Tag Archives: Cycling

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Vietnam: A few first impressions

This was a different kind of trip. I didn’t do much research since my fellow traveller and photographer Hema took control of everything including the planning and organising (which I usually enjoy doing for my trips). For a change, I took a backseat as I was already busy planning an all girl’s trip to Wayanad. So I didn’t really have any notions/impressions except a guide book that I’d borrowed from a friend.

The guidebook indicated there were a few scams in some parts of Vietnam. But we didn’t come across any such unpleasant experiences. However, another group we met did tell us that cab drivers purposely take long routes even if the places are close by, just to make an extra buck. But after dealing with auto drivers in Bangalore, I think one is armed to take on a few greedy errant taxi drivers.

At no point during our trip did we actually feel threatened or unsafe in Vietnam. (In fact, I have at time felt more unsafe in some parts of India). The people are quite stoic but once you converse with them (or try as their English is very limited), they are quite friendly. Except for one very surly cab driver (he was definitely unhappy with his life) people were generally quite nice. English is not their strong point, but with a lot of effort (and gestures) usually we got our message across. Sometimes not successfully. But no matter. We managed to navigate despite all of these issues.

Streets of Hanoi

We walked out of our hotel located in District 1, Saigon on our last night and there were people everywhere. This was at 1130 pm at night. There were people singing, eating, drinking, chatting and generally lounging around till 3 am in the morning. Unlike Bangalore, where you feel like a criminal at 11 pm, this was place was just the opposite. Many street side pubs were also cashing in on football fever.

Night life in Hanoi

There are millions of motorbikes in the cities, especially Hanoi and HCM which we visited. Interesting though the fact that even despite heavy traffic, there is lesser (noticeable) aggression. In India, we’d be punching one another and bringing our dear departed generations into our brawls. However, the Vietnamese all congregate in the center of the road, at the same time, and then make their way around each other. Magically, everyone finds a way. In the few times we went out, we didn’t see too many folks lose their temper. The honking is relatively lesser too.

Two wheelers rule the streets

And then there are cyclists. Even in the middle of this chaos, cyclists of all ages made their way on two wheels. And they didn’t seem to be bullied into corners or edges of the street, unlike what happens in India. They were very much a part of the ecosystem, demanding an equal share of the road. No one was treated as a lesser mortal on the road because they happened to be on a cycle. And there were so many women, girls, older folks cycling even in peak hour that I was quite amazed. I even saw a dad with two of his young sons cycling on a busy road (a sight that you’ll be hard pressed to see here).

Everyone cycles - old and young

Everyone is a moving market!

Masks are a fashion statement. And supposedly keep pollution at bay. I’m not sure about the efficacy of these masks, which mostly women wear. They adorn every second face. A young university student called Ly I met on a bus said women are very beauty conscious and basically do it to protect their skin from the sun and pollution. I was tempted to buy one for myself, but couldn’t find a mask with cats on it.

Street corners and roads are relatively clean. I saw a lot of sweeping going on in the mornings. This might also be due to the fact that the Vietnamese eat on the streets all the time so they probably want to keep it clean. Except some parts where there was littering (like the China town area in HCM), largely the garbage disposal system seems to be working. And people seem to be a bit more conscious of littering than us Indians.

Street food is a way of life

There is excessive use of thin plastic bags everywhere. They possibly don’t know how much harm all this will do to their environment (yet), but shopkeepers are only too eager to flash out the bags even for the smallest purchase. Whether it’s water, chips, biscuits or anything you buy, the first thing you get is this flimsy plastic bag. And tourists are equally responsible for accepting these despite the fact that everyone is carrying a rucksack or a bag they can carry the stuff in.

Packing it in

Clean rest rooms (and no smell!). What a boon. Especially coming from a country like India where the level of sanitation can drop to dismal lows, I was really thrilled to find clean loos. And most of them didn’t smell. I’m not sure how or what they did, but they didn’t announce their presence the way Indian loos did. Even in remote villages and towns, we were quite pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness and accessibility of restrooms, a major concern for travellers in India. And hardly anyone pees on the road (if it’s practiced, it wasn’t as noticeable as in our country).

