I was never a cyclist or even close to being one. And never had I thought in my furthest of dreams that what and how the year 2020 was panning out to be? Well, after kickstarting my 2020 on a high note with a relatively good amount of travels to places like Myanmar, then to witness Holi in Mathura and Vrindavan. I was on a plan for other trips in the upcoming months.
And that’s when the pandemic hit us hard. From living on our terms by means of exercising our freedom to travel anywhere, till being cooped up in our confined homes for the next 10 months was nothing less than an ordeal for most of us. With the restrictions due to lockdown, it took a toll on emotional and physical well-being.
In past years, due to my hectic office and traveling days, it always kept me on my toes to be active and engaged constantly. But with lockdown which started from March 2020, none of us could imagine that this would continue for the next coming months, and that entire pattern about how we lead our daily lives was now about to change.
Definitely lot of us including myself went through a lot of lifestyle changes in terms of daily chores, work, and other activities. Initial few months when I was staying with my parents, I did work upon my website and finished a couple of articles, and also learned more about social media skills so as to push the blog.
Like all others, as inspired or influenced by social media, I tried everything from Yoga to Dalgona to Painting to Reading to Meditation to cooking, just to keep myself rolling. But monotony did set in, while we were getting travel anxious. And the uncertainty of when will things be normal loomed over us.
How and when did I take up cycling?
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Around August 2020 I realized that further being cooped up constantly in my apartment was not really doing any good to my mental and physical wellbeing, so I had to step out to breathe in the fresh air. Hence, I started walking and running solo outside my apartment. I joined a local group of fitness enthusiasts just to motivate myself to get up early in the morning.
Waking up at 5.30 am daily was like a far-fetched plan for a late riser like me hence it was initially a battle within my own self. Slowly I realized that fitness was becoming more than a hobby as I started my daily morning routine with a sense of satisfaction.
I made a bunch of friends who gave me more push to run and do my daily cardio and strength to work upon myself. And for the weekend, we used to have bigger events at a community park which was situated at 6 km distance from my house.
I never wanted to drive, hence came up with this bright idea of getting myself a cycle. In fact, one day I was so excited about this idea of riding that I told my friend about getting one too. And next day, without even enquiring or researching much on which type suits me, I went to a nearby store and picked up a basic single-speed cycle that looked comfortable for me.
I remember, there was a child-like excitement within me to ride it. And the next morning I took it out for a joyride. Damn, I felt super good as before this I never had a bicycle of my own, forget that, I always dreaded to ride one, I don’t know why?
Once I started riding it regularly mainly for my commute to Eco Park for joining the fitness club, I realized that cycling did give me that satisfaction or that kick within. Within two days I bought my basic safety gear like a helmet and gloves etc.
P.s – Always, a good habit to ride with all the gears whether for commute or for fitness !! SAFETY FIRST is the thumb rule.
However, after few consecutive days of riding, I felt a weird pain in my wrist and left-hand little finger. Later I further read about correct bike fit and saddle height which makes a lot of difference while riding. The initial aches and discomfort went away with consistency. And then I almost got addicted to riding.
Remember, once we start any sport, there will always be an initial level of discomfort till we get used to but then once you cross that hurdle, trust me nothing is more rewarding than breaking your own inertia.
P.s Did you know that correct saddle height is a vital point while cycling?
How did I explore almost the entire Kolkata and beyond, on my cycle?
Hell yeah, if you ask me. I checked my Strava by the end of 2020 and saw that I had completed almost 3500+ km pedaling just around Kolkata and surrounding places in 90 days.
As many of you know, I am also a road tripper and love to drive around places in West Bengal. But, this time it was a different experience or rather a thrill, as I wanted to slowly explore the whole of Kolkata and surrounding on my cycle. Places where the car wouldn’t have made it, I rode there.
In fact, of all my years of residing in Kolkata, I didn’t know that I was living right beside a wonderful wetland trail covering a vast area in the Eastern part of the city. Nature had an amazing show right out there under my nose that was waiting to be explored.
So, exploring a new place, riding on a new route became my new high. I started joining different cycling groups and rode with them. Initially, I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the average speed but later on, through consistency, my speed improved. Slowly they became my riding family as every morning there used to be like a party of riders celebrating and riding together.
