Herald: The bicycle, the road and a journey memories are made of

The bicycle, the road and a journey memories are made of

17 Feb 2019 04:01am IST
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17 Feb 2019 04:01am IST
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Among the 10 Goan randonneurs who cycled from Goa to Kanyakumari – a distance of 1,200 km – in 90 hours, Vivek Savio Ferrao made the trip on his wife’s grandfather’s gearless standard single-speed BSA Hercules cycle. In a chat with Café, Vivek shares the charming story about him, the bike and the road



Even as their group’s recent achievement

has grabbed headlines, a story of one cyclist and his wife’s grandfather’s cycle has had a following of its own. It may be recalled that recently, braving strong headwinds, blazing hot sun and the perils of dehydration, a group of 10 Goan randonneurs cycled from Goa to Kanyakumari – a distance of 1,200 km – in the stipulated 90 hours, as part of the ‘BRM1200’, a globally recognised endurance ride organised by the TriGoa Foundation. This was the first attempt by each of the riders to pedal a distance of 1,200 km.

The randonneurs, who are essentially long-distance cyclists who have officially completed at any BRM (Brevet de Randonneur Mondeaux) ride with a minimum distance of 200 km, reached their destination within the time stipulated by the international rules of ACP (Audax Club Parisien).

The 10 Goan cyclists, who are part of various Goan cycling clubs, now qualify to participate in the PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) event held annually in Europe, wherein over 6,000 riders from all over the world take part.

The cycles used in the BRM1200 were primarily road bikes, though one rider, Vivek Savio Ferrao, rode on a standard single-speed BSA Hercules cycle. Single-speed means gearless; today’s generation is so used to the new age cycle that to even ride a non-geared cycle, let alone accomplish such feats, is unheard of.

“The roadster belongs to my wife’s grandfather, Dr Lawrence D’Costa. He is 103 years old right now, and rode the bike till he was in his 90s. He regaled me with tales of riding across verdant villages of South Goa post retiring as Deputy Director at the Department of Animal Husbandry. While he spoke gleefully of the various places he had ridden on the roadster, his wife often looked on disapprovingly without saying much, something a lot of fellow riders and their spouses will identify with. When I discussed the Goa to Kanyakumari route with him, he shared insights about towns along the route, and their significance from decades ago,” says Vivek.

The bicycle is a utilitarian single-speed (gear-less) BSA Deluxe roadster that is widely used across the country for commuting or to transport goods. The frame is made of steel, with rod actuated brakes instead of cables. The bicycle is built strong enough to outlast the rider, with weight reduction not being a primary concern of the manufacturer. Thus, this bike ends up weighing over 18 kgs, while modern carbon fibre frame bikes usually weigh less than 8 kgs.

“The weight of the bike and the lack of gears make it an unusual choice for ultra-endurance rides. I managed to shed a couple of kilos by removing the rear carrier and chain guard. Except for the addition of a handlebar extension, the rest of the bike was in stock condition with all original parts,” informs Vivek, adding that he chose to use this bike as a way to help him prepare for tougher races in the future.

“As a randonneur, the important bit is to reach individual control points on time and finish each ride within the time limit. A brevet is not a race, but more a test of an individual to be entirely self-sufficient while on a ride. Being hundreds of kilometres away from home tests an individual’s resourcefulness and ability to manage whatever challenges the route throws at you. I completed two Super Randonneur series on an MTB last year. An SR series comprises 200, 300, 400 and 600km rides. Considering that 2019 is a Paris-Brest-Paris year, I decided to increase the challenge for myself and do a Super Randonneur series that qualifies me for the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200kms brevet, on a single-speed roadster. Additionally, as every randonneur I have met agrees, randonneuring is a mental game,” he continues.

Vivek, a businessman who lives in Panjim, has not faced any major challenge while on the road and even though he had carried spares in case of mechanical failures, the bike has performed beautifully. With this bike, he has already done a couple of 600kms brevets, along with a 400, 300 and 200 brevet on the roadster. He also regularly use the roadster as a commuter bike to run errands around Panjim, besides doing practice rides every alternate evening and points out that the shaded avenues and relatively flat roads makes the city of Panjim ideally suited for commuting around on a bicycle.

