The HSR Cyclists Group completes four years and boasts of over 440 members
By ZAHID H JAVALI
Fitness is not just a craze in HSR. It’s a lifestyle for many. Last month, we wrote about how Jayanagar Jaguars, a running group, celebrated two years in HSR. Now it’s the turn of HSR Cyclists Group that commemorated its fourth anniversary last month and is now in its fifth year of taking to the streets. Sector 2 resident Shashidhara K (43) launched the group with 15 people in August 2014. They organized weekend (Sunday morning) group rides across HSR Layout for 5 to 10 kilometres. These rides helped many like-minded cyclists and children, experience safe, riding techniques on the road. Once they went on many such trips, the group initiated monthly Cycle Day events in HSR from September 2014.
With consistent promotion of cycling by the group, HSR became the first layout in Bangalore to attract multiple cycling infrastructure facilities such as cycle parking lots, dedicated lanes, and private cycle rental programs, according to Shashidhara. “Many commercial establishments and hospitals partnered to promote cycling and healthy living in HSR over the years.”
HSR is the only locality to have three major commercial cycle rental service providers operating at the same time, and they have recorded over 2000 trips on weekends. No wonder, the membership of the cyclists group now stands at 441, and counting. Their Facebook Page has over 924 followers while their Facebook group has 428 members at last count.
The group started small to make a big impression. “Initially, we cycled every Sunday where both the children and adults took part,” remembers Shashidhara. “Initially, we used to go on 4-km rides, from Purva Vantage near the Indian Oil petrol bunk on 19th Main, Sector 2.”
Incidentally, Bangalore Coalition of Open Streets (BCOS) along with The Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT), started Cycle Day events from 2013, with the goal of 1 cycle day in every neighbourhood. They came to HSR in 2014 and conducted Cycle Day here at the Agara Lake service road. Shashidhara not only took part in that event but also went back to the department with a proposal to let the residents continue to do it on a regular basis. “It was the first time that a proposal was given by a local community to the department,” says Shashidhara. “We have conducted 40 events so far and have become a successful benchmark for DULT.” After HSR, Indiranagar, Yelahanka, and Sanjaynagar had their own cycle days. “The HSR wing is most active in conducting cycle day events, barring exam times.” Before Cycle Day, the membership was hardly 50. But after that, the numbers grew dramatically.
Cycling was part of Shashi’s life since childhood. He used to cycle to school and college. “It is always fun and exploratory,” he says. “Cycling gives you an ability to look around things. You get a good sense of geography and know your surroundings. Before Google Maps, you are the map. That’s what I enjoy the most.”
The group gathered steam when regular people, who had either cycled before or wanted to give it a try, began to enroll. Exploring the bylanes of HSR became an early morning pastime for many, and one can cover almost 60 kilometres in HSR itself if they decide to go on long rides. The advantages for Shashi are many. “Good physique, weight under check, and most importantly, breathing better. When you pedal longer distances, you tend to learn the technique for uphill and downhill riding, you know how to monitor your heart rate and stabilise it. The feel of the air and the freedom of peddling cannot be told in words alone.”
The biggest advantage of cycling is that the traffic on the roads and the pollution at the signals can be avoided. There are certain locations where you have to take the main roads, but after you cross that first obstacle, you can take a bylane and never hit a traffic bottleneck for a smoother and more satisfying ride.
Unlike Jayanagar Jaguars, the running group in HSR where the male-female ratio of its members is equal, it’s a bit skewed towards males with cycling at 70:30. About 10% among them are kids, with parents usually accompanying them.
The Cycle Day activities (held every 3rd Sunday of the month on 18th Main, 22nd Cross, Sector 3) that are most popular include live music, Zumba, tug of war and rolling the tyres. In addition, there are many awareness sessions being held to apprise the people on critical issues like solid waste management, plastic ban, and cycle maintenance. There are experts who come and talk to the people. The beauty of Cycle Day is that most adults become children by being part of games like Tug of War, chess, rolling the tyre and so on.
The cyclists group took part in the ‘Citizens for the city contest’ during the Neighborhood Improvement Program (NIP) along with SPNIT Trust, a citizens group of Somsundrapalya (that borders HSR Layout). The group won the contest in December 2015 after multiple rounds of presentations. This project will develop comprehensive cycle parking infrastructure across HSR layout. The contest had 145 entries from across Bengaluru, and the HSR Cyclists project was one among the 12 chosen ones.
Shashidhara’s longest cycling expedition stands at 136 kilometres – from HSR Layout to Ramanagara’s Kamat restaurant, and back. He started at 4.30am and was back home by 2.30pm. He was part of many 60-70 km rides. Today, he rides small distances of 5kms every alternate day on week days and 30-40km rides on weekends.
