Why Nikita Lalwani was chosen as the bicycle mayor of VadodaraSharika Nair
Nikita's social startup Cycling Cities will be a unique online ecosystem where one can connect with other cyclists, cycle shops and repair centres, cycling experts, and cycling clubs in major cities across India.
Nikita Lalwani might be an instrumentation engineer by profession but she is a cycling evangelist by passion.
Cycling Cities, an ambitious online and offline cycling ecosystem founded by Nikita, envisages a future where all Indian cities are cycling-friendly with at least one-third of the country’s population adopting cycling not only as a commute option but also as an integral part of their lifestyle.
An avid cyclist, Nikita has been cycling to work since 2014 when her office moved to a location a few kilometres away from her residence.
Nikita says, “I had been walking to work till then. I chose cycling over other forms of commute primarily for my fitness, but have been hooked since then.”
Cycling Cities is supported by more than 20 interns who work from various cities whenever possible, aided by volunteers who organise various events and cycle trial initiatives. More than 10 professionals contribute to the whole project with their specific skills.
The startup is completely funded by Nikita—be it website creation, promotional material, or expenses for events, it is all funded from her savings.
Connecting Vadodara to Amsterdam
Twenty-seven-year-old Nikita was recently given the honorary title of bicycle mayor of Vadodara by Dutch organisation CycleSpace. Bicycle mayors are being chosen from different cities from around the world like Sydney and Mexico City. She is the first Indian to be chosen for this role.
Nikita will be flying to Amsterdam next week to attend the Bicycle Mayor Summit and also the Velo-city conference, one of the biggest cycling conferences, which will take place in Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
Netherlands is the perfect venue for the conference since out of the 17 million inhabitants of the European nation, 13.5 million are cyclists and they own a whopping 22.3 million bicycles. There is no other affluent country in the world where bicycles are used so extensively.
Originally from Kota in Rajasthan, Nikita completed her electronics and communication engineering from NIT Surat, which is where she caught the cycling bug. She recalls, “One of my seniors gifted me her cycle when she graduated and I cycled a lot across our green campus during my last few months in college.”
Cycling Cities, a startup with a social impact
Nikita sees Cycling Cities as a social startup that will reintroduce cycling among adults for fun, adventure, and ultimately as a sustainable commute choice for shorter trips. She organises regular cycling events around health, heritage, and community in Vadodara. She says,
Cycling is the perfect antidote for our sedentary lifestyle. The icing on the cake is that it’s great for the environment as well and can help cut down use of fossil fuels and reduce air pollution.
Cycling Cities offers multiple initiatives through which Nikita aims to propagate a cycling culture which can be monetised in the long run.
Try Cycling (TRING) Cycle Stations is a pilot project started last year at the German MNC Nikita works for, to initiate professionals into the activity by renting them different cycles with helmets, guidance and initial support rides.
In the coming months, Nikita plans to launch the same at other offices in Vadodara.
Nikita has also organised several experience rides. For instance, Baroda By Cycle (a heritage ride) was a series of guided tours around the heritage parts of the city curated by heritage experts.
The first such tour was launched this year on April 18, World Heritage Day, which took more than 30 people on a cycling tour around historical Kila-e-daulatabad. Nikita is also planning Food by Cycle, which will be a culinary tour of the city.
Events for fitness enthusiasts at a Decathlon Store opening and a Corporate Cycle Ride with post-ride discussions about increasing cycling culture in offices in the city are her other initiatives.
Nikita says, “I also encourage people to donate their old cycles, which are refurbished and given to needy students.”
Safety and practicality factors
Nikita is practical enough to realise that the metros are not conducive to a cycling culture due to heavy traffic and the longer distances that have to be navigated. However, tier-2 cities are perfect for bringing in a change.
She also has plans for pilot projects with municipal corporations to have separate cycling lanes in the selected areas of the cities along with proper infrastructure to make the cycling safer. Nikita feels once more and more people take up cycling, the authorities will be forced to create safe infrastructure to accommodate them.
Ushering in change
Cycling Cities is getting noticed—in 2016 it was chosen for the women entrepreneurship programme by IIM Udaipur and by World Resource Institute as a new mobility startup for their Accelerator Program.
There is always a domino effect when it comes to positivity. Nikita says,
The impact started from the day I started cycling three years ago. Now more than a dozen of my colleagues have shifted to cycles and many have started enquiring about how they can start cycling.
Nikita wants Cycling Cities to be a unique online cycling ecosystem where one can connect with other cyclists, cycle shops and repair centres, cycling experts, and cycling clubs in major cities across India.
She also wants to partner with schools to have a cycling curriculum from kindergarten itself, to bring back the scenario where the parking space was filled with colourful cycles and not big buses, scooters, and motorbikes. She also wants to organise creative workshops with knowledge-based learning about the benefits of cycling and health. Maybe including ‘C for cycle’ in the textbooks can help!
Encouraging hotels to invest in a few cycles so that tourists can explore cities on two wheels and having cycle stands and shower facilities in offices so that employees can cycle to work every day is what Nikita hopes to see in future.