As nervous as I was about cycling on Indian roads (lanes, paths, cliffs), there was no doubt in my mind that it would be better than driving, being driven, riding a motorcycle, or walking.
The first two imply a car, and anything wide enough to hold 4 people is too wide. Either the roads (lanes, etc) barely accommodate the vehicle or the middle of the road is being used as a passing lane and the stress is simply more than I want to deal with. We do still take cabs now and then.
We went the motorcycle route last time. It was great in some ways. Fairly efficient travel in any direction we wanted to go – low fuel consumption, nimble enough for narrow paths and well-slung enough for rough surfaces, fast enough for a couple cyclists. The Royal Enfield Bullet 350 is a lovely machine, too, with a comfortable and, ahem, stimulating growl. On the other hand, there was fuel to buy. James was the driver, which irritated me and stressed him. And while easy enough to maneuver, there’s a whole nother level of nimble that could improve the experience of moving about on these roads.
Walking? It’s the only way to see every bit of a new neighborhood. It’s the only way to get every photo. And it’s the only way to have random conversations. Every other form of transportation moves too fast. On the other hand, we did so much walking between our arrival and getting the bicycles that I wore out a pair of shoes and my body thought I should give it a rest.
Cycling, though. Wow. It’s good exercise, swift enough to put most of the city within our reach, and talk about nimble – we can ride almost anywhere we want and we can roll or carry the bikes over obstacles. (Train tracks, precipitous cliff-sides, and flights of stairs, being the most recent examples.)
I’m less nervous cycling here in the wild traffic than I am in the neat queues and strongly delineated lanes of the US. I’ve been circling, trying to figure out why that might be, and I think I have it figured out.
Here, in Kerala, bicycles are allowed for…figured in…accommodated…expected in the flow of traffic. Sure, it’s also that all drivers and riders here are more alert than any drivers in the US. And that the speeds are generally slower. But mostly, it’s that two-wheelers of all types – motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles – expect and are expected to be part of the road traffic.
In the US, I feel that most drivers don’t notice me at all…shiver. Of those that do, half are surprised and the other half are angry. It feels like a blacktop version of “Don’t Tread On Me”. (One of the most ass-backward, Orwellian rallying cries to become irritatingly common in my life.) I’ve been rushed at by cars, yelled at, honked at, nearly sideswiped and middle-fingered, not to mention literally told to get off the road.
Whatever the people around me here in India think of James and I riding our fancy bikes down their roads, no one has ever or will ever even begin to think, let alone say, that we don’t belong on the road, another part of the traffic making its tangled way from thousands of points A to thousands more points B.
And that makes me safer here. Go figure.
Yes, this photo again. I don’t think I’ll ever stop laughing when I see it. (Note the scooter passing them in the middle of the road loaded with two grown men, one child, unseen, and two 50lb bags of potatoes.)