In Conversation with Abhay Khatavkar, Super Commuter!

We are in conversation with Abhay Khatavkar, a super commuter from Pune, who has racked up more than 50000 kilometres cycling to work and around. He speaks about the challenges and joys of commuting on a bicycle!

Why does anyone cycle?

The answer depends on who you ask. While the categories are fuzzy, two broad divisions emerge as we observe the world around us. Some people see it as an activity of leisure, for exercise, training, and general wellbeing. For others, it is deeply incorporated in their daily lives as a function of choice, or circumstance, or both. It is the former that gains more traction and visibility – due to its appeal, aesthetics, or general feel-goodness associated with being a ‘cyclist’.

Cycling as a mode of commuting – despite being prevalent in India – doesn’t garner much attention. It is seen as messy, cumbersome in Indian conditions, unsupported by policies, and generally unsuited for white collar jobs.

Enter Abhay Khatavkar, Super Commuter

Abhay Khatavkar in Hampi
Abhay at Hampi

Abhay Khatavkar is a commuter cyclist. My interest in speaking to him piqued when I heard that he had clocked thousands of kilometres commuting in over half a decade. Setting up a phone interview with the Pune resident took some time; at one point he was cycling in the pre-monsoon shower, and we had to reschedule.

Abhay’s achievements are certainly very impressive. He has cycled over 71,000 km. Out of those, 50,000 km have been from cycling to work and back. So, why did this 48 year old (‘76 born as he promptly informed me), working an Accounts & Finance job, take up cycling so fervently?

Starting out

It began with his employer introducing a cycle-to-work scheme in December, 2016. The idea was simple — cycle to office, gain health benefits, and earn INR 50 per day. Abhay’s first reaction to the announcement was one of disinterest and wariness.

I thought, how could I start cycling at this age? More than what people would say, it just seemed wrong. This was the time to have two-wheelers or four wheelers, not a cycle. I didn’t even go for the info session that my company had organised.

Abhay didn’t attend the session, but his colleague did. And this colleague also procured a bike, which Abhay tried after a couple of days. Somewhere the idea took root in his mind, and he decided to give it a try. Once his mental hurdle was overcome, he had to convince his family.

It’s not that my wife would have stopped me. But she would have chalked it up as a fleeting obsession. She would rightfully worry that I’d invest in a bike, use it for a while, and then forget all about it.

Then, as Abhay sheepishly admitted to me, he lied to her that he had paid the token amount, and he had already committed to getting a bike. Her reaction was as expected.

She was doubtful and said, “Let’s see how long this goes on. Let’s see.” It was the ‘let’s see’ that stayed with me.”

On the first day, Abhay took 2 hours to cover the 10 km from his house to office. He took many breaks, and simply got off whenever he reached an incline. But the ‘let’s see’ kept him going. He cycled everyday till June, 2017. After that, rains brought his experiment to a halt.

The secure cycling parking space provided in Abhay’s office complex

Break and Resumption

In cycling, as in life, momentum is critical. Bikes often lie unused — languishing with neglect because of an unexpected break in habit. Starting again takes effort, no small amount of resolve, and a spark of inspiration. In Abhay’s case it was another cyclist in his office.

There was a colleague who went back to cycling after the monsoons. She was very diligent.This really inspired me, and I resumed.” This was September, 2017.

Abhay hasn’t stopped cycling since.

Infrastructure: Roads and beyond…

Was it just the money that motivated him? Didn’t it get cumbersome to cycle throughout the year? When I asked him, Abhay explained his employer’s scheme in detail. Enpro Industries Private Limited began the cycle-to-work scheme in 2016. Along with the INR 50 incentive, the company also provided supplementary infrastructure for its employees. “Employees who cycle have a shower facility, along with a changing room. Cycles have a separate parking section. There is an air pump and an ID punching machine at the main gate itself.” Apart from everyday support, the organisation also seems to be keen on providing other benefits to its employees

  1. Free basic servicing every three months.
  2. People who do 200+ rides in a year are given INR 500 vouchers during the company’s annual function.
  3. Company provides soft loans to employees to buy cycles. The loan is recovered over a 6 month period without interest.

As he reports, it is a fairly thought-out scheme. I asked Abhay about its uptake in the organisation. “Around 30-40 people out of our total staff of 250-300 cycle to work. I have a colleague who’s done 890 days so far. Notably, two female colleagues in my department, Kalyani Kulkarni and Ashwini Deshpande, cycle throughout the year. The Director of the company and his son also cycle to work to set an example.

