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That Killer Ride

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CYCLING STORIES

“Do you have an Allen key?” he asked while I was about to overtake him. I slowed down and looked for some shade to keep away from the winter rain. We couldn’t find any tree or bus shelter, so we decided to step down right on the roadside and get the problem solved.

It was about 10:00 in the morning and I was approximately 85 kilometers away from home, participating in a Republic Day ride, the longest distance I have cycled in a day and my first effort in randonneuring. A few breaks from our first check point (54 km from the start), I came across this gentleman who rode in late. Very soon we found out that our riding patterns are similar – slow and steady, with some breaks. Paramjeet and myself were both new to the concept of brevet and neither of us have crossed the 100-kilometer milestone yet.

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Thou Shalt be Kind to Other Cyclists in Need

A few more kilometers and Param indicated me to slow down again. I saw that he had a flat tyre. “Do you mind slowing down for me? Honestly, I am not used to changing flat tyres.” I agreed. By then the intensity of the rain has increased manifold. We stopped along the Delhi – Rohtak Highway Corridor to replace the tube. My only experience of repairing a punctured tyre was within the comfort of my home, where I had the luxury of pleasant weather, lot of tools to work with and the support of my teenage son.  I didn’t mention anything about it to Param, though. The public who we came across on the road was quite helpful. Before my mentioning that we are on a strict time trial, they understood that we are participants of a racing event and suggested the possible location of a tyre repair center from where we could get the bike back in shape. We didn’t have enough time to explain that brevets are not racing events, and we thankfully accepted their suggestion to find out the shop. Due to the incessant rain, almost all commercial establishments appeared closed, except for a couple of small tea stalls. I rode along and found out a car service center which was closed, but upon very persistent and humble requests, the staff decided to help us. After about 2 hours of running around, we were finally back on the road again.

The second 50-kilometer stretch was tiresome and the road a little confusing. Thank God – LittleTalk had some battery juice left in it, which helped me double-check the GPS location one last time before it died down. I’m lucky, I thought. I could communicate with the Marshalls waiting for us to report at the 100 km check point. I also updated the wife that my phone battery might last another few minutes, and that this shall be our last telephonic conversation for the day, so she shouldn’t panic if I am not reachable on phone. She had promised to visit the finishing point before 7:30 evening, our finishing time. Little did I know how the day was waiting to unfold.

U-Turn of the Day

After updating the marshals about my position and the approximate time I would pedal in to report at the 100km check point which was in fact located at 103km, I pushed through and reached the spot and got my brevet card stamped. I had some snacks from the support vehicle, gulped down some water and initiated the return trip. It felt as though the intensity of the rain is getting doubled with every kilometer I passed through, and the falling of raindrops felt like stones thrown at me. At this point, Param suggested that I keep going. He might not be able to catch up with me, and I shouldn’t miss the next timeline and checkpoint. I flew forward.

Don’t be afraid of the dark

It is winter season, also it was a rainy day. No one knew when day did turn to night. Though I promised myself not to stop again before I see the next check point, I had to pay heed to the cry of my muscles for more energy and some rest. I took a couple of pit stops to munch some home-made cookies of oats and chocolate (Energy snacks from the better half. If you have any questions in that regard, please post it on the comments section below, and she shall answer them for you) before continuing my journey. Rain kept lashing at me, and I was shivering in the wind while I had those pit stops in abandoned bus shelters along the highway. There was no option other than to keep pedaling. I found that pedaling gave me the warmth I needed to survive, and hence shall have to pedal on not just to reach home, but to reach there in sound health.

I switched on the headlamps and rear blinkers before I crossed the Delhi border to return. Most of the roads were water-logged with lots of potholes. In the maddening traffic, I had to pedal really hard to pull through potholes, random traffic and stagnant water to avoid putting my feet down in the water. With full throttle, I pushed through Peeragarhi to enter Delhi’s city limits. I remembered the advice of the marshals – “better get going, you’ll face heavy traffic on the way back when you enter Delhi.” Wise words.

Inside Delhi the rain was lighter. It might have rained all day, because I found that the left side of the road had lots of water, to avoid which I had to ride through the middle of the road in many areas. Since I proactively display hand signals quite early before changing lanes or taking turns, most cars adjusted with me – something I didn’t expect from drivers in that part of the city, and hence I nodded in thanks towards many of them.  The ride back was hard and tiresome both physically and mentally.

There were moments when I reflected myself whether I should bother to take more pain to complete the ride. The easier part would be to quit in the middle to deviate and take a shorter route to reach home to rest or to hire a vehicle to carry my bike and me home. It takes a lot of courage to overcome these thoughts and keep riding. Somehow, I managed to do just that.

