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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Spectrum Of Attacks, Strategies and Team Work!! BBCH - 100km Road Race May 2016!

The Flag Off to the Sufferfest:
The countdown has started and we were flagged off at exactly 7am for our 100km race that had 40 participants in Elite and 20 participants in Master's category. The 60 strong peloton was dominated by one big team put together by Srinath Rajam of Chennai for Peak India Racing. It had 10 of the most strong riders from all over the country brought together specifically for this race. With 10 riders, they made 25% of the Elite field. Two more strong teams looking for strong results were my team, Spectrum Racing and Pune Wolfpack. Wolfpack had 4 riders in Elite and Spectrum had 3 riders plus an ally in a rider(Nikhil Ram Mohan) from Team Crankmiester. So, effectively 4 each, or 10% each in the Elite field. 
Elite Peleton! Pic: Veloscope
At Spectrum, we were placing all our bets on our sprinter, Gaurav Duggal. Rishav Mallik, Nikhil and I were on domestique duties for him. Wolfpack had the young talent, Makarand Mane(all of 18 years) and the super talented and experienced Michale Lehnig to play with while Rajat Subra Roy and Rishabh Hattarki(also under-20) were there to help them when needed. At Peak, almost everyone is a star. They had many cards to play with in riders like Sandesh Uppar(current National MTB champion and U-23 road race champ), Naveen Raj(ex U-23 National road race champ and ex-SKCT), super talented brothers from Bangalore, Sarvesh and Vishwesh Sangarya, young talent from Hyderabad, Parashuram Chenji(HRL), Anubhav Karmakar, seasoned national level riders, Ramswaroop Jakhar, Jetharam Gat and a couple of strong talented riders in Anoop Adhur Kutty and Shaun from Trivandrum Roadies. Amongst them, Jetharam Gat was the sprinter and Ramswaroop is his main lead out man.  

The Peak Attack Festival:
With the kind of strength that Peak had both in sheer numbers and the fire power, forming a strategy is not going to require a degree in rocket science. Attack! Attack again! And attack some more! Attack till you weaken the opposition so much that, by the time you get to the finish line, you have no opposition left.

Anoop was setting the pace for the first couple of kilometers. Around 3km mark, Naveen Raj attacked. I got out of the saddle and followed him. Then immediately, Sandesh Uppar attacked with Naveen jumping on his wheel. I hesitated for a brief fleeting moment and they were gone. I settled into a chase at the front of the peleton. Our team strategy was to for me to cover all the attacks and for me to get into a break away if possible with guys in Peak. That will mean guys at Peak and our team Spectrum can relax and stay fresh while others do the chasing. But my hesitation was because I might not have enough big jumps to keep trying if the break was reeled in and there were more attacks. So, I opted to chase instead and try to keep the gap to as small as possible to get our sprinter to the line.
In the pain cave, out on the open road!  Pic: Veloscope
The gap was varying between 30 secs to 1 minute. I kept going hoping someone from the other teams will join the chase. Me looking back and making signs to rotate didn't result in bringing people to contribute to the chase but the photographer jeep crossing us offered me relief by drawing a couple of riders forward. That suited me just fine as long as the pace is high enough to not let the gap increase.

The Spectrum of Pain!

After I got a bit of reprieve from the front, I tried jumping from the group and see if I could bridge but that didn't happen and the peleton was on my tail again. There were occasional jumps from my teammates to just spur the others into action and they helped me sit back for a few seconds. I didn't want any of my teammates to contribute to the chase as I wanted them to stay fresh to help our sprinter in the return leg when the action could get more intense. So, when Nikhil kept coming foward to help, I told him to sit back and stay covered.  

Catching the breakaway early was not important in my view. It is, in-fact, detrimental to our cause to catch them soon as that is bound to result in more attacks and breakaways, tiring out more of us. If I am able to keep the gap small and take the guys as far into the race as possible, it should be fine. The break will eventually get caught and the rest of our guys will be fresh enough to chase any further breaks in the business end of the proceedings.
Off the front in their own pain cave, Naveen Raj and Sandhesh Uppar, the day's first breakaway that stayed away for 54km!

