Cycling in Lahore Is it possible
When I moved to Pakistan I shipped the good ole’ road bike with me, with the thought that I would be able to continue my impressive road training regime that I had established in Australia (like a couple of weeks before any big long ride, I’d pretend to ride for a bit!). My first week or so in Lahore saw me hit the road for my ‘virgin’ ride of about 2.3 km to the local shops for a coffee, and until recently that was about my only riding adventure.
This journey saw me nearly die, what felt like 15 times and from 15 different causes that I would never encounter at home! I used my GoPro to record it and upon reviewing it, it was an eye opener for a Pakistani newcomer, let alone a new cyclist in Pakistan. In that short ride, I had cars, trucks, donkeys, people and rickshaws all come within hitting distance and/or on the wrong side of the road. People ran in front of me, people nearly fell of their bikes looking at me, a cricket ball flew over the road from a nearby game and the fielder almost ‘took me out’ in attempting to catch it between traffic and the above mentioned donkeys etc. This is without mentioning the bumps, pot holes, speed traps, cats eyes the size of small mountains or the birds the size of small eagles swooping and hanging around rubbish piles as you ride, but I got to the coffee shop for that debut ride…and enjoyed the Aussie grown Gloria Jeans coffee as my heart rate dropped back to somewhere near normal.
This saw me back off a tad on the riding for some time, but I still felt guilty that I wasn’t riding, and wanted to ride. I had searched online for cycling in Lahore, but didn’t find anything, or found some links that were very old, so whilst possible ride, I restricted my small outings to local rides around the Model Town area where I live, (which is a square residential area with a central loop). My riding saw me complete many a loop around there – racing motorbikes, chatting to people as I rode beside them in a rickshaw or motorbike and who where intrigued in who I was and what I was doing on this funny looking bike (and I could actually go faster than them at times too).
Then I had a discovery…..a few months ago I was told about a group who meet each Sunday and ride in Lahore to various locations. I was given their Facebook Group page (Critical Mass Lahore) and duly turned up to the first ride after meeting in the central location in Gulberg. The group is highly diverse, with a broad range of bikes- many mountain bikes, older and probably heavier steel, local made bikes and the odd road bike or two.
Riding gear seemed optional, with many in whatever they feel comfortable in i.e jeans, shorts, thongs, sandals etc (not too many of the M.A.M.I.L’s that get a lot of crap back home). This ride saw us ride through some amazing back streets and alleys I would never have otherwise riden on, and we went towards the Ali Mardan Tomb at Mughalpura (which happened to be locked, but the ride was great).
The group is very social, highly friendly and welcoming to the local white boy, and I have seen evidence of white people being part of the group before (from photos)…My first ride had about a dozen or so people, and numbers fluctuate from week to week. Another discovery recently was of a second group Canal Cyclists Community, who are a bit more speed and distance focused from what I have been told. I have not officially riden with them yet, but CML and CCC joined together last week for a ride to the old City where nearly 50 riders came together. This again was an amazing ride through side streets, busy markets, main roads etc to the old city (still with all the normal obstacles to avoid) but it makes a difference riding in a bigger group, and the public literally stop on the side of the road to see what is happening, children chase us, clap and cheer and many horns are honked as we ride along. Riding is not common place here yet and the sheer sight of a bunch, let alone one rider makes for an interesting observation.
The fact that I have now found both the CML and the CCC groups in Pakistan will now allow for some rides with a difference, rides where local places and experiences can be had, with like minded locals and visitors. The concept of Critical Mass started in San Francisco in 1992 and was aimed at cyclists meeting each month and ‘re-claiming the streets’ via organised rides around to various locations, and has since grown globally to more than 300 cities. It is often linked to a form of political activism.
Whilst there is no sign of that within this group, the group is keen to raise the profile of cycling within Lahore and Pakistan (with CM Karachi and Islamabad also established).
One of the biggest challenges faced at the moment in cycling in Lahore especially is in the availability of local cycle shops, equipment and repairs etc. This is an emerging market and there are already individuals establishing themselves as first movers to set up both online and offline supplies of items. If the profile of cycling continues to grow, then this shall be a sustainable business for those who get in early.
So, based on my limited experience, and learnings, Yes, cycling is possible in Lahore, in fact is is and has been here (in a recreational concept) for some time, and is only getting stronger…Whilst the actual process of riding has unique challenges, risks and potential incidents, the rewards and the experiences are great!
The video below shows a ‘sped up’ overview to the recent ride to the Wazir Khan Masjid in the Old City.
So, if in Lahore…come and check out CML or CCC!
Aussie in Lahore!