In 2007, after finishing fourth in the prologue of Tour De France, Sir* Bradley Wiggins took a dig on the most popular television show in UK around that time, “It is nice to be recognised for actually achieving something in life as opposed to spending seven weeks in a house on TV with a load of other muppets.” Around the time when the modified version of that show is making news, Coimbatore Cycling, supported by Cycology, organised the 100 Kms Independence Day Ride for cyclists to help them to have an experience of their lifetime. “Riding the first 100 Km is an aspiration for every amateur cyclist. When organising the ride on an Independence Day, we make sure that amateur cyclists remember the day by achieving something special,” says Chakkravarthy Birur, one of the organisers.
Although this wasn’t my first 100K cycling ride, my lack of preparation was certain to provide me with an experience of a first time rider. I had originally planned to do a “mini” version of the ride covering about 50 Kms but my ride partner, Satish Kini encouraged me to go for the 100 Kms. A group of 25 riders started out at 6 AM in the morning of August 15th from Coimbatore Cycling group at Ramanathapuram area to challenge the 100 Kms. The group comprised of some of the best cyclists in Coimbatore who ease past the 100 Kms under 3 hours to first time riders who look forward for their first taste of long distance ride without any time constraint. The bicycles, and of course the participants, came in all shapes and sizes. There were the top-end carbon-frame bikes designed to cruise at 35-40 kmph to the simple ones whose speed is largely dictated by the energy levels of the riders.
I started out with my fellow riders, Satish Kini, H. Manju, V. Suresh and P. Karthi – all of them being fellow runners too. The lovely morning weather was certainly a nature’s gift and something to be cherished; what more, it made our ride easier. The route for the day was fairly simple – a long ride on the Avinashi Road towards Salem up to 50 kms and return back. The early pace was set by Satish Kini, nicknamed the German for his no-nonsense approach to cycling, running and possibly every aspect of life. Reluctantly, we followed him, for we knew that he has his plans in place and will help us to finish the ride.
We skipped our routine tea break on long rides as the weather was conducive for a fast paced ride. The onward journey was largely downhill and the tail wind was assisting our smooth progress. The volunteer presence en-route made our ride comfortable with hydration and nutrition support. The roads looked pristine and were cleaned by the overnight rains. The return journey was a different game altogether and offered some challenges for the riders. It was a ride up towards Coimbatore with headwinds acting against our efforts. I had to let go my fellow riders one after other and wage some lone battles towards the finish. The first time I attempted to ride past 100 Km was way back in 2008 and since then, there were many occasions, I completed that distance, and even more. Nevertheless, each ride proves to be a challenge of its own and as memorable as the very first ride.
All the finishers were treated with a lovely badge celebrating their achievement and sumptuous food. “We believe every finisher is a winner and there is nothing like coming first or last. Each rider rides to a best of his/her ability and deserves to be recognised equally,” says Sulaiman Bhimani, a former national-level cyclist and currently one of the key organisers in Coimbatore Cycling. There was also a 50 Km ride on the very same day to encourage beginners to take up long distance cycling.
Cycling can easily related to the concept of Independence – at personal as well as collective level. To begin with, regular cycling helps people to keep themselves physically fit. Second, the satisfaction of completing the distance (longer than walking or running) solely by one’s own effort instils a great level of self-confidence. At a social level, there are many examples of social change that has been achieved by promoting cycling in underprivileged communities. A 2014 study** of the Bihar Government’s initiative of providing free cycles to girl students found that the scheme has increased girls’ age-appropriate enrolment in secondary school by 32%.
As Ivan Illich would write in his seminal work Energy and Equity, in 1974, “A true choice among practical policies and of desirable social relations is possible only where speed is restrained. Participatory democracy demands low-energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle.” There is plenty of merit in promoting cycling for a better human being and society as a whole.
Our celebration of the 71st Independence Day was certainly made memorable thanks to the efforts of the Coimbatore Cycling and fellow riders. As it is likely to be a routine affair henceforth, we hope to see more and more riders join the bandwagon and experience the joy of cycling. If you still have doubts, remember the day when you first attempted to learn how to ride a cycle – it’s as much fun now as it was then.
*He was knighted in 2012, after winning Tour De France 2012
** Muralidharan, Karthik, and Prakash Nishith, 2014, “ Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India
An edited version of this blog was published by The Hindu on August 19, 2017 in the Metro Plus – Coimbatore Edition. You can read it online here – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/coimbatore-cyclists-covered-50-and-100-kilometers-on-a-trip-along-avanashi-road/article19517496.ece