Cyclists on the joy of riding
Raghuram A, a 38-year-old software engineer and a resident of Harlur that borders HSR Layout, cycles regularly to work. He is cycling since 2011 and moved to HSR in 2015. According to him, cycling solo and cycling as part of a group have their merits and demerits. “Riding in a group is nice and different as you get to network over coffee after the trips. However, I can’t find too many people for long rides; that’s when I do a solo. Just last week, I did one such trip from Harlur to Tamil Nadu near Shoolagiri hills. It was a 100 km round-trip.” Raghuram took to cycling when he found that his cholesterol was quite high. Earlier, he used to only engage in weekend cycling. However, after moving to HSR, he began cycling to work. That’s about 30 kilometres a day from Harlur to Eco Space; now it’s Electronic City. “I skip Hosur Road to avoid the traffic and pollution, and cycle through the villages. The routes are quite nice with open fields and fresh air. During the night, I did encounter some challenges. But now, I have proper gear like headlamps, blinkers, reflector wheels, tail lamps and bag with reflector straps.” Along the way, he has made good friends. All this while, he had forgotten to get his cholesterol tested. Only six months ago, when he remembered and went in for a test, his blood pressure was at rock bottom, and he was normal again. “The biggest benefit from cycling is that your stamina becomes quite good; it makes you feel better and you don’t have to deal with traffic every day. I always find a way even through the busiest traffic routes. For 1-2 months, I explored different paths to my office and then found the right route to take every time. His habit did rub off on his daughter too. “My older daughter learnt cycling, but now she’s into skating,” says Raghuram. Unlike other cyclists who say that commuting to work is risky, he disagrees. “You need to find a route which you are comfortable with, and this problem will not be there at all,” he says.
Shubesh Kumar Rout loves riding long distance. The 45-year-old software engineer rides every alternate day, and on Saturdays and Sundays. Going on 30-40kms weekend rides is his regular mileage. “Although I don’t ride to work due to traffic, I am expecting more people to do it,” he says. “Right now, there are no roads that you can safely use to ride to work. At work, we don’t want to take a shower and change our outfits, and yet I see many people cycling to work.”
Shubesh is cycling since 2010, but he only became a regular after joining the HSR group more than three years ago. “I went for trekking in Leh, Ladakh where I heard from the experts that no first timer could have gone up 19,000 sq. ft. I would give the credit for my stamina to cycling that has made me fit in all these years. I was also plump earlier, but now I look fit as well. I don’t know anyone who has had any health issues after they began cycling. There are some people who did get back pain, but they took a break and came back to cycling. However, nobody I know has quit cycling because of any health issue.”
Running vs cycling
According to Shubesh, running and cycling are on a different scale. “Running builds strong shoulder and leg muscles and requires a lot more stamina because you are constantly running, whereas in cycling, you don’t pedal when it’s downhill,” he says. “Liquid intake is more in running and less in cycling as you sweat more while running.” And yet, for all the merits and demerits in both, he advises, “We should always listen to our body and how much we can take.” Running is high-impact and prone to injuries unlike cycling. No wonder, his son has taken to it while his wife has adopted zumba and yoga. “You create a culture of fitness in some form like diet control, karate, zumba, yoga, cycling or running,” says Shubesh. “This was not there 6-7 years ago in my household.”
Another long distance rider is Muthuraj SN. The 47-year-old business development manager at a firm is cycling regularly for over three years now. He began his stint with the HSR Cyclists Group. “I met Shashi coincidentally after buying a cycle at Decathlon,” he recalls. “By the time I reached HSR, I had pain in the thigh as it was my first ride after many years. That’s when I met Shashi, Sankar and Shubesh on 19th Main and got to know about the group. Today, I cycle every alternate day and on weekends. I am now into cycling and gymming.”
The benefit of cycling is that he’s eating more now than ever before. “I had no motivation to cycle,” says Shubesh. “I just wanted to be active, and cycling gave me a reason to continue being active. We began keeping goals of the number of kilometres covered. Earlier, it was 20 kms, and now we can easily strike 65 kms. Some of us cycled 105 kms this August 15th.”
Qamar Afroz is a weekend rider and a regular volunteer at Cycle Day events. The 37-year-old used to cycle when she was at school. Decades later, she began cycling on weekends after the very first Cycle Day in HSR, four years ago. In addition to running her preschool, she finds time to organise play activities on Cycle Day every other month. “Though pollution is around us, we just keep talking about it but do nothing about it. Cycling and Cycle Day helps you connect with your family. It creates a bond with the kids as you are spending quality time by playing with them rather than watch TV together. Cycling is a practical way to explore your neighbourhood and socialise with neighbours. I am much more active after cycling and there are people who tell me that I don’t look my age.”
The benefits of cycling are many. You don’t tend to put on weight. You subconsciously start taking care of yourself. You eat well to cycle well, and there is nothing to beat the fresh air in the morning. “You really don’t need to work hard on it like exercise,” says Qamar. “I try to cycle on weekends at the Agara Lake park that has cycles on rent. We just take 1 or 2 rounds around the lake. I want to go cycling to my preschool but there is too much traffic on the roads. On our morning rides, there’s no traffic to bother us, and we end up catching people throwing trash, and educating them.”
Open to all
The group is open for all, and there is no membership. It is completely volunteer-driven and not for profit. “We would love to have everybody adopt cycling as their immediate choice for commuting short distance,” says Shashidhara.
The future appears brighter than ever
The group’s future plan is to ensure that the cycling infrastructure such as cycle lanes and cycle rental stands, as proposed by the government, are implemented properly. “We would also recommend companies to provide incentives to those who use cycles to commute to work,” says Shashidhara. “We believe that if people use cycles for short-distance commute, it can help reduce pollution and traffic. Once we have dedicated cycle lanes, we would like to encourage schools to start ‘cycle to school’ programs, which will encourage children to use cycles atleast one day in a week, with adult supervision. We would also urge the startups in HSR to promote cycling as a mode of transport within HSR for their employees.”