Connected everywhere!. This was surprising as we were gearing up to be off the network for a few days. In fact, my fellow travellers armed themselves with local SIMs, which I decided not to go in for. And there was connectivity everywhere – whether it was the hotels, cafes, restaurants, a rustic home stay in a remote village or even our cruise boat on Halong Bay. Wi-Fi is a given and most places will let you use it for free. We actually weren’t off the network anywhere at all!

There are no overweight/obese people in Vietnam. This is actually true. In all our travels there, we didn’t come across one overweight person. Everyone seems to come out of the same sized mould! Despite the fact that their portions are generous and everyone is eating all the time. They’re doing something very right. I want their secret!

Enjoyed the trip immensely and wouldn’t mind returning to see parts of the country, which we missed out this time around.

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The Noob Guide: Everything you wanted to know about cycling

A guide for those who are contemplating buying a cycle. Or wanting to get back into cycling. Or even those who’ve taken the first step, and want some tips on what to do next. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes, so welcome to the world of human powered bikes – also called cycles.

(NOTE: A very long post, so be warned. However, I’ve tried to include as much information as I can. But like I say, don’t get paralysis by analysis. Act instead!).

(ANOTHER NOTE: This is written from the viewpoint of a Bangalore cyclist, but there are equally good bike shops, trails and resources in all the major cities today including Pune, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Hyderabad.)

Why do people cycle?

In a nutshell:
- To keep fit
- Commute to office, it’s faster in peak traffic
- Rediscover the joys of experiencing wind in the face
- Discover the countryside
- An alternative way to travel

Long answer. The cycle of life ironically means that you stop cycling at some point of time. You start earning money, get a two wheeler, then you get a car. Wait, it doesn’t stop there – you get a fancy 4WD and increases your carbon footprint to zillion not so brownie points. (And the only place you drive this vehicle is to the airport). Anyway, it so happens that most of us, in the process, forget the sheer joy of cycling. Of feeling the wind in our face. Of the open countryside and just you and two wheels.

People have today realised that to reduce the traffic (which all of us are contributing to) there have to be longer terms solutions. It’s happening in countries like Copenhagen and Amsterdam where a large percentage of citizens cycle – come hail or sunshine. So what stops us Indians from getting onto our cycles and getting some exercise, de-congesting our roads. Well – usually it’s our status consciousness. But seriously, it’s time we get over it. Because when you have jam packed roads like ours, your expensive Landcruiser is as good as my Maruti Zen – we’re all stuck in the same traffic. Many people have started realising it’s a faster, smarter way to commute to work and you’ll notice a lot of folks zipping about on cycles these days.

All roads lead to Pearl Valley
It’s a great feeling to head out on open roads and experience new sights and sounds – the joys of cycling are definitely worth re-discovering

It’s also a way to exercise and keep fit. There are enough success stories of people who have re-discovered the joy of cycling, got on their bikes and managed to get fitter and healthier (and lose weight as a result). While you might think that cycling actually exposes you to polluted air (which it does) you’re actually pretty much breathing in the same thing in your car and frankly, it’s very relative.

Noob Guide to Cycling
And I wanted to put this at the bottom, but I secretly cycle mainly so I can eat more. Being a foodie, I love my masala dosas, idlis and fried chicken. So my thought is that if I cycle more, I can eat more. Unfortunately, the formula hasn’t quite worked in my weight’s favour, but then I’ve had a lot of fun cycling. And ummm. Eating.

So, in short – there are many reasons. Find yours and you won’t regret it.

Can I just get up one day and decide to start again?

The good news is: yes. I didn’t start cycling till very late in my life. Well, I grew up in a hill station. If I remember correctly, there were two very adventurous girls who had cycles – they were a bit of an oddity. And I never did understand why anyone would want to cycle up Shillong’s rather scary slopes. Not anymore.

Noob Guide to Cycling
I’m glad I decided to learn to pedal at a ripe old age. It’s opened so many more doors to travel for me, and added a much richer perspective to the way I see things now

From being scared of riding 10 kms, to being sent home in an auto after a 35km ride to completing a 400 km ride at a stretch, I’ve realised that anything’s possible even for a relative newbie to cycling. So yes, if you’re reasonably healthy, there’s no reason you can’t cycle, 10, 20 and then even a 100 kms. You just need to scale up with some thought and consideration and let your muscles start warming up to the fact that it’s finally getting some much needed exercise.

