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Interview: Pushing the Pedal for Change, Meet Guwahati’s ‘Bicycle Mayor’

Interview: Pushing the Pedal for Change, Meet Guwahati’s ‘Bicycle Mayor’

Arshel Akhter, a 39-year-old investor, was never a competitive cyclist but saw great potential in this two-wheeled wonder that could benefit not only the cyclist as an individual but the planet as a whole.

Many of you will agree that cycling is one of the best ways to commute—you will be doing a huge favour to yourself and the environment!

Agreed, it is not as fast or comfortable as a car, but the kind of energy you feel after having paddled for a few kilometres, dodging traffic, and sweating out those extra kilos, makes the cycle a complete winner.

In today’s world, where pollution and traffic have taken over almost every city on the planet, cycling to work, school or the grocery store is one of the most substantial solutions that we have at our dispense. BYCS is a global community based in Amsterdam that firmly believes in this mantra and its potential.

“BYCS envisions a world where by 2030, 50% of all trips around the city will be made on a bicycle,” says the team on their website. “We call this global vision 50by30. This ambitious goal demands the brightest ideas and the most determined action. We believe it will lead to fundamentally healthy, happier and more prosperous cities,” they add.

To realise their goal, BYCS appoints “Bicycle Mayors” in various cities in different countries of the world.

The Mayor’s job is to encourage more and more people to give up their motor engines and push the pedals towards a better environment.

Commuting on a bicycle saves fuel and sheds kilos. Courtesy: Arshel Akhtar

Back at home, in Guwahati, Assam a young man was striving for the same goal, albeit on a local scale.

Arshel Akhter, a 39-year-old investor, was never a competitive cyclist but saw great potential in this two-wheeled wonder that could benefit not only the cyclist as an individual but the planet as a whole.

“I used to cycle during my school and college days but left it after I started working,” Arshel told The Better India, adding that

“Two years back, I was once again drawn to cycling after I saw a few friends riding them, exploring places, and generally having a great time. I bought an entry level MTB (Mountain Bike) and started cycling to explore nearby places.”

Arshel with his MTB.

Arshel was determined to share this interest of his with his fellow Guwahati residents. He started following cycling groups on social media, exploring the cycling community in Assam.

Here, Arshel got to meet people from various professions—doctors, advocates, businesspeople, government employees—who came together for the joy of cycling. Eventually, Arshel realised one thing—it was important for more people to start cycling as exercise, as means of commutation or recreation.

You may also like: Assam’s Dhruv Pedalled His Floating Bamboo Cycle down the Thames to Clean It!

“The poor man cycles because he has to, but he aspires to “upgrade” to a motorbike or car,” Arshel told TBI. “And one of the main reasons for that is that cycling is never seen as a good option to get around—even in the media or movies.

How many movies can you name where the ‘cool’ person is cycling? Since it is always about fast cars, that’s what people reach for.”

Arshel wants to change the set narrative around cycling.

Arshel decided that he wanted to change the perspective of people towards cycling make them a more sought after option. However, he faced several challenges when he approached people.

“Many said that there were no lanes for cyclists and the people wanted authorities to make lanes before they started cycling,” said Arshel. However, he knew better—in some cases, the authorities act only after they see demand.

“If there are hardly any cyclists, why would the government make lanes? If more and more people take to the pedals, the roads will eventually be altered to suit the needs.”

With this understanding, Arshel started a project called ‘Pedal for a Change,’ a community where he shares stories about cyclists in and from Guwahati who speak about everything related to cycling—from their favourite bicycle, their prices, the best routes, personal anecdotes etc. Regular posts such as these brought the cycling community close and expanded its member-list.

Today the group has over 500 members and are seeing new additions every day.

The Bicycle Mayor promoting the use of cycle in everyday life.

When Arshel came across BYCS, he knew this was a project worth his time. He approached them and explained the cycling scene in Guwahati. The community was so impressed by Arshel, that it made him the “Bicycle Mayor.”

The position of a Bicycle Mayor entitles Arshel to carry out three main jobs:

1. To promote cycling among young children.

2. To promote cycling as a preferred mode of transportation for people whose work or education centre is within 5 km from home.

3. To help prepare an online repository of cyclists in Guwahati to be maintained by local authorities.

Arshel’s appointment will help him achieve his goal of securing the pedal’s worth in Guwahati by bringing more people in the cycling community.

In fact, Arshel is not alone in India in the effort of promoting cycling as a more substantial, healthy and eco-friendly mode of transportation.

More and more people are taking to the pedal now, thanks to the Bicycle Mayor.

The first Bicycle Mayor in India was Nikita Lalwani from Baroda. This honorary position is valid for two years and will give the mayors a chance to expand the cycling communities in their respective areas.

You may also like: This College Dropout from Assam Has over 140 Agricultural Innovations to His Credit!

“I would love to see the people of Guwahati, in particular, and the whole country, in general, to take up cycling as their preferred mode of transportation for short distances, and also hope that people take up cycling as a sport and fitness activity,” says Arshel, adding that “I got to meet a lot of cycling enthusiasts and sportspersons. I must tell you that I have met most awesome people of my life till date through cycling.”

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

All images courtesy: Arshel Akhtar

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