Monday, August 22, 2011

The Bulldog's First Race

The Race:
The count down for the flag-off started. The Bulldog was ready at the start line. '3-2-1-Go' came the shout from the volunteer at the start line. The Bulldog jumped into action. "Hey take it easy now. There is some 22km to go. We got to pace ourselves." I told it. It slowly settled into a rhythm and began to move swiftly. 

The Bulldog set its eye on the rider in front of it(It was a staggered start with 30sec gap between the riders. The Bulldog started 10th). Ever so slightly it tried lifting the tempo trying to bridge the gap. "Buddy, its a race against ourselves. Not against anybody else. Go steady now." I chided it. It seemed to have relaxed into its own rhythm again and began to march ahead. It slowly crossed the rider in front and there seemed to be a spring in its step. I urged it to save energy for the return leg. As it made progress we went past another rider and then another. 

The road was slightly undulating but appeared mostly downhill on the way out. But the headwinds were steady and seemed to be negating the slightly downward slope of the course. As we approached the halfway mark, around four or five riders have already turned and were on the return leg of the race. By the time the Bulldog made its way to the turn around point, there was a truck behind and we had to overshoot the U-turn to let the truck pass. The return leg had started and with it, for us, the real race. 

The Bulldog progressed still with a spring in the step and now it could see a small yellow dot in the distance. The dot seemed to be climbing up and then disappeared into the horizon. As the Bulldog made its way up the little ascent in the road and started descending, it could again see the yellow dot far off. By now it seemed intent to catch that yellow target and ever so slightly lifted the tempo. It made steady progress bridging the gap by a few meters by every passing minute. Slowly it went past its target as it made it to the last ascent before three kilometers from the finish line.

The last three kilometers till we reached the finish line was a breeze with the slight downhill and a bit of tailwind. I decided to let the Bulldog do its thing and gave it all and within no time we went past the finish line glowing in the cheers of the friends. I got down and patted the Bulldog on a job well done.

As The Day Started...
As Sunday began, the plan was just to do an easy ride with a couple of friends who were new to cycling, before going to watch the BBCh Team Time Trails. While riding to get there, I tried interval efforts first time(30sec hard efforts followed by 1minute easy workouts). As my friends were understandably a bit slow with one of them riding an MTB, going ahead with 30 sec hard efforts and riding back towards them with easy efforts were a good way for me to get some good workout in while still giving them some company. The interval attempts seemed to have loosened the legs after the hard ride with Shankar Jayaraman from the day before. 

We rode some 46km before getting to the starting point of the race. I met a lot of friends at the race. I had no intention of riding the race but just signed up for the individual Time Trail as I saw some of my friends do it just like that. 

Someone said the best way to watch a bike race is to be riding it. I wanted to see if it is true and I have to say that I completely agree after my first participation in a race. It was a treat watching the Team Time Trail riders wizz past from the opposite direction. I think, I might sign up for more races like this just to get a chance to see the great riders in action from up close. It is really a treat to watch them giving it all and fly by in the race.

After saying my goodbyes to the friends there, I started riding back with Deepak and Kalkat. It was great riding with both of them after a long time. Deepak's Surly LHT looks amazingly good!  
DocD still in his touring mode came for a morning ride like I did to see the races. Chatting up here with Dr.Arvind and Gaurav of Spectrum Racing!
The Result:
As I reached home and started freshening up, Akshay called and I heard, "Dude!!! Where are you?" "I'm home, man" "Dude!!! You came in second in ITT!!" "Hey, stop kidding, dude!" "No, seriously! What was your timing?" "I didn't check, yet." "Hey, check the timing and confirm" When I downloaded the Garmin activity onto my computer, the Garmin lap showed 44:24 for 22.1 kms. After confirming my bib number as well, Akshay confirmed that the Bulldog had the 2nd best time for the Individual Time Trail and asked me to pick up the medal from him. 
With Dad's first medal from his first race! He coyly says that most of the main riders were busy riding the Team Time Trial and thanks his Bulldog for being the great bike it has been! :)
KYNKYNY Wheelsports guys won the first place in the Team Time Trail with Cleated Warriors coming in Second and Team Spectrum in the third place. Guys from Veloscope photography did a great job making us all feel like we were participating in TDF like event with their great coverage.

Individual Time Trial Results. Team Time Trial results in the Picasa Album link below.
It was a great ride for me and the Bulldog with a few first time experiences like trying intervals, participating in our first race and its first podium finish.

