31 Mar 2017

My Cycling Story.
I faintly remember my first cycle, a baby tri-cycle passed on to me by an elder cousin who was now too big to use it. Three hard plastic wheels with a hard plastic bucket seat, The color red had faded to orange with us keeping it on the terrace attached to our small 1 room accommodation. I don’t remember how it disappeared, I assume it was sold to Kabadi who’d have torn it down to bare materials and then passed them ahead to re-cycle (pun intended).

My second cycle was a proper two wheeler slightly smaller for a 13 year old kid, I found it in the veranda one afternoon, it belonged to the same cousin, he was now too big to use it, me and my younger brother didn’t know how to ride a two wheeler cycle, our dad tried hard to teach us to ride in the minimal time he had off but it wasn’t enough. We started looking for those tiny helper wheels which you attach at the back, and could only get it after making multiple visits to multiple cycle repair shops for a month, they were not new but they were good enough. Me and my brother went on numerous rides on it, he often running behind me for a chance to ride it. We had designated sections on roads to ride it, but then I was the elder bully, I ended up riding it more than him, and then at some point started moving around with him on the carrier of the cycle, soon the helper wheel had stopped making the grinding noise of hard plastic rubbing against the tarred road because we had figured out the way to balance on two wheels. The helper wheels were removed and put into the store. Me and my brother were ready to ride the bike without any help now but that didn’t last long, the cycle was stolen on a winter night when my mother forgot to lock the back door , along with it a few blankets were gone too. Me and my brother along with my dad made inquiries at all the cycle repair shops just in case someone tried to sell it, we never found it.

My Hayabusa looked something like this, but black and more run down.
My next cycle came in couple of years later, when kids in metropolitans were lusting over Motorcycles and having crushes, I was standing outside cycle stores ogling over the brand new cycles coming in. I had become constant irritation for my parents, I needed a cycle, I wanted to go to school on a cycle. And after all the constant nagging my dad agreed to buy me one, I kept boasting to other kids that I’ll be buying a very expensive shiny super fast cycle. I ended up having a second, or a third hand BSA SLR, with a shoddy black paint job for mere 500 Rs. I still loved it, and wouldn’t stop using it till I was 19. I’d race people on my way to school, through the wide roads of the Hindustan Motors Colony, whizzing by freshly painted Ambassador Cars lined up for quality analysis. I used to call it “The Hayabusa” because it was noisy and fast (for my standards), by the time I stopped riding it, it had every part of it replaced except the frame, my father had spent nearly 5 times the amount he bought it for to keep it running because I wouldn’t go to school on anything else.

Jealousy kicked in when my brother got a new cycle as a gift because he was among the toppers in class 10, It was an Avon “MTB” and was expensive, it cost us 4500 Rupees! I’d often fight with him to let me use it to go to school, and pushed him to take the Hayabusa, often I’d get up early and leave early for school using his cycle. I eventually settled for the Hayabusa, speeding ahead of him and every other student to school.
We still own the Avon, my father occasionally uses it to move around the town but Hayabusa was sold at the price it was bought at, I was unaware of the decision. It felt like losing an old friend.

With the Avon being the only cycle in my life for the next four years, because college was too far, and commute was on a Train, the cycle was not important anymore as I got busy goofing around trying to pace ahead in the rat race of building a career.

I got in touch with a cycle again over my first job at Mindfire Solutions, I hated commuting in a shared auto as I had to often wait 10 or more minutes because the auto driver wouldn’t start as it wasn’t filled to the brim, This time the cycle was a borrowed Hercules MTB from a colleague who had it passed on to him from his colleague with the same name as mine.

In Sweltering Bhubaneswar Summer, I was cycling to work. My colleagues would look at me with surprise, I remember turning on the AC and a Huge ass fan as soon as I reached work. This continued through rain and winter, I specifically bought a raincoat because I wanted to cycle to work! The cycle was getting old and would often end up being in the repair shop, I dedicatedly kept it running because the bug to cycle had started. It was almost always the only thing I was using for a commute. My landlord was amused that a software professional like me was reluctant to learn to drive or buy a scooter and chose to cycle to work instead.

