On a bicycle, you connect with yourself

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SummaryPankaj Munjal looks younger than the 50 he is about to complete this year.

The managing director of Hero Cycles tells Vikram Chaudhary that the company is launching new products, talking to the govt for creating car-free zones and working on last-mile connectivity

Pankaj Munjal looks younger than the 50 he is about to complete this year. “Part of the reason is that I have taken up bicycling of late,” a smiling Munjal says as he greets me at Hero Cycles’ corporate office at Nehru Place in New Delhi. “An hour of bicycling every morning is probably the best facial you’ll ever need,” I add my two-pence worth of knowledge as we take our seats.

Munjal is the managing director of Hero Cycles Ltd—among the oldest bicycle manufacturers of India and the largest in the world—and aims to take the company to newer, unfamiliar markets. Realising the cash richness of this 55-year-old entity, Munjal sees a brighter future for the group.

“I ride the Firefox Edge to gym every morning,” I say, before he argues, “Have you tried our new Urban Trail series? I am sure you will like it. Recently these bikes were ridden extensively in the rugged terrain of Ladakh and we are impressed with the results.” Urban Trail is Hero’s foray into high-end bicycles, a segment dominated by companies such as Firefox, Trek, Cannondale etc. “Within just six months of launch, we are selling close to 3,000 Urban Trail bikes every month,” he adds. This figure, which I confirm later, is quite close to what other high-end bike makers are recording after many years of being in India.

But manufacturing high-end bikes needs a lot of R&D. So I ask him since when is Hero involved in high-end R&D for bicycles? “We do a lot of benchmarking; our teams have travelled to R&D centres across the world to learn global best practices and products. And that learning reflects onto our products,” Munjal says.

“Coming to bicycling as a culture in our cities—and here I mean the urban middle class and the upper middle class using bicycles for short trips—somehow that is not developing. Even our well-designed cities don’t necessarily have proper bicycling tracks at all the placed needed,” I say. But he cuts me short: “It’s not that we’ve never had such a culture; before the motorised two-wheeler revolution, we all used bicycles. And this culture is developing again, albeit in the form of recreation and fitness. After all, on a bicycle, you bond with friends,

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