Here are a few more photos:    

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

3 In 3:: The Hatrick 100k- Aug 15th Weekend

One of Three: The Unfinished Business: Nandi Ride

The Way The Mind Plays:
"Dude you came here too fast. You've spent too much energy already. I'm sure you're not going to complete the climb. You are heavier by a plate of idli. You never tried climbing soon after eating. Don't push. You are  going to burnout even before the steepest part starts. See, what did I tell you? You're tired already. You can not go on. See, the heart is pounding too hard. Right? Take it easy now. Stop. You can try later. The legs are not going to support you. Listen to me dammit! Stop! " 

That was the internal dialog I failed to silence last Sunday when I was riding to Nandi and climbing it with Abhijit. Most days I manage to silence the inner bozo and get on with it. But not that day. I had to stop 25mins into the climb. Took a two minute breather and made it to the top where Abhijit was waiting having managed his personal best for the climb at 36mins and a few seconds. We had a great ride together heading home as well. But, the Bulldog was not happy with the way I did on the climb.

Taking Care Of Unfinished Business:
So, I wanted to start the long weekend with a Nandi ride to take care of the unfinished business from last week. A non-stop climb. Although I did it a couple of times in the past, the latest failure was fresh on my mind. I started a bit early and rode alone at a relaxed pace to reach the base by 7am. By that time Ameet Bhide was there with his better half, Priya and another couple from their community who are also going to participate in this year's TFN.
Ameet Bhide on the Nandi climb.. Wanted me to photoshop a smile on his face. I guess, that's not required :)
Ameet and I began the climb together at a relaxed pace chatting along and I took a few snaps as I climbed. The weather was beautiful and we could see the top of Nandi covered in mist. The only aim was to complete the climb non-stop so I was in no hurry and so was Ameet. As we approached the steep section of the last 2 kms however, Ameet slowly pulled ahead. I didn't try pushing to hang on to his wheel as I was not sure if I could.

I slowly pushed ahead one pedal stroke at a time. As I approached the point where I stopped the week before, I remembered very clearly the feeling I had when I gave up last time. I consciously shook it off by getting out of the saddle and charging ahead of that section. I slowly inched ahead one curve after the other and as I approached the last bend I could hardly see the arch with all the mist. Ameet and his friend Abhilesh were already there having completed the climb in 36 mins and a few seconds. I saw 37:37 when I hit the lap button on my Garmin. It is 12 seconds less than my previous PB and also at a lesser(by 4bpm) average heart rate. It was satisfying. 

I think, climbing as with most things can be done better with a clear and uncluttered mind. If you think too much it can only hinder you. When you are in extreme pain, the mind, like a good steward that it is, will find excuses to get you out of that situation and try to preserve you. 

When you are struggling uphill with your heart pounding as if there is no tomorrow, your lungs burning and your legs screaming in pain, a single negative thought, a single excuse that the mind gives you, is enough to make you quit. During such times, I try to remember a quote which is attributed to Lance Armstrong. But it doesn't matter who said it as much as what it says. "Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever"

With the Bulldog at the top of Nandi..
Stats: 119 km in 5hrs 10 mins. Back home by 10:30 am.

Two of Three: Manchanabele-Savanadurga-Magadi Road Loop: An Amazing Route

After a satisfying Nandi ride on Saturday, I wanted to do another long ride on Sunday. The Savandurga road ride that I did a couple of months back with Vineeth came to mind. The beauty of that amazing rolling terrain made it my favorite road ride around Bangalore. I was itching to repeat it and pinged Vineeth. He was up for it and as I wanted to be back home by 11:30 am, we decided to start at his place at 5:30 am. That meant that I had to start at 4:30 am at mine.

The weather was brilliant. The road till I reach our starting point is about 20km is nothing great to write home about. Even the initial 5km or so is pretty ordinary. But once you get past the NICE road intersection on Magadi road, the actual beauty of the route starts. The road condition is very good. After around 15 kms from the NICE road intersection on Magadi road, you would need to take left to get on to a road that takes you to Manchanabele reservoir. As you approach the reservoir just as you dive into a downhill you would witness one of the amazing sights the route has to offer. The full view of the lake with the hills around it.
Vineeth on the ride.. The spectacular view of the Manchanabele reservoir in the background!
Then as you cross the reservoir and go through a couple of villages, you would see a board directing you to take right to get into Savanadurga state forest. The 8kms of the route via the forest is slightly rough at places but is in pretty decent shape road-bike friendly over all. After you get out of the road through the forest, you would enter a smooth Ramnagara-Magadi road that takes you to Magadi via Savanadurga. On this road you can either go directly towards Magadi or take a diversion to climb up the Savandurga hill and descend onto the Madgadi road directly. 