Our Master's rider and domestique, Mohan Kumar was there to help our Master's contender, Dr. Arvind Bhateja. But he came forward occasionally go help me with the chase. Master's contender and super strong rider, Craig Raynes didn't have any reason to work at the front but he graciously came forward occasionally to take a turn at the front as well.

Vishwesh Sangarya and Ramswaroop of Peak India came foward on separate occasions to sit at the front and set the pace. But I was not naive enough to take them to be chasing their own team members. They were trying what is called stalling, which is basically getting to the front and slowing down the pace of the group so that the breakaway gains time. I was quick to read that and took to the front and drove the pace back into the forties.  

I kept taking my Fast&Up energy gels every 20-30mins to keep the energy levels up and kept sipping on the electrolyte water(Reload) regularly as I kept working at the front. I was going very close to my threshold and I knew very well that I could very well not complete the race. But, I wanted to take my teammates as far into the race as possible. As we approached the halfway point, a young rider from Bangalore, Pramod Anantha came forward to help by taking a turn at the front. I could sense that he was soon struggling but the intent to contribute to the race from the younster was heartening to see.

Seeing a spectrum of pain...   Pic: Veloscope
I was surprised to see that we covered almost 41kms in the first hour of the race and the pace continued till after we took the U-turn around 49km mark. At around 54km mark, after about 1hr 18mins into the race, Craig had enough of seeing me keeping the two riders in the breakaway dangling a few meters ahead all the time and put in a surge to bridge the gap. I dropped back slowly as the riders were caught. From the back, I could see that more attacks went flying with Sandhesh who was caught attacking again immediately and Vishwesh attacking immediately after he was caught. That did not fly as well.

In the lull that followed, I managed to come back to the group and tried to make my way up to the front of the group again. I was looking for Michael of Pune Wolfpack to talk to him about contributing to the chase for the rest of the distance at least. I couldn't find him in the group. He apparently had a flat at 40k mark and was left behind along with Rajat who also had a mechanical. So, there is no way we are going to get any help from them. Just then, another two riders from Peak jumped. This time, it was Sarvesh Sangarya and Parashuram Chenji. They were quickly shut down by Rishab Hattarki of Wolfpack and Spectrum's Gaurav Duggal working together.
Mohan at the helm of things chasing the final break... Pic: Veloscope
As expected, they were employing a classic two pronged attacks. First two riders attack to form a break away and force the opposition teams to chase. Once the two are caught, another two will attack and go away forcing another chase again. This will continue until all the opposition riders are totally spent and either their guys in breakaway win or those in the bunch take the sprint.

My legs were stalling from cramps by then and I didn't have the strength to keep up and decided to sit up and go at my own pace. I was cramping up badly not due to lack of electrolytes, as I was taking care of that, but due to the effort that I have put in so far was beyond what my current conditioning allowed. I kept fighting for another 10km before both my legs jammed and I was in tremendous pain. I flagged down the Manchanabele Macha's support car that was being driven by Akash Ananthaswamy. Balu offered to ride my bike back to the start while I sat in the car. 

Anoop and Shaun of Trivandrum Roadies and Peak India Racing in the breakaway! Pic: Veloscope
From Domestique to Director Sportif:
I was fine once I got into the car and wondered if I should have continued. Then, I told myself that I have done my job for the team from the bike and it is now time to see how the rest of the race is unfolding from the car. We went ahead and saw that the peleton was being pulled by my teammate Mohan. We didn't see Craig in the group and learnt that he had a puncture and was behind. 

