Viju Varghese. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Viju Varghese. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Bicycle diaries

Cycling groups are mushrooming from Noida to Nellore and more biking eventsmostly endurance cyclingare being held. Lounge catches up with four bikers who are giving more power to the pedal

Cycling is the new running, with a growing number of people taking it up as a form of both exercise and recreation. Cycling groups are mushrooming from Noida to Nellore and more biking events—mostly endurance cycling—are being held. One reason for the growing popularity of cycling is that it is less taxing on the knees compared with running. As we approach the 10th annual edition of the Tour of Nilgiris, one of the most gruelling endurance cycling events in the country, Lounge catches up with four bikers who are giving more power to the pedal

Viju Varghese, 33 | Gurugram

Head of sales and dealer development, Trek Bikes India

When did you start cycling?

I have been cycling since I was a child. But while doing my postgraduation at PESIT in Bengaluru in 2009, I bought a cycle for my daily commute to a table tennis academy in Banashankari. That was the time when I got hooked to cycling.

How does cycling benefit you?

It keeps me active and fit. I love the adrenalin rush that I experience every time I participate in a race. Second, it helps me meet new people. And finally, my love for cycling has made me explore many new places. Currently, I am trying to explore different parts of India on my cycles.

Your typical week.

Since on weekdays most people I cycle with have to get to work, our rides are shorter...between 40-50km. On weekends, we try to spend 3 hours or more on the saddle, which would be between 90-100km in terms of distance covered.

What bike do you use?

I have quite a few bikes, both MTB (mountain bike) and road.

My MTB hardtail bikes include Trek Superfly, Trek Pro Cal 9.8, and I recently assembled the Trek Procal 9.8 2018 edition. I have just got the Trek Top Fuel 9.8 and Trek Fuel EX 5, which are MTB dual-suspension bikes, and I am yet to test them.

I also have three road bikes: Trek Madone 7 Series, Trek Domane 5.2, and I recently picked up a Trek Domane SLR 8. All my bikes have the stock Bontrager wheels.

Cycling to you is…

It’s definitely exercise for me. I love to participate in various road and MTB events across the country and I personally like the preparation part of the events. For me the journey is more important than the destination itself.

Your most memorable ride.

Mountain Biking Himalaya (MTB Himalaya), which is a mountain bike multi-stage race in the Himalayan terrain, in 2011, 2013 and 2014, and the Tour of Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu in 2015. They took me to some of the best places we have in our country.

Your toughest ride.

In 2015, I did a solo 604km ride as a part of the Super Randonneur series. Delhi-Simla-Delhi. It took me 22 hours and 55 minutes to complete this ride.

Does traffic bother you?

It used to, but I guess living in Delhi I am kind of used to it by now.

Your scariest moment.

I had a close shave during the Tour of Nilgiris. I was taking a turn and a truck came from the opposite direction. I skidded because of dew and slipped right under the truck just after the rear tyres had gone past me. I am lucky I only suffered some bruises. I am a bit more careful now.

Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Longest ride.

604km. Delhi–Simla–Delhi, August 2015.

Weekly average.

200-250km.

Route most often taken.

Gurugram-Faridabad road, Gurugram to India Gate and off-roading in the Aravalis.

Device/app used to track the rides.

The Gramin Edge 520 and Strava app.

Pedal Power

MTB Hardtail

Trek Superfly: Rs1.9 lakh

Trek Pro Cal 9.8 (2017): Rs2.5 lakh

Trek Procal 9.8 (2018): Rs4.25 lakh

MTB Dual Suspension

Trek Top Fuel 9.8: Rs4.72 lakh

Trek Fuel EX 5: Rs1.73 lakh

Road Bike

Trek Madone 7 Series: Rs4 lakh

Trek Domane 5.2 (2017): Rs2.52 lakh

Trek Domane SLR 8 (2018): Rs4.1 lakh

Srinath Rajam. Photo: Nathan G
Srinath Rajam. Photo: Nathan G

Srinath Rajam, 59 | Chennai

CEO, MD and owner, TVS & Sons

When did you start cycling?

I was a runner for more than 30 years and then one day I hurt my knees. Since I couldn’t run anymore, I was looking for something else to give me the “high" that I used to experience while running. On 9 July 2009, I participated in an “individual time trial" event organized in Chennai on the East Coast Road and I was hooked. The feeling of the wind on your face is like a drug.