Noob Guide to Cycling
This is somewhere on the road, during my 400 km ride from Bangalore to Vellore and back, which I completed in around 23 hours. Yes, we all do strange things sometimes.

And a caveat: You’ll look at long stretches of good road very differently once you start riding!

Which cycle should I invest in?

I see you’re convinced now. Well, you’ve survived till here.

The way I suggest approaching it is:
a) Determine your goal – what do you want to do with the cycle. Commute? Join longer weekend rides? Get into travelling to different places on cycle?
b) Determine a comfortable budget and be prepared to stretch it.

What I advise is getting a mid-range city bike if you’re not exactly sure about what you want to do. The hybrid is a cross between a heavier MTB and a lighter road bike and is actually great for commutes, slightly bad roads we tend to encounter and quite sturdy.

Noob Guide to Cycling
I started with the Trek hybrid, which I still use. But I also added others to the stable along the way. In a cyclist’s world, ek se kuch nahi hota. But then, to balance the equation, I never upgraded my car.

Once you fix a budget, look around and do some window shopping. I personally feel that buying a cheap bike actually robs you of the pleasure of cycling. So don’t settle for something sub-standard just because it costs lesser. Remember that this is also a vehicle – it will take you places, it can potentially substitute a gym membership if used regularly and can be your commute. You buy a flat screen television for more than 25k and all it does is dish you crap and turn you into a couch potato. And we never heard you complain while shelling out all that cash then, did we?

The value will go up as soon as you see it in the right perspective. And so will your budget. You should get a decent bike starting from 20-25k onwards. Do look around and if you’re unsure, ask for advise from someone who has been biking for a while and can give you some valuable inputs.

But do I need a geared cycle?

The simple answer is that it’s not absolutely necessary, but if you’re looking at exploring cycling, using it as your commute and slowly graduate to longer weekend rides, you’ll probably start wondering why you didn’t opt for a few gears.

For most humans, gears help you put in lesser effort and get more efficient. So if you’re going on a long ride for example, a geared bike will mean that you’ll be less tired and less inclined to hurt your other muscles. Try taking a non geared bicycle over a flyover and then try it with a geared one and then you can tell the difference. Or on a long stretch with a lot of ups and down, climbs and hills, you’ll be glad for those gears.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Gears? No gears? No question – definitely the former, especially if you want to start exploring more avenues in cycling

Having said that, the man on the street today uses a cycle as a primary commute and is usually extremely fit, and rarely rides a geared cycle.

If you haven’t noticed (they are an invisible population, as I’ve written earlier), do take some time and look at cyclists on the road – they’re usually very fit, agile and tuned to survive in our horrendous traffic. And they do this quite well despite the honking trucks, tempos and other vehicles who drive like they want to mow down everyone in their way. Life is much more challenging for a cyclist, and yet he/she adapts well the challenge.

So the point I was getting to: unless you’re out to prove something, or you want to take it on as a challenge, resist temptation and just invest in a decent basic geared bicycle.

Where can I get myself a cycle?

Another question that people ask frequently. And while as part of Bangalore’s cycling community, we’ve seen the birth of several bike shops in the city, a larger percentage of citizens are quite unaware of the revolution taking place right in front of them.

Here are few bike shops run by cyclists – so you can be sure to get enough attention and correct information when you’re trying to choose a cycle.

Click on the links and you’ll be led to bike shop heaven! All run by passionate cyclists, I would recommend all of them.

Procycle
Bums on the Saddle (BOTS)
Wheelsports
Cyclists for Life

There’s also a second hand option in case you’re not sure you want to get a new bike first. But again, do make sure you’re picking up the right size:
Second hand marketplace

What should I keep in mind when I am buying a cycle?

The right size and fit is the most important aspect if you’re going to use the cycle frequently. Many people try cycling their kids bikes and then say they don’t enjoy it. Make sure you have the fit right, because on the longer rides this is going to make a difference in your comfort levels.

One important thing to remember is that the guy selling you the bike should be taking an interest in your comfort and asks about your height and suggest a frame fit accordingly. If he’s just trying to peddle the latest model without asking any questions, then you should get out of there. Quickly. And move on to the next place.

Most of these bike shops will also service your cycle. And you can always start learning some simple tips on bike maintenance yourself.