200

At 8:38 PM, I finished my ride. All 205 kilometers completed in 14 hours 08 minutes. I am happy to declare that I have exceeded my riding targets, and cross the magical three-digit riding mark. My family was there, patiently waiting at the closing point to welcome me home. After all the ordeal I had been through the whole day, it felt wonderful to be home. I thank the organizers and riders of Noida Randonneurs who put up this effort and helped me overcome my fears on the road.

What is the longest distance you had covered in a single day on a bicycle? Let me know your experience.

 

Image courtesy: thetyee.ca

Reconnecting with the Sahara

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BOOKS I LOVE

People who are close to me knows that I have a penchant for uncommon and unpopular places. Being part of the geographic information systems (GIS) industry has helped me in many ways to get to know such places. This obsession was almost at its peak about 2010s while I was recovering from a personal tragedy. I had developed this deep desire to hike Amazonian rainforest (thanks to my friends in South America) in its entirety, and later realized, that it wasn’t totally a crazy idea when I heard about what Ed Stafford did, a year later. There were two such places I was obsessed with, and the second one was the Saharan stretch of Mauritania, where geometrically perfect craters and ‘polished’ rocks provide the visitor with a moon-like feel.

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I picked up a copy of “Sahara” by Michael Palin just to rekindle that lost love. It took me many months to complete this wonderful book. I didn’t want the book (or the journey) to end, but it has to, someday. I have been reading travelogues and travel books and also watching destination films for quite some time now. After going through the minds of several readers, I feel that travel writing is not for all. People write in terms of their one-person experiences mostly about the nuances of traveling through foreign lands, the culture shock and the difficulty in getting paperwork done. Palin does a very good job in not only sharing his experience through the day, but also in his ability to thoughtfully link most of these with respect to the country’s history.

With his slight humor, he brings alive the streets of cities, desert trails, oases and also the boats in the mighty Niger. Even the camels are not spared. I’m sure his comments would bring a smile to many a reader. I would strongly recommend this book even if you are not a travelogue-lover. Just give it a try, I’m sure you would have a hard time putting it down.

Have you traveled to the desert or had a chance to read a travelogue of that sort? Please share your experience.

Making it to 75, Riding the Heat Wave

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CYCLING STORIES

Yes, I’m formally announcing the achievement of this year’s target – 75km in a single day. Thank you all for the consistent support and motivation. I’m learning and believe that I have many more miles to go before I put my leg down. Recently I made slight changes to the riding plan as an experiment, in order to facilitate the long distance ride.

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Reading from my GPS-based tracking app

As a first step, I moved on from the old little ride to a new one. I admit, I’m not a good reviewer of bikes. I know that especially because I follow and comment the blogs of some great cyclists who share detailed observations of their rides, routes and styles. So I shall just mention the product page of the new Little Ride here. It is a Haibike, an iconic German brand. The product name is Big Curve 9.3 which is a hardtail mountain bike with 29-inch wheels. Technical specifications of the ride can be found in their product page here.

Secondly, I changed the route slightly to suit my future riding targets for longer distances. During the rides up to 50 and 60 km in the past, I used to follow the service lanes along the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway, and it made sense during heatwave conditions of 2014 and 2015. There were quite some points I used to stop and recharge my spirits. This year, I’m welcoming the heat wave with my own supplies of plain water and mini breakfast to take the Expressway head-on.

Though the route is not new to me, it is still a different experience riding the Expressway when I am the slowest moving object in a stream of over-speeding cars, buses, trucks, and motorcycles. Strong tailwinds and some gravitational pull enabled me to pedal faster (or at least inspired me to do so) and I had started getting a hang of the near-nonstop ride through the Expressway. My first attempt went very well and on the Little Ride, and I feel that the road smiles back at me. There are no abrupt crossings, though there is always the danger of cars changing lanes and coming faster at you with the intention to exit the Expressway while you have plans to continue pedaling straight along the Expressway, without exiting from it. So I make use of hand signals, and remain alert with one eye fixed in the rear-view mirror to keep out of harm’s way.

There are some ups and downs along the route which influence the cadence, but I try to maintain a steady pace throughout the ride. The most interesting experience of the Expressway was on the way back – there were 2-3 different groups of cyclists who passed me, everyone shouting “Hi, Good morning!” Once or twice I did come across those occasional cyclists who rely too much on their bike brands than their own legs. I find it interesting to chase them and make them falsify those illusions, though not intentionally. With someone on my tail I tend to forget the limitations of my body and would keep pedaling, wanting to fly.

At the end I came home happily, smiling broad, unable to hide the liberating feeling of the ride. I would sincerely thank all of you who follow my blog, support me with kind and motivating words. I’d also thank my smarter half for being there even through the hard times, ensuring that I start off on time, have enough to eat and drink on the way. My little one makes sure that the ride is kept clean, well oiled, and the tyres have optimum pressure. Thank you all again. I shall keep trying to perform better, and shall post my progress here, occasionally.