The beauty of the route is that it is either going up or going down. It never seems to be completely flat for more than a few minutes. Get ready to fly down a few stretches and crawl your way up a few, throughout the ride. The ride through the forest with the buzzing symphony of the insect life and bird life in the trees is phenomenal along with some amazing views on offer on the route. 
Spectacular view of the Savanadurga Monolith still shrouded with mist as we rode along the Ramanagara-Magadi road
Once you get on to the Magadi road you have excellent road conditions and you would enjoy the rolling terrain until you get back to the NICE road intersection. After that the traffic and the deteriorating road conditions will bring you back to the reality from the dream ride. 

The guys at IISc Randonneurs recently rode a slight variation of the route we rode for what they called Savanadurga 100: The Monolith Populaire. Even a gpx file is available on their site for those who want to repeat this ride. I recommend this route for anyone who is looking to prepare for TFN. You will not be disappointed. I promise. Here is the gpx file from our ride.
The elevation profile of the route from gpsies..

Stats: 139km Start time: 4:40 am End time: 11:20 am

Three of Three: Doddaballapur-Devanahalli-Budigere 100k Loop: Course Complete

Clear skies lit splendidly by an almost full-moon, mesmerizing pre-dawn twilight with amazing symphony of the chirping birds, glorious Sun slowly making its way up trough the coconut trees and the lazy cow actively grazing on the mist bathed grass. When you get to experience all these in one ride, what else can you ask for?

The Sunrise on Doddaballapur-Devanahalli road.. The glare on my cell camera doesn't do justice..
That is precisely how I felt about the ride. A beautiful ride to close the long weekend. 

After two long rides on Saturday and Sunday with some decent climbing, I wanted to see if the legs are good for another long one. I was surprised to see how fresh the body felt even by Sunday afternoon itself. So, I promised my wife that I will be back home by 8:30 am to help her with stuff as we were having visitors for lunch that day. I wanted to complete a 100 km loop before that which meant that I had to start at least 4 hours before. So, around 4:30 am again. 

I ended up waking up earlier than my alarm again and started riding by 4:20 am. I made it to Hebbal and got on to the Doddaballapur road by around 5. Although I placed fresh batteries in the bike light, I found it to be not bright enough to show me potholes etc. So, I had to gingerly make my way through the unlit portions of the road. Thankfully the almost full-moon and the clear skies offered some help. It was blissful to keep looking up from time to time see the splendid moon lit sky. 

Around 5:30 am slowly the twilight made its way and the symphony of the chirping birds began to play from the trees on both sides. As I turned on to Devanahalli road from Doddaballapur, a huge Orange Sun began to emerge out of coconut grooves. Oh what words can describe those feelings in such settings? 

By 7am I entered Siva's road from Devanahalli side. There were many riders riding on that road. Spotted Siva riding with a friend of his, saw Opendro and Ganapathy of Cleated warriors team riding as well as Akshay and Rohan from Team BOTS among the folks that I could recognize. I guess they were practicing for the Team Time Trail BBCh race that's going to happen this Sunday.

I reached home by exactly 8:30 am.   

Stats: 101km Start time: 4:20 am End time: 8:30 am

It was the first time I did three back to back century rides. Granted that I didn't really push on any of the three days, but I am still pleasantly surprised by how quickly the body seemed to have recovered after all the three rides. I guess the regular riding over the last month or so did help.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Story Of My Best Friend

A Story of A New Beginning..

Everyone of us has someone who we consider as our best friend. I too have one. This is his story. 

He was the youngest in his family and was a pampered kid. His mother like all the dutiful and pampering mothers, fed her love through the food she gave him. Copious amounts of it. Even as a little kid, he developed an voracious appetite. So, he ate all the time. He was a healthy looking boy. 

As time went on, the boy became an young man, went to college, graduated, started working, loved a girl and got married. He was a pampered husband. His wife beamed with pride when he devoured whatever she lovingly cooked. As a result he began to look even more healthy.

