“Traffic on Indian roads” is a phrase synonymous to the noun ”chaos”. Rules aren’t followed unless they have to be, which means only when there is a policeman clearly visible around, lanes are arbitrary, all road-sides double as parking spots, footpaths are motorbike paths if they can get away with it and bicycle lanes are few and far between even in the handful of cities that have made allowances for them. In this environment, where everybody needs to get somewhere fast (to the point that you’d begin suspecting the whole world to be playing out car chases and time trials straight out of of action movies) cyclists have been reduced to secondary citizens who belong neither on the road nor the pavement.
One of the causes for this disregard is the long standing ”superiority – bias” in society that the rich foster against the poor; which in today’s terms is rather more relative and reduced from the extreme contrast of older times to, “My vehicle is motorized so my need to get where I’m going has definitely got to be greater than yours.” In the busier, more congested roads of cities around the country, cyclists have been well squeezed out and wherever they do venture, they are bullied into giving everybody else the right of way.
In order to stay safe cycling on Indian city roads, you need to have the mental preparation a fighter entering the ring or a batsman stepping onto the pitch has. Stay alert and keep a look out for these common nuisances.
1. The Obnoxious Flipper : They lay in wait, within parked cars, speaking on the phone, finalizing grocery lists, anything that kills time until a bike comes along. Then, it’s time to open their door and present a large obstructive plane at point blank range. Also beware of it’s derivative, the hurried flipper who owing to an allergic reaction to staying inside stationary cars will throw open their door as soon as their car halts, which is the one point of time when car passengers would usually be expected to pay attention before getting out. It is best to ring your bell when passing a parked vehicle that may have a driver or a passenger in it.
2. The Silent Slicker: This species of road animal is usually found in suburban – neighbourhood streets where walls block road visibility around curves and junctions. Like ninjas on the hunt, they travel silent and fast, mostly passing by unnoticed. Their abhorrence toward extravagance and inherent eco-sensitivity prevents them from acknowledging the usefulness of that very valid old instrument called the ”horn” in preventing pile-ups. Always expect one of these to be creeping up on you from around a blind curve even if you are doing a left turn, especially on smaller roads where the right side and left side of the street are one and the silent slicker’s sense of economy forces them to stick to the inner curve to save that much more time, fuel and money. Again, ringing one’s bell before turning blind curves can prevent mishaps.
3. The Auto Weavers: This class of road warrior is undoubtedly one you are well wary of. Nothing says ”Indian Roads” as much as the high tempo-ed thump thumping of the Autorickshaw engine. The auto, much like it’s black and yellow cousin the bumble-bee, is a pollinator, it sucks the nectar of the footpaths. As it flies from footpath to footpath, buzzing it’s distinct buzz, it drops some nectar on the footpaths it visits and thus performs – cross pollination. Since this act of cross – pollination is vital for the city in it’s day -to – day running, the Auto Weavers are here to stay and thus need to be preemptively cared against as a cyclist. The most important point to be kept in mind when you spot one of these on your path, is that due to it’s extreme dependence on the nectar of the footpaths, the Auto Weaver may at any random point swoop towards the side of the road to reach those footpaths. While this may be expected of any kind of car, the reason why Autos are so dangerous is that they have a very small turning radius and thus, while a movement toward the side by a car has to start from at least 5mtrs. away and progresses slowly, a movement by an auto to the side of the road only needs to start 1mtr. before the stopping point and is completed in rapid motion. A cyclist should always pay particular attention to auto’s by street-sides.
4. Passenger Rallies: A visible threat is easily avoided and something as large as a bus is easily visible. However, when they come at you from behind, it is a different matter altogether. If you see a bus throttling away ahead of you, do not take it as a sign that you can accelerate because buses are on a constant time trial lap during which they have to stop at given check-points(bus stands). Thus every small stretch from bus -stand to bus – stand is nothing less than an opportunity to achieve top speed, and stops and starts are always sudden. Buses, with their high momentum are always loathe to slow down for cyclists. It is best to stick to the extreme side of the road, and in narrower, smaller roads even stop outside the road to let them pass. When overtaking a bus parked at a stand, remember that once they start again, they will most probably overtake you again and then stop at a stand right ahead of you. This could carry on to become a pattern.. It is best you allow them to put a gap between itself and you, or if willing to dash ahead past a few bus-stops, do so yourself.
5. The Artful Beamer: The beamer is the yang to the silent slicker’s yin, they are opposing forces that reside side by side with each other. While the slicker takes pride in confronting you head on, the beamer does the opposite. Every once in a while, especially in the less noisy areas of town, you find yourself cycling lackadaisically and in peace with the universe, enjoying the ride and the breeze on your face when suddenly the thunderous noise of a bellowing 18 wheeler’s horn resounds from right behind you. Next thing you know, you have veered yourself into the gutter and a tiny Maruti -800 is passing you by. Artful Beamers are exceptional individuals of society who take pride in their humility, arming their commonplace cars with horns originally meant for steam boats and trains, not worried about the untoward attention they may garner by its use. Unfortunately there is no measure one could take to rid themselves of the probabilities of being jumped on by a Beamer.
6. The Red Burner: The angular parking cousin of the parallel parking obnoxious flipper, the red burner’s vice is usually a lack of patience. When this evil is paired with a lack of vision due to vehicles parked on both sides of it, a dangerous scenario arises. For the average cyclist moving forward along a row of angular parked vehicles, the red burner appears as one random car among them being turned on. The brake lights burning bright put the cyclist in a conundrum. Should I ride past or wait till he backs out? The cyclist then slows down, but seeing no movement from the car, decides not to waste anymore time and dashes straight ahead . This is usually when the red burner finally backs out. A guideline to follow in case you encounter a burner is to pass it only if there is more traffic on the street passing it, as red burners, thought disregarding of cyclists, usually watch out for larger vehicles on the street.