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Weekly Pullouts » Himachal Tribune

Posted at: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM; last updated: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM (IST)

Mountain biking popular pastime among youth

Introduction of high-tech bicycles into the Indian market has significantly altered the cycling scene in the country

Tejaswi Lohumi

Mountain biking is emerging as a popular recreational activity in the hill state with more and more youth taking to the fascinating sport. The introduction of high-tech bicycles into the Indian market has significantly altered the cycling scene in the country, particularly in the hill states like Himachal, where ordinary bikes are not suitable for negotiating steep gradients. 

Lack of suitable machines was the main constraint that kept biking out of the sporting landscape all these years. It started picking up as a recreational activity only in recent years with the easy availability of a whole range of affordable bike varieties, fitted with high-end gear. A wide cost spectrum has brought the sport within the reach of the youth in the hill state. No surprise, cycling has emerged as a popular recreational activity over a short time and young enthusiasts are now also pursuing it as a competitive sport and participating in various events.  

Himachal has perfect geographical features for mountain biking and this has helped a great deal in promoting the state’s profile in the global cycling circles. The region is now well-known within the cycling community for its diverse terrain and scenic landscapes that unfold majestically along the trails. Mountains are ideal for building endurance and competition training. The growth of cycling as a leisure activity or a means to commute apart, it is the challenge the mighty Himalayan ranges present to the riders that is attracting professional cyclists from all over. With cycle rallies such as the MTB Himalaya providing the much-needed platform to emerging cyclists, the future of the sport in the state seems promising. 

Biking was a popular mode of transport on a relatively level stretch between Sanjauli and Lakkar bazaar in Shimla until the early 1980s. Cycles were available on rent for commuting between the two localities. However, as automobiles smothered the pedestrian culture of the city, biking also lost out and cycles vanished from the scene altogether in no time.

The revival of biking as a recreational activity in cities like Shimla can be used to ease the traffic woes by promoting cycling as a mode of transportation on selected stretches. Administration has to step in to identify stretches suitable for biking and bring in vendors for making cycles available on rent, besides providing safe parking spaces for personal bikes. Dedicated trails for cycling and necessary infrastructure are the need of the hour and perhaps the only roadblock that is holding back enthusiasts from taking up the sport in a big way. The numerous forest trails in the state, particularly around main cities, can be developed as cycling tracks without much investment.

A biking aficionado and former Deputy Mayor of Shimla Tikendar Panwar, said, “We should focus on promotion of cycling as a means of transport for the common people and not merely as an elitist sport. It will not be possible until cycles are made available on rent through vendors in and around the cities and dedicated lanes are provided for biking. Detailed information on trails and facilities should be available to ensure involvement of the local community and tourists alike.” 

Cycle stores catering to all needs of bikers have come up in major cities of Himachal like Kullu, Manali, Palampur and Shimla. There has been an exponential rise in bike sales and the network of repair and maintenance services is also growing.  Mohit Sood, president of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association, which has been organising the MTB Himalaya Rally every year, says the state already has a good tourism infrastructure, which can be easily integrated with cycling activities. “The natural hill terrain is an added advantage and we should exploit its potential by promoting and marketing cycling as a sport and also as a recreational activity for tourists. Cycling could fill the void created in the sporting landscape due to decline of winter games but the government will have to provide requisite infrastructure for it,” he stated.

There are countless trails well-suited for mountain biking in the state but there is hardly any information available, as a result people rarely venture out to experience thrill. The publicity material published by the tourism and other concerned departments should also include detailed information about mountain biking to tap its full potential. Mountain biking should become an integral part of the adventure sports scene of the state and given the same importance as other activities like trekking, skiing, paragliding  and river rafting. 

(The writer is a software engineer, a musician and a passionate trekker)

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