For the first time, the demand for cycles in Ahmedabad has overtaken supply. One of the happy fallouts from the civil mess that COVID-19 has caused. Ahmedabad is now reporting over 100% hike in average sales, with most new models being pre-booked.
“All kinds of bikes from pleasure to professional, including mountain, hybrid and kids bikes have seen a huge spike in demand,” said Aditya Sharma, an administrator with the Decathlon Cycling community. “For the first time, people have to wait for the model or colour of the bike they want.”
“We are out of stock of many models,” added Mayur Parikh, owner of Revolution Bikes and H Parikh and Co, one of the oldest cycle shops and rental business in the city. “Demand is essentially in the Rs 4,500 to Rs. 20,000 price range. Also, many who rent bikes are returning as customers.”
With staying fit being touted as an effective way to ward of the corona virus, Ahmedabadis are discovering that cycling offers an enjoyable option. “The number of informal groups taking to cycling has increased and I get calls daily, seeking advice on which cycle to buy, which accessories to get, which apps to download, and which routes to take,” says Khushali Purohit, who has represented India at the international Cyclathon in Paris.
Authorities chip in
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is pitching in to promote this trend, according to Nitin Sangwan, IAS, Deputy Municipal Commissioner and CEO, Ahmedabad Smart City authority, which has been experimenting with pilot projects to support cycling as a popular mobility option.
AMC is so sure of its ability to provide the needed infrastructure, it is gearing up to win the “Cycles4Change” contest announced by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Authority, to promote cycling and related infrastructure in the city. “We feel we can be one of the 11 cities to get Rs 1 crore funds to develop infrastructure for cycling,” says Sangwan.
“AMC is experimenting with pilot projects to promote cycling”. Nitin Sangwan, Deputy Municipal Commissioner
AMC’s big plans
Sangwan spoke of their plans to create heritage cycling routes and tours for the city using available infrastructure. Immediate plans include allowing cycles to be loaded on state transport buses so that people can commute to work and cover the last mile with their own cycles, giving priority and exclusive parking for cycling, and driving home the point on social media.
“I also commute on cycle to my west zone office at times,” said the Deputy Municipal Commissioner. The office has allocated exclusive parking space for cycles.
AMC has also launched, “Amdabike”, a bike share system that deploys around 800 cycles, and 250 e-bikes through a network of 59 stations, under partnership with two private entities, Mybyk and Yulu bikes, with parking space provided by AMC and the bikes provided and maintained by the two companies. “We have also started dialogues with various cycling and civic groups and institutions to ensure public partnership,” added Sangwan.
“It is heartening to see the huge increase in interest in cycling which is now being seen as a smart lifestyle choice,” said Vinod Purohit, president of Cyclone Cycling Club, one of Ahmedabad’s largest. “Post COVID, new joinees have gone up from around three earlier to around 20 today. Some enthusiasts cycle 30 to 50 km daily.”
“Cycling is now being seen as a smart lifestyle choice”. Vinod Purohit, Cyclone Cycling Club
Is the city ready for a big push?
But even as enthusiasm for cycling grows, Ahmedabad lacks the necessary infrastructure for this. The cycling routes developed by AMC are faulty in design and unsafe for cyclists. They are also not aligned to facilitate connectivity. And poor maintenance has made them worse, the tracks being broken or pitted with potholes and encroached for parking.
Grandiose plans exist on paper though. Measures like building separate pop-up lanes, new cycling tracks and creating “cycling only” zones are being considered. Already in the works, according to Sangwan, is creation of cycling tracks and rent-a-cycle projects along the BRTS (Bus Rapid Transport System) route to make last-mile connectivity easier.
AMC has now reached out to experts in planning infrastructure to support cycling as leisure/sport activity. “Ahmedabad has no cycling track, so we have to cycle on roads, where traffic sense is bad,” says Jignesh Patel, an architect and cycling enthusiast, who heads a cycling group Simbalian.
