Bicycle Is The Future: Cycling In Indian Cities and Its Future


The bicycle, invented two hundred years ago in 1817, was called an iron horse because like a horse it is an individual transport. However on occasions it can carry two persons and sometimes two adults and two children too. And like a horse it can also carry loads up to 250 Kg. easily. And it is cheaper too both as its initial cost and maintenance cost. So its popularity spread quickly and today, in spite of cars, motor bikes, scooters etc. it still leads in the number of vehicles in the world. Bicycles and sewing machines are said to be the only products of the industrial revolution that will outlive it.

Urban India

About a third of the Indian population is urban. There are 7935 urban conglomerates of all classes. There are about 53 cities with a population of million, three of which – Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata have more than 10 million (one crore) people and a total of nine have more than 5 million. These nine can be called Metro cities. There are 465 cities with population more than one lakh.1

Bicycle in India

India’s bicycle industry is pedalling to a decadal-high demand growth of 20%. In 2020, sales touched 1.45 crore units compared with 1.2 crore units in 2019. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has spurred demand for bicycles owing to improving fitness consciousness and leisure requirements.

India is the second-largest manufacturer of bicycles in the world. The industry is classified into four segments – standard, premium, kids and exports. Demand for standard bicycles, which is the largest segment (accounting for half of all bicycles sold in 2020) is driven by government purchases. Government departments procure these bicycles through a tender process and distribute them under various welfare schemes. Demand for premium and kids bicycles (nearly 40%) is driven by fitness and leisure needs. Exports and sales of other kinds of bicycles constitute the remaining 10% demand.2

 Urban Cycling

There are different patterns of use of these bicycles in urban India depending upon size of the city and class of the population.

In big metros the standard or the roadster (or Bangla) is invisible as they are dominated by cars and motorised two wheelers. Also the premium or fancy cycles with their colours and users wearing fancy gears are more visible. But if you look for them the working class is using the roadsters all the time even in metros. They are the milk men, watchmen, petty traders and nowadays even some delivery boys (and hopefully some girls too!). As we all know in our ‘City of Joy’ – Kolkata – they are harassed by our police. Fortunately in other metro cities, while the visibility is similar, there is no harassment.

The situation changes as the size of the city becomes smaller and also it varies from region to region in India. In all cases the proportion of roadsters increases. In Eastern India, which is relatively less ‘developed’ there are more roadsters. Also the use of cycles varies. In smaller cities the cycle is more functional for almost every one and not for ‘fitness and leisure needs’. They often carry more people and bags and sometimes heavier loads. There are variations within the roadster design too. Load carrying roadsters are made sturdier with additional reinforcements. It is much more pronounced in small towns and rural areas.

Working class towns – industrial townships, railway colonies are special cases. Here the scene is dominated by the bicycle and they are also well maintained because the working class knows how to maintain the machines. Similarly bicycles owned by tribals are also extremely well maintained and are decorated beautifully because the owner has a lot of pride in this acquisition.

Rickshaws and four wheel push carts

While talking of bicycles, we should always include cycle rickshaws (even hand pulled rickshaws of Kolkata) and the four wheel push carts that is the commonest shop of street hawkers. Technically they belong to the same family of urban mobility. They are also part of the working class which uses the roadster. In a future scenario they will be the mainstay of urban mobility.

The Future   

So what is the future scenario which we have been referring to? The planet earth is going through a global emergency. This has four aspects: climate change, resource depletion, ecological degradation and political upheaval. Each of these can reinforce the other and we can see an end of the present industrial/capitalist society before 2030! Take climate: 2021 in review: Weather records aren’t just broken; they’re smashed.’3 Resource depletion: Essentially the industrial society is dependent on mineral resources. Now they are finite in quantity and the more we use, less of them are available. What is more, when we take out the easy to get, the remaining minerals become more difficult and more expensive to get. So, much before the last ounce/litre is taken out, they become unavailable or a ‘peak occurs’. While the depletion of petrol and diesel is already well established, according to scientists peak will occur for most of the minerals before 2030. Ecological destruction: loss of water resources and loss of fertility of the soil have occurred at a huge scale. Many of the flora and fauna are endangered and some have become extinct. Political upheaval: newspapers are daily reporting both the war mongering by powerful countries and people’s movement all over the world. The conclusion is that by 2030 collapse of the present social system will occur or the society will be well on its way to collapse.

