Chennai, By Bike!

Nopes, I did not go cycling all 350 kms! But have stumbled upon a wonderful way of getting around when visiting different places for meetings, family trips or just plan going seeing them.

I needed to travel to Chennai for a short meeting yesterday. The plan was to catch an overnight Volvo, find a place to shower/change, wrap up the meeting and take an afternoon bus back again. The meeting was someplace in Thoraipakkam, about 20kms or so from the centre of Chennai. The dreadful tales people recount when they speak of Chennai's infamous autokaarans were enough to make me, very obviously non-native, very very nervous. Cabs would be very expensive. And given the paucity of time, figuring out buses and shared-autos was not a viable solution.

An then, just a few hours before I left, it occurred to me that I could take a bike along! 20kms is hardly anything esp given Chennai's flatness. Yes, there was the weather to contend with - but I'd be getting there early in the morning, had access to a guest house for a few hours and was planning to shower anyhow. A little extra sweat is hardly a deterrent for a biker.

Next, what bike? My Merida would be the most familiar, but a little large - and the bus guys end up (unfairly) charging for it. I remembered Ravi's bike rental venture - and found theBTwin Hoptown at 200/- a day over weekdays. Perfect!


The BTwin Folder awaiting the Volvo

The bus dropped me off near Chennai Central - and it was actually quite pleasant in the morning! I'd been told autos would take 40-60 minutes to get to my destination depending on traffic. I got there in 50mins, despite many stops to ask for directions (btw, Google maps + GPS on Android helps a lot!) Without pushing at all since I was trying to sweat as little as possible. Saw a lot more of Chennai than I ever have, and got a good morning workout without no extra time spent. And its great to have endorphins and positive energy in your system before a meeting.

One curious thing : everyone I asked for directions - even 5-6 kms before the destination - first started with telling me "oh but thats faaar" (I do follow a little Tamil so could get this much even from the vernacular interactions) Its surprising how the notion of distances has changed in our cities, and how difficult people think cycling is.

Got in, showered, had a good meeting (or it seemed like that given my happy state) and got out of there. Fortunately, all morning had some cloud cover - but it got sunny on the ride out to Koyambedu, from where all the buses leave. I was advised to take an alternative, though slightly longer route by one of my biker friends in Chennai so encountered little traffic till I got into Guindy. Upto that point, the air itself never felt hot (unlike in the heat of the northern plains) though the sun was strong. Sunglasses helped, but I never got too uncomfortable.

Similar story with the bus guys on the way back. This time, a bunch of fellow passengers got excited about the bike as well - a couple even test rode it around there as we waited for the bus. Had a bus change owing to an issue with a brand new Isuzu and got a comfortable, but slow sleeper. Got to Silk Board at 11ish, and unfolded - with excited auto guys helping out - and rode back home.

The folding bicycle is a terrific tool. Benefits :
  • Its easy to put into a bus, and takes up as much space as a large suitcase, and is lighter too! Obviously the bus guys charged me nothing for it when I just said "my luggage" and handed it over :)
  • Its a major conversation starter! The bus guys were only to happy help load it. Everyone wanted to know more. Even the auto guys at Silk Board (on the way back), instead of being disappointed about the loss of business, atually tried helping out unfolding it! (Not that you need help - it takes just a couple of minutes and is a breeze).
  • Its pretty fast for city traffic - despite smaller wheels. The gear ratios are different from your regular MTB, and changes are quick and easy.

If you need to make outstation trips, this is a good way to carry your own transport along! Mumbai might be a little too large if you have to travel a lot for meetings, but for most cities, this is a great option.

Otoh, if you're travelling into Bangalore - give Ravi a buzz and get a bike delivered at your doorstep for the duration of your visit. Freedom from autowallahs, the ability to go-anywhere, and getting to know the city much better are huge payoffs. And you're getting your dose of exercise even when you travel.

As you might have noticed, am totally smitten with the idea. Both, of the folder itself, as well as the idea of carrying it around when travelling!