Sean Farmelo’s Internship with TI cycles of India in Chennai, India
Hello all sorry for the longer than expected gap – long work days and University deadlines have kept me pretty much occupied.
The rest of my internship will fit into three blogs, this one will deal with my market visit trip and the rest of the information gathering I got up to and also the product design I did. The second will deal with production and presentation. Whilst in third I’ll write at a similar time to my report and will be a rounding up of how I think the internship went for me and T.I, what skills I can take away from my six weeks here and how I believe it could have been improved upon.
I am now in the process of finalising a list of components that would need to be ordered in to make the prototype functional. I had decided that on the basis on of the understanding I already had of the Indian cycle market it would be a good idea to gather the components together for a single speed bicycle – something which didn’t yet exists in a modern form in India but is very much prevalent in the average large western metropolis. Whilst I finished gathering up this information and putting together an order I went on a long market visit to another South Indian city – Bangalore.
Having previously only visited a few shops in Chennai and been on a long cycle ride in Chennai I was very excited to be out and travelling properly in India – I got a sleeper train at 10 in the evening and arrived at 8 the next day. Bangalore is at an altitude and therefore has a much more agreeable climate – its average is somewhere around 28-30 as opposed to the 35-40 I had been experiencing daily in Chennai. T.I has organised for someone who would take me around all of the various shops in Bangalore to observe the manner in which the Indian cycle market worked. Bangalore, because of its climate and its demographics (it is at the heart of a economic explosion in India of telecommunications and computer programming) is the single largest bicycle purchaser in India. In the suburbs there are many I.T workers who cycle to work which is a refreshing change even to T.I where because of the surrounding roads and the oppressive heat there are none who cycle to work.
I had a little trouble locating Chandru in Bangalore Railway station where I was swamped by ticket touts – but I found him eventually and found out with a somewhat sinking feeling that our three day tour of Bangalore’s bicycle shops would be conducted on a motorbike.
The first stop we made was at a helmet shop and this made me feel marginally better about the endeavour. I was put up in a nice hotel in the centre and we spent the next two days driving around the city – Chandru getting his work done as a coordinator for sales in the region and me talking to the dealers and having a look at the various shops. We also went to a math (a guru complex on the Thursday – which was very exciting and had an extensive library of pseudo philosophy which I found very interesting given my BA subject.)
The cultural difference between India and the West, as would be expected, are very large and seem to have an effect on most things in life. Even I was beginning to find out bicycle usage – there is a stigma attached to riding bicycle (which is slowly diminishing), people believe that the bicycle is something that only children and peasants use and that they should aspire to using motorbikes or owning cars. This belief is somewhat intertwined with the dregs of caste system that still exist to an extent in the city.
The shops that I visited varied from the central vendors of low quality bikes in the ridiculously busy and bustling central market – where I also had the chance to wander through the stupendously colourful flower market and sift through small bookshops with endless nooks and crannies.
The dealer Sadish was very accommodating and I sat in his office for a few hours and chatted, it turns out that even though he is doing very well in his business of selling bikes even he doesn’t ride them. I was beginning to feel that this attitude combined with the chaotic traffic on the roads would make my brief of thinking about how to increase cycling in urban India very difficult indeed. I also visited the High end ‘Track and Trail’ bike shop run by T.I – this catered specifically to the growing group of commuting I.T workers.
The bikes on offer were of a much higher quality than those in other shops but the range was still somewhat limited and failed to provide an entry level road bike. Much of the focus in this shop was on suspension and ‘MTB’ bikes which wouldn’t really be suitable for riding on mountains. The track and trail shop incorporated a cafe which was a nice touch but was, at least when I was there on a weekday really quite quiet. It is well placed however to accommodate the boom in cycling which I feel will happen sooner rather than later in Bangalore. I was also introduced to Bangalore cycling club, an online forum where people socialised, organised group rides, talked about various bicycle related topics and sold their second hand bikes. This sort of culture is something that only emerges once markets are confident and strong.
On Sunday, at the strong urging of Sadish, Chanru and I travelled to Mysore and Sirringanapata (however that is actually spelled). Much more of a cultural visit although we were welcomed to another T.I shop – we visited the vast palaces of the Sultan Tipu. In sirringanapata an ancient fort city on the way to Mysore we saw the spot of the final battle between Tipu and the, in the case, disgustingly violent forces of the ‘great’ British Empire.
It was sad the extent to which the city had been ransacked but what remained was certainly a sight to see. It was also refreshing to see a giant mosque, Hindu temple and church all sat directly next to each other – happily coexisting for hundreds of years.
In Myesore we got to see humungous main palace of Tipu which had all you would expect of a sultans palace – huge aladdin like pillared rooms, solid gold thrones, two temples in the complex and elephants wandering about. We got herded in a secret back way and jumper the queue though a connection the bicycle dealer had with the police commissioner which was really quite amusing.
In the evening the entire palace which had approximately 100,000 lights dangling off of it was illuminated in a great ceremony. There were around 1,000 people gathered on the plaza in front of the palace and a big band, the event seemed to have gathered all of the westerners in Southern India together. The lights were fully phenomenal and vastly out did any other pomp I’ve seen before, it was gloriously over the top and I was very glad that Sadish had persuaded us to make the detour from Bangalore.
I had some brilliant experiences on the trip that you wouldn’t expect. One of them was buying me, Chandru, the rickshaw driver a big meal each of Puri (deep fried dahl that expands into a big ball) and curry for a grand total of 50 rupees (approx 80p) and eating it by the walls of the ancient city in Sirringanapata.
Back in Chennai I spent the next week or so tightening up on the concepts for my project now that I had completed my market visits. I used a fantastic program had found called bikecad.ca which allowed you to explore bicycle designs very easily by changing the angles and lengths of the tubes. My original idea was changed from a simple frame with a curved tube to something much more in line with the modern race designs I had seen in India, as something retro and quirky wouldn’t work in the emerging markets. The components, I decided to keep simple and low cost to keep the cost of production low so that the bicycle would be affordable for those aspiring to high cost road racers like Bianchi or Cannondale but that they were as of yet unable to afford.
In the meantime I had been experimenting lots with graphics on an open source program called Inkscape which was very similar to coral draw – the program the Industrial Designers I was sitting with were using. Because I was choosing to create a product, my internships was seeming to be a crash course in Industrial Design and production, something I am very interested in but would never have had the chance to do with my degree choice. Colleagues were very surprised to learn that I was doing a humanities degree given my knowledge or bicycle mechanics and my newfound abilities to use graphics programs.
My background knowledge of western markets proved to be very useful to the people in my office who were working on the high-end bicycle range for T.I called Montra – the brand that I was creating the product for. I was able to ask questions about my project and they were able to point me in the correct direction whilst they were able to ask me about technologies and products bought and used in the west. Our conversations were suitably complex and I often felt that it was a great coincidence that the interview process I went through managed to pick someone with some ability in design and graphics, something I wasn’t interviewed for.
In the next blog I’ll go over the design and production of the product.