Non-motorised transport and placemaking — younger citizens’ perspective

The sluggish hamster wheel of riding a bicycle in your society

 

Avira Bhatt

Student Grade 7, Heritage Xperiential Learning School, Gurugram

 

I put on the helmet and got on my bike, following my friend who was a few meters ahead of me, doing the best we can in the coronavirus pandemic - cycling. My society, like many others, is not huge, and my cycling route inside the campus is at best one kilometre long. At first, it was fine, especially after the end of the first lockdown, as my friend and I finally got a chance to go out. We talked about random things, seeing familiar faces while peddling around. After a point, it started getting repetitive, making the same turns, again and again, seeing the same dog,  the same electricity pole, and having no challenges along the way. It was as if I was a hamster in a hamster wheel, having to go in the first place because I had nothing better to do.

 

To me, this is the mindless robot effect. When you do the same thing over and over again because you have no other choice, like going to work & coming back, eating your dinner & going to sleep and so on, this may be an essential need, but it can also be very unhealthy for the mind as carrying out repetitive tasks gives you no break to express yourself and get free, which can have dangerous side effects. This repetition not just applies to our daily schedule but cycling as well.

 

To understand why mindless robots are bad for cycling, we first have to answer the fundamental question: Why do people cycle? The question can be answered in many ways, but I liked an interview on "tristanboogard" – YouTube Channel where they asked cyclists cycling on Pamir Highway in Tajikistan a simple question, "why do you cycle". The answer boiled down to three things, freedom, pace, and meeting new people. And this hamster wheel of cycling in an enclosed society completely disregards all of these things. Let's understand why the fundamentals of enjoying cycling get banished when you cycle in an enclosed environment.

 

Firstly, freedom. Now freedom, of course, is subjective, but almost everyone feels free when they ride a bike. As grcycycling.com says, "Looking back at the Suffragettes of the late 1800s, cycles played a key function in invoking a sense of autonomy. Today, a large number of people cycle all over the world, simply because of the sheer simplicity and joy it offers to cyclists." Therefore, when a cyclist is trapped in a secluded space and repeats that same round repeatedly, it takes that remarkable freedom away from cycling. The feeling of moving in the air and looking at everything around you, at whatever speed you like, is gone, which brings me to my next point, pace.

 

The pace is necessary for every sport and activity; it allows movement, rhythm, and consistency to flow automatically. This pace is what makes every ride unique, whether you whiz past all the trees and feel an adrenaline rush like never before, or you take it slow and appreciate the beauty around you. Either way, an enclosed campus cannot let you do that. You can't get too fast as there is always a fear of accidentally hitting a kid crossing the street, but you can't go too slow because the car behind you will honk till you move forward, and taking it too slowly will

end up walking with a cycle.

 

Finally, let's talk a little about meeting new people. Many people don't like interacting that much with others, and they would rather keep to themselves, which probably makes so much sense in the current COVID crisis. Still, the type of interaction in cycling is very different. Whether you stumble upon a friend, you wave. You give a big thumbs up when you see someone cycling. You also give a big smile to thank the person selling coconut water because he gave you a bigger one. These little interactions are what makes cycling so unique and so much fun and why I cycle in the first place. If you are cycling inside a campus, you won't get to experience these interactions and probably never know how good it feels to share these small things with strangers.

 

If cycling out in the open is so much better than being in that sluggish hamster wheel, then why are we not doing it? That's because it is so dangerous to cycle on the main roads. I have heard that cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen etc., have created dedicated lanes for people to cycle, so why can't we do it in our cities?

 

I am 11 years old, and I love cycling. I also like seeing people cycling, smiling and waving much more than those sitting and honking their cars. Cycling is good for health, it is good for the planet, and it is fun. So, can we create cycling cities in our country, or is that asking for too much?