Sunday, May 25, 2014

Commuting to work in Dhaka: A Bicycling Perspective

I usually went to the office with my colleague-cum-brother on his car, which went to garage for a month of servicing. This was a blessing in disguise, as I could have the chance of commuting to work, for a whole week. Now that I have done that unscathed, let me share my experience, in the hope that it could be of help to someone else. These are just quick-thought recollections of do's and don'ts from an amateur commuter's perspective.

** My commuting distance is ~12 kilometers one way, the route is full of wrong side traffic, so much that the wrong side sometimes has two lanes, with one trying to overtake the other. **

1. Know your road: However busy your commuting route is, you will always find some free stretches, divided by the problematic junctions. Be extra cautious at the junctions, where you have to get slow, or get to a full stop. Be ultra cautious at the free stretches, where you will be on higher speeds and more vulnerable to a collision. Get a mental map of the bumps and speed-breakers and places usually littered with debris, sharp objects etc.

2. Know your ability (and put it to good, constant use): DON'T get to commute unless you can use one of your hands to signal others while you are riding. Give hand signal when you are turning left/right. You must also be able to have a quick look behind to your right to the following traffic. Always, always do that before doing an overtake. Don't undertake large vehicles at junctions.
Also, you should be able to maneuver the bike reasonably well at a slow speed- this is necessary to exploit the spots and get ahead during a dead-stop jam. Don't get into a corner you can't get out; if you are confused whether you would go to a "chipa" or not- don't.

3. Be patient: I have almost always reached my destination before the local bus which was overtaking me throughout my journey. Don't be impatient, just overtake the bus at the right time.
You are on the Dhaka roads, you will always have to deal with "idiots/stupids/dumb-heads" etc. Look at it in a different perspective- they are supposed to do this- expect a CNG to do an abrupt acceleration, expect the Motorcycle to whiz just past you, expect the pedestrian in the middle of the road to move left-right-left-right and stop just where and when you brake the bike. Expect all these and try to avoid them - go to enough left so that the motorized vehicles are safely away, shout out to the pedestrian and slow to a speed which you can deal with comfortably. Instead of shouting out rude words to the fellow commutes, just smile and say thank you. (This is a note-to-self!)
Don't RACE with anything- a motor-rickshaw, CNG, bust, van or whatsoever. You are on the road, commuting to your work, not out for race. In your mind, you should know you can cross them in a race condition easily, but for that time being- let them go and have a smile.

4. Don't surprise (and annoy) others: Just think when you continuously bell/shout but the pedestrian keeps walking at his pace blocking you or suddenly jumps out of nowhere. You are a conscious cyclist, so don't be that annoying and dangerously surprising element on the road. Listen to the horns, try to be very predictable.

5. Enjoy the ride!: You are burning your calorie, having a good workout, don't have to stop for gas, don't have to bargain for any kind of rent, and in the end reaching your destination way ahead of the others. What's not to like!

I am glad that I started commuting regularly on a bike. I have enjoyed it thoroughly, I hope you will. Try it!

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