Posted in February 2013

Notes and Addendums

February 28th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/23

Bikes Fixed:                  48

Bikes/Day Avg:               2.09


I don’t have a lot of time today so I won’t do the post I was planning on doing, but there are some notes and addendums I’ve been meaning to post that should fit nicely in this time slot.

(knowing how I write, this could easily turn into a longer post. We’ll just wait and see)

(note from future self: it did)

– – –


Lord Shiva, the “Destroyer” or “Transformer” of the Hindu Trimurti

I think it’s important to start with the thing I didn’t fully explain last post. That is, the Kumbh Mala this year is actually happening at a city called Allahabad. The reason there were people bathing in the river at Haridwar is because Allahabad is a trek for some people. Possibly in their opinion (and mine as well): While the technical Kumbh is at Allahabad, the idea and spirit of the event are the same in Haridwar — even if that’s not where everyone else is. There are holy rivers in both places.

Just wanted to be clear.

– – –

This glass not much bigger than a shot glass.

Second. The tea story.

In India they drink a lot of tea. A lot of tea. Given all the smoking and chewing and pollution and noise I’m convinced tea is the only reason the life expectancy here is as long as it is (okay, there’s also the family structure, but that’s another story). The tea is small. It comes in glasses not much bigger than a shot glass. At the shop we have it many times a day. There’s even a tea guy that comes and gives us our tea (though sometimes there is arguing about whether we should pay him in advance or not).

So my first day at the shop they asked me if I wanted tea. “Sure,” I said (when someone offers you something here what they really mean is, “You’re going to take this, okay?” so it’s best to go with it unless you’re really quite opposed). Then they asked me if I wanted sugar. “Uh, no thanks,” I said. I couldn’t be sure until I tried it, but as a rule I try things without sugar first. Anand (the manager) did a double take and asked again: “No sugar?”

“No sugar.” I replied.

He went off to get my tea, and all around me I heard people whispering, “No sugar!”

“No sugar!”

“This American take no sugar!”

“Hey! No sugar man here!”

I felt like I had done something wrong. It was later explained to me that everyone takes their tea with sugar here, so much so that seeing someone take tea without sugar was a sight to see. Imagine if you will someone in the States… I don’t know, opposed to wearing a seat belt or something. It’s just not something you see every day. Or every month. Or every year.

(Ironic example though — not many people here wear seat belts).

– – –


Bicycle Rickshaw: Motorized Edition

I’ve also been meaning to write an addendum to the post about how robust the bicycles here are. More specifically, I wanted to touch on bicycle rickshaws. When I made the original post I didn’t have a lot of info on them just yet, because, you know, they are so robust they hardly ever need work. Of the 48 bikes I’ve fixed so far, I think only one has been a rickshaw.

Let’s talk about wheels.

In the States, wheels come in all shapes and sizes. Some are carbon fiber. Some have fewer spokes than normal. Even on a touring bike people worried about weight will go for a 20-some spoke wheel sometimes (which I can’t say I support, but hey, it’s a free country).

In India (speaking only to commuter and rickshaw-type bicycles) I haven’t seen a single bike with less than 32 spokes. For those of you who have no idea what that means, it means the wheels are strong. As a general rule, the more spokes, the stronger the wheel. Wheels are also built with a certain number of “crosses” — the number of times a given spoke crosses other spokes between the hub and the rim (see below). Again, as a general rule, the more crosses, the stronger the wheel (and the better it handles torsional load — that is, load that makes the wheel rotate).

A 48-spoke 3-cross wheel (pictured with only one side laced).

For more information on bicycle wheels check out Jobst Brandt’s The Bicycle Wheel. Anyways, one thing I noticed in India was wheels like this:


That’s 6-cross and about 80 spokes.

So yea, it’s no wonder they never have to replace spokes. If one breaks… er… nothing happens. Oh, and I can tell you one probably won’t break: When I went on tour I custom-built my wheel set. The rear wheel (which takes the majority of the load) was 36 spokes, three-cross. Let’s say all told the wheel held 300 lbs — myself, the bike, and all my gear. That’s less than 10 lbs per spoke (most spokes are pre-tensioned to about 180 lbs, so less than 10% of their tension was relieved — without pre-tension spokes simply buckle).

Call the driver, two passengers, and the weight of the rickshaw 550 lbs. Even if the rickshaw had only one rear wheel, that’s less than 7 lbs per spoke. Even if they were poor quality spokes and not built well, they still wouldn’t wince at that amount of weight. But rickshaws have two rear wheels, so halve that: 3.5 lbs per spoke.

Just sayin’.

(to those of you physicists and bicycle fanatics out there, I know the weight isn’t evenly distributed between every spoke at all times (or ever). But let’s keep it simple, shall we?)

– – –

I want to cap that off by looking at the other side of bicycle quality in India. I mentioned in an earlier post labor was cheaper than good quality parts.


Check out the photo above. There are two spokes close to the camera that exit at the bottom of the photo. Notice the one that exits on the right hand side crosses the other from the left. This is correct. Notice that it attaches to the hub from the outside. This is called a “head-in” spoke (as the “head” of the spoke is on the inside of the hub). The other spoke is head-out. The head-in spoke is supposed to cross under the head-out spoke. You can see not a crossing, but a space between the two. WRONG.

But wait — who built this wheel? Was it me? Was it someone at the shop? No. It was the manufacturer.

(FYI, here’s a properly built wheel)


Those spokes are getting all up in each others’ stuff. Oooooooh yea.

(head IN spoke goes UNDER head OUT spoke)

This has happened more than once. We actually have to rebuild those wheels. But it’s okay… because labor is cheap.

– – –



There are these kids who appear in the yard sometimes. The first time they appeared we had guests over so I just assumed, but then they kept appearing. I asked Nishith and he said “they come out sometimes.” I think he assumed I knew where they really live (I’ll tell you that in a bit).

Before I get into the real point of this post I just want to tell you how adorable they are. In case the photo doesn’t give it away, imagine them all running up to you and trying to convince you to put them on your shoulders. They turn around, their back pressed against you with their arms wide out (a perfect position to pick them up from). They look up at you, and say, “Please, baya, please!”

(baya means “sir” in many contexts)

Baya, please. It’s adorable.


I was talking to someone about my project and the “I get to see India” part of it. He told me that I wasn’t really seeing India, that the real India was in peoples’ homes and especially in people’s villages. Gurgaon, Dehli, Dehradun — they aren’t the “real” India, he said (to which Prabhat agrees). So, I’ve got to make a point to visit a village at some point (the cycling group bikes through them sometimes, but not quite what I have in mind).

Prabhat has housekeeping around during the day. When I asked where they lived, he said “in the house.” I assumed this meant all the way upstairs, a place I hadn’t been to yet. One day I came home from work and one of the kids came out of the garage to ask me to come watch TV.

Much to my surprise I was led through the garage and into a side door leading to a spiral staircase. Up the spiral staircase were one, two, three floors just like in the rest of the house, but it was… a different house? Yes — this is where the housekeeping, and their kids (those kids!) live:


(one floor of many — one floor per family, I believe).

So behind me in that photo is a wall, to the right are two bedrooms no bigger than 8×8 each, and a bathroom about 4×4.

I know it’s not a village, and it’s just one house of millions in India, but sitting there watching TV with them on a 12″ CRT TV, I thought for a second, “Yea, this is India.” It was by no means a conclusive thought — it was just a thought — but I wanted to share it all the same.


Where I was standing when I took the shot — you can see the entrance to the bathroom.

Also, don’t think, “Man, that’s terrible!”. They are, without a doubt, happy. Actually, they are some of the most genuinely happy children I’ve seen in my life. Most of the people here seem (to my humble, American, touristy eyes), really quite happy. The same person who was telling me where “the real India” was said just the same thing — living in such a material place as the States, it can be hard to grasp how people are possibly happy living in a single story 20×20 flat without a big screen TV and two love seats and five iDevices. But they are. More importantly, the vast majority of Indian citizens live that way. It’s not something to pity or frown upon, or perhaps not even something we should rush so vehemently to change (though there’s definitely a conversation there). It’s the way many live, and it works for them.