He however admits that it was quite the challenge given that riding ultra-endurance rides with any type of bicycle is massively challenging as it is.

“The heat, humidity, winter chill, sleep deprivation, headwinds, bad patches of roads, are issues faced by all of us. There was nothing that was individually difficult on the ride. Where it does become hard is in the accretion or the build-up of everything together. The endless riding for days, the lack of sleep and the need to makes control points on time just add up, and are things every rider faces. I did not feel additionally constrained as compared to other riders, while riding the roadster. The fellow riders were extremely supportive, and despite being exhausted themselves, would often encourage and motivate each other to ride their strongest,” says Vivek.

His trip had some fun moments too, especially when his roadster piqued the curiosity of passers-by who wanted to know more about his use of the bike. In his last trip, he met people who were curious to know about what all they had done and why they were doing it.

“All randonneurs ride brevets in full kit, which includes jerseys, padded shorts, gloves, sports glasses, etc. Helmets and reflective vests are mandatory. The sight of a fully kitted rider on an ordinary roadster usually throws people off initially, and I am used to stares followed by excited waving and cheering. Across the states I have ridden in, folk all along the route are interested in knowing where you’re from, going to, reason for riding, display concern and wish you luck and safety. The experiences have been overwhelmingly positive,” says Vivek.

He recalls how he was lost one evening in the countryside, with no network connectivity, and a gentleman and his wife had to lead him back on track by riding their bike ahead of him for 8 kms. Before parting ways, they invited him to their home for a meal, which he had to politely decline as he had to reach a control point on time.

Similarly, about a 100kms from Kanyakumari, a crowd of 25 or more young men started charging towards him at a dinner spot, speaking loudly in a language he couldn’t understand. Only when a few guys started switching his battery-operated headlights on and off and pinched the tyres and uttered the only word he could understand, ‘tubeless?’ did he realise that they were just fascinated with the bike and add-ons.

“The people we met at places we stopped for meals were very interested to know more about us and treated us like mini-celebrities by requesting for selfies. I especially remember the fourth day of riding through Tamil Nadu, where I was really exhausted and mentally drained, when a few kids riding similar roadsters on the service roads started cheering very excitedly, and started screaming ‘race, race, race’. I increased cadence and rode faster, only to watch a kid riding double seat zoom past me. He beat me at each of these impromptu races, and when I finally caught up with him and his friends, there was major cheering, hi-fiving and best wishes passed. Despite there being no common language between us, we understood each other perfectly. Incidents like these were major morale boosters,” Vivek recalls.

The ride started from Mashem in Goa, and proceeded through Karwar, Yellapur, Mundgod, Ranebennur, Bangalore, Salem, Madhurai, Tirunelveli and ended in Kanyakumari. They typically did distances of 300 to 350 kms per day, over 4 days. The night halts were usually for 3 hours only. The actual ride is only part of the process, with planning on rest breaks, nutrition and hydration stops, building buffers to deal with mechanical failures, navigation and familiarising the riders with elevation maps of the route being very important pre-ride tasks. “Thanks to expert planning by Rajesh Malhotra, founder member of TriGoa Randonneurs and ride organiser, we had a great route planned with detailed information on availability of food and water, route conditions, expected pace, etc,” he reveals.

On a concluding note, for Vivek, the tangible achievement is a ride that has been certified by Audax Club Parisien, and a medal from France.

“The intangible achievement is the strong camaraderie among fellow riders, the pushing of one’s physical and mental boundaries and a sense of adventure that regular life doesn’t always offer you. After a while, randonneuring stops being about cycling and becomes more about the experiences along the route, building meaningful relationships with fellow riders and finding more about yourself as a person through cycling. It forces you to become more resourceful and figure out creative solutions to challenges you face,” he adds , while thanking his wife Halona D’Souza for all her support during this cycling adventure on Indian roads.

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