My old bicycle

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readMar 24, 2022

Source : Google photo of a brave female bike rider to see the world

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Synopsis: No matter where we live in the world, we all want to see the big wide world that we have only heard of or read about in books, but our poverty and our limited knowledge of the world prevents us. Only a few fortunate ones can travel and see all the world has to offer but they too are intimidated by the immensity, the logistics and most importantly the cost of travel, food and shelter. There is an alternative so read this blog.

I learned to ride a bicycle when I was perhaps 7 years old. I used to take my father’s bicycle to a field where a cousin taught me how to balance myself on it and gradually learned it without anyone’s help. This learning came at a price of scraped elbows and knees but the joy it gave me served as a balm on my wounds.

It was an old bicycle of my father who after an accident gave up using it so I learned my lessons on it at an early age when most kids dare not use an adult bicycle due to the fear of falling. The over protective parents now buy them tricycles at first or fix some training wheels on the sides of a bicycle to prevent them from falling. We did not have such luxuries.

Our parents did not bother to know what I was up to most of the time that included a lot of mischief making so we as children grew up with a whole lot of freedom to do whatever we wished that would make the present generation green with envy.

Once I got on my bike from the edge of a roadside porch because of my small height but pedaled on down our narrow lane where we lived. The only problem was how to get down from the high seat from where my small legs could hardly reach the pedals so I asked a kid to hold the bike so that I could get down but he ignored me and I fell down flat on my face with the bike on top of me. My bleeding knees and elbows alarmed Mom so she brought out the hated tincture of iodine to stop bleeding.

Almost all families kept a bottle of tincture of iodine because I was not the only dare devil in the lane. The tincture hurt more than the scraped knees so we often tried to hide our mishaps but Ma had sharp eyes that no one could pull any wool over. Dad was more tolerant so he did not mind our little adventures now and then.

Later I inherited this old bicycle when I was in college so it served me well as my sole mode of transport for many years because my elder brother had found a Government job so he bought a brand new bike to go to his office.

My old bike needed a lot of maintenance to keep it going so I upended the bike every Sunday, cleaned the chain with toothbrush and kerosene and fixed the broken springs under the seat or found a new spring to replace the damaged one. I cleaned the mudguards and buffed the bike with wet cloth and oil. I oiled the bearings, put some grease on the chain and made sure that the tire pressure was good. I did this every Sunday year after year to maintain my old bike.

But one day my old tire gave way that could not be repaired even by a genius so I sent a distress message to my dad from my college campus that I needed a new tire before I could come home so the very next day a classmate brought me the new tire dad bought for me.

Later this bike that I had maintained with loving care for so many years was passed on to someone who trashed it in a short time because he did not care to maintain it at all.

I had to write about my old bike as a preamble just to tell you how it gave me the freedom to move around anywhere anytime. I was also the errand boy of our family so I had to buy all the essentials for them every month so the bike was very useful. I even woke up at 4 am to fall in line just to buy 20 kg of coal at the depot and returned home hungry and thirsty at 2 pm with the sac of coal on my bike. Don’t ask me why anyone had to fall in line for 20 kg of coal at 4 am in a country blessed with coal mines everywhere.

The point is that a bicycle new or old gives you the freedom of mobility but sadly I left India at a young age and never rode a bicycle since then. I learned to drive in Vietnam and was given a new car there. So gradually I became dependent on motor cars and lost the ability to ride a bicycle the way I used to.

Once I was in India to visit my Ma when my brother got the bright idea that he will organize a picnic for me at a place some 30 kms from the city and got me a brand new bicycle to ride. So one morning we started with great excitement on their part and some trepidation on my part. I was amazed that I could still ride a bike and pedal it so far because I had not done so for so many years.

But my joy and amazement was short lived when the time came for us to return home that was more than 30 kms away. Everyone pulled ahead of me leaving me trailing by a kilometer or so because my legs were so sore that I was in terrible pain. At this time a fellow noticed my difficulties and came to my aid. He came behind me and gave me a strong push each time I slowed down. This way he brought me home but the pain in my legs lasted over two weeks. I still remember my ordeal.