Do you also keep targets for your hobbies? Do you think it is important to set targets for your hobbies in order to ensure that you take it seriously? Please share your thoughts.

How Having a Rival Helps You

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CYCLING STORIES

That was a near shave: An oversized man  just overtook me. No bells rang, no excuse-me shouts heard. He just rushed past me a few centimetres away. He didn’t even bother to keep the minimum logical distance while overtaking a moving object. I applied my brakes and kept my cool. What I couldn’t do was to ignore the brand of his bike and the peculiar way he moved while pedalling. One thing I noticed – he was riding an expensive bike, quite sophisticated than my little ride.

He was riding a Cannondale, though his basic understanding of traffic rules appeared to be practically nil. Well, that’s the typical Noida driver. While pedalling, he was moving in a peculiar way – banging his head to an imaginary wall on the side to which his leg was moving: Zig-zag-zig-zag or maybe bang-bang-bang-bang. Maybe it appears ridiculous, but I named him “Cannondancer”.

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Sometimes even grown up people behave like teenagers. Well, I’m no exception. After he was out of sight, I suddenly sprang into action. I don’t how it happened: My shoulders weren’t aching anymore. Suddenly there was this energy that strengthened my feet to boost up my speed. Though my rear wheel had a slightly lower than usual pressure, I wasn’t feeling any difficulty in raising my speed. I felt like flying through the wide road. After some time, I could spot the dancer on wheels far ahead of me at the end of the horizon.

I kept pedalling with a constant pace. Remembering my high school Physics lessons, I would call it ‘uniform acceleration”. I am catching up minute by minute. I can see his silhouette getting clearer and closer. Though my legs feel tired, I pedalled hard with determination. A few more minutes later, he reduced himself inside my rear-view mirror. For quite some time I didn’t realize that I got ahead, or how I could manage to do that. During the next few weeks our paths crossed again, giving me the
much awaited drive to move on. With pain on my knees and back, I kept trying really hard to catch up with him.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out there riding with my son Addu while the Cannondancer suddely overtook us. That was quite a scene for Addu who started pushing me.. “Come on dad, let’s take him.” I have to admit it, sometimes I am game for such stuff. And together we caught up with him. Well, then I had already received my birthday gift, and the new Little Ride actually reduced the pains on my back and knees.

In the following months I met the Cannondancer many times on the road, and he somehow got this idea that he can’t ride along with me. So he seems to have given up this particular route nowadays, giving me the opportunity to be among the longest distance cyclists in that particular route. Perhaps it isn’t so.. I just think.

Having a rival is sometimes a blessing. I would like to think so.
What is your opinion? Please let me know.
Image courtesy: http://ncwtv.com

Handing Over the Little Ride

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Yes you heard it right: A new Little Ride has joined the stable. Something that seemed very unlikely until 2017 just happened a few days back. In 2013 while I was making up my mind to get the Urban Trail Dude 2.1, I was thinking seriously: “I would need this ride for the next 5-6 years. I’ll keep customising and improving it till the time it keeps running fine”. It was my first bike with disc brakes. Dude 2.1 has disc brakes on both front and rear wheels.

Suggested by friend and cyclist Vicky of Pedal Works, Gurgaon (I shall introduce him in a separate entry), Dude 2.1 fulfilled more than my immediate needs. I grew up as a serious cyclist on my Dude. I don’t know if I should write a product review for Urban Trail bikes. But I should dedicate this entry to Dude 2.1

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Technical specifications

  • Aluminium Alloy body
  • Shimano Acera gear system – 21 speed
  • Suntour front suspension with ride-lock
  • Kenda tyres: 26 inches wheel size

As I got serious with my cycling and the ride distance increased, there was a corresponding increase in the ride durations as well. Sitting forward-bent for long durations has started hurting my shoulders. I was thinking about finding a way to change the handlebar in order to improve my riding position. And probably that had triggered this idea to Smitha, and lo, I got my birthday gift.

The new Little Ride is a Haibike Big Curve 9.30. That’s all I’ll say now. More about it on later posts. I handed over the Dude 2.1 to my son, who is more than excited to have an upgrade. Yet it shall remain special to me always.

How often do you change bikes (or any ride you use)? What triggers those decisions? Please share your thoughts.

Clocking 60 on just water…And that morning coffee

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Yes, it wasn’t intentional, but the set of events turned out that way. I think I should submit this entry to cycling tourist and blogger Devi Lockwood, whose blog I follow. Despite packing snacks and the wallet, I missed out taking the bag itself. Interestingly, I didn’t realise it till I crossed the Golf Course metro station about 5km on the way. Turning back was not an option.

