During his adventure tour, he was pleasantly surprised to find that an elderly couple didn’t need any assistance for cycling in Europe.
Delhi has heat, Mumbai has water-logging, and Bengaluru has traffic. No wonder anyone in India would be terrified to cycle, which is surprising for a country where almost 45-50% of all households, mostly rural, use cycles as their primary mode of transportation. “Cycling culture among city dwellers is at a very nascent stage in India and has been gaining popularity over the last few years. Although there is tremendous potential, cycling for recreational purposes will take some time in penetrating to the economically weaker sections of society,” says Aditya Bhide, director of Countryside Adventure Holidays, a 25-year old travel company started by his parents .
Aditya, for whom cycling started in school, always considered pedalling a bicycle to be a ‘fun’ activity, more so because he has always had an affinity for sports. For him, a cycling tour in Italy was a memorable one because travelling on the single-track vehicle opened his eyes to the European culture. “Cycling not only helps you to see the place in a different way but also to understand the local culture and even interact with the locals,” says Aditya, who generally plans the route before taking his clients along with him. In India, he has covered the Manali-Leh and the Spiti route himself and then with his clients.
While cycling in Italy, Aditya was mesmerised by the local infrastructure with dedicated cycle tunnels and signals. He also remembers coming across cycling restaurants and a mini garage for cycles. During his adventure tour, he was pleasantly surprised to find that an elderly couple didn’t need any assistance for cycling in Europe.
Over 30 years back, Aditya’s mother Seema Bhide, who is also a director at Countryside Adventure Holidays, cycled to school in her home town Pune, just like her classmates. “Back then it was the most natural thing to do, it wasn’t a big deal cycling to school,” recalls Seema. “Cycling is like swimming. Once you learn it, you will never forget it,” she says. Cycling became an adventure for her when she came to Mumbai. Initially, she had an on-off affair with cycling, mostly due to the infamous traffic.
But in France, Seema cycled for around 40-60 km everyday in the Blois region. She was initially sceptical while leading a group of 20 people about the performance of the children and remembers, “I was surprised to find that the children had practised for their trip and were the front-runners during the cycling trip.” Seema even came across Leonardo da Vinci’s apartment while cycling. Long distance cycling took a little bit of time to get adjusted to. The seat, the sore bites, the exposure to the sun, the continuous need to keep oneself hydrated had been initial challenges. Despite her passion for cycling, the Mumbaikar today doesn’t find the idea of pedalling to work appealing. “If I go to my office in Sion from home in Mahim, I will have to take a bath in my office. Plus when it is raining, it’s very dirty.”
In 2009, she along with Aditya, undertook a cycling tour from Mumbai to Goa. The Bhides cycled for 90-100 km daily for five days in mid-October for the trip. The trip was an eye-opener for the mother-son duo as they saw the terrain in a different light. They took the old sea route because one is not allowed to cycle on the highway. In a span of four months, Seema and Aditya rode bicycles thrice from Mumbai to Goa. Each time, they practised a lot in Karjat, around 62 km from Mumbai, and Matheran, around 100 km from the commercial capital. The Mumbai-Goa cycling trip proved an unforgettable one for Seema because she saw things that she would have missed otherwise had she been in a car or a bus. “I will always prefer trekking or cycling over anything else.”
Some of her fond memories include seeing the controversial Enron-Dabhol power project and carrying their cycles along with them in ferries to cross a river, enjoying handmade jackfruit and jamun ice-creams and sugarcane juice that they enjoyed with friendly and welcoming locals.Though Aditya doesn’t find cycling challenging, conducting a tour for clients does test one’s professional skills in terms of logistics. “We have to make sure that there is backup, ready accommodation and also that the members of the group get along well,” he says, adding that finding food, especially vegetarian, is a challenge on foreign tours.
On his future plans, Aditya says he is looking to explore Latin America—from Bolivia to Chile—and expand his European adventure to Portugal and Switzerland. He makes it a point to pursue his hobby on Sundays. “Sometimes I cover the loop of Bombay to Borivali. I like to do it alone rather than in groups. He is also positive about the cycling culture growing among people above the age of 40 in the metros and tier-1 cities as a recreational activity. “The people in these cites are more aware about this growing culture and have a higher spending power. Government entities are also encouraging cycling in partnership with micro mobility start-ups,” says Aditya. An advantage is that cost is rarely a barrier to pursue cycling. “It is not necessary to have a high-end cycle. Many cycle on weekends on simple or rented cycles. Most manufactured and sold in India come in the range of `3,000-4,000,” says Aditya.