A cycling enthusiast on what keeps him pedalling – Siddharth Subramanian

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A cycling enthusiast on what keeps him pedalling – Siddharth Subramanian

Cuts, bruises and punishing schedules, along with a clear mind, freedom, and the chance to be a child again

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Ma’am, it is just a minor fall and a scratch on the back of his head. He was dehydrated by the hot Rajasthan weather. But you can still get an MRI done if you wish.”

It was difficult explaining to my mother why I had decided to go sightseeing on a cycle in Jodhpur, and how I fell on a busy highway and ended up in a small-ish temple surrounded by truck drivers who had given me spanners, among other tools, to hold. They thought it was a seizure.

Ten years later, 2014.

“Are you sure this was an accident and not a fight you picked up somewhere?”

It was difficult, again, explaining to the doctor in the emergency ward at 7.30am on a hot April morning in a busy south Delhi hospital, how I had waited for the light to turn green before trying to cross and fallen face first on the dusty asphalt.

After breaking two teeth in half, fracturing my nose, suffering deep cuts on my forehead, lips and chin, it was clear to me—this relationship was going to be complicated.

But the answer wasn’t difficult at all when I asked myself why I was cycling.

Most of us forget to continue to be like children as we grow older. The thought of others judging us by our actions drives us, eliminating, even in the slightest, the desire to just be. The same thing happened when I graduated from college. People had me convinced that the adult thing to do was to take up an information technology job with a respectable pay package.

Most take it for granted. Two wheels with pedals between your legs and you for an engine. We fail to understand what cycling has to offer. Freedom.

Whether you choose to ride a motorcycle or bicycle depends mostly on the speed at which you want to experience it.

It happened last year, 10 years after I last rode a bicycle in Jodhpur. My father thought I was being childish, my mother simply thought this would be temporary.

After all, buying a mountain-focused bicycle isn’t an inexpensive affair. Having played tennis professionally for a couple of years in school, I knew how good exercising can make you feel. That was missing in my routine. I tried a couple of things before the thought of taking up cycling crossed my mind. Tennis. Skipping. Running.

While tennis required another person to play with, the other two quickly became repetitive. I started cycling because I wanted to involve myself in something that wouldn’t require me to depend on someone else, and also keep me distracted long enough to take my mind off what I called a structured routine. Something, I felt, was coming in the way of my looking at things from a different perspective. In life, and at work.

The first few weeks were about introductions, with my cycle getting used to my weight, and I to the fact that I had complete freedom to choose whichever direction I wanted to go in. Every night, before going to sleep, I would pick a route/loop to cover the following morning. Although most parts of Delhi aren’t exactly cyclist-friendly, it is a completely different story in the morning, aside from the roads frequented by trucks that are allowed into the city between 10pm and 7am.

Last year, on 29 April, I woke up, like everyone else. I left on a previously charted route, dodging small and big potholes. I was having trouble shifting the gears on my rear derailleur, something which I had been meaning to fix for over two weeks. When the lights at the Moolchand crossing in south Delhi turned green, I began accelerating at a furious pace to make it to the other end. It was so quick, I could barely make sense of what happened. The ventilated helmet saved my head from hitting the ground hard. But the fall itself was so disorienting that I could hardly feel the pain. However, the first session with the dentist on Day Zero was nothing short of painful. What followed was weeks of dropping spoons of plain khichdi into my mouth.

It would have been suicidal to mention cycling at home.

But it’s difficult for me to imagine that human beings are designed to stay indoors through a significant portion of their adult lives. More than the fact that it affords me the pleasure of eating, guilt-free, almost whatever I want, cycling enables me to step out and get some aerobic activity going while having fun.

So, a month later, I convinced my father to let me take the bicycle for a service. The crank-set was worn out beyond recognition, leading to the chain slipping. This was bound to happen since I had been cycling 150-200km a week. My father wasn’t really happy with my decision to get back to cycling. But I did get back to it soon, completing the first 100km on my way to Palwal, Haryana, and back. I had my first experience of a highway, passing sugarcane warehouses and villages where children screamed in amusement: gear-wali cycle! Several hundred kilometres later, I was set on an even longer ride. Knowing I had to be fit and ready, I trained by just resuming my daily rides. This was perfect; cycling, a low-impact sport, didn’t interfere with my workday.

A couple of thousand kilometres, some squabbles with the folks and minor upgrades later, I left for Pushkar, Rajasthan, with a couple of bags strapped to my rear pannier rack. Starting in Delhi, I made my way through Haryana to Rajasthan. There were times when I was able to glide on the highway, passing small towns and cities, and some when my body simply refused to cooperate. What actually got me through the 420km to Pushkar was the sights and sounds of the highway. To experience it on a bicycle is a very different feeling. Once you get truly immersed in the excitement, you forget about your cadence or the number of kilometres you’ve covered for the day.

Post Pushkar, I completed my first 200km brevet, which also happened to be the first brevet of the season with the cycling group Delhi Randonneurs. A brevet is a long-distance endurance cycling event starting with 200km and going up to 1,200km. What started as a minor but necessary distraction to keep my mind off the daily grind has become an integral part of me. Sure, there have been ups and downs. But it keeps me fit, and I get to see new places and some old ones from a completely different perspective. Though the last 7,000km over 10 months have mostly been on the plains, I plan to change that this year. Maybe,

What started as a minor but necessary distraction to keep my mind off the daily grind has become an integral part of me. Sure, there have been ups and downs. But it keeps me fit, and I get to see new places and some old ones from a completely different perspective. Though the last 7,000km over 10 months have mostly been on the plains, I plan to change that this year. Maybe, some day, I will write about my experience cycling the Cordillera Huayhuash trail in the Peruvian Andes.

Until then…

Degrease. Lubricate. Cycle. Repeat.

Build that body…on wheels

From using the biggest muscle in your body effectively to improving balance, cycling has many health benefits

  • Cycling is a good form of aerobic exercise—you exercise steadily and burn oxygen and blood glucose, so it’s good for the heart and rest of the body. Since it uses the biggest muscle group, it is a good way to burn a large number of calories without exerting oneself too much. Plus, getting an indoor cycling training machine will enable you to exercise throughout the year if hectic work schedules come in the way.
  • Cycling helps in developing muscle strength. After a knee replacement and arthroscopic knee reconstruction, cycling is a must.
  • Cycling helps improve one’s balance and coordination, which helps in optimizing the neurological system.
  • If you take to cycling in the morning, it will expose you to sunlight and help build vitamin D levels in the body. This, in turn, will help make your bones and joints stronger.

—Gaurav Gupta, consultant, sports orthopaedic surgeon, Calcutta Medical Research Institute, West Bengal

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