How do I start off?

Some tips:
– Bike around your neighbourhood
– Run your errands nearby on a cycle
– Find a few quieter lanes in your neighbourhood
– Get out early in the morning
– Join a community
Go Green, started by Prabhakar Rao, who is also now known as GoGreen Rao, is a great effort with over 2000 members. They conduct regular rides in the city and outside.
– Start cycling to office (fast becoming a popular option)

I usually encourage people to join a community. Bangalore has a thriving cycling community and depending on the area where you live, you will most definitely find groups which are active. Join the Bangalore Bikers Club to begin with.

Another very vocal and active community online, with members from all over India (and overseas) is Bikeszone.com – there are animated and heated discussions sometimes. But it’s also packed with useful information. In fact, if you want another good guide on how to choose a bike, read this discussion on the same forum – it goes into much more detail.

There are also groups on Facebook where you can get information about rides. Many bike shops like BOTS and ProCycle have regular city and night rides. These are a good way to start off and join the community. You will get to meet new people too who are also into cycling. Once you’re comfortable and feel you’re getting reasonably good (so now you can actually ride 10k and not complain), it’s time for a longer ride.

This article has some details on the different trails inside and outside Bangalore. This is another one from Ravi Ranjan, an avid cyclist, and though it’s an older article it still has quite a few routes listed in a lot of detail.

One option is to put your cycle in a vehicle, drive to a start point, where you park your car and then begin pedalling. Else, if you’re confident you can even begin pedalling from home.

South: Outer Ring Road to Harohalli via Kanakpura road (around a 21 km stretch one way), and there is also a stretch called Pipeline road which runs parallel for a while and is supposed to be a good road for cycling.

This road is also used for longer 100 km rides to a place called Anchetty in Tamil Nadu. I’ve also used Kanakpura road to cycle to Mysore – it’s a much more scenic route. I had to meet a friend once and decided to cycle and catch her there :-) It was fun and she was a bit surprised. But naturally.

Noob Guide to Cycling
While I’ve cycled on Mysore road, I wouldn’t recommend it for the crazy, speeding traffic. Try the quieter Kanakpura road itself. I’ve done this route a couple of times and it’s much more enjoyable.

Noob Guide to Cycling
This is during a weekend trip we did to Anchetty a few years ago. We decided to camp at a school for the night and despite the mosquitoes and the packet food, we had loads of fun. And then rode back the next day. These kind of trips don’t need much planning – just get a motley bunch together and ride off! We carried just some light sleeping bags, toothbrush (optional!) and some packet foods

South-East: Silk Board to Bagalur (falls in TN) via Sarjapura road (it’s a lot more traffic now till Sarjapur, but gets better after). It’s got a few climbs thrown in for good measure and is around 30 kms one way. Bagalur also had an awesome idli shop once upon a time where we’ve enjoyed some great breakfasts. I don’t know if it exists anymore but a few of the houses have one room turned into small eateries and will serve you hot idles.

North:
– Airport road (beyond the airport on the National Highway).
– The city (or wherever you live) to Nandi hills (this is a very long ride so try this once you’re getting better at longer distances)
Highway turn off to Nandi hills – A lot of cyclists also drive till the highway turn off, or park somewhere around Nandi and then cycle up. Nandi is a 7 km stretch – but uphill all the way so it makes for good training for those who want climbing practice. If you’re wondering why anyone would want to torture themselves on a weekend doing that, welcome to the world of cycling.

Just note that Sundays (and Saturdays to an extent) are usually particularly busy with two wheeler and four wheeler traffic so it’s better to watch out for idiots on the road if it’s the weekend. Also, ride and stay in a group – there have been unpleasant experiences here.

East (Whitefield): Old Madras road – Hoskote to Kolar is a long stretch of 44 kms (one way) and is a favourite with road cyclists. It’s got smooth tarmac so you can speed it up. And also a wide shoulder so the trucks avoid you (well, at least you can pray they do). There’s also Siva’s road – a relatively scenic road to Devanahalli, named after a now-famous cyclist of the same name. Watch out for racing airport cab drivers though. It’s much busier than what it used to be and the drivers can be maniacal. Also the inside roads in the Whitefield-Varthur area are still great for cycling.

What if I change my mind later?