Please baya. America has got a lot to learn.


– – –

While I’m taking at another shot at the whole income inequality thing I may as well state some facts. These are tricky to state as I had to ask a lot of people how much they made, or how much they paid so-and-so, etc. Try not to look into where I got the information as I’d like to respect the privacy of those providing it.

– Minimum wage in India, while not always respected due to the government’s lack of presence, is $3/day. Or, $900/year, in a year with 300 working days (one day off a week plus a few holidays and sick days).

– Many of the shops in Sikanderpur (the area where Fauji cycles is located) have “assistants” working there; that is, kids who don’t want to go to school, so instead work at the shop. They do get paid, I was somewhat surprised to find out — about Rs. 2500 ($50) per month, or $600/year (either they are exempt from minimum wage because of their age or this is an example of the government being ignored).

– If you are in an upper income bracket you probably have housekeeping of some kind (remember, labor is cheap). One person I asked said a housekeeper could expect to make about Rs. 15000/mo ($300), or $3600/year. My impression is that this is 12/7/365 minus a few holidays and sick days.

– Begging can be one of the most profitable professions (and they do call it that), with Prabhat confirming the possibility that one could make up to $1000/day. For instance, in Dehli, a hundred thousand people might walk by a particular beggar in a day. If just one quarter of those people throw in two rupees each ($0.04, a common amount to give to beggars), that’s 25,000*2 = Rs. 50,000, or $1000. The population of Dehli is 16.3 million, with a density of about 30,000 people per square mile (but remember, most of the money goes up!).

– As in the States (admittedly I was one of these people until I came here), nobody seems to really know about the bottom income bracket. They think they do (I thought I did) but they’ve hardly met these people or actually know how much they make. I told a friend here — this was even someone who lives in Sikanderpur, not in a suburb — the average income in Haryana was Rs. 110,000/yr ($2200), to which he replied, “Per month?”

“Per year,” I corrected him.

“You must mean per month.”

“No. It’s per year.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

If you don’t believe me, look it up yourself.

– – –

All for now.

2 thoughts on “Notes and Addendums

  1. Jenna says:

    Fascinating! Now I really want to bild bike wheels. And great commentary on the $$ and materialism… this is something I really like to think about given that I work with that very lowest income population here. Keep the wisdom coming!


  2. Marilyn says:

    Love the kids! Do they say what they want to be when they grow up?

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Adventure 1, Part 2

February 27th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/22

Bikes Fixed:                  45

Bikes/Day Avg:               2.05

Halfway there!



Best name for a fire extinguisher company ever.

Assuming you speak English.

Before I begin, a side note: Due to monstrous amounts of spam (about 20 posts a day), I have added a few phrases to a “hotlist;” that is, posts with those phrases are automatically marked as spam and disposed of. So if your post doesn’t appear, just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll go in and approve it. Or just don’t post a link to a website for Air Jordans at half off.


Where were we? Ah, yes. Dehradun.


Found it.

So we woke up in the morning and had a long breakfast while waiting for Rishabh to be freed from boarding school (they can only leave campus on Sundays from 11 AM – 6:45 PM). At around 9:30 or 10 Prabhat had a meeting with someone from the school to sponsor a student from a lower income bracket (yay Prabhat!). After getting a small tour of campus…


What? There’s no roman architecture here!

…we hopped into the van and asked Rishabh and his friend where they’d like to go. Before I tell you what they said know that this boarding school doesn’t allow outside food. Everything you eat is cafeteria-style. Except on Sundays. So when Prabhat said “Where to?” it’s no surprise they both said, simultaneously,


I should mention that in Dehradun, for whatever reason, I had my first run-in with American-style beggars. In Gurgaon there were a few people who walked around and were “working” for their money in a more conventional sense, or at least one that a religious person might give money to (as a Hindu you are supposed to give 5% of your income to charity. A surprising amount of people do. A surprising amount don’t). Street performers, religious servants, the blind, etc. In Dehradun I got more of what I was expecting — people who didn’t do anything to warrant you giving them money except just asking for it.

(okay, what do I know. Begging culture is complicated here. I could do an entire post on it, but I’d probably be out of my league. Take this post with a grain of salt)

A kid came up to our car and tapped on the window. When we got out of our car at KFC there were some folks following us around putting their hand up to their mouth (“Money for food”). Unfortunately most of the money in these cases goes up… so you just have to ignore them.

Anyways. Perhaps I’ll do more on that later. But first… KFC.


Did you know such small portions even existed?

This is not your typical KFC. Okay, it did feel very American, especially in contrast to the Indian-style restaurants I’d been to thus far. It was spacious. There was advertising. There were some obvious nods to American-style fast food. But they also used more Indian spices — I definitely tasted some turmeric in the chicken. Your food comes on a plate, not in a bag (look at that chicken just sitting there, all out in the open! Preposterous!). And the prices — oh, the prices.


Definitely not American.

Okay, the TVs were American, but I see… (1 Rs = $0.02 if you want to do it yourself) a “chicken snacker” (small burger) for Rs. 35, $0.70; a “veggie snacker” (for religious reasons all the restuarants here (yes, EVEN KFC!!!) have veggie options) for Rs. 25, $0.50; a frappe(cino) for Rs. 39, $0.78… etc. To be fair, these items aren’t very big, but it sure beats the concept of a “dollar menu.”

For the record, the cashier did try and get me to “upgrade” my snack box to… something involving a drink. So, good for them.

Anyways, after KFC we went to see Die Hard.

– – –

Some notes on movies.

All the theater movies have at least two no-smoking ads, and each ad is played once in English, and once in Hindi. On that note, all the cigarette boxes and tobacco pouches have pictures of very dead lungs on them. The whole “don’t kill yourself with tobacco” campaign is in a different league than the one in the States. I can’t remember the last time I saw a “no smoking” ad at home.

Despite all the effort, everybody here smokes and chews. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been offered a cigarette or chewing tobacco. I think the tobacco industry has won just because of sheer number… there’s no peer pressure here… everyone is pressuring you. Sort of. By doing it themselves (side note: the US is 40th in life expectancy at 78 years old, India is 147th at 64. The highest and lowest are Japan, 83, and the Central African Republic, 45, respectively). You know, the old fashioned kind of peer pressure.

The English movies have subtitles. It makes the acting seem very… mundane (if you’ve ever read a transcript you know what I meant). I think it didn’t help that some of the lines in Die Hard died hard a few movies ago… and Bruce Willis mentioned he was on vacation quite a bit (funny the first few times). But I understand why; I’m French-as-a-Second-Language and French subtitles help me quite a bit.

– – –

Aaaaanyways. After the movie we bummed around a bit and went to another restaurant for dinner. Prabhat and I talked a lot and our guests (whose names I won’t mention for reasons you’ll understand in a second here) went shopping for food items. At 6:15 we got in the car to head back to the boarding school, and the next half hour was sounds of,

“They won’t check the jacket.”

“No, you take that.”

“I thought your backpack had a secret compartment…?”

“Will that fit in here?”

“Tang is OK, don’t bother.”

“Will you take the pop-tarts?”

“No, we should fit as much in the jacket as possible.”

Oh, boarding school. Anyways, from what I hear nothing got confiscated, so they did a good job of it.

We had a bit to kill so headed out of town to try and find some quiet (if you haven’t picked it out yet, that’s hard to come by — sitting in my room right now I can hear honking, dogs barking, some monkeys, dinner being made, two TVs… “quiet” isn’t part of the culture). We found a roadside restaurant with minimal honking and a nice breeze.


Prabhat spent a lot of time on the phone doing business, so I got some time to read, play cards, and practice my Hindi with the waiter. And by “practice my Hindi” I mean I learned the word “baya” (“sir”), and successfully ordered only one (“ek”) of many things. Go me!

After dinner we got to the train an hour early. Much to my surprise, Prabhat had booked us beds in a sleeper car. I’d never had one before so that was new for me. It may or may not have been on my to-do list, but maybe if there’s a next time, I’ll try it without a stuffy nose.


