One of the few positive, albeit marginal, spinoffs following the relaxation of the extended lockdown in Chandigarh to counter the pandemic has been the swift rise in the number of cycling enthusiasts.
Kitted out in their padded biking shorts, chic helmets, goggles and colourful mitts, these bikers are suddenly visible all over — on their 8x3 racing mounts, liberated after several weeks of confinement. The Sukhna Lake road, however, is where these cyclists are the most visible, as they race up and down the smooth stretch. Even the railings on the pathway to the lake are cluttered with bikes chained to them by their owners, as they walk the promenade before returning and noisily riding off again.
It’s too premature to proclaim whether biking has made a comeback to the city that was specially built for it in the 1950s. But even if it is a temporary phenomenon, it is a positive development and one needing encouragement and perpetuation. Besides, for the immediate future dominated by the spectre of coronavirus, cycling, alongside jogging, golf and tennis, remains one of the few safe sports for most to pursue.
Reassuringly, even shop owners across the city dealing in trendy bicycles are reporting an uptick in sales. So let’s hope that cycling in Chandigarh is not short-lived, and that these newly acquired bicycles do not soon end up languishing in driveways and garages, victims of myriad excuses by their owners to simply not ride them. As 19th- century French cycling enthusiast, writer and scientist Louis Baudry de Saunier succinctly put it, “Cycling has encountered more enemies than any other form of exercise.”
Furthermore, Chandigarh is the only city in India with over 110 km of dedicated cycling tracks that are presently being doubled. The smooth, wide and tarred tracks have fortunately been duplicated across Panchkula and Mohali, making it possible, with deft navigation, to crisscross the tricity by sticking to these pathways.
In comparison, feeble efforts by New Delhi to construct its first cycling track alongside its 7 km rapid transit corridor for bus over two decades ago, proved disastrous as vehicles, except bikes, traversed this strip.
Back on the lake road, I recently came across an unusual, but delightfully charming sight of an elderly Sikh gentleman, possibly in his seventies, in a white toga-like robe and similarly coloured pyjamas, joyously skating down the road, oblivious to those around him. With casual grace and agility, he insouciantly floated along on his five-wheeled Inline skates, and we exchanged a cavalier thumbs-up and an aerial high five as I cycled past, shouting an appreciative greeting.
I’ve looked for him on numerous occasions, thereafter, to convey my appreciation for his nonchalance, but have had no luck so far!
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