Shrink Globally, Act Locally

As a result of the collapse and non availability of fossil fuel energy, long distance travel will become near zero. The economy will have to be local and nearly self-sufficient. Now this need not be a bad thing. The complete lock down of our country for 3 months during the first phase of the pandemic showed both the resilience of nature and the resilience of people of our country. So I am confident that the people will rise to the occasion and build a much more peaceful and happy society based on sustainability and equity.

Cities of Tomorrow

The cities in today’s world, particularly in the developed world and in metro and mega cities of developing nations are becoming unsustainable. In the last hundred years they restructured themselves to suit fossil fuel transport and economy – wider streets, suburbs and fossil fuel based energy. With the oil crisis they are falling apart and dying. They will not disappear overnight, but will perforce shrink. Their population will not exceed 500,000. The existing metros and million cities will split into smaller units with green areas between them. It has already happened in Detroit after the 2008 financial meltdown.4

Urban Transport of Future

With the end of fossil fuels cars, bikes etc. will not be there. The entire urban transport will be carried out through bicycles and cargo bicycles and tricycles and push carts. In some places drought animals will also be used depending upon the availability of fodder.

 Return of the Roadster

In 1990, ninety percent of the bicycles manufactured in India were roadsters. Today they have shrunk to only fifty percent. The rest are taken by kids and premium or fancy bicycles. However bicycles are also made from metals and these metals will become scarcer in future. Therefore we will have to choose the cycle which is economical in use of resources.

Due to their relative affordability, the strength and durability of steel frames and forks and their ability to be repaired by welding, and the ability of these bicycles to carry heavy payloads, the roadster will become by far the most common bicycle. So the share of roadsters will again increase and the share of fancy cycles will decrease.

This is not wishful thinking. It is already happening in the West. Traditional roadster models became largely obsolete in the English-speaking world and other parts of the Western world after the 1950s with the noticeable exceptions of the Netherlands and to a much lesser extent Belgium. However, they are now becoming popular once more in many of those countries that they had largely disappeared from, due to the resurgence in the bicycle as local city transport where the roadster is ideally suited due to its upright riding position, ability to carry shopping loads, simplicity and low maintenance. 5

Ladies Bicycle

Among the roadsters, the ladies bicycle is better for the following reasons:

1) It can be used by both men and women in the family. 2. The seat is lower so you can sit upright comfortably. It will be like sitting on a chair. It gives a very comfortable ride. 3. You can wear any kind of dress – saree, skirt, lungi, dhoti, pajama kurta etc. You can go to the office without your dress appearing rumpled. 4. If you have some load on the carrier or someone sitting, you can get on the bicycle from the front easily. 5. Buy a cycle stand which goes below the tyres and not that is on the side. This gives a more stable stand. 6. It may be a bit inefficient compared to men’s cycle but the difference is marginal. But who cares? The purpose of the bicycle is to take you from one point to another comfortably at a reasonable speed.6

Tomorrow is ours! Let us Claim it today!

This is addressed primarily to our friends in Kolkata Cycle Samaj.

Some of us have both bicycles and motorised fossil fuel based vehicles. I urge them to use the bicycle more often and slowly dispose of their fossil fuel based vehicles. Remember tomorrow you may have to sell it as scrap! Secondly, since we can afford it, please gift a roadster ladies bicycle to a needy person.

Some are dedicated cyclists, that is, they don’t own any fossil fuel based vehicles. They should learn to maintain their bicycle in ‘tip top’ conditions all the time. Make friends with the local cycle repair person and help him to have more dignity and a have a better shop.7

 Pedal More Pollute Less

 Occupy All Streets

Republic on Road8



  4. T. Vijayendra, Peak Oil, Dying Cities and Cities of Tomorrow, Frontier, July 8, 2012
  5. Roadsters in Contemporary Society,
  6. T. Vijayendra, Best Bicycle for Common Woman/Man in India, 2021, FB page of Kolkata Cycle Samaj
  7. T. Vijayendra, Shed a Tear for the Puncture Waala
  8. Dhiraj Kaveri, Founder Director STAY ACTIVE, Hyderabad

First Published in ‘Cycle O Samaj’ Journal of Kolkata Cycle Samaj, Volume 2, Bookfair, 2022

January 2, 2022

T. Vijayendra (1943- ) was born in Mysore, grew in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s. Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last nine years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. He divides his time between an organic farm at the foothills of Western Ghats, watching birds, writing fiction and Hyderabad. He has published a book dealing with resource depletions, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella and an autobiography. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving licence nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel based vehicle. Email: [email protected]


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