That’s right. Time to sleep on a train.

Anyways, the ride was from 11:30 PM to 5:30 AM. If you’re going to sleep, you may as well do it right.

Took the metro to Gurgaon from the train station, took an auto rickshaw home from the metro station…


This picture’s fuzziness brought to you by the fact that it was 6 AM.

…got home at 6:30, slept for two hours, then got up and went to work.

What a weekend.

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Adventure 1

February 26th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/21

Bikes Fixed:                  43

Bikes/Day Avg:               2.05

“Adventure 1” sounds like the name of a spaceship or something. Awesome.

IMG_7545Here’s Adventure 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Anyways, while doing the whole “being in India/Guatemala/Zambia” adventure, I thought I might go on some other adventures… does that make them sub-ventures? Or tangent ventures? Maybe they are tan adventures. I don’t know. Anyways, last weekend my host, Prabhat, left town for a business trip and a visit to his eldest son. I tagged along. It was pretty great.

– – –

A quick note before I begin.

I am, obviously, here to fix bikes. 90 bikes, to be precise (in 90 days). In my mind, as long as I do that, I am allowed adventures on the side. EG, if I manage to fix two bikes a day for a few days, I can take the next few days and travel. After all, I’m in India!

That is not to say I give priority to traveling.

Also, any traveling I do will come out of my own bank account. Donated money is only to be used for the items in the budget.

– – –

So the only unfortunate part of this trip was the to-and-from. Prabhat and I are both working folk. The best way to not miss work was to take the train during a time when we would have rather been sleeping. So last Saturday we got up at 4:30 AM to make a 5:30 train. It was a five hour train ride to Haridwar, with some nice scenery along the way.


The tinted windows cost extra.

Namely, it was a reminder that the vast majority of India is rural. I think the people in the cities here suffer from the same thing we do in the states — urbanitis. It’s easy to forget that the whole world isn’t high-rises and housing developments when that’s all you see.

Anyways, we got into Haridwar about 11:30. Prabhat had arranged a “tourist vehicle” for the weekend. These are guys who you hire for a period of time to drive you around (remember, labor is cheap in India). They have special colorings on their cars so everyone knows you don’t belong.

I didn’t take a picture, nor can I find a picture online, which is interesting, because they are everywhere. But here’s a photo of how everybody else was getting around:

IMG_7544Saw that one coming.

So a few days ago I met a feller who was telling me he was from Haridwar, and every twelve years there was a religious gathering there called the Kumbh Mala. As it so happens, 2013 is one of those years, and last weekend was admist the 45 days of the festival. So I was accidentally in Haridwar for the Kumbh. Prahbat was able to fill me in — I don’t know if he’d planned it or not, but he had his stuff down.

The deal is that there’s these holy rivers. See, Kumbh Mala is Hindi for “holy pitcher.” So some Hindi gods were carrying around this pitcher and some water fell out, and that’s why we have these rivers. So if you bathe in the confluence of the rivers, all your sins are washed away.


I don’t think a snarky comment would be appropriate here.

It’s a bit (okay, a lot) more complicated than that but without all the religious background that’s the best I’ve got for now.

Prabhat offered to wait while I bathed in the river but frankly, I wasn’t mentally prepared. I had just heard about the festival the day before and I feel like washing away your sins is something not to be done on a whim. Actually, even after spending a half hour reading through the Wikipedia page, I’m still not sure exactly what it’s about. Clearly it’s an important festival since it attracts upwards of 50 million people (this year there’s expected to be 80 million) — more than 5 million people a day for each of the 45 days — so I have some homework to do. I’ll get back to you.


And these 5 million people.

– – –

After Haridwar we drove to some city I forgot the name of, and can’t find on Google Maps, but it was in the foothills of the Himalayas. The last 30 minutes of the drive were some seriously windy roads that reminded me of some stretches of Highway 1 in California, USA from my bicycle touring days.


Going up…

The signage was pretty entertaining — phrases like “Speed Thrills — but Kills” and “License to Drive, Not Fly” greeted us every few turns. Anyways, we made it partway up, and stopped for lunch. It was Rs. 250 ($5) for Prabhat, myself, and a friend. “A little expensive for my taste,” said Prabhat.


“A little delicious for mine,” said Kyle

It was basically an all-you-can-eat buffet of dal and roti. For $5. For three people. And supposedly that’s expensive.

Side note — as best I can tell there are two kinds of restaurants.  There’s the hole-in-the-way style, notable because, well, they are small, and the kitchen is usually up front. The cost is astronomically… low. The second kind is the “American” kind, with waiters and what-not. Their square footage is more than 100 sq. ft., and their kitchen is in the back, and their prices are closer to (but still less than) what you’d see in the states. Also, the food is safer (remember, there’s no FDA here).

Anyways, after lunch Prabhat went to his business meeting and I got to explore. The view was pretty great.


P.S. — Click on photos to see them full size.

There were also lots of monkeys.


This is not your average roadside.

Something I noticed that I wanted to touch on was that even in this small village (by Indian standards, 15,000 people is a small village), consumerism was still present. Since many times more goods are made local in India it’s never as ominous as it is in the states, but where ever I go there’s at least a billboard for a cell phone company following me.


Welcome to [remote village]!

(hard to tell in this photo but there are three billboards for Idea, a cell phone service provider)

And of course there’s always photos of size 2 women drinking Coca-Cola with an expression that says “My life sucked without Coca-Cola but it’s all better now!”


Okay, I’m done now.

– – –

After monkeyville we headed to Dehradun, where Prabhat’s eldest son Rishubh is in boarding school. It was Saturday and the boarding school only lets the kids out on Sunday, so we bummed around the city a bit, had a long dinner, etc.


The hotel restaurant was very type II (of the two types of venues described above). We paid about Rs. 1200 ($24) for the two of us (and remember, this is hotel food, so you’re supposed to get less than what you pay for).

Afterwards Prabhat introduced me to a tradition called paan, which is supposed to “cleanse your pallet…” or something. It’s a bunch of herbs and spices and medicinal rocks all rolled up in a leaf that you put in your mouth all at once. Supposedly everything in it is swallow-able but even with the extra-unstuffed leaf Prabhat ordered for me I had to spit some of it out. To his credit though, it was an awful lot like an explosion of freshness. There’s also these things in it called “beetle rocks,” which constrict your throat a bit to make you feel full. That’s something I wasn’t prepared for.


The local paan hut.

Anyways, after a walk, we retired to our room, read/journaled/watched TV/whatever, then went to bed. Oh, and the hotel room wasn’t that different from any room you might get in the states. For that reason I’d rather post the view from the room, but when I put all my photos up on Facebook there will be a photo of the room itself.


Anyways, that’s all for now. Part 2 will go up later today or tomorrow, but I need to take a nap. I’m still on the tail end of the bug that’s been going around.

2 thoughts on “Adventure 1

  1. Jenna says:

    sounds like a great tan-adventure! Can’t wait to read part 2! Is what Sam said about the monkeys true?

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What Counts?

February 25th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/20

Bikes Fixed:                  43

Bikes/Day Avg:               2.15



This counts as a flat tire.

Fun fact: The screw went all the way through. Yup. It’s a long screw.

Is it that time again?


It certainly is.


Yes, I’ve been busy, but I’ll be darned if I don’t post at least once a week. Actually, this will just be a short post, and I have an idea for a longer one tomorrow (no work on Tuesdays, which I’ll explain in that post), and an idea for a shorter one after that. I traveled last weekend (which the longer post tomorrow will feature) which is why I haven’t posted recently.


Teaser: One of the places I traveled to. Serious kudos if you know where it is and what’s going on (hint: This only happens once every 12 years).


Anyways — theme for today: What counts?


You’ll notice I’m already on bike 43 and it’s only day 20. This is… well, awesome. In my mind, though, it’s also questionable.

“Two bikes a day!,” I think — “I must be cheating!”



Rickshaw drivers don’t cheat.


Okay, I’m not cheating, but I am wondering: What counts? When I started this project I said I wanted to “fix bikes.” Does that mean I have to spend a certain amount of time on them? What if I don’t finish in that amount of time? What if I spend twice that amount, or work on five bikes in that time?