We went ahead and after a couple of kilometers, saw two orange jerseys of Trivandrum roadies up the road. We reached them. They were struggling but they had a huge gap. Shaun was sufferring with cramps and was asking for Fast and Up Reload. I had none. But I offered him a Fast and Up gel I had and some water. I knew they were working against my team and I'm helping them get their energy back and recover. I felt they would truly deserve the win if they manage to stay away. After that, I asked Akash to stop the car by the road side after we crossed them and started timing the gap they had on the peleton. It was almost 3 minutes by the time peleton crossed us. My jaw almost hit the floor. That was a huge lead for a breakaway with only about 25km to go to the finish. 
The chase was on with Rishav and Nikhil at the helm of things!  Pic: Veloscope
We started the car and started riding up to the group. I found my teammates, Rishav and Nikhil and shouted at them that they better start chasing right at that moment or the race will be lost. They got down to the task. The next time we stopped and did a time check the lead had come down to under two minutes and then under a minute. Every time I dropped back to convey the gap to my team, I kept urging other friends like, Anantha Vishwanathan to take a turn and help the chase. Not knowing that Anubhav was in Peak team as well, I urged even him to go the front to chase. Poor guy must have been confused.
The final breakaway getting caught in the final kilometers! Pic: Veloscope
The two guys getting tired and the team putting their head down to chase shrinked the gap quickly. With 15km to go and the gap less than a minute, Master's category contender, Vivek started working at the front with the goal of dropping the other Master's contenders like our skipper, Arvind and Mahesh Iyer of Pune Wolfpack. But we were not complaining since he was indirectly helping us chase the breakaway in doing so. With about 7km to go Anoop was caught but Shaun kept at it. He was caught soon after and the group shelled a few in the process.
The final selection with Ramswaroop, Jetharam and Gaurav! Pic: Veloscope
The Chaotic Finish!
The last 3km was as chaotic as it can get with jumps from all and sundry from Peak and our guys shutting them down. With 2km to go, Ramswaroop got away with Jetharam and our guy, Gaurav got right onto their wheel. They were trying desperately to shake him off but he clung on. As they approached the line, Ramswaroop lead Jetharam out with Gaurav right on his wheel and opening the sprint. As Gaurav was trying to pass him, Jetharam kept changing the line and moving to the right almost pushing Gaurav into the divider in the middle of the road. Still, it was a photo finish with Gaurav finishing just about an inch behind at the line.

Ramswaroop finished behind them with Makarand Mane of Pune Wolfpack finishing immediately after. It was a heady sprint action at the finish line.

But, the move that Jetharam made during the sprint is illegal. To change the line of sprint like that is illigal and is downright dangerous on open roads. Pavan Muthanna and Monica Pillai of Crankmeister who were doing support duties at the race were filming the finish and managed to capture what happened at the finish line sprint. Our team launched an official complaint with BBCh that Jetharam intentionally blocked our sprinter by changing lanes and pushing the rider into right most lane with flowing traffic. We presented them with the video evidence. The case was immediately reviewed by the race officials and Jetharam had been disqualified for unsafe sprinting. Gaurav was announced winner. Peak India racing team manager, SriKumar Natarajan who was at the scene was very professional and conveyed full support to the decision that BBCh took.

Edit: Here’s the relevant UCI rule on safe sprinting:
2.3.036 SprintsRiders shall be strictly forbidden to deviate from the lane they selected when launching into the sprint and, in so doing, endangering others.
Edit: It is important that we look at the action and judge it and not the person. I have known Jetharam for quite sometime now. He is an excellent rider and a very nice person. The move he made in the heat of the race was considered dangerous. Not him. 
Video: Team Crankmiester 
In Elite category, with Jetharam's result being disqualified, Gaurav Duggal of Spectrum Racing took the top step followed by Ramswaroop Jhakar of Peak India Racing at 2nd and Makarand Mane of Pune Wolfpack at 3rd. It was super satisfying for Spectrum Racing to take the win in the Elite category in such a strong field. It was an example of what team work and execution of strategy can acheive even with limited resources. Special thanks to our friend Nikhil for working with us and helping us in a major way.
Elite Podium!  Pic: Veloscope
Master's Category: Spectrum Racing skipper, Arvind Bhateja won in Masters category having negotiated all the surges and finishing with the main bunch behind the sprint. Vivek paid for the effort he put in to shake Arvind off and finished a minute behind in second. Craig managed a wheel swap after his puncture and rode back alone to finish the race at 3rd in Masters. What a guy! He was undoubtedly the strongest of the bunch but an unfortunate puncture cost him the win.
Master's podium!   Pic: Veloscope
Amatuer Category: Phanibhushan Mahapatra of Team Crankmeister took the bunch sprint in Amatuer category by a long shot and finished first. His teammate, Riyaz Mohammed finished second with Team Ministri Racing's Azhar Mohammed finishing 3rd.
Amateur category finish! Phani finishing his sprint way ahead of the rest! Pic: Veloscope

