February 13th, 2013
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.
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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.
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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.
Now I can tell all my friends I made this face at 3:00 AM CST.
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.
The majority of the customers you see at Fauji are the lowest of the low.
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.
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.
But hey, maybe what’s realistic should be what’s modern.
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).
[…] 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 […]
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.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle
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.
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.