Rural Cycling


Cycling is now high on the agenda of urban transportation and lifestyle all across the world, and mainly in western metropolitan areas. Apparently, residents of inner cities find it healthier, easier to manage (saving parking maneuvers), cheaper and recently "hip", to ride the bicycle around their neighborhood. In addition, there is a growing trend of professional sport cycling, with fan clubs and "freaks" who foster and care for their hobby, go out on mountains and treks with their boutique bikes. Authorities are becoming aware of the needs of cyclers, and so zoning and infrastructure experts harness their skills to safely integrate the cyclers in roads. The benefits of cycling to the environment are obvious, no petroleum consumption, no pollution, no life threatening accidents (unless a motor vehicle is involved) and increasing awareness of fitness and health for the future generations. Cities such as Copenhagen became models of cycle integration, and even in cities like Tel Aviv, where the weather is extremely hot and humid, the municipality heeded the growing demand and recently placed "rental kiosks" all over the inner city, where anyone can pick up a bike, using a simple prepaid magnetic card, and return it anywhere. However, urban cycling has its downsides as well, as cyclers are exposed to air pollutants and are therefore at risk of harming their health;  cities such as Rome  in fact prohibit cycling, to control rates of respiratory disease. Auroville provides a model for rural and semi rural areas, where cycling has no adverse impact on rider and other users of pathways and roads. Recently, a brand new Kiosk was opened in Auroville, marking a new era for cyclers, and serving as the cornerstone for a larger awareness campaign.


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Rural cycling


While urban cycling is a growing trend, Auroville introduces a fresh approach to rural cycling, and therefore has an interesting angle for those who wish to inculcate "green" practices to country side residents, who traditionally favor motor vehicles. While urban setting offers at least the availability of asphalt roads everywhere, rural areas usually present a challenge to the cyclers, with bumpy dirt roads, sand, stones, sometimes mud or puddles, fields and other obstacles. Auroville is dealing with these conditions, and would like to explore and improve the accessibility and popularity of cycling. In the early times of this unique settlement, cycling was the primary means of transportation. Recently however, people use a variety of two wheeler motor vehicles, and some use compact cars (or "electric motor vehicles" -  the reader can refer to the Auroville contribution to development of non polluting vehicles, tricycles and electric mopeds as well). The presence of motor vehicles in Auroville changed the experience of the residents, causing some of them to miss the times when the roads were quiet and safe. In order to re-introduce the joy of cycling, several steps were taken.

The kiosk is one step, namely, to create accessible and reliable maintenance corner, service shop and information center from which projects will grow out and manifest. Such is the continued effort to create a reliable easy to use web of "cycle paths". In a rural setting, a cycle path is not only a means to segregate the cyclers from the traffic, but also to maintain a solid and clear pathway. It also requires a good charting, marking and mapping system, for visitors who need to go from A to B, according to a map. Gillian - an Aurovillian who heads the cycle project and fuels it with her enthusiasm and love - envisions at least a number of marked routes that hopefully shall be completed by this coming tourist season, and she plans to employ a few hired hands to make the marking on site.  



Cycle Kiosk, Auroville


Some facts - The cycle Kiosk in Auroville - recently inaugurated - is located just across from the Solar Kitchen, in a central and accessible place for all visitors and residents.  The Kiosk consists of a shed, which serves as a workshop and office, cooled by a solar powered fan. At this time, two months after the opening, the shop is busy, employing a full time repair expert from the adjacent village. During our short meeting 5 clients approached with various repair jobs. The spirit behind the kiosk is Gillian, an Aurovillian who came from Australia four decades ago, and became mostly active in facilitating and encouraging bike usage as a means of transportation-  together with another long time Aurovillians, Chris from the USA. Now, with the growing use of mopeds and motorcycles, Gillian feels that her job as an advocate for the bicycle and the cyclers is becoming essential and crucial presently.

At this time, the backbone of the Kiosk is Chris, another Aurovillian, who recently returned from a long stay away at the USA, where he originally comes from. Chris is another bike fan, who provided the inception grant and the know-how, to the Kiosk - he is constantly visiting, improving, adding and coming up with new initiatives.

At this time the Kiosk serves mainly as a maintenance shop, providing Aurovillians with the much needed service, that was previously burdensome. Opened daily, 8.30 to 4.30, (except Sundays), punctures are fixed for free and so is air filling. The rest is reasonably priced repair service, consultation for potential buyers and so forth. The gist of the Kiosk's purpose, is however, a rental service, to cater for the needs of visitors during the busy season, the winter months, when an average traffic of a thousand visitors is anticipated. According to the plans, the guests will have at their service 24 bicycles for rent, by the coming season when the Kiosk  becomes fully operational. In order to start the rental service, another shed is required, and donations are needed to bring this about.

But even now, a few used and renovated bikes are available for rental, as old and unused bikes are being donated to the kiosk. Gillian and Chris hope to offer a viable and attractive alternative to mopeds, for the short term visitors and also, hopefully, convince more Aurovillians to use less motor vehicles, in favor of what used to be their main transportation means in the past, the bicycles. Manufacturers are now offering better equipment for all types of cycling, light and strong metals are used, and there is a variety of tires, suitable for every landscape. However, the point in cycling in a rural area is also to make it affordable and equally accessible to people of modest means, to avoid unnecessary spending, as some specialty bikes, especially those fit for country riding can run up to very high prices. For this purpose, Gillian also hopes to create an information center for consumers and shoppers, where they can be offered "the best deal" for their means, using a collection of updated catalogues and a possibility to run orders via the Kiosk.


Reaching out, Cycle Tours, Cycle Paths

 In order to reach out to potential parties,  Gillian plans to publicize the kiosk service through the guest houses and guest services, and her main attraction will be "cycle tours", a 2-3 hour guided tour to all the main spots. In addition, another important service for cycle users is "cycle paths", maintained side roads for cycle users only. Some of these paths already exist, such as in the main area of visitors Center and adjacent buildings frequented by guests. Gillian is aware of the need to make this web of routes more accessible, mainly by mapping and creating "cycle routes", clearly marked on the ground, and later -charted on the tourist maps using color system that connects the various marked routes, through Auroville. This will create an attractive activity for tourisst, a prearranged "trail" of choice, with or without a guide.

Auroville, by and large, is connected by "dirt roads" which are very suitable for cycle riding, and if paths are allotted, then it would also be safer to be segregated from the motor vehicles who roam those little roads. This would still leave the problem of cycling on the peripheral asphalt roads, but most of the riding is done within the Auroville area.

Little League, another child joins the club 
A few days before our meeting, I had my little "cycle moment", when I found out I need help in teaching my son to cycle. Apparently, there are still western kids who did not learn to cycle, and my two cents for the kiosk was to offer some "orientation" for new, and young, cyclers. However, the magic of awareness raising had its effect. When I drove back to the Guest House and parked my moped, I noticed a pair of bicycles parked at the corner, just right for my son's size. It seemed OK, except for a flat tires. I ventured to ask around, and found the owner, a teenager who outgrew the cycles and neglected them.  The Aurovillian family was all to happy to let me have them, and so the next day, I started teaching my son to ride, after I googled some "tips to the new cyclers". In less than a week, my son became cycle literate and a new member of the happy club.



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