If certain repairs qualify, are some worth more than others? EG, if building a set of wheels for a bike and then building the bike only counts as one, then what if I just build wheels? Or just build a bike (wheels pre-built)?

Lately, we have been building fewer bikes, and focusing more on customers (exactly what happens in the springtime, by the way — if there’s a shop that hasn’t stocked up by now, it’s already too late). This means I’ve been doing a lot of quick repairs —

“Kyle, could you true this wheel for me?”

“Hey, this headset needs to be adjusted.”

“Could you patch this tube for me?’

(that’s what I imagine they are saying, anyways, but they are speaking in Hindi and the only part I understand is the gestures and facial expressions)


Guess what this expression means.


Some of those things might take 30 seconds. Do they count?


If you’ve been following me on Twitter (which auto-posts to Facebook) you saw that post a while ago: “I fixed so many bikes I’m reconsidering the definition of ‘fix.’ ” This is what I was referring to. I fixed ten bikes that day. Did I cheat?


What’s your opinion? Comment below!


– – –


As a side note, today someone gestured “true this wheel” to me, and I responded by pushing them the spoke wrench (“You true it, I’m busy” — I was doing a brake adjust). He pointed to himself and said a negative sentence in Hindi and pointed to me and said a positive sentence in Hindi. Then he handed me the wheel and the spoke wrench. I took it to mean, “I can’t,” or “I don’t know how,” or “I’m not as good as you,” (…) “you must do it for me.”


If I’m right, then today, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And that feels pretty good.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.


Not that the view isn’t great.

More to come.



4 thoughts on “What Counts?

  1. Marilyn says:

    The Kumbh Mela!

  2. Marilyn says:

    It made the news here! Did you bathe in the Ganges?

    Kumbh Mela (/ˌkʊm ˈmeɪlə/ or /ˌkʊm məˈlɑː/; Devanagari: कुम्भ मेला “kumbh mēlā”) is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is the world’s largest religious gathering, with 80 million people expected in 2013.[2] It is held every third year at one of the four places by rotation: Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayag), Nasik and Ujjain. Thus the Kumbh Mela is held at each of these four places every twelfth year. Ardh (“Half”) Kumbh Mela is held at only two places, Haridwar and Allahabad, every sixth year. The rivers at these four places are: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad, the Godawari at Nasik, and the Shipra at Ujjain.
    Kumbh means a pitcher and Mela means fair in Hindi. The pilgrimage is held for about one and a half months at each of these four places where it is believed in Hinduism that drops of nectar fell from the Kumbh carried by gods after the sea was churned. The festival is billed as the “world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”.[3] There is no scientific method of ascertaining the number of pilgrims even approximately and the estimates of the number of pilgrims bathing on the most auspicious day may vary widely, from 2 to 8 million depending upon the team(s) of persons making the estimate and the rough method of making the estimate.
    Mauni Amavasya traditionally attracted the largest crowds at the mela, held here every 12 years. The day marked the second and the biggest Shahi Snan (royal bath) of this event, with 13 akharas taking to the Sangam. This was the biggest bathing day, 10 Feb 2013 at the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela and probably the largest human gathering on a single day. Over 30 million devotees and ascetics took holy dip on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya.
    The current Kumbh Mela began on 14 January 2013 at Allahabad.

    • Kyle says:

      Read my next post to find out. :oP What do you mean the news!? Like, they talked about the Kumbh Mela, or like, you shared that I was there with Bear and Jenna? :o)

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Things You Learn in India: Bash It Into Place

February 19th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/14

Bikes Fixed:                  20

Bikes/Day Avg:               1.42

So I don’t think I would be very humble if I wasn’t able to shared things that I’d learned. I mean, I have been sharing a lot of facts, but what about methods and processes and things that I can bring back and recreate, instead of just write a paper about?

Oh yes. There are those things too.

I am learning Hindi (which I will do a post on later). I am learning some new recipes. I am learning new games.

Most importantly, I am learning new ways to fix bicycles.


In the US we call that nice coat of rust GNB — “Get a New Bike.”

I’d like to use this post to highlight one of those bicycle-fixing ways. This one in particular is called the “bash it into place” method. This is the preferred method of most of the mechanics in India.

Note: This post is only half-joking. Seeing this done can be really funny. But it’s also really what happens.

Today I got my first “perfect” on building an India Special up from scratch. Namely, the mechanic usually has to adjust the brakes for me. The brakes need the most adjustment, and I am too afraid to bang and bend everything into place.

That’s right, we use this method on new bikes, too.

Anyways, after seeing the debacle I’m about to describe, I went liberal. The mechanic tried the bike and hugged me. The brakes were perfect.

Bash it into place.

– – –

First, some background. As you may know, Indian labor is cheap. As you may know, but haven’t really had time to think about, tools are not cheap. As a result, here in India, it’s cheaper to have a smart employee than a good tool. And all the better if that employee can do things that not even tools can do.


My name is Indian Bike Mechanic and I’m 10x smarter than US Bike Mechanic.

I mean, just look at my truing stand.

In the US, we spend a lot of money on high-quality components and materials. Any maintenance person or builder or fabricator or mechanic will tell you: better quality materials are easier to work with and almost always result in a better quality product. I have seen it time and time again when sewing, carpentering, cleaning, etc. Some fabrics just make better garments. Some wood just makes better shelves. Some cleaners just work better.

So in the US, there’s usually a nice compromise between quality of personnel and quality of tool. In India, for the most part anyways, there’s no such compromise. The workers are capable and smart and the tools suck (re: the cost of labor mentioned above).


This guy forgoes tools completely and just makes a living off of facial expressions.

Okay, duck noises too.

Enough background. This method is awesome. At first I was a little hesitant to start bashing and banging and bending, but any India Special can handle it. Consider exhibit (A):


One of these things is not like the other.

If all you see bent out of place is the crank, keep looking. It’ll sink in eventually. Think about the angle of the camera.

This bike was hit by a car (yes, the rider was OK – miraculously). Due to the lack of law enforcement the driver doesn’t have to pay for a new bike. In the US we’d toss this. Even if we could fix it, we’d never call it “fixed –” it’s a liability. The frame, chainguard, wheel, and both cranks are “permanently” bent out of place.

Notice how the word “permanently” is in quotes.

Enter the hammer.


Ready… aim…

And don’t forget our good ‘ol friend the drain cover.


It’s good stress relief too. Just look at that face.

It’s funny, but it’s legit. It took five minutes to get the bike back in working order. We made some money and the customer walked away happy. Also, I think I’m experienced enough with India Specials at this point to say the bike is as good as new and the customer has nothing to worry about.

I see this method used at least once a day, usually two or three times. I was just never quick enough with the camera. That’s the other thing — it’s efficient. If a customer brought that bike to a US shop and said they’d pay whatever it took, we’d order a new frame, crankset, and rear wheel. It would take a few weeks to get the parts in and an hour or two to transfer everything to the new frame. We’d also charge them up front because that’s the sort of cost people walk away from.

Not in India, my friends. Not in India.

2 thoughts on “Things You Learn in India: Bash It Into Place

  1. Marilyn says:

    Great blog post! It says a lot about the U.S. and India. You could write a book on that – what bike maintenance methods tell you about a country.

  2. Jenna says:

    Dear sir,

    I has been like 2 and a half days since your last post. How do you expect me to avoid studying for finals without your adventures in India?

    Also FB said you fixed a TON of bikes! How many? Can’t wait to hear about it 🙂

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Bicycle Seminar No. 1

February 18th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/13

Bikes Fixed:                  20

Bikes/Day Avg:               1.54


Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been busy! But hey, it’s still only been five days since my latest post, so don’t complain too much. Also, I have at least one or two more coming up.

Anyways, I taught my first seminar for Firefox Bikes on last Saturday. I think it went really well. I accidently showed up an hour early (I had meant to be only a half hour early) so was able to explore the area a bit, which was great – I’m always trying to see more of India.


