Friday, 27 November 2015

The Amazing Race 27, Episode 10

Agra (India)

I couldn’t get away from talking about bicycling while covering The Amazing Race, even if I wanted to. As I’ve noted often, and as anyone trying out for a spot in the cast of the reality-TV travel show should keep in mind, host and co-producer Phil Keoghan is a serious cyclist and always on the lookout for opportunities to include local types of bicycles (and tricycles) in the tasks for the racers.

In India, the ubiquity and diversity of forms of pedal-powered passenger and cargo transport makes that easy. Each of the two episodes of The Amazing Race 27 in Agra featured two different uses of cycles.

Last week on “The Amazing Race” there were two cargo tricycle challenges. First one member of each pair of racers had to push a three-wheeled cycle-rickshaw loaded with dirty laundry out to the edge of the river at the dhobi ghat. After one team member finished washing the load of saris and spreading them out on the riverbank to dry, each team had to load a cargo tricycle with 120 empty rectangular 15kg (roughly 4 gallon) cooking oil cans, and pedal them through crowded cities streets to a shop that re-uses them.

These durable and versatile “kerosene tins” have been the standard containers for distribution and storage of liquid commodities in much of the world for almost a century. In India, they are used not only for kerosene (mainly for kitchen stoves and, in places without electricity, lamps) and edible oils but also for agricultural chemicals. They are far too valuable not to re-use, but hard to clean. This had led to recurrent mass poisonings when cans previously used for kerosene or stronger poisons such as pesticides are re-used for foodstuffs.

This week’s episode of “The Amazing Race” featured two challenges involving bicycles adapted for carrying specialized cargo.

First, one member of each team had to deliver a bundle of balloons to a wedding celebration, through city traffic and across a major bridge.

It’s possible to carry all sorts of large and unwieldy-seeming objects on a bicycle, provided a suitable mounting or carrier has been fitted to the bike. Beach-cruiser bikes with surfboard racks are an everyday sight in Hawaii. Some even hold two boards! Umbrella racks are a common accessory for bicycles in China. Most merely carry a rolled umbrella alongside the top tube, like a frame pump. Some more elaborate models — obviously suited only for low-speed riding — hold the umbrella upright and unfolded over the rider.

Later, one member of each team had to wheel a bicycle loaded with a heavy two-stroke gasoline-powered generator producing electricity for the lights in n night-time marching-band wedding procession.

There’s a lot of attention being paid in some cycling circles these days to twinned Copenhagen and Malmö (as in The Amazing Race 25) or cities in the Netherlands (as earlier this season) as the world’s supposedly most “bicycle-friendly” places. That makes it easy to overlook the fact that the center of the utilitarian cycling world has been, and despite considerable decline remains, East, South, and Southeast Asia, including both India and China.

Yes, cycling’s share of all transportation has declined dramatically in China, India, and elsewhere in Asia as the local middle class has become able to to afford private cars (once vanishingly rare) in China, and more often motorized two-wheelers (scooters or motorbikes) in India and throughout Indochina, among other parts of Asia.

Yes, India has a road usage culture that’s mirrors caste attitudes of “might makes right” and puts bicyclists below all other road users except pedestrians and street-sleepers. I found Indian streets anything but “bicycle-friendly”, and that appeared to be the racers’ experience in Agra, despite the overwhelming friendliness of ordinary Indian people to individual foreign bicyclists. Similarly, the renaissance of the class structure in China has been accompanied by a decline in the status of the bicycle from an aspirational item of popular consumer pride to a marker of low-class or peasant status.

And yes, there is no such thing as separated space for cycles or cycle-specific street, road, or highway infrastructure or engineering in India, and less and less of these than there used to be in China.

(When I first visited and bicycled in China, most of the right-of-way width on some streets was reserved exclusively for bicycles. I’m amazed at how completely contemporary North American and European bicycle infrastructure designers overlook the possibility of learning from the long and extensive Chinese experience in accommodating an overwhelming preponderance of bicycles in the traffic mix. I’d love to see a survey in English of Chinese traffic engineering literature from the period of bicycle dominance that continued through at least the 1980s.)

Yet in spite of all this, bicycles and tricycles are still more routinely used for a wider variety of passenger and cargo transportation in India and elsewhere in South Asia than in most of the places that have invested more in “bicycle infrastructure”. If you want to see all the ways that bicycles can be used, that’s as much of a reason for a visit to India as to Amsterdam.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 27 November 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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