I have spent over 10 months now in Surat and undoubtedly, the diamond city is the most cycle friendly city in India that I have seen thus far. Here, the folks actually have a cycling culture. One would be hard pressed to find as many Hero Hawks and BSA Machs in any other city. Not only do kids cycle to school, a fairly good percentage of them use road bikes instead of the ubiquitous MTBS/ATBs (mountain/all terrain bikes) that go for popular cycles in this country. The city has a cycling group and several retailers of high quality cycles including imported ones. The presence of such fellow cyclists indubitably makes for a better riding experience.
It is not as if Surat has more sports lovers than other places. The phenomenon is more likely due to the awfully good roads. The sheer quality and width of the roads is so inspirational that within five days of landing here, I went ahead and bought a Firefox Road Pro 2200, complete with a headlight, blinkers and a speedometer confident that if the machine was built for any Indian city, it was built for Surat. The city road infrastructure is growing at such breakneck speed that in just 10 months of my being here, one flyover and one bridge have been constructed from scratch and several are nearing completion. The roads are mostly pothole free and extremely wide so that road space is not an issue.
Traffic Sense (or the absence of it)
In other cities, people work in contravention of traffic rules; they take pleasure in breaking them and getting away with it. Surat isn’t one of those cities. It is a city in which people simply have not heard of traffic rules. They may know the very obvious ones like, stop when a policeman blows a whistle or, reverse your motorcycle when you see challan-slip wielding cops and you obviously do not have a helmet on, but they have no idea about concepts like right of road or the free left turn or wrong and right sides of the road. They simply do not know. So I have seen sights like a huge bus coming down the wrong side of a main road at 50 kmph at 10 o clock in the night or motorcycles standing at right angles to traffic direction at red lights or vehicles stopping in the middle of the road at main traffic circles and consulting for directions.
Moving back to cycling, recently, I managed to measure something you folks might have never thought was measurable. It was an unintended consequence of my cycling expedition to purchase some merchandise, I ended up calculating the mileage of my cycle! For 25 km, I had to tank up twice on Mousambi juice drinking three glasses of 300 ml each. At Rs 20 a glass it is about Rs. 67 per litre, same price as petrol! 25 km per litre of Mousambi* does not seem good as compared to 55 kmpl on a motorcycle guzzling on petrol. Next week, I am gonna experiment with a different juice.
*Disclaimer: Performance is contingent on the user, traffic, temperature, humidity and sugar content of the juice.