Amateur category podium  Pic: Veloscope
Women's Category: Spectrum Racing's Shilpa Deo helped us complete a clean sweep of all the categories we participated in by finishing first in women's category. Kshama Muralidhar of Team Cadence 90 finished 2nd in the category.
Women's podium!  Pic: Veloscope
In U-18, there were 9 participants for the 50km race. Tanishq finished first with Niranjan finishing second a couple of seconds behind him. 
The 70 year old Russell Bell from Goa who raced in Masters category, handed over the prizes for U-18 podium! Pic: Veloscope
A BIG Thanks To Volunteers And Organizers: There were a record number of particpants(167) for this race. Amateur category had 80 riders. U-18 and Women's category had 9 riders each. Automated timing chips were used for the first time at BBCh for a mass start race to track finish. The traffic was very well controlled on the open roads for the race. The volunteers and organizers ensured that the race was executed to perfection and started on time and finished well. 

Thanks to volunteers and organizers and the sponsors for another brilliant race at the BBCH!

Thanks to Veloscope for the lovely pictures!

The next race at BBCh is a Downhill race near Nandi. Refer to for more details! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bangalore's Race Against The Clock!! BBCH Individual Time Trial - 2016

Bangalore's Race of Truth!
Time trial. The race against the clock. It is a race that can be bloody hard both mentally and physically. In my view it is more demanding mentally. It is just you and your thoughts against the clock and the elements. If your thoughts work with you, encourage you, or just let you be and let you focus, you have a better chance of doing well. Otherwise, it's not just the elements you are fighting but your thoughts as well and that is not an easy fight.  

No drafting. No tactics. Just you, your legs, your bike, your thoughts. Against, the wind, the terrain, the elements. That is why the time trial is often referred to as the race of truth.
Women's champion, Vicki Nicholson, on her ITT effort! Pic: Veloscope
A record number of 121 participants lined up for their own race of truth at the Bangalore Bicycling Championships Individual Time Trial for 2016 season on Sunday, 17th April. The atmosphere was very festive with hundreds of riders lined up at Emerald Isle, Hoskote, from where the race started. 

The organizers have done a fabulous job of assigning race start timings for all the participants and published that a day in advance so that they can time their warm up, nutrition etc instead of endlessly waiting and wondering when they are going to start. 

I have used this to get my nutrition, hydration and warm up right. With my start time scheduled at 8:05 am, I had a good breakfast at 6 am before starting to ride to the venue. Then started my warm up at 7:40 am for about 15 mins. Then hydrated with the pre-workout drink from FastAndUp, Activate. Just as I approached the start line, I took a FastAndUp energy gel and saved one for the half way mark. May be that much was not needed for a 33.5km TT but I wanted to be sure I was not low on energy and am experimenting on what works for me and what doesn't. 

The course is the same 33.5 km course that we have been using for the last 3 years for these time trials. Having a constant course allows us to gauge our performances over the years.

A Stormy-Calm Start!
I was the second last person to start. The count down began..5,4,3,2,1, Go! I push forward with my right leg clipped in, clip in the left and try to sprint up to speed. The right leg came off the pedal. Dang! Luckily, I could balance and stay on the bike. I always seem to have trouble starting out. Thankfully, I manage to clip in immediately without panicking. After ensuring I clipped in properly, I sprinted up to speed and settled into the saddle. "This is going to be a long one. Calm down", I told myself.

I reminded myself of the golden rule of time trial pacing. Don't start out too hard. It is very easy to get carried away at the start with the adrenaline flowing and go into red quickly. So, I kept giving my power numbers a quick glance to ensure that I stick to my pacing at least for the first five minutes.

The first 4 km has a couple of gentle uphills that can get you pushing too hard. I made a conscious effort not to push too much on the uphills which could result in me not being able to put in a proper effort on flats and downhills. I was just above the planned wattage at the end of the 5 minutes but within an acceptable range(less than 5% over).

The pacing notes I made to myself were to go slightly above the threshold on the uphills, stick to threshold on the flats and go slightly easier but not too relaxed on the downhills. I have also decided to go a bit harder on the way out and see how it goes on the way back. 

I was not looking at the average speed and didn't wear heart rate strap having decided not to rely too much on data and go by the feel. But I kept peeking a glance at power once in a while just to calibrate against the feel. I kept shifting gears up or down based on the feel in the legs and the occasional glance at the cadence field on my Garmin. At 10 mins and 15 mins into the race, I seemed to be in a far better position on the course than during any of my previous rides on this course. I figured there must have been a good amount of tail wind on the way out.

