Rs 17,000 - Rs 1 lakh
They are mean machines that will take you pelting down the highway. They have two wheels and pedals by the side. But the resemblance to the bicycles that once dominated Indian roads many decades ago stops just about there.
Look closely and you’ll notice the fitted GPS that will tell you the way to your destination. And what about the ultra-stylish high-density LED lights that are rechargeable from a computer USB port? Some even have a cyclometer which looks like a mini-computer attached to the machine. It tells the rider details like distance ridden, speed at which one is riding and even the number of calories burnt. Of course, it goes without saying that all these bicycles have several gears that help to determine speed while accelerating.
Look even closer and you may find that the saddle is well-padded and comes in high-quality leather. And these bikes are all amazingly featherweight creations that can be lifted with one hand.
brands (From top)
Rs 14,000 - Rs 40,000
Rs 17,000 - Rs 35,000
Rs 24,000 - Rs 1.60 lakh
Rs 14,500 - Rs 35,000
Rs 17,000 - Rs 1 lakh and more
(prices are approximate)
The bicycle connoisseur in today’s world is spoilt for choice. He — or she — can take their pick from top-end imported brands like Cannondale, Bianchi, Schwinn, Mongoose and GT. The price-tag for these fancy wheels start at around Rs 20,000 but can climb to a lakh or more.
Once upon a time, many decades ago, Indian cities were dominated by hundreds of thousands of rugged utilitarian vehicles that were a necessity for their owners. Today the sleek new 21st century bikes are machines of indulgence. Their owners are affluent and cycle in their spare time ‘just for fun’ and to stay in peak condition.
“Its status has been elevated and redefined. Today, people love to cycle for fitness and fun,” says Rajesh Mani, head, marketing, TI Cycles, one of India’s largest cycle manufacturers and the sole distributor for many high-end imported cycles.
As automobiles and motorbikes pour onto Indian roads, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that cycle sales would be plummeting. You’d be way off the mark and Mani can vouch that exactly the opposite is happening. TI Cycles is selling more high-end bikes than ever before.
Last summer, to meet soaring demand, TI launched its own high-end model, the Montra with racing driver Karan Chandhok as its brand ambassador. The cheapest Montra starts at about Rs 20,000 and the complete all-carbon-fibre models retail for over Rs 60,000. The all-carbon-fibre version weighs a mere 8.5 kg. Says Mani: “The Montra is already a hit.”
So, you have young executives like Bindu Krishnan, 43, and her husband V.K. Krishnan, who’ve started out by spending a hefty chunk of their income on the best bikes in the market and then went hunting for the best accessories that money could buy.
Two years ago Bindu bought a Trek-4300 Cycle for Rs 24,000. For starters, she added a soft Brooks leather saddle that replaced the original hard one. Between them, the couple reckons they’ve spent about double or triple the original price of their bikes on the extras. “You end up spending more on minor accessories starting from the helmet, which is most important. Then there are gloves and some even buy shoes,” says Bindu, who cycles mostly for fun.
But there are others like Vijay Rajkumar, who go almost everywhere on their bikes — despite the dangerous traffic. Rajkumar is a development worker who works on projects with the United Nations in Nepal and Bangkok and has been pedalling away furiously since 2003. He bought his first bike in Bangkok for $1,500. For him, the bike came in handy when he was posted to Kathmandu. He got to “see the most beautiful areas around, which tourists don’t normally get to, on the bike.” In addition, he says: “I feel happy that I minimise my carbon footprint.”
Today, Rajkumar braves the deadly traffic and cycles between Delhi and Gurgaon once during weekends (that’s about 45km) — though he admits that the roads can be scary sometimes.
Fanatic cyclists like Rajkumar are the people who’re keeping cycle distributor Rajesh Girdhar in business. Girdhar, who owns three cycle showrooms in Noida and Ghitorni on the outskirts of Delhi, says cheerfully that business has never been better. He’s currently the largest distributor in the National Capital Region for leading American brands and says that he now has no space in his showrooms for cheaper models. “Earlier, I had nothing fancy in my showroom,” he admits.
At another level, look at the TI Cycle-owned BSA Stores that started out with one single store in Ahmedabad five years ago. Today there are 200 exclusive outlets around the country.
