Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cycle Town Pune : A Memoir

A Punekar Walks Down Memory Lane

I wrote a series of articles around 5 years ago on the Pune of Yesteryear  

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 theory – it is possible to ride a bicycle even today – especially on BRTS Roads – which have dedicated “Cycle Tracks”.

But – in practice – it is not feasible to commute on cycles – since the cycle tracks are encroached upon/damaged and are unfit for cycling (even the pedestrian lanes are encroached and are unfit for walking).

Of course – cycling on roads had become dangerous due to the heavy and chaotic traffic.

But – this was not so in the Pune of Yesteryear – when – the bicycle was the primary mode of transportation – and – we enjoyed cycling all over – and  Pune was indeed a “Cycle Town”.

Let me share some memories of those carefree days of cycling.

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

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



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.

In the 1960’s – Poona (as Pune was called then)  was known as the Cycle Capital of India  since Pune had the maximum number of cycles.

But – with the advent and proliferation of scooters  this honour of Cycle Capital” 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 could be seen zipping by  and occasionally  an Ambassador or Fiat Car would appear on the roads.

Auto-rickshaws were beginning to make their appearance  and the PMT Bus was the second-most popular mode of transportation after the bicycle. 

If you do not believe me – you just watch the scene from the iconic Hindi Movie Sangam (1964)  where Raj Kapoor can be seen merrily cycling down Jangli Maharaj Road Pune (then known as 80 Feet Road – the widest road in Pune those days).

As I said – in those days  Pune was a cycle town

You just picked up your bicycle – and you 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 to cycle in the murderous traffic of Pune. 

In fact – in Pune – 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.

Those days  in the 1960’s and 1970’s  cycling was the primary means of transportation (I cycled a minimum of 20 kms everyday during my college days)

Nowadays – for most young Punekars  cycling is a hobby  a sport  a recreation  a “passion” – or – an “environment friendly” thing to do.

Those days  in the 1960’s and 1970’s  cycling was the primary means of transportation

That’s why today you have all types of fancy bikes (which cost the roof) – and snobbish people want to show off their cycles 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. 

Sometime ago – I took a long ride on a youngster’s MTB  and got such a pain in my you-know-where that I thought I had got hernia.

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

The predominant cycle those days was the “Roadster” (in bicycle parlance). 

The Roadster was a utility bicycle designed for practical transportation  unlike the fancy bikes of today which are primarily designed for recreation and for showing-off

The Roadster Bicycle was designed for Occupational Commuting  and it was designed to give you a comfortable ride. 

As I said earlier  those days  you did not ride a bike to burn calories.

A cycle was the primary means of transportation – and you commuted from one place to another on a cycle. 

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 Design Bicycle had proper mudguards and chain guards to keep it clean. 

In addition to comfort  the qualities we looked for in a cycle were sturdiness, durability and endurance.

A cycle was a permanent long term acquisition – not a “use and throw” item. 

Well – if you go to Bicycle Shop today – you may not find the humble “Roadster” displayed along with those fancy fashionable bikes.

In fact – there is a proliferation of high-falutin Cycle Malls in Pune selling all sorts of fancy and expensive bicycles.

But if you look on the roads – 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 Roadster Cycle is still the predominant mode of transportation. 

And – if you go to those good old cycle marts in Budhwar Peth in Pune  you will see that these unpretentious bikes are still selling in plenty.

When we were children – there were no “kiddie or children’s bikes to pamper us.

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 7 years old – but I got my first cycle in 1968  on my 12th Birthday. 

Until 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.

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 all these refinements – the Humber Cycle gave you the ultimate in riding comfort. 

Now my Dad had given me a budget of Rs. 200 – and the Humber which cost around 400 bucks was out of the question  as were other premium brands of cycles like RaleighRudge, Buke and BSA

So I had to choose from Hercules, Phillips, Hind Superb, Hero, Eastern StarAvon or Atlas – which were the popular bicycle brands those days

At first – I wanted to buy a Phillips Cycle which looked very handsome and every Phillips Roadster bicycle 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 and comfortable – and it had the best bearings  and the cycle was 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 a basket.

As I rode my brand new shining black Atlas cycle  I felt on top of the world.

Here is a picture of me and my large size 24 Atlas Cycle taken more than 47 years ago in 1968 (when I was 12)

Vikram Karve with his Atlas Cycle (Circa 1968)

This Atlas Cycle rendered yeoman’s service (I told you that I said I cycled about 20 kilometers every day)  and my bicycle 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 – and we 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 15 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 when it was 30 years old in the year 1998). 

Soon  I bought a brand new Hero Roadster Cycle for around three hundred bucks (Rs. 300 only)  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 acquired a scooter by then  which I used for “family” outings  I still rode my bike for my solitary travels in Pune. 

Alas – my newly acquired wife refused to ride double-seat with me (à la Dev Anand and Mumtaz in the movie Tere Mere Sapne) – though my wife had been an avid cyclist and she rode a ladies cycle herself in college. 

By the way  riding double-seat  and without a light at night  were traffic offences.

If a cop caught you without a light at night  or riding double-seat on your bike  he would deflate your tyres as punishment  and you would have to walk all the way dragging your cycle along. 

For parking your cycle – there was cycle-stands all over  in cinemas  at railway stations – in parks – everywhere.

Till the 1980’s – in Pune – the bicycle was still the most popular mode of transportation – since  in Pune  distances were not that much  and  the traffic was not that heavy. 

But gradually  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 1980– because cycling had become increasingly unsafe.

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  I decided to stop cycling on the streets of Pune.

Cycling keeps you healthy. 

Cycling also keeps you stress-free.

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 competitive 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 – not a fancy bike – but an a old-style standard roadster bike – maybe I will try out the good old tried and tested Hercules Roadster Cycle this time. 

The only problem 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.

In the mornings and in the evenings  I watch the serpentine traffic moving at snail’s pace on the Wakad Hinjewadi Road.

I wonder how different things would have been if everyone rode bicycles to work like in yesteryear Pune. 

We would have a more healthy, unpolluted and stress-free Pune.

Happy Cycling.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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This is a revised and abridged version of an article I wrote 5 years ago in 2010 in my series A PUNEKAR WALKS DOWN MEMORY LANE and earlier posted online on my blog in 2011 at urls: and and etc

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