How does cycling benefit you?

It is great for my cardiovascular health. That apart, it is my “moving meditation" as well as weight management routine and it also de-stresses me. A few years ago I started coaching. Now, I am learning the most advanced coaching data analytics tools, i.e. WKO4 (an analytical engine to track and assess a cyclist’s performance, training and dynamics). I enjoy coaching and have worked with hundreds of cyclists across India.

Your typical week.

I cycle approximately 250km or 8-9 hours, both outdoors and indoors (on a trainer). My rides are a combination of a wide range of intensities and distances.

What bike do you use?

I have a comfort bike, the Scott Solace, for long, solo “base building" rides and a Trek Domane 6.9 roadie (road bike) for the faster group rides.

Cycling to you is…

Both an exercise and a recreational activity.

Your toughest ride.

The ride from Chennai up to Yercaud. The steep, relentless gradients conspired with bad roads to make my ride on a hybrid bike, which weighed 15kg, really hard.

Does traffic bother you.

I start around 4.30am and finish by 6.30am. Traffic isn’t an issue because I ride out towards my factories in the Chengelpet area (near Chennai) and beyond, on roads which are relatively isolated. I ride to my factories at least five-six times a month. These rides are between three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half hours long.

Your dream bike.

I am obsessed with sexy-looking wheels. Deep rim, carbon, aero wheels are things of beauty. Those beautifully designed Italian bikes are appealing but I just do not see value for the price.

A ride you are looking forward to.

Mallorca. I went there last year and it is arguably the world’s best cycling destination. I am going back there next April; the routes, the cafés, food and hotels...everything there is geared to make cyclists happy.

Your scariest moment.

I’ve had my share of fractures, accidents and near misses. If I think about them, I’ll never get on the bike again.

Longest ride.

Bengaluru-Chamundi hills and back, 307km. 12 February 2011.

Weekly average.

250km, or 8-10 hours.

Route most often taken.

Mostly towards the south of Chennai along the East Coast Road and Old Mahabalipuram Road, well past Chengelpet, the scenic and less congested roads between the East Coast Road and Great Southern Trunk Road.

Tiruvannamalai, the Nilgiris and Valparai are my other favourite cycling destinations.

Device/app used to track rides.

The Garmin Edge 1030 and Garmin Edge 1000; Power meters 4iii and Powertap pedals; Training Peaks and WKO4 analytics tools.

Pedal Power

Road bike

Scott Solace 30: Rs1.5 lakh

Trek Domane 6.9: approximately Rs3 lakh

Shravani Sen. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Shravani Sen. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Shravani Sen, 44 | Gurugram

Qualitative market research consultant and former head of qualitative research, TNS India

When did you start cycling?

This adult cycling was, perhaps, serendipity. I have a debilitating ailment, lupus, which has made walking difficult. In 2008, on a visit to Palo Alto, San Francisco, a friend suggested we bike around. That was my most liberating experience in a long time. While I couldn’t walk for 30 minutes, I found myself happily cycling for 3-4 hours. I came back to India, got a Cannondale MTB as a gift and joined a club that cycled twice a month. In 2015, I started cycling solo and back then, a 50km ride felt like an ultra. By the year-end, the Vasant Vihar to India Gate routine was getting a bit boring so I signed up for one of the toughest tours in India—the Tour of Nilgiris. I was a novice when I went on the tour and returned a cycling snob. Ever since I have cycled and cycled, become a Super Randonneur and now all I can do is think of the next big ride.

How does cycling benefit you?

When I started riding in 2008, I thought of the cycle as my means of transport. But now cycling not only keeps me fit, it is also my vehicle for exploration, my partner in my adventures. It has brought purpose and passion in my life. I have met the most wonderful people, across India and around the world, through cycling.

Your typical week.

I cycle four times a week. Twice a week is “interval training" and the weekends are my longer endurance rides.

What bike do you use?

The Cannondale MTB is my first love. I did a Manali-Leh trip on it last year. I also have a Trek FX 7.1, a hybrid, which was my stepping stone to ultra-cycling. These days my partner in crime is the Trek Silque SLX, a carbon fibre road bike.

Your most memorable ride.

Definitely the Tour of Nilgiris. It was a tough seven-day affair on the saddle through the beautiful Nilgiris with 100 other riders. It changed my life.

Your toughest ride.