After wandering I showed up with 20 minutes to spare — spent mingling and getting to know the shop owner, mechanics, etc. At start (11:00) there were only three people there (of the scheduled 11-15), but we got started anyways, with introductions, “What do you use your bicycle for?” and “What do you want to learn?” As we got going a bit more people trickled in and by lunch there were 10, I think (the perfect number: as many as possible but not so many that people can’t see, can’t ask questions, or don’t feel like they are a part of the experience).

Since we had all of three days notice, and it was the first seminar, there was no written agenda. I just tried to do a basic overview of how bicycles work, and then talked about things that might need to be adjusted, and how to adjust them. I tried not to go too in depth (overhauls, hub adjusts) so managed to cover everything I wanted too, and was able to answer all the questions in the 2u1/2 hour seminar. The only downside is that because there was no agenda, it was a little haphazard, but we still covered everything and there were still a lot of satisfied audience members (right? I know some of you are reading this – comment form is below!).


It was nice to do some teaching instead of just fixing and building bikes. I look forward to doing more. And right now, I’m lying in bed (it’s rainy today), taking a much needed break and enjoying being in India.

I might post again later today but at the latest will post again tomorrow. Always plenty to share.

Thanks to Viju V. for the photos and graphic!


3 thoughts on “Bicycle Seminar No. 1

  1. Grandma says:

    Your seminar sounded great! I would have liked to be a mouse in the corner to see all that went on. You look like you fit right in, your hair is the right color but your skin should be a bit darker!! Enjoy your day of leisure.

  2. Jenna says:

    Looks like we have another doctor in the family 😉

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Bicycle Culture: Conversations, Quotations, and Conflict

February 13th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/8

Bikes Fixed:                  9

Bikes/Day Avg:              1.3

Note: I have attempted to publish this post multiple times with many errors and failures. Not sure what the deal is but due to this fact it may appear as a previous version (one with fewer pictures, edits, etc.). Apologies in advance.

Last post I tried to highlight only facts and observations about bicycle culture here, with a focus on the shop where I was working and how it fits into 90:90.


I observe this man putting air in his tire.

I want to use this post to highlight the conversations I’ve been having about bicycle culture. They have been plentiful, and the reason why is interesting in and of itself. As said by a new freind of mine, Ajay J.:

In India, most bicycle mechanics are uneducated. If any given mechanic had a law degree he would probably go be a lawyer. So when a guy with your education comes to our country and wants to be a bike mechanic, we’re naturally curious. I’d want to talk to you just the same if you were here working as a carpenter.

So I thought that was interesting, and definitely a fair point. The good thing about people wanting to talk to me is that I’m able to get a lot of opinions on the topic of bicycles. After all, that’s why I’m here, so it’s usually the opener.


These spokes would have a SUPER STRONG opinion… if they could talk.

– – –

It is worth noting, before I continue, that most of these people are fairly well educated, if not in the top tier (say, the top 10%) of the population with respect to education. This happens because there is a correlation between level of education and level of English spoken. I’d like to get opinions across the board, which is happening slowly, but I really need to work on my Hindi first.

– – –

Anyways, I was talking to Rajan B. at the repair seminar I hosted last weekend, and he had a fairly straightforward opinion on the matter. In short, bicycles are looked down upon, no matter how illogical, or who it is in the saddle:

If you were to bike to a hotel in India, it’s likely they wouldn’t let you bring your bike to your room with you. It doesn’t make any sense at all — bicycles are the cleanest method of transportation available. But all they care about is that the vast majority of the riders here in India don’t have much income. People who drive cars, on the other hand, are in a much better place.

I bet they’d let you bring a car to your room with you if it would fit in the elevator.

He makes a point which I have slowly begun to notice. Despite bicycles being everywhere, there is an incredibly disproportionate amount of accommodations for these bicycles. I have seen only one “safe” place to park bicycles — at the underground parking lot in the mall — but elsewhere bicycles are usually left out, exposed to theft and to the elements. There are no bike locks anywhere.

One solution to this is to put the lock on the bike. India has mastered this perfectly:


This guy attaches to the chainstay just under the seat, and keeps the rear wheel from rotating when closed.

Of course, the bicycle can still be walked away with, and any bicycles that doesn’t get stolen gets moved, because there is so little space in the streets (be sure to watch the video of my morning commute when I post it).

So that means most bicycles can’t be brought into work. Can they be kept at home? From Prabhat A., my host:

Most houses consist of single room about the size of your bedroom. […] A family of four or five might share this entire space.

So that answers that question. But if people don’t often have a place to put them, what do they use them for?

First off, despite not having much space, it can be worth it to keep a bicycle at home. As you know if you’ve read the rest of this site, in India, owning a bicycle increases the average family’s income by 37.5%. For starters, that can mean a bigger space to house the bicycle. Owning a bicycle can also mean the ability to work far away. When I went for a ride with the local cycling group, I saw a lot of people biking home — just after 6:30 AM. I asked Prabhat about this, and he said,

Up the street from where you saw them are many outsourced calling centers. Those people live [in the slums], sleeping during the day, and going to work at night. When you saw them is was 6:30, right? So that’s 6 PM on the west coast of the United States.

Mind. Blown.


Now I can tell all my friends I made this face at 3:00 AM CST.

Aside from getting to work, for many people, bicycles are their work: They use them to transport things. If it can be carried, the people here have found a way to carry it on a bike. There’s always the infamous bicycle rickshaw, used to transport people. Between other three-wheelers and the traditional tw0-wheeler I’ve seen thus far: PVC pipe, coconuts, bricks, chips, fruit, ice cream, wood, couches, mattresses, I’m sure many other things, and my personal favorite — chickens. That’s right, the meat you buy here is fresh — transported by bicycle that day, and you get to choose the chicken. *ahem* Anyways. Oh, here’s another one I forgot, described to my by Prabhat A while in the car:
Did you just see that three-wheeler? He had a tarp [container] full of garbage four feet in diameter and as all as you. He spends all day filling it with trash and then bikes it to the landfill to sell. He’ll make maybe $1-200 a month.
So yea, by working with bikes, I’m pretty certain to work with my target income bracket.
If you’ve been keeping up, you know that most of the cycles we service as Fauji are people on their way to or from work, or people stopping by during work (usually cycle rickshaws).
The majority of the customers you see at Fauji are the lowest of the low.
Well, perhaps. In my last post I mentioned there were single-car garage type shops that I’d like to venture towards working with. At the moment, I can’t, since I don’t have any connection, and I don’t speak any Hindi. But it’s on my to-do list.
So we know that most bicycle users in India are in a lower income bracket, that they rely on their bicycle to make or seriously augment a living, and that they (sadly) are looked down upon. From Rajan B. again:
It is a sad but true fact that most cyclists are looked down upon. It doesn’t make sense, either, since riding a bicycle is clearly a realistic way of making a living.
I mean, I’d be okay with that. Obviously that’s not the case.
The instant a guy who rides a bicycle can afford a motorcycle, he’s going to buy one. And the instant a guy who owns a motorcycle can afford a car, he’s going to buy a car. But the vast majority of the population relies on bicycles to make a living. So bicycles aren’t modern, but they are realistic.
And then, my favorite bit:
But hey, maybe what’s realistic should be what’s modern.
Go Rajan.
Hey, it’s realistic and modern to have things shipped in trucks exactly the size needed.
– – –
So the point of this project is not to make a change to the lifestyles of the people here, it’s to promote an already existent lifestyle that is clearly working. Bicycles are clearly working. They are realistic. But if I could — on the side– help make them modern… wouldn’t that be pretty cool, too?
I decided to explore this a bit. Let’s start with some history. From Robert Hurst’s The Cyclist’s Manifesto:
In 1880, during the high-wheeler era, [Colonel Albert Pope] created the League of American Wheelmen. Although his first thought was probably for marketing his Columbia-brand bicycles, the League grew into a multi-pronged organization with impressive reach into wide-ranging aspects of bicycling. […] Most notably, the LAW succeeded in a widespread movement to have public roads paved and improved, primarily to benefit recreational bicyclists (and the bicycle industry).
In case you missed that bold part (let me say it again: “primarily to benefit recreational bicyclists”) Hurst spells it out for you:
[…] The League was not an order of utility cyclists, mind you, trying to improve their routes to work. These were primarily weekend warriors, coming at the politicians in such numbers and with such combativeness that the politicians couldn’t resist. Their Good Roads Movement altered the landscape noticeably, changed the country’s expectations about street surfaces […]
So just in case that wasn’t obvious what it said was “Rich people are the only ones able to affect bicycle policy.”
Okay, that’s not quite what it said, but you get the point. In the States anyways, part of the reason high-quality roads first came into existence was because of weekend riders. NOT people who used the bicycle to make a living (people making a living from riding around with an ice cream cooler, for instance).
Maybe an exaggeration but you get my point.
And thanks to Wikipedia, we know that investing in roads actually works:
Road investments in India were a staggering 3-10 times more effective than almost all other investments and subsidies in rural economy in the decade of 1990s. What a road does at a macro level to increase transport, the bicycle supports at the micro level.
But let’s not believe the internet! Let’s ask someone in India. Someone important. Someone who knows a lot about bikes… let’s ask the managing director for Firefox Bikes, Shiv Singh.
The people who will change bicycle policy are the ones who make a conscious decision to bike to work, or to spend their leisure time on the bicycle.
That sounds like an agreement! Just to double-check though, I spoke with my host. He essentially said “Money changes policies:”
It wouldn’t matter if you had the signature of 1,000 cyclists in the lower income brackets. They don’t have any money to give back to the government. The reason there’s infrastructure for cars is because cars offer a return — the cost of the car, the cost of maintenance, of gas, and of parking. Until cycling becomes a regular activity for those with some spare cash, I think we’re unlikely to see a change in policy.
If you know me at all you know that I’m in a perpetual fight with red tape.
So, as far as policy goes, and the viewpoint surrounding bicycles, it sounds like there’s no right answer. It would be pretty cool to be part of a policy change, but something tells me it’s not as simple as fixing bikes for the haves (instead of the have-nots). So, maybe I’ll work with Firefox for a bit, but for now I plan to maintain my focus on volunteering my time at Fauji Cycles.

