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|Volume 11 |Issue 19 | May 11, 2012 ||
Taking the Green Road
Cycling clubs in Dhaka are sprouting like mushrooms, indicating a changed outlook towards good health and a sense of community
Almost everyone has fond memories of cycling as a child - be it moments of struggle as one learns to ride the bicycle for the first time or the happiness one feels racing with friends on an empty street. As we grow older, however, most of us living in urban areas say goodbye to our childhood friend, forgetting the joy and the sweat a good bicycling ride can bring.
In recent times, cycling clubs have surfaced in the city scene, effectively combining recreational activity and sports. Given that Dhaka is a labyrinth of unmanageable traffic, pollution and congestion, one cannot help but think the emerging cycling clubs are actually a much needed respite from our traffic woes. They are also proving to be good for the community spirit that is often lost in the rush of city life.
Mozammel Haque, a founder of BDCyclists and initiator of Critical Mass Dhaka, says, "It's not only a step for transportation efficiency, but for a greener future as well."
Critical Mass, a cycling event that takes place on the last Friday of every month, was initiated in the mid 1970s in Stockholm, Sweden. Ever since, the critical mass ride has taken place in over 300 cities across the globe. In Dhaka, the ride starts at 8am from Manik Mia Avenue and can be attended by anyone on two wheels, regardless of which, if any, club they belong to. The purpose of Critical Mass is not only for a group of bikers to travel through a city or town at a certain time, but often to create a social movement.
As Tanzin Chowdhury, a member of BDCyclists Club, explains, "The aim is to make communities realise how we need less motorised vehicles on the streets and to promote fitness through cycling as a healthy hobby." Cycling is particularly convenient in Dhaka as there are fewer open spaces for recreation, and traffic on the roads does not allow for swift movement from one place to another. Bikes are light, small in size and not fuel consuming, so are better for manoeuvring through traffic compared to other vehicles.
The BDCyclists, comprising as many as 3,000 members, is one of many growing popular cyclist clubs in Dhaka. It has come up with various rides in order to systematically keep their cycling spirit alive and pumping.
Every Friday new or amateur cyclists have the opportunity to join experienced cycling guides on small routes in and around Dhaka, covering a distance of 20 to 50 kilometres. There are two other rides that are dedicated for training or teaching people how to ride bicycles, especially on roads like the jam-packed ones of Dhaka.
Every Saturday, there is the 'Joshila ride', an extreme bike ride, arranged only for expert riders with a minimum average speed of 25 kilometres an hour, usually covering a trail route of 50 to100 kilometres.
Tazin, who participates in this ride, proudly states, “We take various routes that are challenging, sometimes covering long distances or riding through small water bodies and rocky places."
Other popular clubs include the Dhaka Cycling Club, the Royal Bengal Riders, and clubs like Tour Bangla and Dhaka Triathlon Club, which promote other recreational activities alongside cycling.
Many people see cycling as a sport, but members of most cycling clubs in Dhaka have taken it up as a healthy hobby. Being part of a club also promotes a sense of community, often bringing people together to promote social welfare on occasions such as Eid and Pohela Boishakh. Moreover, it is quite easy to keep track of their activities through the internet and social networking sites such as Facebook. Tanzin adds, "Sometimes we choose dress codes for a particular ride, like once we all decided to go wearing formal clothes, to stress on the fact that we can commute to work on bicycles as it's an efficient and green transport mode."
The number of bicycles being sold in Dhaka is also on a rapid rise, especially sports bikes, such as mountain bikes, which are used for rough riding. According to Bangladesh Cycling Community, bike sales have gone up as high as 40,000 a month. This suggests a lot more people are spending money on fast and trendy two-wheelers. It is no longer considered just an out of date mode of transport. Arnob, a young cyclist, very recently bought his bicycle and says, "I had to save up all the money I got from tutoring students so that I could buy a good bike."
Cycling clubs ensure their motives are only social and community-based by providing their services free-of-cost and do not carry out sponsored events. For example, BDCyclists has set up a small workshop in Panthapath, known as the Café Cyclists, where anyone who needs to check and fix their bikes.
Ihtisham Kabir, who has been cycling in Dhaka since 2005, says, "Cycling is a growing phenomenon among the youth, especially people who like the feel of the wind in their face, are sporty and enjoy the outdoors. It is also quite appropriate for people who live in a city like Dhaka and do not find enough recreational activities to do." But cycling is not exclusive to the young, as there has been a good mix of elderly, middle-aged and young people in most rides held in Dhaka. Family members of different generations have also cycled side by side.
Mozammel also stresses that this industrious, smog-bound and old capital of ours is convenient for cyclists. He says, “It is absurd how many cars we have out on the narrow roads. It's unbelievable that I can bike from Gulshan to Dhanmondi in twenty minutes whereas in a car, because of the traffic, it takes more than an hour.”
It will take some time for cycling to be adopted as a serious sport in Bangladesh; as for now, it is a means to an end, a green way to go about in our overcrowded metropolis.
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