Mumbai City Fights Air Pollution with IIT Bombay’s Cyclothon at Powai

Firefox Flip Flop. A fixie docked against the rails adjoining the Powaii lake in the background.


There couldn’t have been a better cyclothon conducted in the city to date. The lush greenery, the long winding, smooth and evenly paved roads, and especially the zero wastefulness in terms of snacks/water bottles (as no snacks/water was distributed, which prevented unnecessary waste production, by totally avoiding the use of plastics, boxes, or any other hazardous materials), not only made it a pleasant and rejuvenating experience but also an environmentally friendly event, in practice (and not just advertising).

The Bib Number Sticker given by IIT Powaii students at the entrance
The bib was a cute little paper sticker which spared our jerseys and shorts from pin holes.

The majority of the credit goes to the campus and it’s authorities for preserving the trees, landscape, gardens, the lake and everything else in between that makes living and breathing a joyful and peaceful activity and add cycling to that, it just becomes a rare experience to have within the bounds of the city.

This was complete in contrast to our cycling experience as we peddled through the dense smoggy city lanes, highways and alleys to reach Powai. And this difference was more felt because of the naturally flourishing and well-maintained environment of the college campus and also the threatening levels of air pollution in the city due to growth in the sales of non-green (no solar or electric), poison-spewing automobiles (bikes and cars).

Cycling on the IIT Bombay, Powai Campus
Few laps around the maze like campus roadways and then back home.

The importance of Cyclothon or rather cycling events cannot be emphasized more. I believe many people get to truly experience the pleasure, the joy, and the energy that you get from cycling only under ideal conditions. If it is too much of a hassle – traffic, heat, pollution – then it’s quite demotivating to consider riding a cycle for even a single event, forget daily or weekly basis.

cyclists turn out for events is in thousands

This was one reason that an event like today’s cyclothon had the potential to leave an impact of the whole cycling experience and its benefits on every participant. And I bet it did have an impact on everyone, from the casual to your regular/pro cyclist as it successfully created such a fully functional environment which was both safe, enjoyable and healthy. So if leveraged well by the institute, such events could further serve as incubators which could turn Mumbai into the state’s or country’s leading cycling city.

Talking about cycling cities, the turnout for today’s event simply based on the event pages attendance stats was 951/7100 (going/went out of invited). This turnout is quite meager compared to the city’s population, especially its vehicular population (private vehicles 6,00,000+).

And the adoption rate of cycling is still at an infancy stage, especially when compared to city’s like Pune and Bangalore where cyclists turn out for events is in thousands (as much as 5000-6000) and government authorities are taking extra measures to encourage this safe and healthy mode of travelling by implementing various policies, initiating various events (Bangalore Open Streets- blocking all vehicular traffic to use streets for recreation and activities like cycling), and showing support for the sport on various levels (encouraging responsible tourism by promoting cycling as healthy and environmentally friendly way of travel).

There is still a positive sign to this slow growth as great strides have been made only recently in the cycling scene of the city. For example the Cycle2Work event which had its first edition in 2012, witnessed over 600 cyclists this year, along with optimistic statements being made on donating cycles to increase the number of cyclists, creating more cycling lanes, and also turning the World Environment Day as a ‘strictly cycles only’ day starting next year.

How things turn out, we are yet to see. But the fact remains- policies, rules, regulations are formed by what’s being practiced, implemented and followed by the majority. So unless there is a rapid growth in adoption of cycling as a means to commute, other supplementary aspects like infrastructure, policies, laws cannot be established or implemented extensively and effectively.

To sum up the importance of cyclothons as a platform to promote cycling and cycling as a means to commute, let me say state these simple facts.

The picture is clear and simple. Cycling = safer roads, cleaner air, disease free cities, healthy environment, healthy and happy people. All which follows a simple choice which only you can take. So, wake up like you do on any morning, glance at the city’s skyline, try to take a deep breathe, inhale the air and take a nice whiff of it. And then decide how you want things to go from there..

How you choose to travel can turn Mumbai into the next Delhi ( where 4 out of 10 children suffer from lung problems )

View of West of Delhi

the next Beijing (where wearing pollution masks is as common as wearing clothes)

Marathon Wearing Masks to survive the air pollution levels of the city

or set a new gold standard where

  1. all outdoor activities are prohibited,
  2. stepping out without a mask is fatal,
  3. and air purifiers become as compulsory as water purifiers at home

This is the situation now:

A view of the city's horizon as the smog settles and blurs out distant buildings.
Photo couldn’t clearly capture the severity of the situation. But if you live in the city, then you know better.

One simple choice can either reverse it or worsen it. How each one of us lives daily determines the extent of dangerous consequences we will have to face together in the future (most of us are already facing and suffering because them).

Update More photos of the Event have been added below. If you are a cycling enthusiast then get your extra fix at the following links:

  1. Techfest, IIT Bombay’s Album on Facebook   
  2. The Cyclothon Event Page on Facebook  
  3. TREK Bicycle Phoenix Market City Kurla’s Album on Facebook

Author’s Note: If lost, confused, bombarded with too much information, trust your breath and your sight, just one look around and a single breath, will guide you in taking the right decision. We need more cyclists / smart commuters in the city now, not tomorrow or few days later, now! So Cycle2Work tomorrow onwards. Promise?


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