I understood the shape of things to come. I can’t survive on 650ml water alone. It was almost 7:00 morning, temperature touching 25 degrees Celsius with mild winds. My objective was to tick off 45km in a practicable manner without going through undesirable situations. Think think think. Well, cycling is a great effort that can clear the head off clouding thoughts.

So this is reality: 45, or maybe 48km of mixed tarmac, rubble, sand and grass. The later it gets in the day, the hotter the day would become. But rushing towards the goal will do more harm than benefit. I know that already.

Well then let me make my strategy:

(1) Maintain consistent speed. It would take less effort to pedal a longer stretch of road this way. Also it will help reduce my sweating. After all that is precious water content that I’m losing through sweat, especially when reinforcements are limited.

(2) Take lesser number of breaks
While it is advisable to take frequent breaks and recharge your body and batteries before you continue, such advises are applicable on ideal situations. Unfortunately mine is not an ideal situation, so I’ve to override that advise. I’ll have to manage with lesser breaks and very limited amount of water, and get back home before the day gets hotter.

(3) Find a way to reduce sweat
I would open the top two buttons of my T-shirt to let the air in. That dries up the sweat and cools down the body.

(4) Refresh myself without actually drinking water
It is interesting to mention here that all these mental listing and strategics happened while I was slowly pedalling, trying to assess the impact of a bad decision, reassuring myself that things will turn out to be fine, and  secretly hoping that all would end up well.

On the way towards Greater Noida, I found several cyclists of different skin tones and ethnicities whatsoever and waved at every single one of them. The Indian guys waved back saying ‘Hey’, others smiled, even the Korean lady (I presume she’s Korean; there’s a huge Samsung office on the way) smiled back. Well, so many cheers are better than mouthfuls of Gartorade or Redbull. I flew off till I found the huge green display “Welcome to Greater Noida”.
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So there it is. I looked no further. Just entered the ‘wonderland’, circled the first roundabout and headed home. All strategic measures mentioned above applied successfully.

Have you true long distance ride with limited resources? Please share your experience.

The New Generation Cycling: About Attitude

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Us v. Them

I just heard an “Excuse me” which is quite unlikely on a Noida road. Naturally, while you are at 30 km per hour speed on a mountain bike, with empty road and a bright and sunny Sunday morning ahead of you, it would be natural to expect the sound of a horn or bell. To my surprise, he had neither.

As we entered the empty road, I spotted these two youngsters chatting. Both of them had racing bikes, wheels thin a few micrometres. What are they doing on a normal road with bikes meant for a stadium…wondered Smitha.

What caught my attention though was the line “I think you’d ride 30km at least. I can say that by looking at your face”

Ah, the face. That’s what Delhi-ites are all about: The looks. I’ll explain that in another entry. This was the Ohmygod moment, if I could borrow the phrase from fellow blogger and cyclist who blogs as The Drunken Cyclist.

A quick note about the new generation cyclists in Noida: It’s all about showing off. Most of us here think, this is what it means when you say “attitude”. Wear big brands, get an expensive looking bicycle, flashy costumes, no matter whether you are fit or not.  Neither does it make any difference if you know or obey traffic rules. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not able to ride the bike properly.

So I asked the racing biker (on whose face it is written that he rides 30 km) if he has a flat tyre, while he was busy overtaking me. I didn’t want to sound offensive by pointing that out directly.

“I don’t know” he shouted, while racing forward. We continued our slow pace. More miles to go.

Less than a kilometre down the road we met them. One of the bikes now has both tyres flat.

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As a cyclist to the heart I’m bound by the commandment “Thou shalt not leave thy fellow cyclist alone when he is in need.” So we stopped to help them.

Me: Do you guys need a pump for the wheels?

They look at me as if l am speaking Spanish. It takes them more than a few moments to respond

“Yeah. Do you always carry one?”

Ah, the sarcasm.

I pretend not to have registered that, and continue.

“Sometimes yes.” But I make sure well beforehand that my bike can handle the road I’m planning to ride. Cycling needs preparation.

You need to be fit yourself. The gear system on cycles is not meant to cover up for your unfitness, it is meant to provide support when the ride gets tough. It’s not about walking in to a flashy store and buying the most expensive bike that money can buy. But I don’t say any of these.

I tried using my portable pump on the lean machines. It wouldn’t work. It became difficult to detach the pump from the tyre. Somehow it came off without causing trouble.

I honestly wanted to help. I said I’m sorry. I’m not able to help them.

They call up their homes, asked for assistance. One of them says their driver is coming with the car to get them. Good then. I really hope they ride normal bicycles on everyday roads.

How’s the cycling scene in your city? Have you met someone with high level attitude that towers over common sense? Please share your story.

Image courtesy: http://bicyclemechanic.blogspot.in