Coimbatore Randonneurs

Talk about France and cycling, the first thoughts that comes to one’s mind is the prestigious Tour de France. Equally popular though is the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) Randonneur event, which unlike the Tour de France, is open to amateurs across the world. Started in 1891, older than Tour de France, the next edition of the quadrennial event is scheduled to be held on August 18-22 , 2019. Unlike Tour de France, a multi-stage event, PBP is a single stage event where riders cover a distance of 1200 Km at a stretch. Riders are expected to complete the distance within 90 hours with stringent cut-offs in the intermediate segments, like 600 Km in 40 hours. To qualify for the event, riders have to complete a series of brevet rides, organised across the world under the regulations of Audax Club Parisien, the organisers of PBP. The brevet rides are long distance cycling events starting from 200 Km onwards, with time limits. The PBP is actively participated by riders all over the world and in the 2015 edition, about 57% of the 5,311 participants resided outside France. This year’s edition sees participation of over 300 riders from India, of which four of them are from Coimbatore.


1. Chakkravarthy Birur, 51 years

Chakkravarthy, popularly known as Chakra, was a pentathlon athlete during his college days before getting sucked into his business and family life. He started riding in 2012 to keep himself fit and has not looked back since. He attempted his first brevet in Chennai in 2012 and was instrumental in bringing the brevet events to Coimbatore. He finished the arduous 1000 Km ride between Chennai and Vijayawada in 2014 helping him qualify for the 2015 edition of the PBP. After quitting the 2015 event midway due to mechanical failure in his cycle, he is more determined to complete the current edition. He is also a triathlete and looking forward to finish his first half-Iron man event later this year.
2. Siva Balaji, 36 years
Siva Balaji, a production engineer by profession, had his interest rekindled in cycling in 2017 and was addicted to it since. He started riding the brevets and started scaling up from 200 km to 1000km, not just once but five times, within the next two years across South India. The longest brevet that he has undertaken is the 1200 Km early this year stretching over 4 days. He occasionally participates in competitive cycling and has won prizes in time trail events and finished third in the Western valley MTB challenge.
3. Sakthivel Manian, 36 years
Sakthivel Manian, an IT professional, started cycling in 2015 only as a means to keep himself fit during his hectic work schedule. He credits his friend Gokul Raju for getting him to take up cycling for fitness and participating in various events. It soon become a passion and unsurprisingly, he got hooked to brevets. He started riding brevets with Coimbatore Cycling and presence of his friends in the group are constant source of motivation.
4. Dr. Achyutha Krishnan, 29 years
Hailing from a family of doctors, Achu took up to cycling during his post graduation in Medicine, when he started riding with his friends at the We the Chennai Cycling Group (WCCG). A juvenile diabetic, cycling helped him to test his limits and the way beyond it.  Since the beginning of this year, he has clocked over 10,000 Km in his bicycle across the South India. Being a native Coimbatorean, it goes without saying that he enjoys climbing hills on his bicycle. 

The common thread that runs across these 4 riders is their passion for riding and the amateur spirit in them. They took up to cycling with minimal background in sports and it is the sheer persistence that has taken them to these heights. Their technical abilities and age may not help them participate in the professional events but their determination sees them through in amateur events.

A quick calculation would suggest that brevet require riding at only about 15 Km per hour, which doesn’t sound difficult when viewed with layman’s glasses. The real challenge lies in enduring the distance and finishing within the time specified. During the given time, one has to manage their sleep, food, mechanical failures, and other unforeseen incidents on the route. The brevets are largely self-supported and one has to plan their routines themselves. Further, the route include significant increase in elevation and drop adding to the complexities. The total elevation for this year’s PBP route is about 11,566m, well above Mt. Everest.
One of the key strategies in cycling event is to stick with the peloton – a group of riders. This helps all the riders to help each other and go the maximum distance with minimum effort. In PBP, this would be difficult to implement as over 90 hours, as they need to match not only their riding speed but also their scheduled and unscheduled breaks. They do ride with different groups at different points of time but the finishing the event ultimately relies on individual pursuit. 

An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus on August 17, 2019 under the title “Going the Distance (1200 Km)”


The Independence Day Ride

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 –