7 thoughts on “Bicycle Culture: Conversations, Quotations, and Conflict

  1. Jenna says:

    I was so excited to get the to coffee shop this morning to study and there was a new blog post for me to read instead! (I check your blog so often that I just have to type “9” into my browser to get it to pop up). I am loving the exploration and insight with which you write.

    Did anyone email to tell you that your radio story finally aired?!


    • Kyle says:

      Hello Didi,

      (“didi” is a term used here to address a female who is older than the speaker!) I am glad you’re enjoying my entries. Thanks for commenting! It makes it more worthwhile to know that people are reading them. I’m glad I could help you procrastinate your studying. : o)

      Yes, Mom e-mailed me about it, but apparently nobody caught it. Ah, well. Next time.


  2. Marilyn says:

    This is a fascinating blog entry. When you consider that Inda just gained its independence in 1947, it would make sense that, given the population, there political system also lags behind the US. It’s interesting that while the US is realizing (hopefully) that bikes are forward thinking, it also seems that there was a time when the US didn’t. It would be amazing if you could open their eyes a bit, especially because of the masses of the population that depend on bikes.

  3. Priyesh Kurup says:

    Strong work Kyle..! Love reading your updates. Glad to see you are having a great time doing what you set out to do.

    You highlight a very important point. The bicycle plays a pivotal role in delineating the Indian social class structure. It’s almost like saying that the quintessential Indian cyclist by default is a poor man who cannot afford to buy an automobile . It divides the class structure into people who depend on the cycle for livelihood and use them as essential modes of transportation, from the affluent who could use the higher end bicycles for recreational purposes.

    It’s frustrating that in a country plagued by pollution and roads choked by automobiles, the importance of the bicycle as a green technology is still not widely accepted.

    All that aside, One of the most important days of my childhood was when I learned to ride a bicycle. I still remember, with great clarity, the street by my home and the time of the day when, after innumerable attempts, I finally experienced that exhilarating feeling of balancing myself on my bicycle without getting toppled over.

    Have fun Kyle..and continue to keep us enlightened..!!


  4. Shakun Sood says:

    Hey Kyle,

    Just wanted to say that I enjoyed the enlightening session at Firefox today and wish you best of luck for this wonderful project. I just hope that everyone understands the importance of this simple yet powerful machine ever built by Man.


  5. Zach says:

    Kyle – Love the update!

    I remember seeing all the bikes while I was in India but hadn’t heard or even thought much about the cultural and socioeconomic aspects. Very interesting!

    I am especially fascinated by how bicycling is influenced so much by politics. It makes sense but is frustrating, indeed.

    As I recall, the Indian people are so inquisitive and I can tell you that without a doubt you are going to leave a great and lasting impression on each an everyone you meet.

    This is such a great experience and I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to travel vicariously through you, so post a lot more!

    God speed!


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Bicycle Culture: The Facts

February 12th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/7

Bikes Fixed:                  9

Bikes/Day Avg:              1.3


We start most days with wheelbuilding. So much wheelbuilding.

So as much as I enjoy talking about Indian culture in general, I am here for a reason besides general cultural exploration. That reason is exploration of bicycle culture, sentiment towards the bicycle, and the impact the bicycle has on the lower-income bracket of the population. And, of course, I’m here to fix bikes.

I want to start by promising (to my readers as much as to myself) never to bend information, intuition, or conversation to make this project sound more or less impactful than it actually is. Obviously it would be ideal for every bike I fix to magically rocket someone from the depths of poverty into the ranks of the well-off… obviously that’s implausible if not impossible. On the other hand, I believe it is better to set high goals and find you get most of the way there, than it is to set low goals and wish you’d set them higher. So regardless of the realities of the situation… I promise to fix 90 bikes during my 90 days in India.



1. A bit about the shop where I work.

The shop where I work is called Fauji Cycles. It is located in Sikanderpur Market; in the city of Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi; in the state of Haryana, India.

In 2012, of the 28 Indian states and 7 Indian territories, Haryana had the fifth highest median household income at Rs. 1.1 lakh ($2200/year), the 16th highest population at 25 million people, and the 11th highest population density at 573 persons per square kilometer.

To compare, here’s the average US state in 2011: Median household income $44k, population 6.3 million, population density 31 persons per square kilometer.

The bicycles sold here range anywhere from Rs. 2500-Rs. 10000 ($50-200) and most go for about Rs. 3500 ($60). The cheapest bikes are used or kids’; the most expensive ones are full suspension mountain bikes with mechanical disc brakes. The average bicycle is either a road or mountain bike about the quality of a Huffy (better quality than Target, but less than most private US bike shops) but a bit more robust, or what I’ve deemed the “India Special,” which is basically a commuting bike with cruiser geometry that could survive a thorough bombing.

To compare, the shop where I worked in the US sold bikes for $400-8000, most going for $5-800. The cheapest bikes were cruisers or kids’; the most expensive were high-end specialty bikes (eg triathlon bikes). The average bicycle was a road bike or mountain bike of the $600-1000 range. Nothing we sold would survive a bombing.

2. How it compares to other shops in India.

Compared to the other shops in India, this one is mid-range.

The vast majority of shops can best be described as one-car garages with bins full of spare parts. They have a garage-style door that opens to an area of about 10’x10′, usually less. They are focused entirely on repairs and do not (appear to) sell complete bicycles. Their customers are the lowest of the low income bracket. I have yet to determine their daily income as none speak any English.

The high-end shops are comparable to small private shops in the US. The vast majority sell Trek or Firefox brand bicycles (Firefox is Trek’s brand name in India). They are completely indoors, usually with no more than 300 sq. ft. I don’t have an estimate of their income yet. Keep in mind that while they sell only mid- to high-end bicycles, that they are catering to a small portion of the population — middle income bracket and up. They speak pretty good English.

