CYCLING INDIA’S FIRST BIKE SUPERHIGHWAY – A MAMIL ACCOUNT

As an active MAMIL I have been fortunate to ride many tours and routes in the past four years and have written about my experiences from the highest passes in Ladakh to the deserts of Rajasthan to the ghats of Maharashtra and through the varied terrains in northern and southern states, and of course the big one – the Paris Brest Paris 2015, which was indeed a very humbling experience as I rode with the Indian flag on my bike bib in a wave of five thousand cyclists from 65 countries for 1200kms across France.

CYCLING INDIA'S FIRST BIKE SUPERHIGHWAY, mamil, mamils, mamil sports, middle aged men in lycra, cycling

I thought I had experienced it all and there wasn’t really much to look forward to in the Indian cycling scene, but I’m glad that my recent experience of riding the Challenge 250 has proven me wrong and I’m excited to share this extraordinary story about one of its kind – the first bicycle highway in India.

Let me quote Ralph Waldo Emerson here: “It is a lesson which all history teaches wise men, to put trust in ideas and not in circumstances.”

This is pertinent in the context of what I witnessed recently. I, along with 150 other cyclists, including a large Indian MAMIL contingent, selected after screening from across India and overseas, rode in the Challenge 250 to inaugurate India’s first ever bicycling highway. And as we made history, we realised what putting trust in an idea can do.

CYCLING INDIA'S FIRST BIKE SUPERHIGHWAY, mamil, mamils, mamil sports, middle aged men in lycra, cycling

Photo courtesy: Cycleit

The route of this bicycle highway passes via ravines of Chambal from within the rolling terrain criss-crossing about 90 villages and connecting Etawah with Agra. As this route snakes its way via hamlets, villages and river beds it passes through some well-known historical sites like Raja Bhoj ki haveli, Bateshwar Shiva temples, Sauripur Jain temples, Jarar Chambal Safari and Nand Gaon. The three-meter wide cycling highway is made of concrete and this makes it durable and largely maintenance-free.

The inaugural ride was organised by the Uttar Pradesh government with Cycleit as the race partners, and it was easily the best ever cycling race I have been on in India. A commendable initiative under the vision and leadership of UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and world class execution by all event partners, where Cycleit team led by Rahul Sharma and Nitin Yadav set a new benchmark in professionalism.

There is a lot which has been said and written about how cycling is becoming popular in India in the last few years and how many cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Delhi NCR – Gurgaon, Noida are seeing more and more people cycling for fitness and a few commuting to work. This momentum has seen urban India defining a cyclist as someone who rides a geared bicycle and wears cycling attire and someone who cycles for fitness or recreation; this picture has a lot of bright lycra, fancy gears and social media. The MAMIL movement is also growing in India.

This definition excludes semi urban and rural India that commutes for work on a regular non-geared bicycle in very large numbers across our country, this humble cyclist who depends on his bicycle for his daily bread is not only a blind spot on our roads but also in our consciousness.

The bicycle highway from the Etawah Lion Safari to Agra is a first of its kind in many ways, for it not only offers a great cycling experience for the urban cyclist looking for a new riding challenge, but what it has done most importantly is connect about 90 villages on a 200km route, which can easily commute on a bicycle for work, the most ignored ordinary cyclist from village and small town now has a dedicated road which is safe and reliable. This is a shining example of inclusive, environmentally sustainable and practical approach towards development.

CYCLING INDIA'S FIRST BIKE SUPERHIGHWAY, mamil, mamils, mamil sports, middle aged men in lycra, cycling

Riding on this cycling highway along with some very accomplished riders from Sweden, USA, Bangladesh, Germany and almost 15 states from India was an experience that I can never forget. It was a deja vu moment for me, as I relived the warmth and support of cheering crowds that I witnessed in PBP, but right here in India.

The villages and towns were lined up with families and kids cheering us across the route and we felt like stars. It indeed was a high point of my cycling experiences in India. The administration and organisers made excellent arrangements to manage traffic intersection for cyclists, various safety measures on the route were commendable including a full hydration and medical support available to each rider.

It was indeed a privilege to have been invited to ride the Challenge 250 in two stages on November 26-27 for about 200kms, and meet some very accomplished riders and the CM Akhilesh Yadav who rode with the riders in the last four kms to the closing venue in Agra where the winners were felicitated in a glittering ceremony.

This surely will remain a much cherished memory and I would look forward to riding this route again.

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