There is something inherently pleasurable about riding a bike. Ask any rider, why they do it. You'd meet a smiling face that says "for the love of it". From speeding downhill to strolling solo, from racing in alleys to wandering in faraway wherever, the joys of cycling barely begin here.
It was not simply love that pulled these cyclists to the sport. For many it was the incentive of cutting back on their monthly transport budget and managing their finances better. Or, to get past the traffic jam.
As Rafsan Zia, 22, puts it, "Cycling my way helps beat Dhaka's insane traffic and is very cost-efficient."
Teeshad Islam, 19, agrees to the same saying he never really has to torture himself being stuck in the situation. He also added that cycling gives him an edge of independence when he runs his daily errands. Cycling has become a very popular mode of transport, especially now, among students who are always on the run; they hop and pedal away past and in between cars and rickshaws in gridlocked roads. With looming deadlines and overloaded academic pressure allowing very little time for fitness activities, youngsters rely heavily on cycling to stay fit.
Some, like Zia, spare some time in the morning solely for exercise apart from the daily pedalling. More students, like Raisul Habib, 23, rely on cycles for their part-time jobs such as food delivery services. On average, his job requires him to travel 15 kilometres daily to complete orders.
However, things have changed with the concurrence of a pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. The coronavirus crisis has impacted cycling activities in ways better and worse simultaneously. For the average Joe, the communicability of the disease has significantly reduced the miles pedalled in fears of being infected. However, the sales and use of bicycles has seen a surge; these rides have been strongly heeded as safer than public transportation. But it has become difficult to keep up with face masks on, as many have reported. On the other hand, in accordance with safety measures, adults and teenagers alike have taken the streets by storm. Be it competitive racing or savouring empty roads -- a cyclist's surreal dream.
Despite cyclists burgeoning in the city there are hurdles to jump. While it is important that cyclists do their part, that is, wear safety helmets and maintain speeding limits, there are matters yet to be resolved which would ensure their safety and ease on road.
The dangers associated are certainly not minimal; road safety issues still prevail. Rickety, broken roads and reckless four-wheelers leave no mercy for the riders. Cyclists need to be humanised on the streets.
Towsir Ahad Arnob, 22, thinks, "New laws should be put in place to ensure rider safety, laws that mandate use of headlight, brake light and reflectors."
These gears are especially important for those who cycle at night as these enable them to be seen in the dark of the night. Parking spots to safeguard bikes is also a massive need. As bicycles end up huddling in the roads anyway, there might as well be a proper place to keep them. In addition, there is the ongoing talk about separate bicycle lanes for riders. Zia comments, "There aren't many separate lanes for cyclists in and around Dhaka, safe for one in Agargaon."
Hamida Akter Jeba, aged 24 above, who has won several cycling competitions in the country, too thinks that there should be separate lanes which would also serve to encourage females to partake. In her opinion, women on bicycles are not safe. Apart from drivers threatening to run over anyone, there are men who stare and catcall any moment they spot a female on a bike.
Although, "most women pretend not to hear or try to avoid these occurrences", Jeba says "This is not the solution." She elaborates more on how challenging the activity and even, the sport, is for women by nature. At times, there is a lack of supportive, encouraging family members and peers; guardians often do not approve nor allow cycling for various reasons such as, safety concerns, societal judgement etc. Other times, the male gaze and eve-teasing hinder the decision of using bicycles.
As with every ride, there is always maintenance and repair. Different issues may arise anytime -- tire leaks, loose paddles, dysfunctional brakes, broken lights etc. Ahad suggests that owners do a quick check-up "every 15 days". Irregularity in maintenance poses risks for the future and makes accidents and injuries likely.
Some started out as teeny tiny toddlers on tricycles, some sneaked out to practice while some skipped a step and rode on the two's. What's common among them is the love and zeal they share for cycling, no matter why they started out in the first place.
In the end, it all leads to a rider's high and a lasting companionship. While problems persist, with more campaigns and awareness, cycling enthusiasts can be positively benefited.
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