Also, thanks to the lockdown 2020, the group of enthusiastic riders also went up exponentially so much so, that there was a huge crisis of cycles being available for purchase. Even I was thinking about an upgrade from my basic bike to a geared one. Just around that time, my area (new town ) introduced a cycle on rent app called Chartered Bikes, which saved the interest of many newbie riders who didn’t have a cycle of their own.
It was around October, as the month was full of festivals and celebrations. One day I even planned a ride to explore the famous Kumartuli Area of artisans just before Durga Puja.
During Durga Puja 2020, along with my mad pack of rider friends we decided to give a twist to explore the different pandals, and instead of doing our usual commute we decided to rode the whole of Kolkata in one single night and explore as many Puja pandals as we could on our cycles. It was way more than fun than we anticipated, places where the cars or motorbikes couldn’t go, we rode right into the pandals and enjoyed the experience thoroughly. It was pouring that night as we sang along on the streets rather empty streets of otherwise crowded north to Central Kolkata.
Oh, that way social distancing was also maintained by being at a distance from the crowd. The perk of this sport!
Another such fun event I can remember was the spooky night organized jointly by Kolkata Police and CNG-Cycle Network Grow (one of the largest cycling community groups based out of Kolkata) teamed up to ride together around midnight mainly to explore the haunted places around Kolkata. We were briefed by historian Anthony Khachaturian on our entire ride.
Clocking distance was just becoming a fun affair as each day, I planned to explore my own abilities by going few kms beyond my usual capacity to search for a new place and a route.
How did I end up taking part in races?
No no don’t even start thinking about Tour De France, RAAM, or any National Races. but a race is a race, right? You get a taste of competition against riders better than you and a place where one can push their limits.
Well, I was happily riding regularly with my community groups till one day I got an opportunity to take part in a casual race organized by my local authority during an ongoing cycling festival. I had no expectation and neither had any training to compete in a race. As all my friends casually enrolled themselves for a fun mass start, so did I. To my surprise I bagged my first ever gold in a podium finish. It was something I had never even thought of (first a race and then a win, WOW).
And this got me kicked even more to take up this sport more than willingly. Then came the State Level Individual Time Trial race jointly organized by one of the known cycling groups and the West Bengal Cyclist Association. I was out on a trip to the mountains just a week before that and hence wasn’t really prepared to compete. But nevertheless thought to give it a try, just to test the potential.
This time it was a tougher competition than I thought, as my competitors were state-level riders with years of experience. The funny part was, that I was unaware of the fact that my humble single-speed bike was categorized into Road Category and not in MTB for the tire width and specifications, which meant that others were not only faster than me but also had an advantage with their racing cycles. 20 km loop had around 35+ speed breakers/ bumpers to ride on, making it all the more difficult to maintain a speed.
I had to race against a lot of factors like experience and faster riders, manage bumpers and balance, and most of all harsh headwinds. This time it surely was a test of grit and stamina. Individual Time trial did test my potential as I managed a fourth position where the first three winners were state-level riders and much younger than me.
Third Race was an interesting one, something like a league race. There were 11 teams with 88 riders participating. Most interestingly teams were selected by the bidding of riders something like IPL. Excitement grew as I was selected with one of the highest bids in a team. This was organized by a local cycling group of Kolkata called Cycle Network Grow and the event was called “Cyclovaganza”. I got to know about my team allocation just one week before the actual event.
My training rides started every morning. I remember it used to be really cold during January to step out of the house as early as 5.30 am daily for the practice. I was asked to ride an MTB (Cycle with thicker tires and much heavier) instead of my own bike as per the race allocation. It was hard for me to get acquainted with the new bike, in such a short time.
On the race day, I had a bike mess at the start line and started almost 25 secs later, but to everyone’s surprise, I managed to grab bronze for the team. This brought me appreciation and accolades and more importantly, I got a bit confident in my potential as a rider.
What changes did I observe eventually after taking up cycling?
