the night gets deep its time I conclude this rhetoric eagerly awaiting some more info on this great common man bicycle, till then ...
A Sadhu with modified Roadster at Kumbh Mela

Thursday 9 May 2013

Tribute to Summer Vacations & Brief History of Kids Bicycle

                   Summer holidays have always been instrumental for many children to learn and develop their skills to ride the bicycle. If not on tour to relatives place,summer holidays always meant waiting patiently at the cycle shop for my turn to pick up the Hire Bike its rent being around 50 Paisa to Rs.1 per hour based on its size and after the hectic ride in our locality with fellow friends the cycle would be returned or time extended depending upon the pocket money but one thing mandatory was the Nanari Sharbate drink for 75 Paisa at the end and return home with some bruises. 
              Carrying on these vivid memories lets now get into a very brief history of kids bicycle, perhaps Kids bicycle had come into vogue by 1920's itself but its was Huffy's who designed bikes specifically for children, in 1949 Huffy Convertible with rear training wheels revolutionized the market, Huffy's also followed up with a series of bicycles for children between 1963- 1967. Few more famous bicycles to enter the fray were the Schwinn Sting Ray with banana seat and high rise handlebars in 1963, its upgrade the Krate (1968) was a sensation among both Kids and Teenagers, perhaps these type of bicycles soon paved the way for BMX revolution in the USA. During 1970's the iconic and all time famous Raleigh Chopper was launched it was branded as 'THE HOT ONE'. The Chopper bike was the "must have" item and signifier of "coolness" for many children of the time.  
                In India kids bicycle history is bit obscure the manufacturers should have imported till 1953 and perhaps customized it locally for sale till the 1960's, on its side TI Cycles came up with a exclusive kids bike named BSA Champ in 1983, I end this rhetoric awaiting for some more info on kids bicycle from your side and as the heat soars to 37 Degrees Celsius due to the Kathiri Veyyil, its now time for me to take a break, until next week.

Kid riding the Bicycle 

Thursday 2 May 2013

The Mall at Shimla and History of Bicycle

Was pondering what to write since this is the first of the Weekly named Ram's Rhetoric, should I start with the nuances about the evolution of bicycle and the list of contributors but felt can keep it for some other occasion, few things which made me curious to know about the history of bicycle in India happened during my MTB Himachal sojourn of 2011, this event was flagged off from "The Mall" (also called Ridge) Simla and my interaction with TI Cycles folks incidentally it was TI Cycles who sponsored my trip, came to know that the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were the biggest markets for bicycles in India and Hero Cycles and TI Cycles are the major players in this region and how a popular yesteryear brand Philips was being re-marketed apart from other brands, having no source material on cycling as I had very little time to compile this story I breezed through website of Hero Cycles assuming I can do a write up about TI Cycles and its role in the annals of Indian Bicycle History some time in the future as it is based in Chennai. The Hero Cycle website mentions bicycle was seen in India in the year 1890. However import of cycles started in 1905 and continued for more than 50 years. Complete ban on imports was announced by the Government in July, 1953, but cycle kept on simmering in the country till 1961 and mention is made about prices of cycles so on and so forth. The most important and interesting information I found was about a mention that in 1919, five persons in Punjab imported cycles and used them on "The Mall" Simla. These included one Bishop, two military men and two contractors. Under special permission of the Governor,they were allowed to cycle on 'The Mall' only for one hour in a day. They imported B.S.A. Cross Bar Cycle from U.K. and it used to be a kind of Mela at that particular hour on "The Mall" in Simla,the scene watched by hundreds of people everyday. Thus I conclude this first edition presuming someone would add some more spice and zing to this story of the past perhaps not rigidly about "The Mall" only, till next time its Adieus Amigos ...
Before the start of MTB Himachal at The Mall (Ridge) Shimla