Rajiv Kumar is the quintessential Punjabi businessman. During summers, he runs a business of renting out air conditioners to homes and businesses that do not want to invest in buying and maintaining one. It is an opportunity that has a committed consumer base and Rajiv has done well over the last 20 years.
Many of his customers come back to him every year which confirms his astute business sense. But the businessman during the day turns into a passionate cyclist when it is time to roll down the shutters at work. For as long as he can remember, if there is one passion that has kept him going, it is his love for the bicycle.
He is no ordinary cyclist, though. Long before he had made a name for himself among his customers, the city had already known him. When in school, during the mid-1990s, he had built a cycle for himself that was unusually high. It helped that his father ran a welding business and the fine tuning of the design could be enhanced with his help. He used to ride that around and loved the freedom it gave him to explore the pristine environs of one of India’s most beautiful cities. No joy was bigger than the memorable cycle rides for him.
While in school, his picture had appeared in the local edition of the most widely-read daily newspaper, The Tribune. “It was a great feeling that suddenly everyone recognised me,” he proudly says.
One day, sometime in 1998, as he was riding around the city, Rajiv recalls how he was waiting at a traffic light. A city bus stopped next to him. He was riding a cycle- the second one he owned, with a seat that was about five feet high. His shoulders nearly reaching the height of the bus window, he extended his hand to hold the window and balance himself. A woman passenger in the bus shrieked in horror because she, obviously, could not imagine a hand coming in from outside the bus reaching for the window! “I still cannot forget the woman’s horror as she yelled in surprise. But since I was already known in the city, nothing happened after that,” Rajiv smiles.
Once his immediate dream of cycling around in the city and making a name for himself had been achieved, he decided to get audacious.
He had read about a person called Dave More, who had built a cycle that was 11 feet and two inches. He wanted to wrest the record from him. He wanted to make a cycle that could be bigger than that.
Tallest cycle, that was not to be!
In all earnest, Rajiv got down to work. It took him about a year, but in 1998 he had made a cycle that was 13 feet and six inches high! He was now preparing to see his name in the record books. Soon, he was taking it out to test the bicycle. When he would ride it around the city, anyone whose attention he could catch would blurt: ‘Look the cycle walla (chap with the cycle) is here.’ Suddenly, he was known all around the city!
Everything about the bicycle was special. Rajiv was doing some odd jobs and had taken out time to design it. The biggest challenge had been in sourcing some of its parts. Something as small as the long wire to be used for the brakes of the cycle took him several weeks to find. It took him to different parts of the Chandigarh and around. He came to hunt for it in Delhi as well but with little success. He finally had to get it made at Dera Bassi, near Chandigarh. The elderly Sikh shopkeeper was very curious to find out why he needed the wire. When he got to know about the cycle, he wanted to strike a deal – put my shop’s name on the cycle and we will give it for free. Rajiv declined the offer!
The cycle was built with four wheels to keep it steady. However, to ensure that he was riding on two wheels only, Rajiv would use a lever near the seat so that two of the wheels would move up a few inches and not be in contact with the ground. Its sheer size made it so unique that pictures of the cycle appeared in the local media and there were requests for interviews from curious reporters.
As the wheels of his cycle rolled on, things began moving ahead for him- quite literally! But fate had other plans.
He went to the local government offices, informing them that he had made the tallest cycle in the world and that he should be allowed to ride that around the city. As he went about different government offices, he did not seem to get their clear nod for allowing the cycle on the city roads.
When he reached the transport department, luckily for him, some of the people in the office had seen it in the city. They immediately put a stamp on his application. But for some inexplicable reason, it was not permitted. “I was told that they were not turning down my request completely. But I was not allowed to run this bicycle on the city roads. My world had come apart,” Rajiv recalls his days of disappointment in 1999.
With a heavy heart, he dismantled the cycle and by 1999, what was supposed to be the world’s tallest cycle was history even before it earned recognition.
A brand ambassador on cycle!
The disappointment of dismantling the biggest cycle always haunted Rajiv. But with every passing year, his commitment to cycling was not waning. It had earned him a good name in the city and soon his businesses wanted to ride on his success.
One of Punjab’s educational institutions, Chitkara University wanted him to promote their brand in the city. Every Sunday, he was asked to ride his unique cycle from his home to Sukhna Lake, the most popular destination for weekends for the city residents. He would go around the lake with the university’s board on his cycle. For a year-long period that he was their brand ambassador, and he made some money out of it.
For their local campaigns, brands like Indian Express and Britannia also reached out to him and he was happy to put the extra board on his cycle.
“It was a wonderful feeling that some local businesses were ready to join hands with me,” Rajiv says, who prefers not to be called a brand ambassador.
‘I wanted people to recognise me’
“I wanted other people to look at me, talk about me and recognise me. That is why I wanted to do something unique.”
While Chandigarh was already aware of his cycling exploits by now, Rajiv was not going to sit easy. He wanted to be part of the Republic Day parade in his hometown. Born in the city, having studied at the Government High School, Sector 37, and with no university degree, it was audacious to even think of such a feat. It was fortuitous, though how fate had something in store for him.
Rajiv is now working on a cycle made of steel that can stand up to the weather, even if it stays outdoors. Weighing nearly 20 kilos, it has been in the works for nearly two years now. He has put the Chandigarh logo on it so that he can take the message of the beautiful city every place the cycle goes.
“I want to ride from Chandigarh to Mumbai on the tallest cycle made by me,” he says. Apparently, no one has travelled such a distance on the size of the cycle that he has made. He now hopes that he will be able to live this dream to tell the tale to his grandchildren.