Initially, It was not only about cycling, I mainly started with running and other outdoor fitness activities just to keep myself fit and motivated during those insane pandemic times where mental stress and monotony had crept in big time. I was at my lowest of confidence to bring about any positive change out of my own will and that was not helping me during tough times. Sometimes lack of ability to express also leads to an anxiety disorder. And I clearly thought I was about to be the victim of it and had to do something about it.
As I delved more into it with my newfound passion for cycling, I realized that the happiness factor also churned more. I became much more poised, focussed, and dynamic with my day-to-day activity. The very idea of being able to travel to new places and at the same time staying fit by pedaling really kept me motivated. And as I started to cycle on a day-to-day basis, a lot of development happened. Few are:
–I became well adept at the city roads and the surrounding area of my vicinity.
-I became much more conscious as a green commuter and started to use my cycle for my day-to-day travel, which also meant saving on fuel costs and cutting down my carbon footprint.
-I became much more disciplined and meticulous in terms of my diet regimen, the body clock, and sleep pattern which brought visible changes in my skin and body structure. The best part- lost ounces of weight.
-Eventually, it helped me gain fortitude by tried and tested method of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Specific) in order to achieve a competitive strength from within.
All this and much more was attained to be able to identify a better version of me.
Few Tips and Tricks of Cycling (the basics but the core of long-distance rides)
We may think that cycling is a sport that needs strong leg muscles. My two-cent would be YES, we do need those legs in order to pedal, but the whole game is through one’s MENTAL STRENGTH. And that’s the foremost requirement to become a good rider.
Whenever I chose a goal or a target, it was because I had already decided that I would CONQUER it, so once the mind decides the body just follows. So no matter how much kms we decide to clock, if these below points can be implemented judiciously then there is nothing that we cannot achieve.
Few things I always kept in mind while preparing for my long rides :
Proper Sleep and Nutrition – Before every long ride, it is vital to have proper nutrition and at least 7-8 hrs of sound sleep in order to optimize your energy.
Hydration – Whether it is pre-rides or during rides, never allow the body to dehydrate. Proper hydration is a must to avoid unnecessary cramps and discomfort. So at least two bottle cages are recommended on the cycle. Also, I carry electrolytes sachets in order to keep my salts in place which gets lost due to sweat. Make sure to keep taking small sips of water during your rides.
Fuel up – It is wise to carry some nutrition on the go, for example, I carry bananas, dried fruits, protein bars, chocolate for a quick source of energy. Basically to eat before one is hungry and drink before thirsty.
Ride Consistently – Before going for any long rides, it is wise to go for regular rides of atleast 30, 40 or 50 kms distance and practice it regularly to be ready on the final ride day.
Stretching and basic exercises– It is important to warm up your muscles before any intensive workout and so even before cycling do some dynamic stretches and also followed by cool down excercise post every ride.
Steady Pace – I believe that one must conserve energy by maintaining a steady speed. Sudden bursts or sprinting at a very high speed will lead to early loss of energy. Hence, I always make sure to keep at a steady average pace. You may decide your comfort pace.
Peloton Rides – I was once told that if you want to speed up, ride alone, and if you want to go long, then ride in a group. Group rides are much recommended for long-distance trips. The reason being riding in groups will ensure co-dependence and also for the safety concerns during odd hours. Having a riding partner is always a great way to kill those long saddle hours with camaraderie exchange.
Know your machine well- Cycle is after all a mechanical machine that can have problems on the go. The most common being having a puncture. It is really important to carry spare tubes and puncture repair kits on long rides to avoid wasting time looking for cycle repair shops. Note – Sometimes those guys are not even equipped to handle delicate hi-end cycles.
Bike Care – Just like your car needs fuel and servicing, your cycle also needs proper care and nourishment in terms of regular lubrication of chain, proper air pressure, and periodic service to keep it running without any glitches.
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I think with all these basic points that I covered, I am sure you would get a heads up to plan your next fun ride whether it’s within the city or an outstation. I still have many goals to achieve as one of the main is to do bike-packing in the mountains somewhere or crossing boundaries and breaking barriers.
So, I can easily say that cycling for me has been one of the biggest exilir from 2020 post-pandemic times. Maybe a boon in disguise for things I couldn’t have and instead things what I achieved. How about you? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.