Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CYCLE TOWN PUNE - Memories of Yesteryear Pune

I wrote a few articles last year on the Pune of Yesteryear for my column in an ezine called The Punekar. As I observed the chaotic traffic this morning I recalled a piece I wrote called CYCLE TOWN PUNE harking back to memories of the 1960s and 1970s when Pune was known as the Cycle Capital of India. In the ezine, my article was edited a bit (probably to fit into the word length) to make it suitable for publication. Here is the full article for your perusal. That’s the beauty of blogging vis-à-vis publishing. You have total literary control and are not subject to the “scissors” of an editor. Of course, there has to be editorial control in a journal or magazine – it is their publication; whereas your blog is your very own literary legacy.

I am sure you will enjoy these reminiscences, and maybe this will tempt you to  hark back to your good old days too. 

Please do let me know if you liked this article and comment – I look forward to your feedback.


Cycle Town Pune

When I was a small boy (in the 1960’s), and later in the 1970’s, we used to cycle all over Pune. Pune was a Cycle-Town and it was known as the Cycle Capital of India as Pune had the maximum number of cycles, but with the advent and proliferation of scooters, this honour was taken over by Delhi and Pune became the Scooter Capital of India.

Let’s hark back to the 1960s and talk about Cycle Town Pune. Those days 90% of the vehicles on the roads were Bicycles, a few Scooters zipping by, an Ambassador or Fiat Car once in a while, Auto-rickshaws were beginning to make their appearance, and a rare PMT Bus could be seen once in a while. If you do not believe me you just watch the scene in Sangam (1964) where Raj Kapoor can be seen merrily cycling down Jangli Maharaj Road (known as 80 Feet Road – then the widest road in Pune).

As I said, in those days, Pune was a cycle town. You just picked up your bicycle and went wherever you wanted to. 

Today, I dare not try to cycle on the roads of Pune, unless I want to land up in a hospital with my bones broken or worse still in the morgue with my body crushed to pulp. 

There is just no place for the poor cyclist in the murderous traffic. In fact, the only place you can cycle are on the cycle-lanes on those small stretches of the BRTS routes which thankfully have still not been encroached upon (of course, even here you risk being knocked down by a motorcyclist) or you can pedal away on those obscure cycle-tracks which take you nowhere.

Now-a-days, for most young Punekars, cycling is a hobby, a sport, a recreation, a “passion”, an “environment friendly” thing to do; those days cycling was the primary means of transportation. 

That’s why today you have all types of fancy bikes (which cost the roof) which people want to show off as “status symbols” whenever they get off their expensive limousines and take a rare bike ride wearing funny outfits and contraptions like gloves, helmets et al. There are Terrain Bikes, Sports Bikes, BMX Bikes, Racing Bikes, all sorts of hybrid combinations, which look good but are most uncomfortable to ride. The other day I took a long ride on a youngster’s MTB and got such a pain in the you know where that I thought I had got hernia.

In my younger days, it was not snob appeal but utility value that governed the design of bicycles. 

The predominant cycle those days was what is called the “Roadster” in bicycle parlance. The Roadster was a utility bicycle designed for practical transportation unlike the fancy bikes of today primarily designed for recreation and showing-off. The Roadster was designed for Occupational Commuting and was designed to give you a comfortable ride. 

As I said, those days you didn’t ride a bike to burn calories, you cycled to get from one place to another. Of course, fitness was a by-product, as in my college days I used to cycle about 20 Kilometres every day breathing fresh unpolluted air and this was healthy exercise. We cycled in our normal clothes and not in “biking wear” and that’s why the Roadster had proper mud guards and chain guards to keep it clean. In addition to comfort, the qualities we looked for were sturdiness, durability and endurance – a cycle was a permanent long term acquisition, not a “use and throw” item. 

Well, today you may not find the humble Roadster displayed along with those fancy bikes in one of those high-falutin Cycle Malls in Pune but have a look on the roads and you will see that the redoubtable Roadster is still going strong and if you care to go to the mofussil you will see that this humble bike is still the predominant mode of transportation. And if you go down to the cycle marts in Budhwar Peth you will see that these unpretentious bikes are still selling in plenty.

There were no “kiddie or children’s bikes” to pamper us, and we learnt how to cycle the hard way on the hardy adult roadster bikes which entailed many falls and bruises, including one on my forehead, the scar of which is prominently visible even today. 

I learnt how to cycle when I was seven or eight but I got my first cycle in 1968, on my 12th Birthday. Till then I used to hire a bike on an hourly basis from one of the many “Cycle Marts” that adorned almost every street corner of Pune or manage a ride my uncle’s cycle whenever he was not using it.

The moment it was announced that I would be getting a bike as a birthday gift, I was very excited, and my friends and I started our market survey. 

Which cycle did I want? 