So you must ride your bicycle frequently to stay in shape. Otherwise your legs will not support you and cause a lot of distress. The comfortable cars did this to me so until now I can’t ride a bike to go anywhere without my legs swelling up.

In Vietnam I was given a Taiwanese bike that was so heavy that I at first removed all the unnecessary parts to lighten it but it was still too much so I never rode it. May be they should learn from India how to make decent bikes that are light and wonderful to ride.

One of my classmates in college had a brand new Sen Raleigh bike that he pedaled with great pride every morning while we struggled on our beat up bikes. I always dreamed of owning a Sen Raleigh that was the Rolls Royce of bikes but never could afford one as a student. Later when I could afford one, my lazy legs ( no thanks to cars I drove ) could not pedal anything let alone a Sen Raleigh. I feel a twinge of envy when I see how young people all over the world ride their bikes with absolute ease and joy.

Once I had a visitor when I was living in Sikasso in Mali, West Africa. He was a Swiss gentleman who had arrived in Sikasso from Dakar in Senegal and was going on to Niger and from there to Algiers crossing the Sahara desert on his bike. I was amazed. He said that he could pedal his bike loaded with all the things he needed like food, water, some spare parts etc. for 100 kms every day. At the end of his day, he could just sleep under a tree or in a village thus traveling over vast distances day after day.

He sent me a card form Algiers saying that he was on his way to Europe passing through Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain, and France etc. to reach Switzerland. I forgot his name but remember his stamina and courage even today. It was a wonderful way to see the world.

I often hear of a few young men in India who make a group to travel all over India on their bikes. The group travel has some distinct advantages like when someone has some trouble with his bike, they all stop to lend a hand. There is also safety in numbers while a solitary bike rider may run into bandits or thieves on the road. It is outright dangerous to ride solo in some countries where lawless people will rob you, hurt you or even kill you for your money. So group of bicyclists can offer some protection to each other. Female bike riders may face more dangers than others if they ride solo. But a mixed group provides the security.

I met a German bicyclist in Haiti who told us how he was pelted with stones by the Haitian bandits who were suspicious. Haiti was undergoing a revolution and a period of lawlessness so many bad people took advantage of the situation to make some quick money. I was accosted by a group on the road to Les Cayes but I spoke Creole so they let me pass. They could have hurt my wife and two children or damage my car but my Creole came to my aid.

This world is beautiful that very few people ever get the chance or the opportunity to see because it takes a lot of money to travel by plane and pay for expensive visas, food and hotels. There are unscrupulous people everywhere who will take advantage of you given half a chance. There are con men and women, thieves, tricksters, outright criminals and corrupt officials who all are eager to lighten your wallet. Solo travelers are often victimized this way in many countries like that poor German bicyclist in Haiti.

But if you have the courage and have a few good companions to go with, you too can see the world the way no tourist can ever see and experience. You will get to know the real people, the poor people and honest people who will shelter you and give you food if you need. You will be able to get off the beaten path to discover hidden gems that only the locals know about.

If you write a blog on your journey and share your story with the world with photos and videos, these hidden places will no longer remain hidden so some people may start to commercialize it and trivialize it by bringing in hordes of insensitive tourists who leave behind trash and a bad impression on the simple folks.

If you really value your freedom and others then do not write and publicize about your travels so that the simple people may continue to live in peace and preserve their unique cultures. The tourist money may help them initially but in the long run they lose whatever is precious to them like their values, their culture, their food and even their way of living. (Read my blog here called The effect of mass tourism).

So start with your own country. Get a sturdy bike and all the things your bike can carry and join a group of likeminded bicyclists. You will see your beautiful country and get to know the diversity it represents. It is also the least costly way to travel and see the world. Once you have seen your own country, then start with another country where people are friendly and welcoming. It requires years of training to pedal long distances. You have to build up your leg muscles and your stamina. At first you will have sore muscles but eventually it will go away. The endurance will gradually increase until you are fit for the challenge of your life.

You will also have the time of your life. This experience will enrich you in a way no fly by night packaged deals promoted by the Tour operators can. It will give you the freedom to see the world the way only you can. When you are old and sitting in a rocking chair, your memories will always bring a smile to your face.

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