Midway Through - Cat And Mouse!
I went past a couple of riders but none in my category(just like last year, I've signed up to compete in elite instead of in Master's category this year at BBCh). As I approached the half way mark at Confident Amoon Resort, I turned back to see if there is any traffic coming before I took the U-turn. I noticed, Naveen Raj, a former U-23 national road race champion, was fast approaching me. He started one minute after me and was the last guy to start. Just then the current National MTB ITT champion, Kiran Kumar Raju(KKR), who started 1 min ahead of me took the U-turn and was on the other side of the road. As I took the U-turn, Naveen Raj went past me. He put in more than a min half way through the race and by the looks of it, I seemed to have gained about 30-40 seconds on KKR. That meant I wasn't doing too shabbily. I just need to consolidate my position and keep going as hard as I could.
Aero or not, this was my best TT effort till date!  Pic: Veloscope
I decided to take a couple of seconds to have the FastAndUp Energy gel and a couple of sips of the Reload(electrolyte) drink. After taking the gel and electrolytes, I started afresh mentally on the 16.7km journey back to the finish line. I could immediately feel the headwind after the U-turn. 

The going against the wind wasn't easy and having Naveen Raj a few meters in front threw my rhythm off a bit. I didn't want to be close to him and find myself in his draft which is illegal. I didn't have enough juice to go past him and play cat and mouse with him. After remaining steady for a couple of kilometers, the distance between us kept steadily increasing and he slowly got out of sight. That actually helped me as I could focus back on my pacing. I was going a bit under threshold but I kept going counting down each passing kilometer. KKR was no where to be seen. That meant he was gaining on me on the return leg. I made a mental calculation if I could keep going at the same effort which was slightly lower than that on the onward leg, and try to bump the effort up for the last 5km, I could still manage to keep a slender lead on him.

The Flourishing Finish!?
As I approached 5km mark, I saw Muralidharan on his Cervelo P2 in the distance ahead of me. I crested the last hill and on the downhill, I went past Murali. I had the weight advantage over him on the downhills and I put it to good use there. I tried to go as hard as I could on the downhill but I could see that the headwind was a big factor. Thanks to the downhill section the 1km to go mark approached quickly enough.

I saw the distinct black jersey of Sarvesh Sangarya a few meters ahead of me as I approached the finish line but this time, on the uphill finish, the young man put his weight advantage to good use and I couldn't go past him although I put all the effort that I could. The finish line seemed to have moved a few meters as I remember the previous finish line to be a bit before. Those extra couple of seconds felt like an eternity but I was happy with my effort as I crossed the line.

I was exhausted but was also elated that I after goofing up in the last couple of years during this event, I could finally give everything I could give. It was one of those rare days where the mind was calmer and let the body do it's job and the body was up for the challenge. Focusing on the process of pacing instead of worrying about the result also helped.

After spinning a couple of kilometers in cool down, we rolled back to finish line which had nice tents installed by BBCH to protect the riders from the blazing sun as we waited for the results to be announced. 

In the Elite category Naveen Raj finished way ahead of everyone with an average of 44.5kmph. I came in second with an average of 42.3kmph while KKR finished just 14 seconds behind me with an average of 42.1kmph. 

What was a big surprise for me was that I finished almost 1min 30secs ahead of the strong riders in the master's category. From having massive doubts about my readiness to race to having finished the second fastest on the day with 121 starters, it was one hell of a roller coaster day for me. Thanks to my teammate, Vandit Kalia, for loaning me his TT spare bike and my skipper, Arvind Bhateja for lending his aero helmet. I couldn't have done well without the support of my team, Spectrum Racing!
Elite Category podium! Pic: Veloscope
In Master's category, Vivek Radhakrishnan, Ronny Schrijvers and Craig Rhynes finished first, second and third in that order. They were all within a few seconds of each other. 