The London-Edinburgh-London Audax Ultra in July this year. It was a 1,441km ride over an elevation of 11,000m to be completed in 116 hours. A mechanical glitch combined with my biggest navigation challenge cost me the ride. It was my toughest ride: physically, mentally, emotionally and physiologically.

Does traffic bother you?

Yes. Drivers of all vehicles are out to kill us cyclists. We are totally invisible to them, this despite us being lit up like Christmas trees.

Your scariest moment.

It was a cold, dark and rainy evening and I was hallucinating on my bike in the middle of a freeway in the UK during the Audax Ultra. A speeding car missed me by the skin of my teeth.

Longest ride.

1,220km, Delhi-Udaipur-Delhi.

Weekly average.

250km.

Route most often taken.

Greater Kailash/Chirag Dilli to Mahamaya in Noida.

Delhi to Gurugram on NH8 and this can go up to Manesar for a longer ride.

Delhi-Faridabad Road.

Device/app used to track the rides.

The Garmin Edge 820 and Strava app.

Pedal Power

Mountain: Cannondale F9 MTB, Rs25,000

Hybrid: Trek FX 7.1, aluminium frame, Rs33,000

Road: Trek Silque SLX, a woman-specific design with carbon frame, Rs2.9 lakh

Adil Nargolwala. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Adil Nargolwala. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Adil Nargolwala, 48 | Gurugram

Global talent acquisition head, WNS Global Services Pvt. Ltd

When did you start cycling?

I loved cycling as a kid but after high school I didn’t get on a cycle till about seven years ago. I bought a good second-hand Gary Fisher Marlin (now a Trek brand) bike for Rs5,000 in 2010 and started cycling again on Delhi roads. I started enjoying the early morning rides and have been hooked ever since.

How does cycling benefit you?

Unlike running, cycling is a non-impact sport that eliminates chances of injury unless you fall. So, it is a great way to stay fit. Apart from being an excellent cardiovascular workout, it helps strengthen your legs and core.

Your typical week.

I make sure I cycle at least two days a week. Each ride is about 50km. I go on longer rides of about 100km twice a month.

What bike do you use?

I recently bought a Cervelo S3 with Roval aero wheels made of carbon fibre and I love riding it. It’s light at 7kg and very fast. Cervelos are the Porsche of cycling. They make high-end bikes that are very smooth and aerodynamic. The aero wheels reduce rolling friction, which means for the same effort in pedalling, the wheels carry you further.

Cycling to you is...

Primarily, it is exercise. I am preparing for my first Ironman, which I will do in Kalmar in Sweden next year, so it is great training too.

Your most memorable ride.

I have a few. My first long ride was Delhi-Jaipur in 2009 on a hybrid while my wife and a friend followed me in a car. The 250km ride took me 12 hours, I was bruised but I was the happiest man on the planet.

Manali to Leh in 2011 was amazing and it is one ride that I will never forget and recommend to every serious cyclist. You ride on the highest roads in the world and have to manage steep ascents at very high altitudes. One of the days happened to be my father’s death anniversary; I climbed Baralacha La, a pass at a height of over 16,000ft, and made a small chorten (heap) of mountain rocks in his memory.

Your worst cycling mishap.

About three years ago I was doing a 100km ride along the Noida Expressway when my front wheel came off while negotiating a speed bump. I went over the handle bars and fell flat on my face and passed out. Luckily my friend, Shailja Sridhar, was riding with me and she rushed me to the hospital. I had to get surgery done to repair my broken bones. I was out of action for a few weeks.

Does traffic bother you?

Yes, traffic is a problem. Therefore, I start at 5am and am back by 7.30am before the traffic builds up.

Your go-to cycling gear.

A good cycling jersey, Zoot triathlon shorts, cleats, helmet and you are ready to ride. I am planning to get Roka shorts.

What cycle next?

My next purchase is going to be a time trial bike like a Cervelo P3 or P5. Both are based on a timeless, classic design and have a great frame with very aggressive geometry for fast times.

A ride you are looking forward to.

My upcoming Ironman triathlon rides.

Longest ride.

600km from Delhi to the Wagah border in 2014.

Weekly average.

70-80km. The mileage increases in winter.

Route most often taken.

Gurugram to India Gate and back. Gurugram to Faridabad and back along the Gurugram-Faridabad road.

Device/app used to track the rides.

The Garmin Fenix 5.

Pedal Power

Road bike

Cervelo S3: Rs4 lakh

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