From the very limited travel I’ve done, I would say that Fauji cycles seems to be of a rare breed. It has about 500 sq. ft. of indoor showroom space and about 500 sq. ft. of outdoor space (this is practically unheard of — I think the only reason this works is because we’re next to a parking lot). I don’t feel comfortable asking yet but from what I have observed daily income is anywhere from Rs 500 to Rs 10000 ($10-200) depending on how busy it is and how many bikes we sell. Their customer base is the low to middle income bracket. The manager speaks limited English, the owner speaks a bit more.

To compare, the shop where I worked in the US had about 2400 sq. ft. of space, including a showroom, storage, and workshop with two stands and two sets of tools. Income was anywhere from a few hundred to the multiple thousands each day. And of course, we were all fluent in English.

3. Why I’m at this shop in particular and how it fits with 90 Bikes, 90 Days.

The short answer to why I’m here is “luck.” When entering a place you’ve never been to before you rely on your contacts and the internet to know what’s what. My contact happens to visit Fauji cycles from time to time so was able to introduce me and stand behind my reputation as a mechanic. There are plenty of bike shops in India; walking up to one cold turkey and asking to volunteer would likely be intimidating for them. I’m lucky to have met someone who has a relationship with the kind of shop I’m working for… who also speaks English and is willing to host me.

On the other hand, while I could probably have gotten a job at any Firefox Bikes in the country, they don’t cater to the income bracket I’m trying to work with.

The idea behind 90 Bikes, 90 Days is to help out those who rely on the bicycle for an increased income. Of the bicycle owners in India, 95% of them fit the description. More than half the population (56%) makes less than Rs. 1.5 lakh ($3000) every year. So you would think that if you work on a bike, you work on a bike belonging to someone in the low income bracket.

The problem with that sentiment (but a good thing for the people) is that the bicycles are designed to last forever. I said above that the India Special could last a thorough bombing, and I wasn’t joking. I’ll do a run through of the bike in some later post, but for now, take my word that it’s built like a tank.

This is not to say they don’t need maintenance from time to time. The most common need is air. Multiple times a day we get customers who just need to air up their tires. These range from commuters to cargo transporters to rickshaw drivers. The next most common need is tube and tire repair. Then comes general maintenance.

On top of that, most bicycle users here are very self-sufficient. It’s part of the culture, it seems, for the customer to butt in if they know a better way to do something (which is good from a learning standpoint for someone like me, who hadn’t seen an India Special up until a week ago). In the US, most customers are very hands-off. They give you the bike and leave, or watch, but they never butt in, and very few seem to want to learn how. So again — good for India.

In any case, we get plenty of customers from the low to middle income bracket, so essentially, I’m doing what I came here to do.

I think it could be more impactful to work at one of the single-car garage style shops. Here are concerns I have as I consider such an endeavor:

 I know no one who knows them. They speak minimal English and I speak minimal Hindi. So, arranging such an endeavor would be tricky at best.

– I have no connection to them, so I would likely be intimidating (imagine someone you’ve never seen before coming into your cubicle and saying, “Hello. I can volunteer?”)

– Space constraints are such that I might be hurting more than helping.

4. How they feel about me.

As best I can tell, I am being well received. There are lots of smiles and I am given plenty to do — usually bike builds (I imagine because I can’t speak much Hindi (yet), and as many of our customers are in the low income bracket, they don’t speak much English). Periodically I will be called over to a customer’s bike to adjust something; rarely I am called over to give an opinion in English (though once I had to answer the question “Is this bike better?”).

They really like my tools. I mentioned in an earlier post that they asked if Park Tool would give them a wholesale account (PT hasn’t gotten back to me). At the same time, they are hesitant to become reliant on them. This is, I believe, for two reasons:

– I am likely to take them back to the US with me when I return, so unless they buy their own, they won’t have them  forever (side note — I’m considering giving them some out of my pocket. We’ll see).

– Tradition. I was talking to an English-speaking customer who said,

“Indians traditionally work with their hands, only using tools when absolutely necessary. This is because tools break, and they get lost and stolen, and then where are you? You could maybe indoctrinate a younger mechanic into the world of tools, but his boss or father would be likely to take them away.”

Regardless, it’s obvious they would enjoy a fresh set of tools. There are a few I have that they didn’t even know existed — both tools essential to any mechanic’s tool bag.

The first is called a pin spanner. It’s a specialty tool used to adjust bottom brackets (the part where the pedals connect through the middle of the bike) on older bikes… or on every bike in India. Instead, Fauji cycles grips the threads directly with an expanding pliers (not good for the threads). The second is a cable cutter, which can be used to cut shift or brake cables, or cable housing. Fauji uses scissors (and no, scissors don’t work very well for this purpose, if at all).

Since all their wheels are hand-built, I also wish I had a nipple driver, a device used in the early stages of wheelbuilding that greatly reduces the time it takes to thread the wheel.

– – –

Whatever the case, I’m happy to be here. I’m having fun and fixing bikes.

More later.

4 thoughts on “Bicycle Culture: The Facts

  1. Jenna says:

    Great to read more about the bike culture there, can’t wait for more!!! I think Bicycling Magazine gives away a full set of Park Tools every so often to people with good stories… I will investigate!!

  2. Will says:

    Good read, Kyle. Looking forward to more.

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Did I Mention…

February 10th, 2013


Country/Day:     India/5

Bikes Fixed:                 7

Bikes/Day Avg:              1.4


This will be a short post since I’m exhausted. But hey, I’m exhausted in a “lots of awesome stuff is happening” sort of way.

First off, some more donations coming in now that I’ve left, so that’s awesome. I’ll find time to update the thermometer soon, I promise.

Second, I want to touch just a little bit more on something I mentioned last time, item number three in Ten Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America, “We Know Nothing About Other Countries.”

I stand by what I said last time but I also wanted to add that it is especially true when taken in a comparative sense. Even if I thought I knew something about other countries, I’m finding that most Indians know one-hundred times more about America than I know about India. The people here really care about what is happening elsewhere in the world. In the US I think we’re a little self-absorbed… but we’re getting off topic. Being in India is like taking my 7th grade history class all over again. “Oh, that reminds me, I wanted to ask — when was the civil war?”

“What number president was Lincoln?”

“Could you outline the differences between Democrats and Republicans for me?”

“Why are the parties called democratic and republican?”

“How do you feel about gun control?”

“What’s your favorite amendment to the US Constitution?”

“Talk to me about economic mobility in the states.”

– – –


Talk to me about overhauling a Shimano Deore hubset.

So today a few guys from the local cycling group had me over to talk about bikes. We took a bike and I went through piece-by-piece, talking about and occasionally demonstrating how to overhaul or adjust it. We also just shot the shit. Lots of pictures were taken.

Oh right! Pictures!


See? I’m getting better at this whole “You know that thing called a camera?” thing.

So anyways, the seminar went well, and Ajay (the fellow hosting) got the idea that to raise more money for my project, I could host more seminars with a suggested donation. So then Viju, a mechanic who had come, said he thought he could get his shop to host the class. So now it looks like I’ll be hosting DIY-bicycle mechanic seminars once a week.



Thanks for hosting, Ajay!

On top of that, Viju thinks Firefox Bikes (the shop where he works) would host me anywhere in India if I wanted to do these seminars. The way I see it, they get an experienced mechanic to answer all their questions, PR, an excuse to contact their customer base, people coming into the shop, and probably some sales if I happen to recommend a product that they sell. I get to travel India and talk about bikes.


The travel bit is still in the elementary planning stages, so no promises yet. As well, since Firefox is a higher-end bicycle ship — not necessarily the demographic I’m here to work with — I would want to fix 90 bikes before doing the tour. I think I can do that. Either way, I promised to be open and honest about what goes on and the way the money donated to this project is spent, and I want to stick to that. Re: The finances for this trip. I’m thinking I can get Firefox to put me up, so this un-demographically related travel would not come out of the donated funds. On the other hand, if you can think of a way to address the lower-income bracket with this sort of thing, please post it in the comments or e-mail it to me.

Anyways, after the seminar Viju and Rajan took off, and Ajay and I sat and talked for about half an hour on everything from politics to education policy to the caste system and architecture.

Needless to say, I’m really enjoying India.


My face is not.