There were so many brands to choose from. At the top end was the matchless Humber the prized crème de la crème brand from Raleigh Cycles. The Humber Men’s Roadster had a unique double-fork, a duplex fork design which had two tubes for absorbing shocks better, and a frictionless chain for a smooth ride, owing to which this bike gave you the ultimate in riding comfort. 

Now my Dad had given me a budget of Rs. 200 and theHumber which cost around 400 bucks was out of the question, as were other premium bikes like Raleigh, Rudge, Buke and BSA. 

So I had to choose from Hercules, Phillips, Hind Superb, Hero, Eastern Star, Avon or Atlas. 

At first I wanted to buy a Phillips Cycle which looked very handsome and had embossed on its badge its famous motto: Renowned the World Over. 

But the dealer insisted that I try the latest model of Atlas (which he claimed was sturdy, comfortable, had the best bearings, long lasting, economical and ideal for a student like me) so I took a “test ride” and acquired an Atlas Cycle for the princely sum of a hundred and eight rupees (yes, Rs. 180 only). 

I fitted my bike with a dynamo and light (for night riding), a bell, a carrier and a sleek stand, and as I rode my brand new shining black Atlas cycle I felt on top of the world.

This Atlas Cycle rendered yeoman’s service (like I said I cycled about 20 kilometers every day) and accompanied me all over on my cycling trips, including one touring UP and Bihar where we just carried our cycles in the second class train compartment, got down wherever we wanted and cycled away for our sightseeing and caught a train again at the nearest station. No one dared to ask any questions because we were “students”.

I used my rugged Atlas Cycle for over fifteen years and it was still going strong when I gave it away to a needy student (this redoubtable bike was fully  operational when I last saw it in the year 1998). 

Soon I bought a brand new Hero Cycle for around three hundred bucks which I used for cycling all around town whenever I came to Pune on my weekend trips or holidays from Mumbai where my ship was based. Though I had a scooter by then which I used for “family” outings, I still rode my bike for my solitary travels in Pune. 

Unfortunately my newly acquired wife refused to ride double-seat with me (à la Dev Anand and Mumtaz in Tere Mere Sapne) though she rode a ladies cycle herself in college. 

By the way, riding double-seat and without a light at night were traffic offences and if caught the cops deflated your tyres as punishment. 

There was cycle-stands all over, in cinemas, at railway stations, and till the 1980s, the bicycle was still the most popular mode of transportation in Pune since distances were not that much and then the traffic was not that heavy. But by now, scooters were slowly taking over as people were increasingly in a hurry to get wherever they wanted to go.

I quit cycling in Pune sometime in the end 1980s. 

The traffic situation in Pune had become quite bad, heavy vehicles, buses, cars and scooters ruled the roost, and after a few close shaves in the dangerous traffic, my wife prohibited me from cycling on the streets of Pune.

Cycling kept me healthy. 

Those days, as I cycled to college or work, the physical effort while cycling helped remove my stress, unlike driving a car or scooter in the chaotic traffic of Pune which drives you crazy. 

Almost everyone cycled to school and college, and to work and back, all the way from the heart of Pune City even to far-off places like the factories in Khadki and beyond. 

Cycling was a healthy affordable way of commuting. Yes, cycling was primarily a means of travel, and not a competition sport or a means of working out for exercise as it is now. Of course, exercise was a byproduct of cycling. 

I have decided to relive those good old days. So I am going to get myself a cycle – yes, a old-style standard roadster bike – maybe I’ll try a Hercules this time. Only thing is that I will have to find a road to cycle on, besides a BRTS track nearby. I eagerly await the BRTS in Wakad so all of us can cycle down the bicycle track as people do on the BRTS route on Satara Road near Bibwewadi.

Sometimes as I watch the serpentine evening traffic moving at snail’s pace from Hinjewadi to Wakad, I wonder how different things would have been if everyone rode bicycles to work like in yesteryear Pune. 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2012
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.


Viyoma said...

Your Love for Pune, is as much as my Madness for Aurangabad.

Only difference being, u still live in the city you love, while i watch my lil city grow- from a distance.

Cycling: Didnt get a chance to cycle to school but exploited this opportunity in the evenings - after school hours.

Subodh said...

Mr. Karve, I would like to use your memories (at least 50 years old) on - I am the editor. My email is

Anonymous said...

Lovely article. Please write more of Pune of the old days.

Anonymous said...

Very nice article except one difference of opinion. It sounds like all cyclist using expensive bikes are doing showffs which is not true. Just compare value of 180 Rupees in 1968 which I am sure will come around 18000 Rupees. Price apart there are so many cyclist today using these modern day cycles to get more pleasure. Think of doing Pune-Mahabaleshwar expedition on ROADSTAR or ATLAS which we are doing very easily on TREK. Salute to your love for cycling and no doubt you will be role model for young cyclists.