Has the Covid-19 pandemic really led to a bicycling boom in India?

According to the All India Cycle Manufacturers’ Association, bicycle sales increased by more than 25% in June of last year when compared to the same month in 2019.

Covid-19 has caused a significant dent in the economy. Many businesses were forced to close, while others suffered significant losses. The only industry that perhaps grew was the bicycle industry. According to the All India Cycle Manufacturers’ Association, bicycle sales increased by more than 25% in June of last year when compared to the same month in 2019. Owing to increased safety concerns about public transportation and an increase in movement with the gradual reopening of economy, a large number of people, it appears, opted for one of the most basic modes of transportation, i.e. bicycles.

In FY21, India’s total vehicle registrations were around 1.5 crore units. Although Mumbai is the most car-congested city with a density of 510 private cars every kilometre, Delhi has a whopping 1 crore and more vehicles on its roads. It is no coincidence that Delhi was the world’s most polluted capital for the third straight year in 2020. Traffic congestion in our four big cities has now reached pre-pandemic levels, as per a report by the TomTom Traffic Index.

However, Covid-19 has led to a surge in people using bicycles for short to medium distance travels; restricted access to gyms and apprehensions about working out in parks and other open spaces has apparently pushed more people to take up fitness bicycling. It’s true that Covid-19 has ushered in a global movement for bicycling and India is slowly catching up to that trend, with cycling to work, for leisure and for fitness becoming more acceptable than before. In June last year, there was a 25% rise in countrywide sales of bicycles compared to the average monthly sales in the pre-Covid-19 period. Both normal road bikes and premium fitness segment bicycles have seen a surge in sales. An Institute for Transportation and Development Policy study has forecast that, post-lockdown, bicycling is set to increase by 50-60% in cities across the country.

As lockdowns ease and the humble bicycle reclaims its rightful space on Indian roads, it offers a one-shot cure for three of the vexed issues confronting our policymakers: traffic congestion, pollution and health of our people. No less than the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs recently issued a communiqué stating that bicycling for short distances can yield an annual benefit of Rs 1.8 trillion to the Indian economy while potentially increasing personal fuel savings by over Rs 27 billion. This recognition at the policymaking level is an encouraging start.

Lack of safe bicycling road infrastructure and the absence of bicycling culture are the main deterrents to the mass uptake of bicycling. While we are still a long way from making bicycling one of the main modes of urban transport, the pandemic has served to mainstream bicycling amongst urban youth. This much-needed respect must lay ground for a major bicycling revolution in India. Since the relaxing of lockdown restrictions, the pollution levels in many of our metros seem to be going back to the pre-lockdown levels, with Mumbai seeing a 60% jump in NO2. Promoting bicycling as a mode of transport can prevent this from happening.

Author: Pankaj M Munjal, CMD, HMC, a Hero Motors Company

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent those of The Indian Express Group or its employees.

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