At the top of the market there are the fanciest brands like Cannondale that has models selling for over Rs 90,000. And there are other top-notch brands like the Italian-made Bianchi, which can be yours on the road for around Rs 70,000. And, even after buying expensive bikes like these, customers spend large amounts on accessories as well.
So, what is it that has changed? “The market has taken a 360° turn,” says Girdhar.
Take a look at Gurgaon-based media personality Rajesh Kalra who has formed Pedal Yatri, a group that meets and goes cycling every day. Kalra rides a Trek 4300 — which is one of the many bikes owned by two-wheel champion Lance Armstrong — and he has all kinds of gizmos including a GPS on the handlebar.
Says Kalra: “I think the accessories cost more than the bike. The GPS alone costs about Rs 30,000. Then the lights can cost up to Rs 5,000. Since cycling is a passion, I’m always spending on newer, better accessories.”
“Accessories are a growing market,” says Mani, who reckons that the market for accessories has doubled over the last five years.
Today, there are scores of options even when it comes to buying the most basic piece of equipment: the helmet. There are some with in-built lights that can be lifesavers when riding at night. They cost anywhere between Rs 600 and Rs 5,000.
Then there are the gloves which come in an extraordinary range. Some have padding and are even filled with gel that serves as a cushion. And there are hi-tech water bags with an in-built pipe that allows riders to sip water without slowing down. These bags cost between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000.
You could say that nothing is left to chance in the modern world of cycling. So, manufacturers even have a solution for flat tyres! Carry along a smart portable hand pump that can be fitted onto your bike. Some hand pumps come with a gauge or a meter to see how much air has gone in.
There’s one more piece of equipment that’s great for fitness- conscious cyclists. This is an onboard metre that measures all the possible statistics that a rider might want to know. It can tell you speed, riding time, trip distance and the total kilometres covered. It will even tell you the number of calories burnt. All of these are indicated on the screen of the machine, which looks like a mini computer. The most sophisticated models come for around Rs 10,000.
At your service
Most cyclists will tell you that maintenance isn’t all that tough any longer. Says Kalra: “Maintaining it in good condition is surprisingly not too expensive. You need to keep the chain and the gear assembly clean and lubricated for easy riding and longer life. Most of us can service the basic parts ourselves.”
And dealers and distributors try to provide service too. Although the quality of such service engineers is still erratic, things are improving.
Hit the road
The availability of good brands and smart, functional accessories has made it possible for all kinds of ambitious two-wheel adventures. Consider, for instance, Adhish Chhabra, 23, who cycled all the way from Gurgaon to Goa in 19 days last year. He set out on the arduous journey on a hybrid cycle, a Schwinn Searcher along with heaps of equipment that he needed on the way. Among the items he took along were two extra tyres, four extra tubes, puncture patches, four extra brake pads and extra pedals. In addition, he was also carrying a tool kit, extra batteries, lights and, of course, cycling clothes. Chhabra added a carrier and panniers (basket) for his luggage. “I carried a hydration pack along with two extra water bottles and a light backpack,” he says. Chhabra started doing long distance riding at the age of 12.
In fact, many cyclists find that travelling in groups is a great way to make friends. For instance, South African Jeremy Yatt, a healthcare funding specialist, initially found it tough to meet new people when he moved to Gurgaon. All that changed when he joined a group of early morning cyclists — and he also got to see less well-known parts of the countryside. “You are able to experience a different India and see birds and wildlife and not be surrounded by smoky honking cars. I’ve met and made friends with some fantastic people too,” he says.
Similarly, Satdru Sarkar, who signed up for Pedal Yatri says he’s able to make other two-wheel friends whenever he comes from Calcutta to visit the capital. “This has allowed me to meet like-minded people,” says the marketing professional.
However, everyone admits that there are risks involved. Rajkumar says he has to constantly watch out for aggressive drivers who bully their way past smaller vehicles. “According to traffic rules you should give way to traffic on the right. But 99 per cent vehicles wouldn’t give way to a cyclist,” he says.
Yatt who lives in a fancy ultra- luxury apartment in Gurgaon grumbles that he isn’t allowed to ride his cycle beyond the main gate. “And my bike is worth more than some of the cars that drive through the main entrance,” he says.
There’s no question that many would-be cyclists are deterred from taking to the road by the risks involved. Nevertheless, cycling is now a fashionable statement for people who want to stay fit and who are also environmentally conscious. And it can be great fun too.
Photographs by Jagan Negi