From a basic mode of commute to the neighbourhood grocery store to gaining prominence as a fitness tool, bicycles have been around for a long time. The skyrocketing prices of fuel have also pushed many to take cycles as an alternate mode of transport. And in testing times of the Covid pandemic, cycling as an outdoor activity has become the perfect means to break the monotony of life and stay mentally as well as physically fit. A recently concluded month-long cycling event in Hyderabad just did that for several of its participants. It paved the way for many amateurs and aspiring cyclists, men, and women, young and old, to pedal hard and push their limits to set new personal benchmarks.
Regardless of a raging pandemic, the response to the event has been overwhelming for the organizers, the Hyderabad Cyclists Group (HCG). Around 240 cyclists from their respective cities actively partook in the recently concluded second edition of the Hyderabad Cycling League and clocked a collective distance of 2,81,121 km on HCG’s online platform between June 21 and July 21. While the toppers, who cycled for over 4,000 km during the period, owe their achievements to extreme levels of motivation and determination to brave scorching sun and incessant rains, for many, it has been a ride of self-discovery, too.
Take the case of Raji Krishna Nair, 36, a native of Kochi in Kerala who moved to Hyderabad last year. The mother of a 13-year-old covered a cumulative distance of 4,000 km, about 150 km every day, and achieved a personal milestone of 200 km a day last Sunday. To the surprise of many, Raji, who took to riding only 20 months ago, rides a basic single-speed Hercules Hardtail cycle. She had started cycling in the evenings to break the monotony of being a homemaker. “At the beginning of the league, I used to ride around 50 km a day. We know each participant’s performance through the leaderboard in Strava and that itself was a motivation to stretch my limits.”
Balram Arya, a jeweler by profession, who started riding bicycles only 13 months ago, agrees. “It is about setting a personal target every day and achieving it gives immense satisfaction,” he says. The league opened for him means to explore remote locations in and around the city that he would otherwise have never visited and brought him closer to the environment. “I always wanted to explore Hyderabad, visit remote locations and lakes. These are places which you would enjoy only on a bicycle ride. We did not want to limit ourselves and so we have started taking up activities like cleaning of lake surroundings and planting saplings,” says Arya, who started cycling to improve his fitness and clocked nearly 5,000 km last month.
Waking up daily at 3.15 am, Arya started riding between 3.45 am and 9.30 am, after which he proceeded to work. In the evening, after work, he would again ride between 6.30 pm and 9.30 pm. On July 12, a day before his 33rd birthday, he achieved his career-best distance of 251 km a day. As for Raji, who is a homemaker, riding 8 to 10 hours a day helped develop a balance between her newfound passion and family life. “I realised my passion for cycling and learned to bring a balance between my passion and family life,” she says.
Primarily a fitness trainer, forty-year-old Shravanthi Reddy from Warangal, during the league, found her calling in promoting cycling among women. Juggling between the roles of a homemaker and professional fitness instructor for the last seven years, cycling was just a weekend activity for her before the league. In a month, she clocked a distance of over 2000 km and inspired 18 others from Warangal to join her. “I believe women, regardless of age or personal and professional responsibilities, should try cycling to keep health issues away and energize their body and mind. I now ride about 125 km a day. During my rides, I try to stop and talk to as many as possible to promote cycling,” says Reddy, mother of two sons.
It was two years ago that Lee Thomas, 20, bought a cycle for his regular commute to the nearby grocery store. A cycling enthusiast now, Thomas has been participating in cycling events since January this year and in his first attempt at a state-level event held by the Telangana Cycling Association, he came third. In the Hyderabad Cycling League, Thomas saw a competitive environment to help him prepare for an upcoming national-level competition. “I used to practice for three to four hours every day but because of the HCL, I have been spending nearly 12 hours a day on the road. I can now do 100 km in three hours and 25 minutes. This has been a great experience because I met several like-minded people and learned to survive tough conditions like heavy rains,” says Thomas, who recorded a distance of over 4800 km in the last month on his Montra Unplugged road bike. Thomas also trains under international coach Maxwell Trevor at his academy in the city.
Another cyclist who trains under the same coach, Jayanth Kumar Juneja has set himself the ultimate goal of winning an Olympic medal. One of the early members of the Hyderabad Cyclists Group since 2017, Juneja has already represented Telangana at a national event in 2019. “You start focusing on every detail around you when you cycle. This is not possible when you travel by motorbike or car. Apart from cycling as a passion, my goal is to represent the country and win an Olympic medal,” says the 17-year-old who rides an average of 150 km a day.
The founder of Hyderabad Cyclists Group, Nandanoori Ravinder, is also among the top ten riders in the event. He says the success of the event lies in the fact that not even a single participant contracted Covid-19 during the month and that in itself is the manifestation of cycling as a fitness activity. The 46-year-old says the annual event will strive to identify and cultivate a community of talents from the grassroots. “Eleven of our boys who joined us at the age of 14 years have already represented Telangana at the national level. We have another set of young boys ready to go,” he says. The cycling league also saw three boys under the age of 14 years compete covering a distance of over 2000 km each. The event also saw the participation of 10 senior citizens.
“We are attempting a Guinness record for our event in terms of the cumulative distance covered by participants. Each of their performances was linked to the HCG group in the Strava app and updated in real-time on the leaderboard. We also had a team to monitor and scrutinise their performances,” says Ravinder. A grand award ceremony is being planned for August 1 to recognise all senior riders, junior riders, and outstanding performers. The first edition of the cycling league in 2020 saw the participation of sixty riders and recorded a cumulative distance of 67,000 km over 40 days.