After 5 months of intense city cycling on Bangalore’s urban roads, I’m more convinced than ever that even for a foreigner like me, there is absolutely no problem in commuting Bangalore by bike. Agreed, you have to know some small tricks to fully take advantage of the trip. Ok, here you go:
If you go to work by bike, take your time for the first few days and figure out the best streets to take. Big roads can be rather tiring (loud!) and are perhaps even not the quickest option.
A smart phone with GPS can help but not always. If you are cycling on big roads, no problem, you can trust the GPS. Small roads however, bring you often quicker and in a more relaxed way to your destination but regrettably you cannot rely on GPS for the small roads – at least not with my system. Anyway, try not to use GPS, you’ll understand the city much quicker and the estimation of time you need to go from A to B becomes natural.
You need good lights for the front and the back of the bicycle. Even if you feel incredibly cool when overtaking cars, auto-rickshaws and even buses by bike, you are still the weakest element in this organism named traffic.
Breaks have to be fixed regularly. In the daily competition of who-goes-first, your breaks serve you as kind of an insurance and decide if you dare or not taking “your space.”
For the monsoon season you need to have at least a good plastic bag in your backpack to protect your phone and other things that are sensitive to water. Once you are really really wet, take it easy: the shower at home will be even better.
Mainly potholes and buses! The first are much less of an issue if you know the way (hopefully you didn’t get to know them the painful way), the latter stay the Rambos of the Indian traffic. Anyway, you develop some kind of a prophecy-sense when it comes to overtake buses – or is it perhaps courage or simply madness…? Busses have the power on the road and they know it, so the only way to pass them, is to do that just before a stop or a street hump. Those street humps are really nice for bicyclers because every other vehicle has to slow down when they approach them, not cyclists.
Space management: Well, that can sometimes be a bit scary when you have for example 2 auto-rickshaws, 2 cars and your good self next to each other on a normal road and suddenly this scooty driver thinks there is still enough space for him and somehow squeezes himself through. No need to scream of anger, nobody will react despite of some large vicious smiles from your Indian street friends, saying: See, white fellow, not everybody is strong enough for the Indian roads. You don’t want to give anybody this satisfaction.
Important is not to do any abrupt movements to the left or to the right. Your move should be predictable by the drivers behind you. And when you are showing what you want, you get it.
But don’t be polite or anxious and look back before you change the side of the road. Make a sign with your hand and then move slowly but steadily from one side to the other. If you look back, people assume that you have seen them and that means you know what they want, hence they want to get first what they want before they let you change the side of the road. In short: looking back confuses everybody. Of course you should use your ears to estimate how near the nearest driver next to you is before changing directions. If I think of that, I’ve to add one small observation: Loud and deep honk-sounds correspond not necessarily to big vehicles. One may think that there is something like a market for bus or truck honks. Often you hear a typical honk of a bus but what comes along is just a little scooty. And sometimes it is also the other way around: surprise…!
Looking people into their eyes is equally confusing as looking back. Your regard gives people permission to go – your choice.
Feedback: Constant smiles, thumbs up and comments of Indians street fellows give you a damn good feeling that you are actually doing something right.
When you go out for a small evening drink or you find one of the rare places to dance in B’lore, take the bike! The way home will be great. After 11pm Bangalore’s streets are totally empty. You’ll actually see that it is still a very green city and you even smell the flowers of the trees, something what is of course impossible during the day.
For a short weekend outing, organise a van, a pickup or one of these mini-auto-rickshaw-pickups to get out of the city. Spend the day among rice paddles, tiny towns and relax. What better way is there to spend your Saturday or Sunday?