There are quite a few things you can do in case you’re unable to find time to cycle. Or change your mind. Remember that change is constant and nothing is really permanent. So buying a cycle is actually not a decision that you should take forever to think about. If you change your mind, here are some options:
a) rent out the cycle so others can use it. Rates can be from 200-400 Rs per day depending on the brand and state of your cycle
b) worst case (and only if you’re surely not using it anymore), sell it on a group like BOTS Marketplace or spread the word in the community (Bangalore Bikers Club, Bangalore Cyclists), and Facebook Cyclop group, which will surely get you enough enquiries.

Is there a place I can compete in Bangalore?

Bangalore’s competitive scene has gotten definitely “hotter”. BBCh (Bangalore Bicycling Championships) began as a small affair and today has turned into a monthly event where around a 100 cyclists descend in all their spandex glory. You’ll probably wonder where they all emerged from at 630 am in the morning. Gasp.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Well-dressed and slick cyclists appear from different parts of the city, suddenly turning the road into a racing paradise. Motorists, watch out – we mean serious business!

Locations chosen for races are usually slightly on the outskirts so be prepared. But these are well attended events and racing is also quite serious business now. BAR (Bangalore Amateur Racing) is another such start-up in the racing scene but have quite well conducted races every month. Then there are one-off races held by other groups – usually once you subscribe to the community groups, you unearth many more. There is a group called SFS (Students Foundation for Sports) which organises regular events. Which means, if you get into the racing circuit, you’re going to be busy throughout the month.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Professional teams turn up at these events – and yes, we do have them in India and Bangalore. A lot has happened since you bought your fancy car! But apart from them, there are also a bunch of not so serious, but equally passionate bikers who form cycling groups to compete in these events. Some usually ride for a big breakfast, but then whatever gets you going, right?


What if I want to push myself even more (aka 100 kms is not enough)?

If cycling has gotten you hooked, and you want to push yourself, you can also try the Bangalore Brevets. This began around 2011 with a bunch of enterprising cyclists who decided to get the famous Paris-Brevet-Paris qualifier events to India. The main PBP event is held once in 4 years. To qualify for the event you need to complete a series of rides – 200, 300, 400 and 600 within stipulated times. And yes, don’t get scared looking at the zeroes. It’s not actually as difficult as it seems. Some enthusiastic folks have even completed 1000 and 1200 km rides.

For upcoming long rides, you can check out this calendar.

These are not races as there are no winners. You try and complete the distance so you can qualify. Bangalore community’s enthusiastic volunteers run these rides regularly.

Apart from that, there are also other events that keep happening in the city. A few triathlon events have also been held, by the Mysore Cycling Club.

I don’t want to race. Are there leisure rides?

This is the good news. And my favourite part. There are groups today who offer leisure cycling and this is an ideal way to see a city, experience new sights and have fun with friends.

I did my first leisure ride in Goa over 5 days and enjoyed the countryside immensely and that was my introduction to recreational cycling – and I was hooked.

Noob Guide to Cycling
My very first multi-day cycling trip in Goa. I loved every moment of it!

After that, I ventured to do the Tour of the Nilgiris, another prestigious event in the cycling world which happens every December. Around 80 cyclists descend in Bangalore (starting point) and pedal from here cover nearly 900 kms in around 8 days and there are also competitive stages to the event. I did this in 2009 and had the time of my life. In 2010, we went to the North in search of more climbs and did the torturous Manali to Leh segment – an extremely tough ride.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Some sights you’ll be witness too when you cycle to Leh – definitely a trip of a lifetime. And be prepared for the endless climbs! Nandi hills will seem like a tame mouse in front of the lion of mountains!

It’s also great fun and the the best part of being on a cycle is that you can stop anywhere you want, take pictures, chat with locals enroute and have interesting exchanges like this one:

He: Madam, kahan ja rahe ho? (where are you going)
Me: Hum Leh ja rahe hai. (I’m going to Leh!)
He: Lekin, Madam – aaj kaal jeep milte hai. Aap cycle kyon kar rahe hai. Aap ko maloom nahi kya? (But there are jeeps available nowadays, why are you cycling. Or didn’t you know?)

