Thursday 27 June 2013

Romance with the Road Bicycle

At Mahabalipuram (ECR) Pic: Viswa Aditya 
The ECR Road has now become symbolic with road bikes, time trials, training sessions, road races and importantly being host to all these activities around the year, my memories of this road dates back to late 1970's when on weekends my mother would take me on visit to this place where my grand parents resided, the local bus (PTC) painted mostly in red and cream would bring us to the last point Tiruvanmiyur Temple Tank bus stand from Adyar ticket costing around 20 paisa, walking towards Clock Tower where the present day buses to Puducherry stop one could see a row of Jatka (Horse Carriage) for hire, to me travelling in them was always memorable, I always made it a point to sit in front so that I get some best view of the running horse especially the sound emitting from its hooves or be it the excellent view of single lane road, the visible sea shore, those ponds with Dhobi's busy at work, the occasional cluster of casurina trees and farming activities on the other side of the road before reaching our destination, remembering those wonderful days and feeling disgusted that not even an iota of them now remains lets move forward, unlike other bicycles for Road Bicycle, Racing Cycle alias Road Bike the components played a vital role in its history, even though we find the first recorded history of bicycle race dating to 1868 the winner riding a wooden bike and bicycle racing was added during the first Olympic Games in Athens (1896) or the long distance races from city to city like Paris-Brest-Paris and numerous other events gaining popularity by 1900 including the race of all the races TdF (Tour de France) which started in 1903. The year 1937 marks the most important year in the history of these speed machines when "Derailleurs" were permitted for use in major events like TdF though they existed since late 1900's. Campagnolo of Italy contributed to this racing bicycle by producing world class derailleurs like Cambio Corsa (1940), Paris Roubaix, Gran Sport in 1950's and Nuovo Record in late 1960's, few other manufacturers of these components over the period of time included Simplex, Huret, Suntour and Shimono. Lastly mention must also be made of few road bicycle manufacturers having history like Bianchi founded in 1885 possibly the world's oldest existing manufacturer, BH Bicycles (Beistegui Hermanos) and Colnago. Thus I conclude this rhetoric on the brief history of road bicycle having mentioned the salient features which I presume are important, if you can add something more to it you are always welcome. Wishing you all a happy viewing of TdF 2013 over the next few weeks. Till next time ...

Thursday 20 June 2013

A tale of Bicycle and Cities

The evenings at Adyar in late 1970's would be buzzing with activity at the arrival of Mobile Post Office Van stationed for a limited time under the canopy of huge trees near the then Udipi Hotel Vani Vihar (evening special menu always contained newly launched sensation the Chola Poori colloquial of Chaana Bhatura) this red color van with counters and bright interior lights would usher in many people on bicycles thronging this place some rushing and in the melee jumping the queue or few creating ruckus to make last minute changes in the letters to be posted by placing them to write on the bicycle saddle/seat before the Van finally disappearing into darkness to reach another part of the city, languishing on memories of those unforgettable days lets get on with our story. In his article "Social Movements and the Bicycle" by Dave Horton one gets to know that across many cities in Britain following First World War (1914-18) bicycle became means by which vast number of ordinary people conducted their ordinary lives and by 1930's exploring countryside became a popular leisure pursuit, in 1930's over 1.5 million bicycles were sold annually and in 1936 there were 10 million regular cyclist compared to 6 million in 1929. He concludes by mentioning about how the decades following the Second World War (1939-45) the massive popular embrace of automobile led to huge fall in fortunes of bicycle across cities and in 70-80's witnessed the rising environmental concerns across Europe and aftermath of Rio Earth Summit (1992) bringing in new wave of direct actions towards the cause of cycling. Thus getting to know the high's and low's of cycling in West and skipping Copenhagen and Amsterdam the best bicycle friendly cities on the globe for another occasion let us proceed with the Indian scenario, though not much information is available before 1950's we get to know that in 1960-61 bicycle production in India was 10.71 lakhs and during 1960's bicycle accounted for 60% of all commuting trips in New Delhi which had drastically fallen to 4% in the recent past.To Dr.Sreenivas Kulkarni the owner of one of the oldest bicycle shops in India at Pune and the first Ph.D holder in the country to take up Bicycle as his thesis mentions how in Pune the city of his study there were 53,886 bicycles to only 56 motorcycles in 1959 and how in 1980's there were around 2000 cycle repair shops which later shrunk to 200 shops. According to CMDA in Chennai there has been a steep decline of people who opted to use bicycle as transport from 21.3% in 1970 to 12.8% in 2005. Looking into these figures would deter many of our passionate cyclist hearts but indeed there is ray of hope one such hope according to TI Cycles Ltd being the demand for premium bicycles had grown by 50-70% in 2010 and they sold 3.6 million units in that fiscal year, there could be many more hopes to pen down but having had phobia for numbers since my childhood I am ending this rhetoric and eagerly awaiting the start to the event of the year which all the cycling maniacs like me look forward especially being in its 100th edition ... till next time.
Bicycle's in Mount Road, Chennai (1905) 