Results! From
In Amateur category, Vinesh Chawla of Ministri Racing finished first followed by Leander of Team Crankmeister and Pramod Anantha at second and third respectively.
Amatuer Category Podium! Pic from Ministri FB Page
In Women's category, Vicki Nicholson of Spectrum Racing finished a couple of minutes ahead of Tim Tim Sharma who was second. Kshama Muralidhar of Team Cadence90 finished third.
Women's podium! Vicki who was first had to leave early.. Pic from: Cadence90 page
In Under-18, Niranjan finished at top followed by Rishabh. It is heartening to see youngsters participate in these races but we need to see more of them come and participate.  

Winners got gift vouchers from Adidas and Nomadic destinations along with BBCh certificates and medals.

Volunteers and organisation:
BBCh delivered yet another flawless race with brilliant execution. The start time and order allotment well in advance that they started last year continued this year too and is very good. The breakfast sandwich was yummy and the arrangement of tent at the finish line to offer shade to the exhausted cyclists is well thought out. The start and finish were on time and the results were out on time. We could look at speeding up the presentation ceremony a bit although it is difficult to do with so many categories to be covered as well as so many sponsors and volunteers to thank for. Thanks to all the volunteers and BBCh committee for all the hard work put in to deliver another great race. Thanks to Team Crankmeister who took the responsibility of the race and helped team BBCh for this race. Next race is the 100km road race on Mangalore-Hassan highway with Manchanabale Macha's sharing the responsibility along with BBCh. Looking forward to it.

Thanks to the awesome folks at Veloscope who covered the race with brilliant photography and also provided free downloads of high resolution pics for all the participants of BBCh.  


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bike Review: Astr Sidewinder! An Indian Brand Bike With A Wow Factor!

Fixie Love!
Ever since I saw a friend riding a fixie around the time I started cycling in 2008, I was enamored with the idea of riding a fixed gear bike. I finally bought my fixed gear bike, a Redline 925(2008 model), on 1st May 2010. I christened it ‘The Bulldog’. It became an inseparable part of my cycling life since then. I rode thousands of miles on it including my first Tour of Nilgiris in 2011. Since I got my road bike in 2012, I have ridden less mileage on it but have been riding more often since I commute on it every day.

I just love that bike. The chromoly steel goodness that just eats up all the road buzz and gives a smooth ride. Despite the horrendous traffic that I face every day during the 15km long(each way) commute every day, the bike makes me look forward to the commute.

When I got a call from Gokul of TBA from Hyderabad asking if I am interested in riding the new fixed gear bike that they have launched recently and provide feedback, I readily agreed. Of course, how can I say no to riding a new bike?

A brand new Astr Sidewinder in sparkling chrome color arrived at Crankmiester Bicycle Works. They have set up the bike for me and I rode it home leaving my Bulldog at the shop.
Picking up the Sidewinder from Crankmeister for test riding!
The First Impressions:
The first impressions of the bike were quite good. The stunning chrome finish was hard not to like. The classic looks made an immediate impression on the sucker for all things classic and steel in me. The nice lean angled chromoly fork is attached to the bike with a classic threaded headset and a shiny alloy quill stem holds the handle bars in place elegantly.

There are no bosses anywhere on the frame except for the brake calipers. To the utter horror of a  traditional fixed gear rider, if you decide to install a rear brake and not just the front brake, l like I have done, you will need use zip ties to guide the brake cable as there are no cable guides on the frame.  Simple straight lines of the neatly hand welded chromoly 4130 tubes make up the beautiful track frame.
On one of my commutes crossing railway tracks at KR Puram!
A Rare Combination:

What I noticed immediately was the difference in geometry when compared with my own bike. The Sidewinder has a slightly aggressive track geometry with shorter top tube and straighter seat tube angle. The wheelbase is also slightly shorter(~4cm) than that of my own fixed gear bike. All this makes it a nimble and a very responsive bike.

Steeper aggressive angles would usually mean a harsher ride along with being responsive. But, the Sidewinder frame is surprisingly forgiving and soaks up the road buzz beautifully. It seems to offer that rare combination of a responsive and soft ride which is a major plus for this bike in my opinion.

The bottom bracket is a couple of cm higher than that on the Bulldog. That is also something I really liked about the bike. Over the years, I had quite a few pedal hits on the speed bumps etc., on the Bulldog. That is not a nice feeling. But with a higher bottom bracket, that nagging feeling of expecting a pedal hit any time, is taken out of the equation.