How could I explain? There were no words and I couldn’t have conveyed in my limited Hindi as to the beauty and sheer exhileration of seeing things at my pace. So I just smiled at him and started up the mountain again.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Resting somewhere on the way from Manali to Leh. And yes – cycling involves a lot of resting in between. Especially in the mountains.

There are also other events like the Great Malnad Challenge, the Tour of Tamil Nadu and a crop of other exciting bicycle events to choose from today. Many enthuastic cyclists have also their own cycling tours.

Here are a few:

Unventured: Started by cycling enthusiast Gurudeep Ramakrishna and then Tejaswini Gopalswamy, another extremely passionate and avid traveller, who joined as the co-founder. From their website: “From a decade of wanderings across this country of cultural diversity taking the road less taken, Unventured brings some of the best adventure acitivites to experience Incredible India! At Unventured, we are obsessed with the need to provide travelers an off the beaten path real world experience of India that will leave them amazed. We do this with the element of safety and security in mind and provide simple but essential support to discover the Unventured – natural wealth, cultural diversity and natural history of Incredible India!”

Cycling and More (CAM): One of the pioneers in this kind of travel, they do mainly weekend rides, and I’ve been with them and enjoyed the experience. From their website: “In an unbelievable short period of time, cycling has grown on to become a mainstream hobby. Cycling and More is the brain child of cycling and adventure enthusiasts Sreeharsha & Vikrant from Bangalore. When weekend treks are a yes yes, why not weekend rides ? This is the situation we are trying to change. We hope that helping people ride will aid acceptance of cycling as a fun, viable and completely eco-friendly mode of transport.”

Noob Guide to Cycling
Group cycling is a lot of fun; especially since everyone is obviously there because of one reason. No, make it two! Cycling and good food :-). This taken during a rainy CAM ride. The rains don’t get in the way of pedalling.

Red Spokes Cycling: A fairly new venture. From their FB page: “Red Spokes offers unique and exciting experiences, on a bicycle. Feel the wind on your face. Listen as the roads whisper stories to you. Take in the sights and sounds of nature. We guarantee that you will taste the excitement with our unique experiences across India, on a bicycle.”

MuddyBoots: Based in Kalpetta, this adventure company offers some great trails in the Wayanad region. The best part is that you don’t need to transport cycles as they have a stable of pretty good options. They are also operational in Madikeri, Coorg and Bekal.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Cycling with MuddyBoots in Kerala. The scenic beauty of this region is unbeatable. And add to that, it has pretty decent roads for cycling.


How safe is cycling on our city’s roads?

People ask this all the time. Before I answer the question, take some time to observe cyclists on our city roads. Do you hear or see a lot of mishaps. (and we’re sure there are quite a few in a city of our size). But it’s true – there are lakhs of cyclists on our city roads – and yet, they are as prone as someone on a two-wheeler or a car (despite the fact that you probably feel safer in a car). However, safety is very relative.

Is it safe for them? Depends on how safe we drive actually because safety of cyclists usually lies in someone else’s hand. Having said that, to answer the question, I don’t think cycling is much safer or unsafer than anything else. For example, cars have accidents, pedestrians have mishaps, two wheelers get into skirmishes. What you can do is ride as safely as you can. Take all the precautions.

So here are some I’d suggest:
– Wear a helmet
– Be noticed
– Give hand signals
– Follow traffic signals
– Watch out for erratic motorbikes, crazy tempo and call centre drivers, sudden opening of parked car doors (very important), drivers on opposite side of road, honking cabbies, holy cows, very aggressive Volvo drivers – so you get the drift right?
– Oh, and did I mention dogs? Just make some noise and hope they stop chasing you. They’re usually very friendly. You can try carrying some biscuits with you to make friends.

There are also others who believe that you should not wear a helmet or get noticed. I would rather protect my head however. Even if, for some reason you get nervous and fall at least you know your head is protected. I also like to wear bright clothes and make sure I get noticed because when I’m cycling I want that cab fellow to take care and not come too close. Doesn’t work all the time though.

But take an informed decision on this one.

What next?

Get on your bike and ride! If you’ve gotten this far, then you have no excuses not to ride.


