When Anasua Roy, a young traveller from Kolkata, came to Shillong in 2015, she wanted to take an adventurous tour of the outskirts of the hill city. An avid rider, Roy wanted a bicycle on rental.
“It would have been more exciting than taking a car around such a beautiful terrain. It would have been a different experience. But nobody could help me with information about such a facility,” she told Sunday Monitor as she narrated her disappointment.
Seven years on, tourists or adventure travellers have no reason to complain thanks to the enthusiasm and business nous of a few youngsters in the city.
Shillong now has multiple high-end bike shops which also offer rentals, which add another dimension to adventure tourism in Meghalaya.
Iankupar Diengdoh, a former downhill biker, started ProCycling Shillong in 2017 to cater to the basic requirements of a cyclist, like maintenance and availability of gears.
“One had to go to Guwahati to get spare parts. Repairing bikes was also difficult here. Hence, the idea was to provide 360° service to local cyclists,” said Diengdoh, who co-founded the shop with another avid rider, Raaj Konwar, who is a doctor in a city hospital.
ProCycling not only sell bikes — mountain, road and hybrid types — but also provide rental and repair services.
Absolute Bikes & Café in Golf Links, which started business in mid-2020, plans to offer similar services.
The owner, Kemuel Marb Anderson Sohkhlet, said currently, the
shop is providing rental service. But “our uniqueness would probably be our customer service”, which will include customisation and coaching.
Sohkhlet is a passionate cyclist too. His journey started with a personal motto — to have a healthy mind and body. “It started during college. Cycling has brought me joy and a sense of self-worth as each pedal, especially in a place like Shillong, has its achievements,” said the 31-year-old entrepreneur and adventurer.
Another downhill biker, Anissa Lamare, the only woman in the country to practise this discipline of the sport, started Pedal Compass along with a fellow cyclist, Ismamul Howk, on the first day of this year.
The shop in Madanrting has provision for rent-out bikes, besides repair works. Both Lamare and Howk graduated with an intention to have a conventional job and carry on with life. But their lives were meant to be on a different, if not a difficult, terrain and the duo happily accepted it.
“We took a U-turn… We are constantly thinking of ways to support the cycling community in our capacity. Since we are private racers, we opened the shop with limited fund but that paved the way to be creative and instead of investing in expensive tools, we made them ourselves. Also, the shop is a way to live our first love, that is cycling,” said the 25-year-old biker, who had participated in several national and international championships.
The shops have the best brands of bikes and gears. They also ensure that those who are renting bikes are safe on roads. Helen Hrangchal, an employee at ProCycling, said the shop provides helmets to customers as a basic safety measure.
Smoothening the craggy terrain
The state has an active association for cyclists (Also read: Cycle of Hope) that is affiliated to the state Olympics body as well as the national cyclists’ federation. It frequently organises events to encourage and train more youths in the sport. In fact, the Meghalaya Cycling Association is confident of producing national and international talents as the state is blessed with the perfect natural terrain for mountain and cross-country bikers.
The sports entrepreneurs in Shillong are adding value to the endeavour by encouraging citizens to opt for the “eco-friendly and healthy way of commuting”. Their initiatives are helping in smoothening the craggy terrain that local cyclists have to travel on.
There are many, like Navin Mordani, who are taking a break from the bustle of the city and getting on a carefree ride. “Though I grew up in Shillong, my job took me to Canada. I am visiting my family and wanted to go in and around the city on two wheels. I am planning to rent a bike for 48 hours,” said Mordani, who often rides to office in Canada, at ProCycling shop.
The business so far
The competition in the high-end bike business, be it sales or rentals, is still lacking in the city but that is barely stopping these youths from innovating and improvising on their services to create a healthy ecosystem for local, as well as visiting, riders. Diengdoh, who had vast experience of biking on the most difficult tracks in the North East, said ProCycling organises local events to encourage more youths into the sport.
The pandemic did impact their businesses to a great extent but the cyclists-turned-entrepreneurs knew their way back on track. For Sohkhlet, the 2020 lockdown delayed his plan to start the shop in the beginning of the year.
“Business was difficult but due to the welcoming response of locals driven by the urge to stay fit during the trying times helped us ride through the crisis,” he said.
Diengdoh echoed Sohkhlet saying more people were encouraged to take up cycling in the time of lockdown and during the peak pandemic period as the roads were clear and because they felt the need for a change from the monotony of a locked-up life.
The Pedal Compass co-owners feel they are on the right direction but need some time to get on momentum.
“For us, the challenge is to keep up with the demand as we are still a small business,” said Sohkhlet.
Though the number of tourists reduced owing to the pandemic, several locals, majority of whom are students, kept up the cycling spirit. Lamare said her shop has a good footfall of children.
The fact that all these shops are being run and supported by professional cyclists streamlines the system and interested citizens can have a one-stop solution at any of these set-ups.
Banshanlang Khyllait, a cross-country rider and an employee at ProCycling, is happy to be part of the process and to contribute to the sport. He was helping Mordani with the rented bike when Sunday Monitor met him.
“Many students come to us for rentals. Though none has approached for training so far, we are equipped to do that too. Yes, I am still actively into cycling,” he said when asked about his cycling career and the work at the shop.
With these youths opening up a sport entrepreneurship avenue in the city, the city’s tourism sector profits from this value addition to tourist experience. It will also a step towards spreading awareness on cycling among authorities in the city.
“Small steps can make a big change. For instance, the city police can ensure that cyclists are not hassled on roads and that there is awareness among motorists to not honk when a rider is ahead can make a lot of difference,” said Diengdoh.
~ Team Sunday Monitor