Of course, he only ‘looked’ healthy. But even as a kid he had many health issues. He suffered badly with recurring breathing issues besides the usual coughs and colds. His mother had to make innumerable trips to various hospitals carrying the not-so-light-weight boy. The poor lady had to helplessly endure hell during those times looking at his suffering and spending many sleepless nights. 

After he got married, the scenario was not that different. It was now his wife that spent sleepless nights, helplessly looking at him suffer from his all too frequent bronchitis attacks. She used to go through hell helplessly looking on as he coughed and struggled to breath throughout the night. That went on for many nights and the tons and tons of prescription medicines didn’t seem to help him in anyway.

He used to fall sick almost every month, suffering for a week, recovering for another week, looking healthy for a week or two before the cycle started all over again. In the meantime, he continued to eat heartily because it was important to eat well to be healthy according to his well wishers. And eating well meant eating more. He loved his food. He became more healthy looking.

On his 31st birthday he weighed in at 92 kilos. Just 20 kilos overweight for his height. He looked at his darling wife who was six months pregnant. They were expecting their first child. He thought that he would be the worst example for his kid. He also remembered his father who left this world when he was still in his teens. He remembered the pain his family had to endure due to that. He did not want his young family to go through such a pain because of him. 

He wanted to do something about his fitness. He knew that if he became fit, his health issues and weight problems will sort themselves out. He started with trying to play badminton in his apartment complex. On the first day, he could not even play for five minutes continuously. He struggled to move and huffed and puffed like a steam engine. He had to stop and sit out for the rest of the day, recovering. 

The next day, he knew that he would struggle again to move. But he came back to play the next day, the day after and the day after. The progress was slow. But it was there. He kept at it. He began to move better. He wanted to improve further and started running as cross training. Before that time, he actively hated running because he couldn’t run even for a few meters. 

But this time he was motivated to improve. He started with jogging for just a couple of rounds around his apartment building before his daily round of badminton and slowly increased the distance. There was more progress. That motivated him further to keep going. Then he chanced upon Yoga on TV and began doing simple Pranayama and a few Asanas before the game. There was further improvement. 

As the time went on he began to alternate between jogging, yoga and badminton so that he was not bored by any one activity daily. He made sure he spent at least an hour doing some or the other workout. He was able to play badminton for more than an hour continuously without being tired. He also began to eat only as much as is required to keep him going instead of devouring jumbo sized meals every day. 

In the process he lost 16 kilos of weight in about 8 months. He was leaner, fitter and healthier by the time his first child was six months old. On the same day that his kid turned six months old, he gifted himself a cycle. He started cycling to keep off the flab and continue to stay active. Not surprisingly, in the process his sick days began to decrease and eventually vanished. In nearly three years that followed till this day, he is yet to visit a doctor or depend on medication.

My friends call him, Venky.

Read about the second innings here: 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Fixed Gear Bike? No Coasting? Why???

"A fixie? No coasting? Why?" That is a standard question I keep hearing. When people keep asking the same question, I tend to ask myself and wonder, why!?

How It All Began? How The seeds were sown!:
The first time I wondered about it myself was when Krishna Mandava, my good friend from Hyderabad posed this question. He asked on our mailing list, "Venky, tell us something about what prompted you to go for a fixed wheel, how you planned to have one and how could you realize the dream." This was when I shared the excitement of my first fixed gear century.

My answer to that was this: "Its not like I had a dream that I realized by buying this bike. But, its more of a fascination with fixed gear concept ever since I saw one.

The first fixed gear bike I ever saw was when our own 'Iron man' Matt came riding on one for, 'Tea at Shamshabad' ride on August 29th 2009. I kept seeing him ride that Surly fixed gear bike from time to time and was really amazed and curious at the same time.
Matt on his fixed gear bike. Notice the bullhorn bars.
Then by the time of my last ride with HBC last year before coming here(I was in US at the time of this communication), our own Sandy got a fixed gear bike too. It was a nice lemon yellow Schwinn Madison. 
Sandy's Schwinn Madison Fixed gear bike
I guess, the seeds of curiosity were sown by seeing those bikes of Matt and Sandy and wondering how the heck can they ride a bike that does not allow you to coast? It was more of a fascination that remained dormant in the recesses of the mind. 
Me posing on Matt's Fixed gear bike. The seeds of fascination were sown :)
 When I chanced upon this bike(The Bulldog) on the 1st of this month(May 2010) for what looked like a pretty good deal, that dormant fascination refused to remain dormant any further and forced me to buy the bike. 

