India Blog - cycling in Odisha by Paul Hyman

27 February 2015

Cycling in Odisha is very different to cycling in London but just as much fun.

Cycling on the streets in Odisha

Roads at first appear chaotic with cows, goats and dogs often wandering around and sometimes a whole herd of cattle being led along a main road. Trucks, cars and motorbikes weave around and often seem to be overtaking when there is a real chance of a head on collision. 

Despite this there seem to be few collisions. I didn’t see one in maybe a thousand miles of road travel and quite a few miles of cycling. Vehicles tend to travel at slower speeds and drivers seem to have a good appreciation of the width of their vehicle. I have so far seen fewer examples of really bad driving out here than at home – where every journey at least one motorist feels the need to pass really close at high speed.

There are verges around 1m wide on most country roads. These are used by pedestrians and sometimes by animals but you can easily duck into one when a big truck is approaching or some hazardous overtaking is taking place.

Cycling on country roads in Odisha

Indian bikes are mostly of early - mid 20th century design so they are quite slow and sedate and don’t enable the sort of speeds my fixed wheel road bike does at home. Anyway Odisha is not a place to hurry through. There always seems to be something interesting going on along the road, or there’s a spectacular sunset, a bright starry sky or some interesting wildlife.

Most journeys are quite social and other cyclists or motorcyclists pull alongside to chat. Sometimes people call me over and invite me to drink chai or smoke chillum or both. This has never happened in London.

I bought a new Indian made road bike (that means big heavy upright bike) here and will leave it here as a donation to the rangers Foundation for use at the Rangers Centre.  It cost 4000 Rupees (around £45) so probably less than the cost of a few days bike hire at home.

Bike theft is rare so a lightweight basic lock is fine and I’ve yet to see a cyclist (or motorcyclist) wearing a helmet or using lights. Anyone who has read anything about risk compensation will understand why I feel about as safe without lights here as with lights at home. I ride quite a bit slower, and am very aware of everything around me and always ready to stop or pull over. Fingers crossed it works and I’ve yet to have a near miss here – while in London last year I was knocked off by a car door once and had quite a few near collisions.

I’ll enjoy cycling in London again next month – but I’ll miss cycling in Odisha a lot.

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