I cycle and I don’t need your sympathy

I take offence to those snotty looks from you on the road as if my vehicle is not legit

By Avikal Somvanshi
Published: Friday 22 November 2013

CycleEver since I started cycling to work I’ve been at the receiving end of too much sympathy. At times I am made to feel like a poor disillusioned handcuffed daredevil attempting to wrestle the whole troupe of the X-men series. Maybe living on mercy of Ironman and prayers of mother Teresa. Kindly stop sympathizing and give me a break. My ordeal is no more dangerous and stressful than that of a motorcyclist or a car driver. Delhi roads are unforgiving to everyone; in fact, they have even upped their cruelty against our holy cows.

To start with, what are you sympathizing with? Are you sympathizing that I am healthier and fitter than you? Are you sympathizing that during peak hours I reach my office faster than you? Are you sympathizing that I’m not getting to waste my hard earned income on petroleum and gym membership? Are you sympathizing that I am not doing my bit of heating up planet Earth? Are you sympathizing that I’m not doing my bit of murders, both fast via accidents and slower ones via air pollution? I don’t get it. It is disturbing and I strongly object to such belittling.

Support in numbers and facts

Let’s clear out some numbers: of the total road accident deaths recorded nationwide in 2012 by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), only 2.2 per cent were cyclists while 23.2 per cent were two-wheeler drivers and 10.1 per cent car drivers. Zoom in to Delhi, 78 cyclists were killed in 2012 while 217 and 489 of those who died were riding four-wheelers and two-wheelers respectively. Sadly, Delhi roads became graves of 501 pedestrians, too, in 2012. It is nine times less likely that I on a cycle will meet a fatal accident than a person opting to indulge in private motorised transport. Not as much, but even walking is more dangerous to my life on Delhi roads than cycling.

Well, one will argue that cyclists die less because there are lesser of them on street! But excuse me, they are no minority on Indian roads. In Delhi, 2.8 million daily trips are made on cycle just a little south of three  million made by car. Go to cyclist-allergic Kolkata; over there, trips by cycle (11 per cent) outnumber trips by cars (8 per cent). And this is not a phenomenon unique to 2012 like Psy's ‘Gangnam Style” dance. Similar numbers will greet you in the earlier records of NCRB.

Get rid of those killer machines

Yes people do die on Delhi roads, and all 1,866 died (well, additional 581 people were killed riding trucks, buses, autos and rickshaws plying on the city roads last year) because some metal weighing quintals crushed the life out of them. If anyone wants to provide safety to people on road, do something about these killing machines instead of banning fragile cycles on road like Kolkata. No matter how exposed I am on a cycle or how concerned you are for my safety, stop advising me to give it up. How is this advice any different from those which ask women to keep themselves locked inside their homes to avoid harassment on road.

I take offence to those snotty looks from you on the road as if I have no business riding a cycle. I, too, pay taxes. In fact, I pay proportionately higher taxes compared to the kind of damage my rash, drunken cycling causes to the road or quantum of space it occupies. These roads are as much mine as it is of any other citizen of the nation and my choice of transport is as legit as any motorised one. Kindly face the facts and stop scaring cyclists off the roads.

Don't let them scare you

No doubt roads are unsafe but not just for me on cycle. Every time there is a cycling mishap, media and twitterati go into auto mode crying “no country for cyclists”, creating fear-psychosis and pushing many like me off the paddle, helping the motorists’ killer and selfish cause.  As the old adage goes, out of sight out of mind. Lacking flashy paunches of cars, cycles are already disadvantaged, further thinning out of them on roads won’t help either the cyclist’s safety or the city’s mobility. If the babus and the netas of our great democracy don’t see us they won’t change their car-centric policies and roads.

It may be a choice for me, go ahead ridicule it as a green fad but mind it, cycling is not a recreational sport for millions of underprivileged in our cities, it is their only mean of affordable transport. They don’t want your charity but their right.

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