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Nidhi Jamwal

A large number of Mumbaikars regularly cycle to work. The author catches up with some enthusiast ‘corporate’ cyclists for whom cycling to office is not a part of life- it’s a way of life.

“Cycle2work is the best way to stay fit and contribute towards environment protection”
Photos courtesy: FPJ

Four years ago, Chaitanya Nayak, then 51 years old, was afflicted with various lifestyle diseases. A sedentary routine and high pressure job was turning into a health nightmare for the vice president and HR head of SBI Mutual Funds, who weighed over 85 kgs and, in spite of the regular medication, had his blood pressure shooting up to 200/120 mm Hg. “I found myself at a crucial crossroad in life where I had to attain work-life balance if I did not want to end up with a heart surgery and a retired life full of high medical bills,” narrates Nayak, who is a grandfather and lives in Amboli area of Andheri (West).

One fine day, Nayak went ahead and bought himself an imported bicycle worth Rs 60,000 and decided to start cycling. His initial cycling trips were limited to his neighbourhood, but soon cycling became a passion. He decided to cycle to work, much against the wishes of his wife. Latter had every reason to worry, as Nayak’s office at Nariman Point was 30 kms from the residence. But, Nayak wanted to give it a try.

“I left home early in the morning, cycling in cool sea breeze, taking short chai-breaks at Shivaji Park and Crawford market to inform my wife about my whereabouts, and finally reached my office after two-and-a-half hours,” reminisces Nayak, who enjoyed the ride and kept clicking pictures from his smart phone on way to the office.

“Although I am born and brought up in Mumbai, and had crossed these places umpteen times in my chauffeur-driven car, I had never cared to look at them closely. Cycling helped me fall in love with my city in a different light,” says Nayak (now 55) with a child-like excitement.

Since that morning, over three years ago, Nayak has been regularly cycling to work. “I made it a point to cycle to work at least once a week. Within six months, I lost over 15 kgs and my blood pressure also stabilised. I started to feel fit and cycling acted as a great stress buster,” says the HR head of SBI Mutual Fund, who has inspired a couple of fund managers at his office to cycle to work every Thursday.

Six months ago, Nayak’s office shifted from Nariman Point to Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) where there is a facility of shower and parking for the cyclists. “The day I have lot of stressful work at office, I cycle to work,” says a smiling Nayak, who claims cycling is not just a physical fitness regimen, but also a gateway to sound mental health.

Arvindaksh Tewari, too, swears by the positive mental health impacts of cycling to work. Working as a promo producer with Neo Sports Broadcast, 30-years-old Tewari lives at Mira Road in the western suburb and has been regularly cycling to work for over six years now. Initially his workplace was located at Malad, about 20 kms from his residence. So, he used to cycle to work five times in a week (40 kms in a day). Some eight months ago, his office moved to Worli, over 40 kms from his home. But, Tewari, who was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 19 years old, did not give up.

“I now cycle to work twice a week, covering 80 kms in a day. Cycling acts as a stress-buster, as I can go at my own pace without getting affected by the traffic jams. I get to make an eye contact with the people and reciprocate smiles. Apart from keeping my diabetes in check, cycling is cathartic to me,” says Tewari, who has done calculation of savings in fuel cost.

Cycling to work from Mira Road to Worli five times in a week helps save Rs 6,000 a month for a CNG car. In case of a diesel vehicle, the monthly saving in Rs 8,500. And, for a petrol car, it is whooping Rs 15,000 a month. Maintenance of a cycle costs only Rs 1,500 every three months and there is no fuel cost. “Cycle-to-work is a win-win situation. I burn fat, I stay mentally fit and I also save on the money,” adds Tewari.

Cycle-to-work is not an all-male bastion. Zohra Mutabanna Momin, a city and transportation planner, and Mansi Sahu, an urban designer, both work at Matunga-based Studio POD and cycle-to-work. Studio POD, a city planning, urban design and architectural firm, has five employees and all cycle-to-work.

“Four of my colleagues daily cycle-to-work, as they live close-by in Mahim. I stay at Colaba [15 kms away], hence cycle-to-work once or twice a week,” says Sahu. A couple of months ago, Sahu’s bicycle got stolen from outside her office. But, her colleagues gifted her new bicycle, just to ensure she does not give up on cycling to work.

Momin, who started cycling a couple of years ago while studying at Boston, considers herself a “nervous” cyclist. “I cycle-to-work because I am totally into sustainable mobility and have vowed never to buy a car. It would be great if the government can provide facilities, such as cycling tracks and cycle parking lots, to encourage non-motorised transport,” says Momin, whose husband, Sarfaraz daily cycles to work. Research shows that trip lengths in Mumbai are less than 2km for more than 50 per cent people. “These short distances are more important and can be converted to cycling trips,” she adds.

Much to the relief of cyclists like Nayak, Tewari and Momins, on June 6 this year, a day marked as the International Cycle to Work Day, an ambitious ‘cycle2work’ project was launched in Mumbai. On this day, several cyclists came together and cycled from multiple locations in the city – Worli, Chembur, Thane and Goregaon — and converged at Hriday, Sofitel Luxury Hotel at BKC, which had sponsored the venue and offered ‘De Lightful’ and scrumptious breakfast to all the participants. Nayak, Tewari, Momin, Sahu and hundreds more were part of this event, which managed to bring together cyclists from various corners of the metropolis.

“Cycle2work is the best way to stay fit and contribute towards environment protection. Through this project, we aim to raise awareness among people that cycling is not dangerous and roads do not belong to motorists alone,” says 43-years-old Firoza Suresh, who along with her colleague, Piyush Shah planned the cycle2work event.

Nidhi Jamwal is a freelance environment journalist. She has been writing on environment and development issues for the last 15 years, and has travelled across India reporting on industrial pollution, water management, renewable energy, climate change, science & technology, etc.  She regularly contributes articles to Yahoo! Originals, ECO magazine, Terra Green, The Free Press Journal, etc. She also takes up research, writing and editing assignments for various organisations.

(Reproduced with author’s permission, the article was published in The Free Press Journal on 3 August, 2014)

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