CYCLING RESOURCES


To contribute any links or other information that might be useful, do leave a comment

CYCLING BOUTIQUE: For all your needs related to cycling including accessories, apparel, components and even bikes
PEDALS AND WHEELS – Bike shop and outdoor equipment store

RUNNERS/CYCLISTS WHO BLOG:
Bikey Venky (also called as Lord Venky in the cycling circles); an amazing cyclist who can also write about it as passionately!
Manoj Bhat who blogs about his running and cycling experiences at Visor View; an extremely inspiring athlete

W&OD trail

Bicycling Diaries, Part 1: Washington & Old Dominion Trail in Virginia

So what do you do with miles of railroads from the yesteryears, which are no longer operational? Abandon them? Thankfully, someone had better sense. Today, in the US there are quite a few of these railroads, converted into running and cycling trails. These provide a great place for those who want to indulge in these sporty activities without the hindrance of vehicular traffic.

Through a tunnel

While visiting Virginia, the trail we cycled on is the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad (W&OD), now looked after by the Friends of WNOD.  This particular railroad ferried passengers between towns, from 1859 to 1968. With the increase in the number of vehicles and the improved road networks, the demand for passenger trains came down and finally they closed it down.

It is a 45 mile asphalt trail for walking, running and other activities (motorized vehicles are not allowed) and there is a parallel 30.5 mile gravel path for horseback riding and hiking. So there are portions where the two trails intersect. 

Somewhere on the W&OD Railroad trail

On weekends, these kind of dedicated trails (W&OD is one of them) becomes a hub of activity. In fact, if you want to do a fast cycle ride, it’s probably better to plan one on a weekday instead. Else, you’ll have to spend a lot of time dodging walkers, dogs, and other folks out on leisurely pursuits. And calling out “to your left” – etiquette demands you shout out to whoever’s in front of you when you’re passing.

On the W&OD Trail

We chose a weekday and it was a good idea. We got dropped at the far end of the trail very close to Purcellville at mile 42 at around 11 am. When we began our ride, we hardly encountered anyone. It turned out to be a very pleasant day and the nice part was the shade of the trees. We did a rather leisurely pace enjoying the scenery and the fact that there was simply no one around!

Map of the WOD trail

WOD trail: Image from Friends of WOD

We wind our way through open fields, empty towns (at least it seemed empty, but we were there in the afternoon), beside rivers and streams, and golf courses and a few houses dotting the countryside. We stopped a few times to enjoy the fresh air and the surroundings.

Countryside as we cycle

Back home, we don’t have the luxury of not encountering over-speeding vehicles or honking maniacs, so I thoroughly soaked in the experience. Miles and miles of tarmac and not a single vehicle to bother us. I had to keep pinching myself to tell myself this was for real!
Crossing a small town

There are quite a few water points on the trail, though I carried a hydration pack to be safe. I had to only refill once. We also had packed sandwiches and some energy bars, which we enjoyed on one of the many benches beside the trail and ate our lunch.
Taking a break

Water filling station

We cycled upto mile 14 beyond Herndon, and then headed back to mile 24, where we had instructions to stop for being picked up by our friends. Though it was relatively warm through the day, the trail passes through areas of shade giving us some relief from the sun. At the town of Herndon, we saw displayed on the roadside, one of the original coaches from one of the trains that plied on the W&OD rail line. We also found a cycling shop (Green Lizard), where we had some coffee and brownies.

A carriage from the train is preserved in Herndon

Green Lizard Cycling in Herndon

All in all, a beautiful trail. We’ve heard it gets packed on weekends, so visit on a weekday and you’ll love it!

Here’s a great website to find other trails to bike around in Virginia, and also the different states in the US.

More pictures from the W&OD are in my Flickr Album.

Olaulim Backyards

Olaulim Backyards: Where time stands still, but a lot can happen!

They had me at Richard Parker!

The one who rules

This cosy homestay, situated in a very quiet and serene part of Goa will transport you to another world all together. Away from the buzz and the humdrum, the noise and pollution of the city, it’s a relief as you step into what is literally a “backyard”! All around is just green as far as the eye can see. And a creek that lazily winds its way into the property completing the perfect picture.

And fittingly, you know why this serene place is called Olaulim Backyards. Inhabited by a motley group of permanent residents (besides the hosts and their 2 kids) – three dogs, a pony, a donkey and a cat called Richard Parker - every moment is a delight.

Gone grazing...