(this photo purely for laughs)

Oh, and speaking of “India is Happening,” I may or may not have mentioned that Nashiit’s (Prabhat’s son, but spelled wrong) guitar teacher wants me to play a gig with his band. In the mean time, Nashiit and I rock out together every now and then. Also, Nashiit happens to know the Top Gun theme on guitar.

So yea, I’m really glad I brought my accordion.


I should write a song called “India Skyline.”

– – –

Also I want to film my daily commute because I think it alone will tell you quite a bit about India. I say this publicly to make myself do it. There are trickinesses like my camera’s short battery life, among other things, which is why it hasn’t happened yet. But I think it will be an incredibly revealing video. Anyways — off to bed.


But not without a photo of a bicycle rickshaw first.

5 thoughts on “Did I Mention…

  1. Laura Egerdal says:

    Kyle, your latest post was read out loud over coffee in Minnesota. There was lots of LOLing at your colorful descriptions. Thank you for such great blog posts AND the pictures. We all feel like we’re with you on the trip. We’re cooking Indian tonight and we’ll toast in your honor.

    You’ll be pleased to know that even with heavy snow coming down in MPLS, the cyclists are still cruising by on the Minnehaha Parkway trail. We’re 7,326 miles apart and united by bicycles.

    Much love!!!

  2. Grandma says:

    Enjoying about your trip – your Amsterdam stop brought back a lot of memories. I enjoyed that airport too – we left it to check out windmills and canals – two of my desires to see there.

    Bike stories in India remind me of Zambia – you’ll find out!

  3. Marilyn says:

    Your observations on the culture are fascinating and enlightening. Please keep sharing.

    Did you get to play the gig with Nashiit’s band? I’m curious to hear about that.

    Love every photo that you post. They tell a lot.

    • Kyle says:

      Of course! I will share as much as I can. Even if I wrote all day I wouldn’t get it all down. India is absolutely fascinating.

      The gig was just an idea. Nishith has another lesson this Friday and I will be talking with his instructor again (it’s his instructor’s band, not his). Will keep you posted.

      Though, Nishith and I have been playing together and our working on our first ballad.

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India is Happening

February 9th, 2013


Country/Day:      India/4

Bikes Fixed:                  5

Bikes/Day Avg:            1.25


If you’re keeping up you know that I’ve posted four times in the past four days. Most of those posts were typed and edited in less than 20 minutes because I’ve been absolutely exhausted — not because of jet lag, but because there’s just so darn much going on.


Bottom line, I’ve got a lot to share, and don’t think I’ll be running out for quite some time.



Here’s a cool photo that has nothing to do with what I’m about to talk about.


For now I want to talk a bit more about the culture shock. That’s a term, of course — I seem to be functioning just fine and overall am not really exhibiting the symptoms of someone in shock. But things are very different here, both literally and in the sense they are different than I expected.


In defense of my expectations, a lot of the people I talked to did “the tourist thing.” There’s nothing wrong with the tourist thing, but I think it gives a very narrow impression of any foreign place. For a country like India, where a good way to get money is by servicing those with money (like tourists), the impression is especially narrow for anyone who goes to a “touristy” place — downtown New Dehli or Mumbai, for instance.

Yes, a lot of the things I was told about are true. There are people, cows, pigs, and dogs everywhere. They don’t use toilet paper. Many of the people speak little English, despite it being tied with Hindi for their (official) first language. There’s tuk-tuks and honking. There’s trash everywhere.

But nobody in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Dehli, is obsessed with white people. Nobody has tried to pickpocket me or swindle me out of my money. Nobody is completely uneducated or just plain doesn’t care for themselves or their country’s well-being.


I once read an article called ‘Ten Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” It was a great article and I am proud to say I knew most of the ten things. It was written by an American who travels for a living, spending the majority of his time out of the country. The only one I was really hesitant to accept was number three: “We know nothing about the rest of the world.” I thought, Man, I’ve taken AP European History, I’ve taken eight years of French, had a beer with friends who studied abroad, seen plenty of foreign films — I know at least a bit about the rest of the world.

Okay, fair. I did know a little bit. Some of the things you see in movies, and hopefully the stories your friends share with you, are true. There is bargaining in Dehli. The beer is good in Germany. But I think the problem with the movie-story education is that it’s designed to make foreign places, well, foreign. You don’t share the ordinary things because they are, well… ordinary.

So for me anyways, I used to see someone wearing a turban and go, “Oh yea, he’s different than I am.” I don’t want to do that. We all know snap judgments are terrible. But that’s just how I was raised — it’s built into who I am (I mean that as a fact, not an excuse). And I think it’s built into who most Americans are. I don’t want to get into it too much but if you still don’t understand what I’m talking about, Google that article. And of course, you’re welcome to disagree.


Anyways, the point is that I think the biggest shock for me is something that shouldn’t have been a shock at all. It’s that the people here are just that — people. They have families and jobs and want things like money and cars. They go out for beer and help their kids with their homework. It’s so obvious that I didn’t even think about it.

One time I stopped by Prabhat’s work to see if he was in, and ended up talking to his assistant. He had a lot to say (in perfect English) on the matter and didn’t need to be prompted.

“I think you’ll find that people here are passionate and excited about life. We like to do things just like anyone in America. I tried to go to a concert the other day but it was sold out five weeks in a row. India is happening. My favorite artist is Adele — betcha didn’t think I’d even heard of her.”

One of the bikes I fixed yesterday belonged to a fellow of 15 years old. The mechanic had called me over for some advice (don’t ask me how I know that, given our communication barrier), which I was trying to give when the kid started translating for me. Once I realized he spoke English I asked him what he used his bike for, to which he replied weekend riding, when he wasn’t in class. I asked him what class he was taking — 3D animation. On the side, he practices coding, namely in C#. He’s fifteen so goes to high school full time, and is taking the 3D animation class on the side from a community college. He said to me,

“Yea, my dad keeps telling me to pursue something more dependable, like math, but I keep telling him I’m going to do what I’m passionate about.”

He told me he thought it was cool I was there in India, doing what I was passionate about, and that I should stick with it and “not give in to the corporate monster.”


India is happening.


There is something else I really appreciate about India. The people here are interested in each other and not afraid to show it. In the US, it’s sometimes rude to talk to strangers. Sure, you can hold the door for them, but unless you’ve been formally introduced, better not say anything — you might offend them. Also, staring at a stranger is practically a federal offense. Stalker! I don’t think people in the US are innately bad, I just think we’re afraid of what might happen. Red tape is slowly taking over.

In India, people are very open about what they want, and one of the things they want is to get to know you. And so we get to know each other. It’s really quite exciting. Oh, and they stare.


The other thing I’ve noticed about India is that people don’t over-commit themselves. In the US I think there’s almost a stigma around having free time (for this one try Googling “The Busy Trap –” again, I trust you’ll check the article if you don’t quite get what I’m talking about). I’ve been here 4 days and have already had more dates (bike rides, frisbee games, meals; we’re about to go see Lincoln) than I would have in a month in the US. It’s great.


Anyways — like I said, I’ve only been here 4 days. I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of this and my opinion could (and likely will) change or grow. Those are just my thoughts for now.


– – –



This time the photo is relevant. BIKES!


For the sake of photos I feel I should mention the bike ride I went on this morning. Every Saturday is an extended ride, and there’s a road group and a mountain group that goes. Since Prabhat only has a mountain bike for me to borrow, I go with the mountain group. We did about 50 km today — 20 to the trail, 15 on the trail in a U shape, then 15 back to Gurgaon.



Oh, and the trail came with a view.

Apparently it’s not uncommon to see wild camel on that particular trail, but alas, I was not so lucky. Instead — wild peacock!


“I hate zoos.”

Anyways, after a killer climb, which all of us walked at least part of…



We headed back, stopping for tea on the way (a club tradition, apparently)…


These are the tea dogs. We didn’t pet them because they have ____.

(insert your favorite dog-borne ailment)

…and finally went our separate ways as we entered Gurgaon. Good ride.




(thought: As long as I fix at least 90 bikes in 90 days, I can take a few days off every now and then.)

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