I somehow fell in love with the bike from the moment I saw it. Every ride I do on it now, just keeps proving that its not just infatuation. :)
BTW, I sold off the MTB that I have built so that I can ride this bike exclusively. That's how much I enjoy riding this simple bike."

That reply pretty much sums up how I ended up leaning towards a fixed gear bike. 
My Bulldog on top of Nandi on its second visit there. It doesn't have fenders now..
An Ideal Commute Bike. Right?
When I initially looked at it and was considering buying it, I thought it would be a perfect commute bike for the flat terrain of Hyderabad. It had a chain guard, fenders and eyelets for racks too. Ideally the things we look for on a commuter. 

But the more I rode the Bulldog, in the hilly terrain of Vermont, the more I loved the way it rode. I didn't really want to restrict such a good bike to just commutes. Also, my plan of buying either a Bianchi Volpe or a Surly Crosscheck didn't quite materialize before I came back from the US because of various reasons. Now, I simply cannot afford buying another bike and the Bulldog keeps me going just fine. In fact, I love riding it. So, I continue to ride it.

Here are a few more questions people ask me:
  • What are the benefits you see in riding a fixed gear bike as opposed to a normal road bike?
  • All this climbing on the Bulldog, is it not bad for your knees?
  • You need double the effort to ride a fixed gear bike. Right?

What Are The Benefits?
I really don't care what the benefits are apart from the obvious one, no coasting. This article by Sheldon Brown might help people who want to know its benefits. This article might explain the other aspects of what might bewitch a fixed gear rider. But, for me, it just feels good. It is easier and more enjoyable to ride than any other bike I own. So, in a way, I ride it because its easier to ride and not because I see/seek any benefits from riding a fixed gear bike or because I want people to think that I'm a tough guy(Well, may be, I do).

Climbing: How it started:
Well, I think it is because it all began in Vermont. At the time I bought the Bulldog, I was riding an MTB that I built from frame up. While I built that MTB because I wanted to get out and ride even in Vermont winter, I didn't like riding an MTB on road after the winter was gone. Around that time, I had signed up for my first 100 mile bike ride along with a team at work. I hated the prospect of riding the 100 miles on the MTB. So, since I started enjoying riding the Bulldog, I thought why not ride the Prouty on it!

It also looked incredibly challenging at that time. When that thought came to my mind, the first thing I did was to check the elevation profile of the Prouty route. I saw one decent hill. I figured that I have to learn to climb well if I were to complete the 100 miles. So, I began riding all my practice rides on it and some of them were decent climbs. Although I suffered while actually climbing, the feeling of accomplishment was really heady after the fact.

I guess it is that heady feeling, the satisfaction the ego gets after a challenging climb, that got me hooked. I began to love climbing. I never approached any climb for the first time thinking I will conquer it but with a question in mind, 'will I be able to do it?'. Most of the times, the answer was a satisfying 'yes' after much toil, but for one time. But almost every time, without fail, I learn something about myself in the process when I'm climbing.

Climbing: Bad For Knees! No?
To answer the concerned questions of my well wishers who think that all the climbing could harm my knees, I honestly think that I don't over do the climbing. At least not after coming back from Vermont. If I average it out, I didn't even do one major climb per a month of owning the Bulldog. I don't think I will do that either. I think even if I did one hard climb in a month, the body would be able to take it as it will get enough time to recover and rebuild. Please point out if this thinking is faulty.

I don't want to injure myself in the process of satisfying my ego by pursuing mindlessly challenging climbs. I want to keep riding well into my grand kids' time.

How Hard Is It, Really?
Although I agree that big climbs are challenging on a fixed gear bike, on moderate climbs, simple rolling terrain or flat roads its actually easier or at least not that difficult to ride the Bulldog. So, when my friends give me undue advantage as I'm riding a fixed gear bike and shower praises on me, I get a feeling that I'm cheating them into thinking it is hard while it is not. I also sometimes feel that they are showing sympathetic appreciation like they would show to a handicapped person. Then I remind myself of my initial thoughts when I saw a fixed gear bike for the first time or even the initial days of owning one and think may be its natural to think that way. :)

Now, I don't really give much thought to the fixed gear aspect of it. I ride it like a 'normal' bike, which it is!
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