Thursday 13 June 2013

Women and Bicycle an enduring History

Having been in a boys school and men's college during most part of my student life, my memories of women on bicycle is very less except for few initial years of school when my class teacher Mrs.Lotille came riding in her ladies bicycle to school and followed by the evening classes at her home where a sound thrashing awaited me from her daughter Miss.Honourine also my English teacher, sometimes this spilled to the weekends when my grandfather would throw open a party to these two gracious women who commuted on bicycle. These stories apart the bicycle played a vital role in woman's emancipation, the introduction of Safety bicycle by J.K. Starley in 1885 and invention of pneumatic tires few years later gave western women an unprecedented freedom and with mass production it became cheaper that soon more women got access, in fact many women started learning to ride and ushering with it changes to their costume. Possibly the earliest lady bicycle (perhaps an upgrade of Rover Safety with pneumatic tires) with drop frame came to the market by around 1888-89, followed by a series of production (random order) like Rambler Ladies, Sunbeam, Raleigh Ladies Roadster, Stearns (USA) and BSA Ladies Roadster etc, but one must mention that from the period of safety bicycle till the Second World War or even later there seems to have been not much of major changes to the ladies bicycle, in early 1970's we here the name Mixte's probably a Unisex bicycle having step through frame it must have been in existence till around 1980's after which there is not much information. In India apart from emancipation bicycle also had to play the role of empowering women, Mahatma Gandhi in his reply to Maniben Patal (daughter of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patal) in 1926 mentions about riding bicycle as a good form of exercise after she wrote to him about her purchase of bicycle. Even though the earliest bicycle and bicycle parts industry in India originates to Kolkata around year 1910 where manufacture of bicycle components and manufacture units was set up, imports of bicycles from UK, Germany and Japan flourished but there seems to have been a drop of sales during the Second World War. From 1950's till the present day ladies bicycle is being produced by all the major Indian bicycle brands, over the years these bicycles would have witnessed many technological development and upgrades an example in this direction being TI Cycles Ltd producing an exclusive girls bike BSA Ladybird in 1994. Even as we stand today being the second largest bicycle manufacturer in the world, Indian women owe much to the Bicycle as much has it owes to Annie Londenderry, Maniben Patel or to the saga of many unknown women riding bicycles in rural India, ending this rhetoric and awaiting the traffic of information from your side which is still on the one way ... till next time.   
A lady riding bicycle (Robin Wahengbam, 2012)

Thursday 6 June 2013

Triumph of bicycle during School Days

The reopening of schools in June would usher in children having mixture of emotions visible on their faces as they arrive at school every day morning and during my school days for most of them Cycle rickshaws was the main medium of transport while some students living in the nearby vicinity commuted on bicycles. Having a spacious parking stand for bicycles our school always conducted its Annual Sports Day by the end of July and there used to be two events associated with bicycles the slow cycle race and the speed race, lets devulge into those details on another occasion but for now among the teenage students after a great struggle in getting parental permission for commuting to school on bicycle there was much more fun elements in store, bicycles was meant for performing never ending stunts like wheelie, carrying doubles or triples has payloads and promoting group rides. The cycles mostly used were SLR (Sports Light Roadster) and few other small framed adult bikes who's brand names I do not remember but one thing coming into aid of memory is the advertisements of Indian Cricketer Kapil Dev with the BSA SLR bicycle during the early 1980's in the Tinkle magazine for children. In the late 1940's Raleigh Bicycles became famous for its lightweight Sports Roadsters since these bikes were considerably lighter and quicker than the other heavy forms of Roadsters the multipurpose utility bike, soon these bicycles were exported from United Kingdom to many parts of the globe. Around the same time Schwinn Bicycles came out with a few notable being Black Phantom having balloon tire, head lights, tail lights and other ingredients it was a sensation among the boys in USA. During 1970's the iconic and all time famous Raleigh Chopper which I missed to mention in my earlier rhetoric titled "Tribute to Summer Vacations"  (Vol: 2) took on the center stage but to what extent these bicycles would been used for commuting to school is a paradox to answer. In India apart from TI Cycles Ltd who brought in the first BSA SLR for teens in 1980's, Hero Cycles also came up with  junior bikes in 1990's, references available towards this end is scarce and from nearly a decade till the recent times there seems to be preference for MTB and its variants among the student community. School life is remembered till the end of our lives, trust this rhetoric would be a catalyst for recollecting your memories of cycling during school days, till next time ...
My School