I was lucky to spend 3 days at Olaulim, in the peak of the monsoons and I don’t think I’ve seen Goa in a more beautiful season – bathed in rain, the countryside is a shade of green that you’ll never find in a concrete jungle. The roads are inviting, winding and wet. And the best part of the rains is that life doesn’t stop in these parts. Armed with large raincoats, people go about their business not really caring much. It does rain incessantly for days on end and the monsoon in Goa is a long one.

Olaulim is run by Savio and his wife Pirkko, who are friendly, accommodating and immediately make you feel at home. I got shown to my cosy cottage overlooking the Olauim creek, with Richard Parker meowing loudly to make sure I was settled in properly. From the cottage, is a lovely view of the fields in the horizon and the water in between. I ventured out on my first kayak adventure and spent a happy hour enjoying the peace and quiet. Just the chirping of birds, the ruffled waters as I rowed and the occasional flying fish performing acrobats for me, it seemed!

Welcome to the cosy room

There’s never a dull moment. Either you’re lounging around in the central dining area – naturally my favourite place – or diving into the pool enjoying the beautiful waters. Or you can borrow one of the cycles and go off to discover the Goan countryside. Like I did. And got caught in the pouring rain, but enjoyed it immensely. Give me these  lovely hilly country roads any day, over miles and miles of boring highway!

Some fun in the creek

And then there was all this amazing food to be eaten. Be warned – if you’re visiting, make sure you get a healthy dose of exercise during the day. Otherwise, you might just get back home a few kgs heavier. Like I did. Despite all my attempts at cycling, kayaking, swimming, I still over ate! With delicious fish fry, fresh vegetables and great company, it’s quite easy to get carried away.

During my stay, I also met a very interesting couple who had driven all the way down South with their two kids. It was heart warming to see them enjoy their time, playing with the animals and enjoying the outdoors. One of the advantages of living in homestays are the interesting people you meet and have dinner time conversations with.

I would have probably stayed on forever (or asked to be adopted by Savio and Pirkko!), but had to head back eventually.

More pictures: Goa Monsoon Diaries
Olaulim Backyards home page

(Note: If you’re looking for a place to stay in Goa, and like the sound of this one, head over to my Best Homestays India blog for the full review and contact details.)

Dahon Vitesse Review

Unpack, unfold and ride away!

Wouldn’t it be nice to easily pack your cycle, load it in your car or bus and then unfold it and ride it again?

Dahon Vitesse

Dahon Vitesse


A folding bike makes a lot of sense, especially if you want to use your cycle in a flexible manner. Maybe put it in the bus for a section of your journey. Or ride to a place and get the bike back by bus.

Here’s an interesting account of how Sameer tested it out for a weekend trip out of town when he packed it into the bus, unloaded it and then rode up to his meeting point in Chennai. What a novel way to avoid irritating rickshaw drivers, who anyway won’t take you where you want to go!

On the weekend, I tried out the Dahon Vitesse D7, thanks to Rohan, the brainchild behind the BOTs store.

What I liked about the bike:
1) Easy to handle and manouvre through traffic
2) Folds quickly and fits into a car/bus easily
3) The gears are enough for riding in a place like Bangalore where the terrain is rolling and you rarely get very steep hills
4) Quite a head turner!
5) Easily adjustable and comfortable ride. I did around 40 kms on it around town and didn’t have any discomfort at all riding around.

There an extensive review of the bike here, so I won’t get into too many details.

Though I was initially a little uncomfortable with the size of the wheels, it didn’t take me too long to get used to it.

Having said that, this is probably not the right bike if you want to go trail riding or jump over potholes or do some rough and tough stunts. I would call it more of a commuter and leisure bike, over shorter distances though I also know of some folks who have taken folding bikes over long tours. But, it might not be the most suitable for roughing it out.

If you’re looking for a compact bike, and especially a “one size” fits all for the family, to run errands and commute, this might just be the right one for you.

You can drop into your friendly neighbourhood BOTs store and check the bike out.

Going the Distance

Going the distance!

An account of a 400km ride covering Bangalore-Vellore-Bangalore in 26 hours and something minutes, as a part of the Bangalore Brevets.

My cycling journey continues and gets more interesting as the years go by (at least for me). At times, I wish I’d started earlier in life (I wasted a lot of good years!), but I’m just glad I did finally get onto a saddle. Continue reading