Artist wants Europeans to understand India’s love of cycling

A German artist from Bihar wants Europeans to understand India’s love for cycling. Allen Shaw paints cycle-run businesses in the hope that his patrons will donate bicycles to the needy in India.

When the artist Allen Shaw was six, his most prized possession – his bicycle – was stolen. Growing up in Khagaul, Bihar, riding a cycle was more than just a fun way to pass the time for Shaw – it was the only way for his family to get around. His father, a priest, had saved money for three years in order to buy the cycle. For a week after the incident, Shaw remembers sitting at the main gate of his house, watching bicycles passing by, trying to spot his own.

Years later, once Shaw was old enough to earn and travel, he moved around primarily on trains, cars and planes. He could afford a cycle of his own, but he didn’t need one, and the memory of those stolen wheels became one that he associated with deprivation – people who rode bicycles, he decided, were people who could not afford any other means of travel.

In 2008, when Shaw moved to Germany, he saw bicycles everywhere and realised he was wrong. “In Europe everybody was using the bicycle,” he said. “It had nothing to do with class. I myself started riding a bicycle again because the roads were friendly and I felt reassured that I won’t be seen as poor if I rode a bicycle here.”

But the association between cycles and India’s working class remained strong in Shaw’s head. In 2012 he returned to India, and decided to undertake a 900-kilometre bicycle ride from New Delhi to Udaipur, Rajasthan, to reacquaint himself with the bicycle culture of India.

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