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Sunday, February 7, 2010

BICYCLE CHIEFS Pedal Pushers Inc

A growing number of environmentally conscious corporate honchos in Mumbai are ditching their fancy wheels for humbler ones

Recently, during a routine campus presentation, Saurabh Gupta confused many students in his audience. Despite being the HR manager of a famous Indian coffee chain, this pinstriped executive arrived on a bicycle. While taking his laptop out from the back seat, he noticed the students staring suspiciously at him in the parking lot. But before they started imagining recession hangovers or began doubting his company's purse, Gupta decided to clarify. In a style reminiscent of Kapil Dev, he told them that the bicycle was, in fact, the secret of his energy. 

    Since 2007, cycling has been this Bandra-based coffee chain employee's favourite morning stimulant. Gupta has been commuting daily to his office in Worli on a cycle for over three years and this 25-minute ride, he claims, has done more for his productivity than even caffeine. "I feel dynamic, charged, and capable of fresh ideas through the day,'' says Gupta, who chose thehumble vehicle in a bid to change 
his sedentary, desktop lifestyle. At first, colleagues thought Gupta had lost it when he switched from his car to a cycle. Today, though, perhaps after gauging his personal profits like fuel, money, time and attractive losses like weight and calories, they have started periodically borrowing Gupta's keys. "Recently, for an office picnic to Diveagar, I took the bicycle on the bus and we all had fun riding it on the beach, one by one,'' says the tri
umphant 35-year-old. 
    Gupta's is the kind of glee that many working professionals, who have started consciously commuting to their office and client meetings on a cycle, feel. Not only can they save on fuel, feel carbon-neutral and skip the boredom of gym but, more importantly, they can escape traffic jams. And in a vast city like Mumbai, where roads are perennially clogged by slow worksin-progress, this time-saving promise is prompting a slow conversion from cars to bicycles. Cities like California, in fact, conduct what's called the 'Celebrity/CEO cycle-towork day' in order to promote the green practice and lend stardust to it. Closer home though, where the first cyclothon is fast approaching, this seems to be becoming a daily trend. Faisal Thakur, who organises night cycle rides in the area
where Salman Khan is seen cycling accompanied by bodyguards, knows of a CEO who has started cycling cautiously to his BKC office. "A car follows him, with his laptop and other essentials,'' Thakur says. 
    Slowly, a growing number of not just middle-management employ
ees but also CEOs and white-collar professionals seem to be ditching cars and egos and uninhibitedly plonking on this middle-class twowheeler, to reach their workplace. Take famous orthopaedic surgeon Dr Anant Joshi, who counts Sachin Tendulkar among his clients, for instance. Joshi has installed a shower cubicle in his office room. He is often sweaty before operations nowadays, not out of nervousness. For the past five years, he has been coming to work on a bicycle everyday. The staff is always amused to see Joshi, who has a car, arrive on a unique bicycle which he later folds and places at the reception."Once, while I was folding the cycle, a patient asked me where she could get this electric wheelchair,'' recalls Joshi, who packs this folding cycle while travelling. It was his increasing environment-consciousness and frustration with traffic that made him sell his SUV some years ago, and later, after a patient, whom he had saved from surgery, gifted him a cycle, Joshi thought this was the best way to be green. He has four bicycles now, and the unique British-make folding cycle is his favourite. "Cycling is also softer on the knees than the treadmill, and is a better form of exercise,'' says Joshi. 
    Bharat Bhardwaj, CEO of a health portal, has seen senior citizens in Europe "cycling to work even in rough weather, wearing raincoats''. Every Saturday, Bhardwaj too cycles from his residence in BKC to an Andheri hospital on a cycle. He is a bit embarrassed to undertake the 40-minute ride on a daily basis though. The hot weath
er is also a deterrent for him since he has to wear formals to work. So he sticks to cycling on weekends when the dress code is relaxed. 
    But a strict corporate dress code need not always put a spoke in the bicycle wheel. Management consultant Mehul Ved, for instance, has found his way around this situation. The cycling enthusiast, who stays at Marine Lines and works in Andheri, wears cycling gear on his 
way to work and carries his office wear on his bicycle. On reaching, he dashes to the restroom to shower and changes into formal clothes. The entire routine, including the 25-kilometre-one-way-ride takes him an hour. Initially "my parents were sceptical about my safety as I was braving peak-hour traffic''. But now, Ved, who started cycling after seeing a few Twitter updates by friends who seemed to be enjoying the habit, says he reaches faster. "I know the good roads from the bad ones,'' he says. 
    However, it's important to follow safety measures, warns Amit Bhowmick, CEO of Cyclists.in, an online forum of cyclists from all over India. Last week, he advised a group of IT employees from Thane—who wanted to prepare for the 'cycling to work' routine—to wear helmets, sport headlights and paste reflective stickers. "You have to be visible on the road,'' says Bhowmick, who himself reaches all his client meetings on a cycle. 

    As a community however, these newly converted greens are visible anyway. Often, men in the backseats of taxis and cars, "the kind who read pink papers'', stare at Aparna Roy, the brand manager of an international energy drink. It's probably the daily sight of a 28-year-old backpack-and-laptop-toting, helmet-clad woman in capris on a cycle, she guesses. But these stares are worth braving, feels the Bandra-based Roy, who rides to her Worli office thrice a week. After all, "wading through the Pali Naka and Turner Road traffic has never been easier''. Her colleagues now tease her, saying she doesn't need an energy drink anymore." The bicycle gives me enough wings,'' laughs Roy.

HOT WHEELS Dr Bharat Bhardwaj (l) cycles to work on weekends while consultant Mehul Ved rides to his Andheri office from Marine Drive daily


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