Mitras and Tendencies

Along the way, cycling became more than just a commuting exercise. Abhay has made new connections. “The contact list of my cycling mitras is about 250-300 people from the city and other parts of the country. That is more people than I am friends with, in life!” The Pune based Indo Athletic Society group, which Abhay is a part of, keeps organising long distance rides around Pune and beyond. “There was a Pune-Kanyakumari ride in 2021. I’ve done Pune-Lonavala, Pune-Girnar, Pune-Pandharpur, Pune-Mumbai, and other rides as well.” He listed more rides, but I was not able to keep up.

What, according to him, was the biggest hindrance to people taking up cycling? He was remarkably clear on the matter, “See, people often say they are worried about traffic and health effects of using the seats for long. Some say inclines dissuade them from cycling. But, I feel it has a lot to do with people’s attitude and approach to things. Their ‘tendency’ matters the most. Also, safety comes up as a concern. I think accidents can happen even if you are on a motor-bike. The key is to be attentive, make sure you have all the essential safety accessories, and ride carefully. That is the best you can do.

A ride with his office colleagues to a pretty location around Pune

Compliance and Carrots and Sticks

He listed out all the essential accessories (helmet, goggles, lights etc.) that form a part of his ride everyday. Our conversation on safety eventually led to awareness and people’s compliance, “See, I will give you an example. Until six months ago, helmets weren’t compulsory at the company. Then, they announced that helmets were a must. There was no change in behaviour. After that, they announced that people without helmets would not be allowed to park in the company premises. Next day, there were only four cycles in the parking lot. Rest of them were parked outside. Finally, the Director warned that cyclists without helmets would not receive the allowance. After that, people started cycling with helmets.

That’s good though, right? At least people were wearing helmets. At this, Abhay quipped, “Some people put on helmets just before entering the main gate.

abhay khatavkar super commuter in kanyakumari
Using a helmet, whether riding to office or to Kanyakumari

Being an Ambassador

I asked Abhay if he actively tried to convince people – as cyclists often do – to take up cycling. He said he did. He asks people in the office to try cycling to work at least once a week. It doesn’t always have the desired effect, but Abhay doesn’t sound dejected. “I keep asking them to at least give it a try. Even in terms of costs, cycles are so low-maintenance. Things are so different when you cycle. I see new routes, and my social interaction also increases. Every morning, I get at least one ‘good morning’ from a stranger when I am cycling to work. You’d never have it on a two wheeler, or when inside a car.

Inspiring his colleagues to do a ride to Lonavala and back…

What happened to ‘Let’s see’?

Returning to his personal life, he shared that his family and friends were very supportive from the beginning. Eight of his relatives have taken up cycling in various forms since 2017. Abhay added that he regularly donates blood and platelets (100+ instances so far), and partially attributed it to his fitness and stamina.

Meanwhile, I was very curious to know if his wife reacted to his perseverance with cycling. He laughed, “She also started cycling! She’s done some long rides as well. She’s covered 5000 km so far. We’ll be doing the Pune-Pandharpur ride in mid-June.

abhay khatavkar with his wife at gateway of india
With his better half after riding to Mumbai

Final Thoughts

When I asked Abhay if he had any parting thoughts, he said none. But he did want to add something to my notes. He told me he carries a raincoat during the monsoons. Apparently, the raincoat was used only on his way to work.

I don’t wear it when I am riding home. The feeling of cycling in the rain is out-of-this-world. Roads clear out, water sprays all around, and people seek shelter under awnings. And there I go, slicing through the downpour. The experience is simply fantastic.”

I am acutely familiar with the sensation he describes. Abhay’s glee and sincerity was befitting.

Celebrating Abhay’s journey of commuting 50000 km…

Photos: Abhay Khatavkar, you can follow his journey on Strava.

Thanks to Sirus Libeiro for putting together this story for CyclingMonks. Sirus, a Mumbai-based cyclist, is an ardent commuter in that bustling city, as well as having undertaken a few tough bicycle tours in the Himalayas himself.

If you liked this article about Abhay Khatavkar, do read our story on Ultra-Commuter Prasad Reddi and Mayur Bathija’s Experience of Commuting in Bangalore. And our Guide to Commuting Safely in India.

4 Replies to “In Conversation with Abhay Khatavkar, Super Commuter!”

  1. Very inspiring. Commuting on a cycle should be the ultimate goal of CM. I am now seriously considering promoting this scheme for my employees.

  2. This is truly inspiring and motivating for us……Wish you all the very best Mr.Abhay Khatavkar ji…..keep it up…… wish you many more milestone to come and congratulations on same.

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