PEDAL. STOP. Buy a ticket. Board. Get off. Pedal again. Early morning on weekends, when the rush in the local trains is less intimidating, some cycling enthusiasts take their bicycles in the luggage compartment of the suburban local trains to the outskirts of Mumbai for cycling adventures. The sight of bikers in their gear carting bicycles up and down the foot overbridges of railway stations is growing into something of a weekly tradition.
Nilang Desai, who recently boarded a local train to Karjat with his bike, says, “It was early Sunday morning and our cycling group got on the train with ease. It was so convenient to take our cycles on the train rather than in cars. It’s time-saving and an efficient mode of transportation.” Ajinkya Udane, another cyclist, says that when he’s dressed in his cycling shorts, curious stares are common. He also says some people asked him a lot of questions and took photographs with him and his bike as well.
Not just Mumbaiites, but visitors to the city are taking the train for a cycling getaway as well. Chidambaran Subramanian, a cyclist from Bangalore, travelled from Borivali to Khar in this manner. When he asked autorickshaws to take him along with his cycle to Khar, they plainly refused. He heard no such objection from railway authorities. Most passengers were curious but there were also those who considered it an unnecessary object taking up space.
“It is not an easy option,” says a ticket collector at Churchgate. Cyclists have to pay luggage charges as high as Rs 200. Some are met with glares, for their cycles occupy valuable space. In addition, the luggage compartments used for transportation of goods such as vegetables and fish are often unclean and smelly, discouraging a few. Every problem has a solution, says Firoza Suresh, who recommends folding bikes. Firoza cycles to Vile Parle station from where she, with her bicycle, get on the local train to Dadar on a daily basis. Folding bikes are treated as carry-on luggage, with no extra charges. Her luggage not only garners attention in the women’s compartment but also sparks interest in the minds of commuters.
She says, “Women appreciate this practice. They get so enthusiastic and curious when they see my bike. They ask me all sorts of questions like the cost of the bike, where to get it and other specifics. It makes me feel very satisfied to see such a reaction.” The practice also realises the dreams of many environmentalists who aim for minimum pollution while travelling. “There are so many of us who do this regularly,” says Firoza. When asked what drives her to do it, she smiles and says, “If I motivate a few more to cycle, my trip becomes a success.”