Intimidation. That is what I felt before my first ride in the big city. I have since realized that every beginner cyclist has the right to be apprehensive when riding in urban areas. Especially a city like New Delhi, where traffic is always bustling and road rules are constantly ignored.

Let’s face it, when it comes to cycling it’s hard to say if Delhi will ever adapt and evolve into a Denmark or Netherlands – the most bike friendly countries in the world. However, until then this blog should give you some insight into the life of an Urban Cyclist.

First things first, when you do start cycling in a city where everyone loves to drive you may get asked the big question –
“Why do you cycle when you could just drive instead?” That’s a valid question, it’s so much easier to just get in your car and go to work.

Cycling in New Delhi

Cycling early morning in New Delhi

So why do I, and many others participate in the grueling act of cycling on traffic-laden city roads everyday?

  1. Believe it or not, cycling is often faster
    Unlike cycling expeditions in remote locations, you can beat a car in the city. With kilometers of stalled cars and trucks, me and my trusted bike can always pave the way by sliding in and out of smaller gaps. Whenever I want, I can get off my cycle, start walking the sidewalk and skip traffic entirely! To me, that is more convenient than sitting in the car and honking away without so much as moving an inch.
  2. Cycling is cheap – even when it’s expensive
    Of course a car costs much more than a cycle does(though some road bikes could give car prices decent competition), but it’s what comes after your preferred vehicular purchase that affects your pocket regularly. With cars it’s regular maintenance – petrol, servicing cost, insurance and more petrol – which tends to weigh down your monthly income. However, with a cycle I can be assured that I only need air in my tyres and all my parts put together properly – it need only be serviced once or twice a year.
  3.  You get fit on the way to work
    No one can deny the benefits cycling has to a person’s health. It lowers stress levels, is great cardio, gives you strong legs and a healthier heart – which means you’ll live longer. As for driving, I’ve learned that it can be frustrating and often causes road rage issues.
  4. Simply put, it’s fun
    There are few things as fun and liberating as cycling on a road downhill after a somewhat annoying climb. Although cities are usually plane areas there is that occasional hurdle that makes it all worth it. Cycling in the city has a focused rush to it as opposed to slow cycling in the midst of nature. After a ride around the area I feel refreshed and my adrenaline is pumping.
  5. Mother Nature thanks me
    It’s time we all took a step back and asked ourselves what we’re doing to decrease our carbon footprint. I don’t just mean buying and installing light efficient CFL bulbs in your home. Actively doing something that’s good for the planet is satisfactory, and beneficial for us all.

Those are just some of the reasons why a cycle makes sense. Yes, there are other aspects like safety and long commutes that pose a problem in urban areas, but those are still problems with motorized vehicles as well. The key to thwarting these issues is preparedness. If you’re prepared for anything on your cycle – nothing can stop you. Which is why I follow some guidelines that keep me safe, comfortable and steady on the road.

Bicycle gear

Bicycle right after a servicing

  • Guideline 1 – Follow the Rules
    This should be obvious. Road rules in your city apply not only to the bigger vehicles, but to your cycle too. I know a lot of cyclists are conflicted about some rules set out for them on the road. Like: if there’s a red light, should it apply to cycles as well? What if there’s absolutely no traffic and there’s a red light – do I just stand there? I should be allowed on the footpath – pedestrians walk on the road all the time!
    Unfortunately, it does not work like that. If there rules laid out for your bike, you must respect them. Otherwise how can you expect others to do the same? Some bike-friendly countries have special paths for cyclists on the side of the road – in some places the cyclist is given preference to cross even before the pedestrian is! Sadly though, this is not the case worldwide. So make sure you’re following the rules even when you’re in a hurry. A cycle’s frame is not sturdy enough to handle a collision with a much heavier vehicle, and neither are you.
  • Guideline 2 – Buy Proper Gear
    Correct cycling gear is important if you take safety and comfort seriously. A helmet is a must. Yes, in a lot of cases a helmet may not be able to protect you, but that’s where preventive measures come in. A helmet is just the bare minimum you must do as you’re being subjected to the dangerous main roads. Wear cycling glasses to shield your eyes from the sun – and sunscreen is a must, unless you’re looking to get tan lines and harmful UV rays on your face. Cycling apparel is always a good move. No chaffing or discomfort and it’s usually sweat absorbent, which helps heaps if you’re cycling to work. Extra points for carrying a small towel and deodorant.
    At night, make sure to keep your bike light on – both front and back. It lets you see any bumps on the road better and warns the car behind you of your presence.
    Since I cycle in New Delhi, I keep another thing handy – a face mask. Breathing in all that toxic air can be very harmful for your lungs, which can impact your cycling performance drastically.
  • Guideline 3 – Always, ALWAYS Carry Water
    It might seem trivial, but keeping a bottle full of water is the best thing you can do for yourself. Any cyclist knows how parched one tends to get and I like to keep myself hydrated before I start choking on my own breath. You don’t want to be sweating in the middle of summer on your cycle and not have a drop to drink on your person. It also helps if you carry a small snack – like a nutrition bar on the way to a long ride.
  • Guideline 4 – Trust Your Instinct
    While on the road with rash drivers and impatient pedestrians there’s one thing you’re bound to develop – instinct. Know when to stop and when to keep peddling – especially at busy intersections. It’s always best to stay safe and wait but sometimes that might be a cause for concern too. If you’re moving forward too slow, you might run into a vehicle trying to do the same. Assess when to pedal fast and when to stop and let the other person go.
  • Guideline 5 – Signal, Whenever Possible
    When you know there’s a car behind you and you’re about to make a turn, signal with your hand to let it know where you’re going so it can slow down or get out of your way. Since we don’t have indicators, we have to use our hand.
  • Guideline 6 – Stay in Good Shape
    This one is both for you and your bike. For your bike – always check the breaks, tyre pressure, wheels, suspension and chain grease before you leave your home. Get it serviced when required, i.e when the cycle feels shaky or you’ve been riding medium to long distances for nearly a month.
    As for yourself, cycling can be rough on your legs, knees and back(if you’re carrying a backpack). Make sure you cross train to keep your body strong and your stamina up. When I started riding in the beginning, I would often get a cramp in the midst of my ride. After I incorporated a healthy amount of exercise in my routine I noticed my problem disappearing. Running, HIIT(high intensity interval training) or simply building your legs and core with a yoga mat and chair at home makes a heap of difference.

Lessons I Learned on the Road

Yes, there are some things I learned the hard way. Firstly, that you probably shouldn’t listen to music on the road. Keep your headphones away and concentrate. Secondly, that there is little or no respect for a cyclist on the road, and that YOU can be the one to teach the world more about cycling. There will always be people who see it as an inconvenience but it is up to you to take it as a challenge instead and transform your life. Rest assured, whether on the busy streets of my city or on a mountainous trail somewhere exotic – I will always be a cyclist.

So there it is, everything you should do as a cyclist in the city and everything you can do to stay healthy, safe and comfortable. Whether you’re a beginner or a bicycling expert who has any more tips, tricks or questions – comment below!

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