Twitter Updates

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Traffic # 8: Pedal Power

India - Sights & Culture - 008 - A view from my auto-rickshawAlthough there isn’t the flood of bicycles dominating the streets here as was a customary sight in China, they are still very much a major part of street life here. Rickety, single-geared and heavy, they perilously weave through the petrol-choked streets. The bikes are in no way fast or agile – there is no similarity to the quick popping in and out by the nimble, aggressive bike commuters in North America (and who would want to in this heat) – but they hold their own. Of course during much of the day, they seem to be walking their bikes, there being no space or speed to move, simply being another vehicle staking their own niche among the motorized 4-wheelers, 3-wheelers and 2-wheelers crawling along. Other times they weave slowly along the side dodging (sometimes) the pedestrians. Weaving really is the description though as they appear to be impossible to ride in a straight line. Gearing and construction play a role, but in my observation this seems to also be because they are very often carrying an impractically large and precariously balanced bundle of stuff.

It is truly remarkable what people will transport by bike, because they have to or simply because it is normal to do so. Odd shaped parcels are somehow firmly lashed on, sometimes additionally balanced with one arm held behind. Chai wallahs wander the streets with urns of tea or coffee strapped to their racks. I’ve even seen long strips of rebar tied to the bike crossbar and thoughtfully with little red ribbon tied to each end that extended out dangerously in front and behind. How he managed to avoid impaling the usual crowd of pedestrians I don’t know (and whether he actually managed falls into the “I don’t really want to know” category). Last week I saw a bicycle carrying what seemed to be half a florist’s shop worth of bouquets. It looked like a parade float, so packed with colours that I didn’t immediately spot the second guy riding double behind, tucked among all the shrubbery. The same transport practice extends to motorcycles and scooters, but the necessity to pedal and overall rickety-ness of the bikes makes it the more remarkable and funny sights.

My favourite wish-I-had-my-camera sight though for sheer carrying capacity was actually from China where I spotted a man slowly pedalling his ubiquitous tricycle (at least he had the extra wheel for balance) carrying a whole living room worth of furniture somehow piled high above his back rack. He had, I kid you not, a sofa, plush chair, desk, desk chair, side table and coffee table at somehow tied and stacked, if not safely or securely at least mostly stably. It was like 6 feet high above him. I think all he was missing was the chandelier, but who knows, maybe it was tucked inside where I couldn’t see it...

Not content to simply carry their furniture around and with the population density, it is unsurprising to see the cyclists often doubling another passenger straddling the rack behind (and sometimes even a third squished in up front). At each stop or intersection the passenger deftly slips off the back and hops back on with a quick running start. The balance and move of it are harder than they look though as Leslie and I discovered when we tried it one evening on a quiet back-street. So it might be a while yet before we are ready to tackle rush hour (cycling against traffic, of course), carrying PVC piping, boxes of consumer goods, or our furniture. ;-)

Hats off though to the valiant 2-wheelers who are a vital part of the colourful blender passed off as traffic here.

No comments: