Monday, February 16, 2009

My first bicycle and more..

My first bicycle
Cycle riding has always been fun to kids. We never had a tricycle, except for my father’s childhood tricycle which was unusable. So, like all children, there were silent dreams. Eight years old was too old for a tricycle and so it was time for bigger things. I was bought a blue-coloured little bicycle, with hard rubber tyres and support wheels for the rear wheel from the old Sachidananda Cycle Mart, [next to Olympia Theatre], whose owner was a client of my grand father and a very reliable supplier.

We used to be on the roads as freely as none can imagine now – they were all ours. Because of sparse traffic in those days with just an occasional bicycle or a scooter that passed by. Hardly few autorickshaws and cars to trouble the playing-on-the-street kids. Even then, my grandmother was scared of allowing me to go to the road with my little bicycle. My route was supposed to be within the sights of our Devaparthiva road and not anywhere beyond. But sometimes I would escape to the next road to make a ‘round’. I learnt to ride without those support wheels very quickly and even taking the hands off the handle, on the move. Scraped knees and elbows commonly resulted from the various acrobatics and stunts I enjoyed performing, mostly to please myself. I had seen them in circus but I did not know they were manipulated bicycles!! Decades later, this was given away to my twin cousins who used it before disposing it off. It lived more than its full life.

Our bicycles
In 3 or 4 years, I must have covered many miles on our own street alone, riding this little beauty. I was growing taller and was trying my hand at the three other senior bicycles we had at that time at home. One was my grandfather’s 1914-Sunbeam which he alone rode [which is still functional but put to rest, unable to maintain in condition]. The second was my father’s 1958 Raleigh [my maternal uncle lost it in the mid-eighties when he had parked near a bank -a great loss]. The third was my uncle’s 1958 Robin Hood [which had a shiny brass handle grip], which I still use even today with great pleasure. This was bought 'second hand' by him from that old cycle mart for Rs.150.

I had the liberty to use the last two. Often I would take one of them out to learn, with the ‘cross-pedal’ method because I was not tall enough to reach the seat. Scraped knees continued! Much blood was shed, but not tears!

Cycle mechanic
The only times I got chances to ride the Sunbeam were when my grandfather asked me to get the air filled at Shivaram’s shop [cycle mechanic at the end of the street]. I would pay two paise to fill air for one tyre of three paise for both. The rates were later raised to three and five paise. It was this Shivaram who repaired all our bicycles for nearly 40 years till recently, until one day we found that he was no longer fit and unable to walk or sit due to his bad knee. Another opportunity for me was when he [rarely] went on tour. He would ask me to ride a round and keep it back so that it does not get ‘rusty’. If anybody used it without his knowledge he would come to know just by the feel of it – such was his feel of his much cared vehicle that was always in top shape and both survived a minor accident once!

Me the mechanic!

I have once or twice ‘overhauled’ my Robin Hood and I enjoyed doing it to my own ‘machine’. Since tools were at home, I learnt meddling things which has helped! My father got me some tools and I later bought a pump that prevented me to run to the mechanic every time.

‘My’ Robin Hood
By my 12th and 13th year, I was tall enough to ride the Robin Hood from the saddle. After my uncle’s death, my maternal uncle was using it for a short time and later when my cousin needed it, it came back home. My cousin’s untimely death elevated me to the ‘ownership’ of this lovely bicycle when my younger brother was too small for it. I could go where I wished and found pride when I occasionally took it to my high school, though it was just a 10-minute walk from home. Taking cue from my grandfather, I too never liked it to be used by others and this trait in me is as famous as his! It has also participated in a few "slow cycle races" and won me a prize or two.

I still use it, though occasionally.
This is from Oct. 2009:

Creative Cariappa

There was a high-school classmate Cariappa. His creativity was applied to his Raleigh bicycle and used to copy some of them to my Robin Hood. The one that impressed me was the ‘brake light’ that delighted everybody. Apply the brake and a red light on the mud guard would light up. He had made a switch which I copied.

Our “flight” to Mandakalli
Now riding on long tours had been heard and we had not much chance because it was listed as adventurous. A group of senior neighbourhood boys [hope my memory of these names are right - Narendra, Raju, Hari, Ganapati] planned to ride to Mandakalli Airport about 4 miles away. 4 miles was a long way in those days! I joined that party one summer afternoon and I was about 14-15. I had seen Mandakalli only from the road which my grandfather never missed showing us on our trips to Nanjangud [after he showed us the 'Ennehole']. There were small planes that flew to Bangalore occasionally, but there was no regular service and my grandfather had flown to Bangalore once [1960s]. That it did in just 20 minutes amazed us compared to the 4 hours by the chug-chug train.

Our plan thrilled me so that I could get a chance to see a plane! I rode my Robin Hood but not informing home. The ‘long’ ride was a pleasure, but much to our disappointment, the aircraft was not there. By the time I returned home sheepishly, my grandmother was waiting at the familiar spot at the gate. About two hours must have passed since I went ‘missing’ and she was happy I had returned. Not much questions because we boys always went missing often as it was summer vacation. As long as I remained in her ‘sights’ she never worried.

To Somnathpur
I was now grown up and had gained the confidence of the elders and another long trip on the bicycle fell in place. Our new group of cricket friends – 8 of us - had planned a trip to Somnathpur and T.Narasipur which was to be a 40 mile route. I had oiled my Robin Hood well and it did take me smoothly without a stutter. But the start was stuttered! Even before we left Mysore border, Kashi’s ‘foreign’ bicycle chain gave way and since it was a Sunday no mechanic had opened shop early in the morning. Another bicycle was got and all the rest of the group waited on the roadside till he came. There was a delay of more than an hour. It was the first time I saw the lovely temple of Somnathpur. Girish Nikam had joined our club and I had borrowed his box camera to take one roll of pictures – just 12. Our heavy food basket was carried by one boy and cycle repair kit by another.

I was stunned by the beauty of the stone carvings, esp. the lathe turned pillars [observe in the edge of this picture]and the perfect symmetry of design.

Picture above is the group Raju, Madhukar, Raghu, Ravindra [top], Devkumar, Venkatesh, Kashi and Murali.

Our return trip was via T.Narsipur where River Cauvery flows. Most of us had a second lunch there spending time near water. From here, tummies loaded, pedaling back home was the toughest part as we had to put all our might to beat the strong Aashada wind. One fellow was thrown off the road by the air pushed by a bus moving in the opposite direction!

When most of the others later bought scooters, we made a trip to Nagarahole (75 miles) and again to Srirangapatna (10 miles), but pedaling remains a ‘nothing-like-it’ fun.

I still prefer pedaling my good old Robin Hood to which I myself fitted recently with probably one of the last pairs of Dunlop cycle tyres available. Whenever I get the opportunity ‘he’ is always raring to take me anywhere!
Browsing the Net, looking for Robin Hood, took me to an interesting site:
Look here for a fantastic collection of Bicycle 'Head Badges'! Unique hobby.
The Raleigh Cycle Company manufactured Robin Hood bicycles. The head badge on my cycle says it was in Asansol, India. [parts perhaps assembled there]. On the handlebar, it is imprinted "Made in England".

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