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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 10:44 GMT
Delhi's fearless cycle enthusiasts
By Chris Morris
BBC News, Delhi

Chris Morris (right) and Nalin Sinha
Delhi's roads are no place for the faint-hearted cyclist

Cycling may not yet be classified as an extreme sport, but a quick pedal around central Delhi in the evening rush hour suggests it may want to put in an application.

Buses roar past, belching fumes. Cars weave in and out of imaginary lanes, and auto-rickshaws try to overtake you on the inside.

It is certainly not the safest way to see the sights in India's capital, and it makes for a dangerous commute. But Delhi's cyclists hope their time is about to come.

The Delhi Cycling Club has about 250 members at the moment - with a target of 1,000 by the end of the year.

'Fed up'

"The good thing is that most of the people who are getting enrolled with us are car users who want to give up cars," says Nalin Sinha, a leading member of the club, who campaigns on road safety issues.

"Once you see the dedicated cycling tracks coming up, you'll see a very big crowd of people taking to their bikes."

Delhi traffic chaos
About 1,800 people die in road accidents in Delhi every year

The cycling club is about to start monthly training sessions for would-be cyclists, and it plans to publish a cycling map of the city - showcasing safer routes and cycle lanes.

"Everyone is fed up with all these cars," he adds, as we plunge confidently across two lanes into the busy traffic circle which runs around the India Gate war memorial.

But in a country increasingly obsessed with the latest fad, can the old-fashioned bicycle really compete with the appeal of the world's cheapest car, Nano, launched with such fanfare in Delhi last week?

Nalin Sinha thinks it can.

Undeterred

"People want cleaner, clearer roads," he says, as a cacophony of car horns warns a pedestrian to stay on the pavement.

"I understand that this new car will fulfil a lot of people's aspirations," he admits. "On the other hand it will undermine government initiatives to discourage the use of private vehicles. People know something has to change."

Not least an appalling safety record. About 1,800 people die in road accidents in Delhi every year - and about 10% of fatalities are cyclists.

Still, the enthusiasts are undeterred.

"If you're careful, and you're following the traffic rules properly," Nalin Sinha argues, "you're as safe or as unsafe as in any other vehicle."

As we pedal on, and the evening light draws in, Nalin confidently asserts that in 10 years' time you'll see more people in Delhi using bicycles than cars.

I somehow doubt it. But I admire his optimism.



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