When coming back to academic life, I was pretty excited at the thought of going back to having a bicycle as my mode of transport. The romantic appeal I find in riding a bicycle is matched by no mechanized vehicle. All of them feel too fast, just the means of reaching someplace. A bicycle is adequately slow and uncomplicated, leaving you a lot of time and attention to give to your surroundings. Walking is the nest best thing but bicycle provides the right amount of speed of commuting without compromising on other aspects too much.
Now given the distance and unusual times of commuting, it was quite infeasible for me to use a bicycle in Bangalore but I was hopeful that in the less hectic academic life I would be able to afford the luxury. Alas ! it was not to be or at least not yet. The reason being the nicely managed traffic of Pittsburgh.
Now if you read any sarcasm in my last sentence, please don't. After Bangalore, traffic in Pittsburgh is like heaven. However it is the sheer micromanagment of the traffic here is the reason that I am finding it difficult to pick up a bicycle. So at some places there is a bike lane, at others you share it with cars. Some places, you can ride on sidewalks, some places you cannot. And this changes not from area to area but from street to street ! To add to the perils, there are very few other riders to be seen around to look for any clues about if you doing fine. There are just so many signboards everywhere, about parking, no parking, speed limit, left turn, right turn, diversions, street cleaning that my untrained eye finds it really difficult to spot the relevant signs.
Now I understand that there need to be traffic rules and that they make road safer for everybody but looking at the arrangements and the population (or lack) of riders on the road, I have a feeling that the rules are really not rider friendly. It might be that bicycles are seen more as a nuisance on roads that are primarily meant for fourwheelers. But here I must add that pedestrians are treated very well, at least here in Pittsburgh. I am beginnign to fear that I might get spoiled and will not be able to cross roads when I go back :-).
But that is not the end of the problems. Apparently, cycle thefts remain as big a problem here as they were in IITK. So most of the people actually carry their bikes to their offices rather than leave them outside and similarly in their apartments. The bikes are a whole new story themselves. So, there are no plain vanilla bicycles. Most of them feature gears upward of 10 and so many other things to choose from that it seems like you are not buying a bicycle but taking a major decision of your life ! Also forget about just jumping on your bike and racing away. You need a helmet. Not a lot of problem but then if you are riding in night, you better put flashers not only on bicycle but also on your cloths or shoes or backpack. In short, you can forget about the simplicity of biking. It reduces to just another mode of transport and is just as fussy.
After all, if you are on the road, you must be going somewhere. Right?