A Nimble And Sweet Ride: Zipping Through The Traffic:

The default setup came with a straight/raiser handle bars. It had a 42 chain ring and an 18 tooth fixed cog to go with. I know that it is way easier than the 15 cog I’m used to along with a 42 chain ring on my Bulldog. However, I decided to give the default setup a try for a few days before experimenting with the setup.

The first ride felt a little weird as I tried to get used to the geometry and the straight handle bars. The commute to office on day two was quite nice. However, it is by the third and fourth ride that I really started to have fun on the bike. The narrow straight handle bars and the geometry makes the bike so easy to handle in the crazy traffic during my commutes. I never felt so at ease while commuting as I was with this bike. Although the 18 cog was forcing me to use the brakes often on down hills as I quickly spin out, I felt that it was perfect for the stop and go traffic as it was so easy to get going again after stopping. On many occasions, I didn’t even need to stop as I could easily balance and ride ever so slowly(almost a track stand but not quite) with the snail paced/stand still traffic and get going when it began to move again. The narrow handle bars literally open new avenues in traffic as you can easily squeeze through narrowest of the gaps(quite safely with proper judgment, of course).

After a week of riding in the default setup, I decided to try a bigger gear with a 16 cog and change the setup to bullhorn bars. The 16 cog made the down hills easy to spin on without having to apply brakes often like it was the case with an 18 cog. It was still an easy enough gear for the uphills. The bike looks much better with a bullhorn setup maybe because I am used to that setup on my Bulldog. However, I liked the handling of the bike with straight handle bars better in traffic. That could be because of the way it was setup taking the center of gravity way forward. Raising the handle bars a little helped balance it and the handling was much better. I like the narrow bars(~40cm) so much that I have decided to move to narrow bars from the 44cm wide bull horn bars on my Bulldog.
Astr Sidewinder with bullhorn/pursuit bars! A classic beauty!

Can Get Even Better:
If there is one thing that I would like to be improved on the bike, it is the old style brake calipers that were used to go with the classic looks of the bike. I have heard that they were not too easy to set up according to, Riyaz of Crankmeister, who set up the bike for me. Even after struggling with them, the brake pads were not touching the rims symmetrically after applying brakes. I noticed that too. However, I found that the stopping power was quite adequate during my rides. The sudden stops in the traffic was not a problem at all. I know that the Fixed gear purists will scoff at the referral to brake calipers on the bike and their stopping power. But still, they may need to look at including better brake calipers for people like me who never ride a fixed gear bike without brakes.

They can also work on the looks department with the logos and branding to match the great ride quality that the bike offers.

Summary: It Is A Go!
Overall I really liked the bike and it’s handling in the city traffic. The smooth ride it gave on the potholed roads during my commute was amazing. The wheels look solid and bomb proof. I really attacked the potholes and all the bad sections to check for the ride quality etc during the three weeks that I rode the bike and they stayed true despite the abuse. The tires seem to be of good quality and roll well and handled the sandy areas on the shoulders of the road on my commute quite well. The bike weighed in at 10.4 kgs with pedals when I weighed it. Without brakes or with a single front brake installed, it might just manage to go under 10kgs which is quite light for a steel/Chromoly bike.
I rode the Sidewinder for a week and rode the Bulldog for a week in between before going back to the Sidewinder for another couple of weeks. After this, I happened to borrow and ride another fixed gear bike, Pixel from Fixation in the same price range(~35k INR) for a couple of weeks. Riding three different bikes in a short period of time for varying lengths of time gave me a feel for even the minor differences between them. In my experience, the Sidewinder offered as smooth a ride as my Bulldog while being way more responsive. In my opinion, although Pixel is a nice bike in itself, I think the Sidewinder was better both in terms of ride smoothness and responsiveness. I think it has to do with the fact that Pixel's rear triangle is tensile steel while the Sidewinder's entire frame is Chromoly and also the geometries of the bikes are slightly different.
Among all the fancy colors on offer, I think I like the all black Sidewinder the best! :) Pic: From Astr website
Note: The bike was sent to me to be ridden for a few weeks and provide feedback which I am doing through this review. After 3 weeks of almost daily riding, I have returned the bike to Crankmeister from where I picked it up. I think it is available there for test rides if someone wants to try. 
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