“Cycling is a sport that ensures social distancing and your lungs get very good exercise. Also, it does not require much investment. We had around 150 active members earlier, while post-COVID, our number has risen to more than 700; we have around 50 riders in our daily group”.
Roping in startups
“The potential for cycling is huge, and people’s willingness to adopt this means of transport is palpable, but there needs to be proper options,” said Arjit Soni, owner of Mybyk, the rent-a-cycle startup which has partnered with AMC.
A chartered accountant, Sony launched this as a pilot project in 2014, which did not quite take off because of faulty product design and pricing. However, we redid the app with new software and hardware and introduced it for the public at the Sabarmati Riverfront.
We also introduced a new package of hourly plans and low deposits, and “pay-as-you-go” concept which was a huge success.
“Now we have got a very positive response since our relaunch with ‘Ambabike’ in June 2020. In these two months, we have 10,000 users, and we are confident that we will scale up to 10,000 cycles.
“Multispeed bikes are in demand. We have also introduced 50 tandem bikes, so couples can enjoy the ride or parents can take kids for safe rides. Our rate is Rs 2 per hour (minimum of Rs10) while weekly rental is Rs. 190 and monthly plan is Rs. 599. We also have a Promotional Fit India plan that is of Rs. 150 for 30 hours any time during a week. People first test the cycling feel through hourly plan and then convert to long term plans”.
The startup also presently covers some BRTS routes covering 40 cycle stations. Taking of future plans, Soni said, “The strength of this model is our collaboration with AMC”
Mybyk is also looking at a “Sale-and-lease back” model that will invite micro investment i.e. a person can invest as co-owner as well as customer of one bike. “I want Ahmedabad to be a global case study and I hope to create an Ahmedabad model that other cities can replicate.”
“Amdabike” is a public bike sharing system that deployes around 800 geared and non-geared cycles, and 250 e-bikes through a network of 59 stations, under partnership model with two private owners Mybyk and Yulu bikes, where parking space is provided by AMC and the bikes are provided and maintained by private players.
Citizens can download the respective apps to book a bike and avail the service.
Yulu has a very small presence in the city as of now, with Mybyk being the main operator. Currently, Mybyk covers BRTS routes from Bopal to Shivranjani, RTO to Chandranagar. Science city approach to AEC crossroads, and Nehrunagar to MJ library covering 40 stations.
They are also at 30 major user identified origin or destinations in southwest and west Ahmedabad, like Parimal garden Law garden, Prahladnagar garden, Gotila gardens, Vastrapur lake, Judges bungalow cross roads.
Mybyk is studying expanding the service to the city’s Northen parts like Zunal crossroads, Chandkheda, Shaibaug, Asarva, and Naroda before moving to the lower income eastern areas of the city like CTM, Yashodanagar and Thakarbapanagar.
The BRTS is also gearing up to supporting cyclists. “There is no doubt that there is an increase in use of cycles and people are wanting to cycle, especially the youth,” said Deputy Municipal Commisioner and incharge of BRTS Vishal Khanna, himself an ardent cyclist, averaging about 40 kms daily for the past three years.
“We wish to start with easy-to-implement but impactful actions like clearing cycling tracks of encroachments, repairing potholes, strict implementation of barring entry of other two wheelers in cycling lanes, BRTS support to cyclists by creating contiguous routes, more cycle friendly tracks like the one we have created for happy street hours near law garden. Citizens are coming forward with ideas, so we hope to be able to find viable solutions to sustain and promote their interest in cycling.”Vishal Khanna, Deputy Municipal Commissioner and In-charge, BRTS
Seeing the spike in interest, the Youth Hostel of India’s Gujarat unit has organised an online cycling competition from Aug 17th to 23rd, with scores recorded on cycling app Strava. “The challenge is for cyclists to finish maximum kms on their own, anytime, throughout the week,” explained Sandeep Modh, vice president of the youth hostel state branch.
“This will ensure solo rides with social distancing, with leader boards on the app ensuring competitiveness. We have added around 2000 members to our cycling community post COVID, and wish to sustain this interest.”
Amen to that.