One fine afternoon while sitting at my desk I was looking at running events, because I was actively running for the last few months, I came across a Duathlon in Bangalore, 2.5 kilometers of running, 18 kilometers of  cycling, and then another 2.5 kilometers of running. I wanted to participate in it! And no Milind Soman wasn’t into the limelight then for being the Ironman, it was just an itch that made me sign up for it.

I was almost always riding only about 8 kilometers a day ( My office being about 4 kilometers from my apartment), 18 kilometers was a thing I’d have never thought of. My cycle had 24 inch wheels, way smaller than the usual 26 inch wheels and the now everywhere 29 inch wheels, At that point the rears brakes didn’t work so the front brakes were the only resort to stop along with my feet. Before the race, the maximum distance I practiced was 13 kilometers.

I ended up in Bangalore a week before race day, staying at my brother's apartment. After all the googling I decided to rent a cycle from CityCycling.in, the now legendary no frills  Btwin mybike, for me back then it was a pretty high upgrade, my own cycle was made from steel and was heavy and small and wouldn’t stop on braking, In contrast this rented cycle was extremely lightweight, and would stop even on a touch on the brakes.

I wore a helmet for the first time ever and was riding to my brothers apart after picking it up from the owner, I was riding at a speed I had never ridden before and suddenly found a speed breaker in front of me in a dark lane, I involuntarily pressed the front break ( a habit acquired from my own cycles dysfunctional back break) and as per laws of physics, I tumbled, the cycle was on top of me. I got up, dusted myself, and continued to ride to my brothers apartment, by the time I reached the apartment my right hand had swollen and was stiff, I tried to straighten it and felt a sharp blinding pain and fell. My Brother, and his friend rushed with me to a hospital, I feared a fracture, thankfully it wasn’t broken bone but just a concussion. I was still not able to move my hand.

I had given up on the race, the only thing I was in Bangalore for, my brother was adamant that I don’t participate, and my mother was frantic about it. I agreed with them for the first 4 days, but by the 5th day I was able to straighten my hand, and wanted to participate. I was popping in painkillers daily, sitting around with no practice at all. I was required to drop my cycle at the bib collection point  was about 15 kilometers from my brother's apartment. A Distance I had never covered before, plus the fact that I had rendered my hand unusable in 10 minutes of picking up the cycle was cutting down on the confidence. I almost bullied my brother into letting me go, being the elder child had helped yet again. I rode cautiously in Bangalore traffic and unknown roads and reached the bib collection point safely. This brought in confidence in me and my brother, who was more worried about it.

Yup, Only 18 kilometers, but in terrible pain.

As you’ve guessed it already, the race was completed successfully in a respectable timing of an hour and 20 minutes, though with constant pain and a dose of painkillers. I ended up doing 15 more kilometers that day as the organizers wanted everyone to pick it up the same day. I had never ridden more than 13 kilometers before this day, and had done around 50 kilometers in two days.  I cycled approx 50 more kilometers on a day in the same week for commute to the Bangalore branch of my work place.

Having a 100 kilometers under my belt in week with only one usable hand, and no past experience close enough as this, I knew I had to buy a better cycle, after a month of research I ended up buying a Suncross Level One, something I still own, and have ridden over 5000 kilometers on.  I ended up spending about 25,000 Rupees on it and the accessories I needed with it.  An amount about 2.5 times my budget, My parents and everyone else was  critical of the purchase. “You could’ve bought a second hand motorcycle” was the most common thing I heard after people asked for the price, and a year later is still the most common thing I get from people, with the cycling community being the only exception. I have saved more than the money I have invested because of my constant use of it as commute and fitness rides. 

Me with My Suncross Level One.

Things are changing though, in 2016, I had brought about 22 people to the world of cycling ( though very few still ride it on a constant basis as Indian summers don’t make it practical, or some losing interest), One of them did Manali to Leh ride after only a month, another few constantly riding it over the weekend as a stress reliever or as a hip thing to do. Some of these were people I met for the first time and knew only for a weekend, My Ex Manager, and A Couple of Colleagues.

(PS: As of writing this I haven’t taken a ride for four weeks now, and this has given me an itch, I am sure you’d soon see a strava update on my timeline because of this)

I am looking forward to make this a series of crowd sourced stories, If you're an avid cyclist and have an interesting story to share, tell me all about it, and I'll convert it into a mini cycling-biography for you! :)


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