The first time I ever got stitches was due to a bicycle injury on my leg when I was around 10. It was an evening after school, I was out with my friends cycling on the nearby road. I pedalled fast, having the best time racing the street. Enthralled by the speed and the wind kicking my hair, the scene around me blurred and along with it my worries. Fully in control of my bicycle and focussed on the road, I felt liberated. A moment of pure bliss… rudely interrupted by my friend crashing into me from the side. A nail went through my thigh and it was bleeding profusely.
At home, a heavy-duty spanking awaited me as I stayed out late, yet again. Time escapes from you when you’re having fun, and this was a regular occurrence. But, as I entered my flat after climbing four floors, I was immediately rushed to the hospital to stitch up my wound. I didn’t cry at all while getting the stitches because the fun I had that day was totally worth it. No regrets. And to this day, it makes me smile and not wince as I think of how good I felt before I fell.
Cycling has always made me happy. My bicycle was my first ride, my ticket to freedom and my first love. For anyone who rode bicycles or who does, you would know that it is a feeling like no other when you are out riding on the road. The speed gives you a rush. It’s exhilarating, liberating and intoxicating. You feel all your thoughts and the anxiety blown away by the wind as your legs are in motion, pedalling forward, and you stay in the moment.
I remember during 7th grade, going to tuitions was my favourite time of the day. Whether it was bright and sunny or pouring rain, I had to attend those tuitions. It was a 30-minute bike ride, but I always opted for the longest route. My first ever bike was a red and black BMX – for which I cried two hours straight, finally making my parents give in. When I grew a little older, I, again, begged my parents to buy me the Olympic bicycle that Junaid Jamshed was riding in the ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ video. It was neon blue with a silver handlebar – my pride and joy and the envy of all neighbourhood boys. Initially, I wasn’t big enough to ride it from its seat, so I learned to ride it by sitting on the bar instead as I grew into it. Possessive about this ride, I carried it all the way up to the fourth floor every day and parked it in my room.
One day, coming back from tuition, I got chased by some stray dogs. Turning a corner, there was a police van, I hit the breaks and mildly crashed in it. The dogs had run away, I hurt my head a little and the front wheel on my bike got a dent. Suffice to say, the policemen were baffled by the crazy boy more concerned about his bike wheel than his own head. I really did love my bike.
Growing older, I found a similar love in other vehicles that came in my life. While mostly out of convenience, my motorbike and car are also special. To this day, driving and riding is my therapy and my happy place. It calms me down and gives my thoughts a safe space.
After we were hit by the pandemic and were urged to stay home, the empty roads beckoned the supressed urge in people for leisurely strolls or bring out their bicycles. To curb the anxiety and monotony of staying home, many found refuge in a nice evening jog, many cyclists dusted off their bikes and took it out for a spin.
Unfortunately, our streets, especially in a city like Karachi, aren’t friendly for walking and cycling. Despite how beneficial it is for our well-being, there is no investment for pedestrians and cyclists. It is an important notion to work towards; so much so that the UN General Assembly decided to declare 3 June World Bicycle Day. It acknowledges the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), safe infrastructure for walking and cycling is also a pathway for achieving greater health equity. For the poorest urban sector, who often cannot afford private vehicles, walking and cycling can provide a form of transport while reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even death. Improved active transport is not only healthy; it is also equitable and cost-effective.
As I leave for my own evening jog, I am taken back to the good ol’ days when such healthy activities weren’t a rarity. Like the authorities invested in making public parks, they should also invest in making the roads safe for pedestrians and cyclists. If given safer pathways, many will opt for this mode of transportation rather than vehicles that cause so much pollution.
I often wonder if my children in the future will be able to experience the joy I did when I took my bike for a spin. I wonder if they will find something as therapeutic in a time where fun revolves around electronic devices, while we lose touch with our actual environment. I consider this as a sign: if we weren’t going to stop, we were brought to a halt. Shaken to consciousness and made to realise what we are missing out on. I don’t want our future generations to miss out on how the wheels touch so much of the Earth and how they are always so keen for more... I hope they get to experience their migratory calling as they venture and explore riding on their iron horse.