India’s Bicycle Titan, Atlas, paddles away into history

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

A notification popped up on many desktops and mobile phones on June 3, 2020—World Bicycle Day--Atlas Cycles temporarily put the lid on their last manufacturing unit at Sahibabad citing lack of funds. Interestingly, the Bicycles Market SWOT Analysis by Growth Opportunities during 2020 -25 by Cole market research had announced Atlas and Hero Cycles from India among the top Indian companies’ reviewing the factors influencing global business scope. The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown had taken its toll on the company, pushing it into a deep financial crisis. As per the newspaper Hindustan Times, Atlas Cycles owes over Rs 120 crore to around 80 vendors in Ludhiana, a number of whom had been its suppliers for several decades.

The story behind Atlas and how they cemented their place in bicycling history is worth recognising. Their history goes back to 1950, when the manufacturers set off their business on a shoestring budget which till date is considered an iconic brand.


Atlas Cycle set off their first establishment at Sonepat, near Delhi by its founder Janki Das Kapur (August 1893 – Jan 1967) and his son Jai Dev Kapur (July 1928 – March 2012) in the year 1951. Previously set off under a tin shed, Atlas Cycle Industries Ltd propelled, as India’s largest cycle manufacturer by 1965. Their objective was to design a bicycle that suits the Indian terrain and requirements along with its spare parts. The company first laid its capital structure in 1956. Previously the company choose different trade names such as Army, Eastern Star, Zebra and finally Atlas. In 1958 the company forged a strong strategic alliance overseas and began exporting bicycles.



In the company’s first year of operations, more than 12,000 bicycles were rolled out. By 1958 the first consignment of Atlas Cycles was sent overseas in 1958. Atlas has since then exported to several countries. By 1965, Atlas had emerged as India's largest cycle manufacturer. Atlas introduced the first racing Bicycle in India in 1978. Atlas was presented with the FICCI Award for 'Best Industrial Relations'. Atlas' growing importance in the international arena did not go unnoticed either. Italy's Gold Mercury International Award was conferred on Atlas. Subsequently, it also received the prestigious EEPC Award for export excellence and is recipient of several other awards in various categories.


By 1969 the company sponsored a scheme for the manufacture of powered bicycles in technical collaboration with S.A.C.E.M, France, one of the largest manufacturers of powered bicycles under the name ‘Velosolex’. The alliance terminated in 1971 on technical grounds.  This termination was only a stepping stone for the company as it collaborated later with an Iranian company and then with a manufacturer from Tanzania in 1972. Atlas had also introduced the first racing bicycle in India in 1978, and then became a brand that offers a wide range of products for almost all age groups and segments. European Union’ savage anti-dumping duty on Chinese bicycles between 1993 and 1998 provided the ‘window of opportunity’ for companies like Atlas.


The challenge came from international bicycle manufacturers like ‘Giant’ of Taiwan. Atlas strongly laid its footsteps in the international markets too. In 1994 the company heightened its position with the installation of sophisticated technology tube mill for rolling bigger dia-tubes. It also had the honour of being the official supplier of bicycles for the IXth Asian Games, held in Delhi, in 1982. The name of the company as Atlas Cycles (Haryana) Ltd was adopted in the year 2001 and roped in Sunil Shetty and Sania Mirza as brand ambassadors. TANGO range of fancy bikes covering Shimano Linear Response (SLR)'s, City Terrain Bicycles (CTB)'s, All Terrain Bicycle (ATB)'s, & Mountain Bicycle (MTB)'s, `laser' series of bicycles were some of the newly designed models.



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Slices of Atlas memories


Atlas Bicycle gave most kids in the 1990s in India their first cycling experiences cherished a wheel for change and also a prized possession. Announcement of closing the last manufacturing unit came as a shock for Atlas Cycling communities that woven together myriad childhood memories for many families. Out of the many netizens who showered their nostalgic memories, the most striking was Amartya Sen, which he had shared with Indian Express. Sen was transported back to days when he travelled on his best companion during his fieldwork in West Bengal, studying poverty and inequality in the impoverished regions. This iconic brand Atlas Cycles Ltd. is one among the many artefacts that is displayed in the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, which is a black-colored bicycle hanging from an iron rod.



In literature there are some stories that are closely linked with the memories of Atlas Cycle. Bridget White’s Kolar Gold Fields - Down Memory Lane: Paeans to Lost Glory! – is a book with autobiographical and historical elements. Bridget born on 2nd October 1952 belonged to the Anglo-Indian family, was the second daughter of Sydney and Doris White, and was living in a small mining town in South India.


The book reminiscences nostalgic memory of Sydney White, who worked as Covenant Officer at Kolar Gold Fields, owned his bicycle. Bridget mentioned here that licenses were compulsory during 1950s and 60s to own a bicycle, radio and dogs as all these considered as a luxury in the early post-independence India. She remembered her father’s prized possession and how he owned an Atlas Bicycle which he rode to work. She also remembered that every January, along with the Radio license, the license fee for the Cycle was also paid at the Post Office.


Atlas cycle is not just a manufacturing unit, but a bicycle with emotions that connect the two-wheel to its owner’s passion for riding and safety. If you open the website it guides you with the bicycle tips to ensure the safety and comfort of each cyclist.



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