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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *