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On my own power

Shubhabrata Marmar  | Updated: July 26, 2013, 05:28 PM IST

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you will already know two things about me. One. I am pretty obsessive-compulsive about things and that leads to me to having an almost stupid level of focus and drive when I put my mind to something. Two. I am now an aspiring cyclist.

Shumi-cycleShumi's custom Suncross R1

Cycling has been a bit of a shock to the system I will freely admit. I went to buy a bicycle and immediately discovered that Rs 5,000, which I thought was a reasonable budget to start with, buys you diddly squat. The earnest-eyed Faisal at Pro9 Bicycle Studio in Bandra smiled gently when I doubled that figure and said that I'd need Rs 20,000 to get a decent thing that would actually be useful and last a while. Oh. Really?

I thought about buying a simple Indian thing, you know, like a Hero, Atlas, Hercules type on thing. Faisal quickly steered me away from these. His point was that I was of relatively advanced years and I didn't want to start out with an uncomfortable bike that would soon become part of my epic collection of mildewed stuff I've bought and then never really used.

Once I picked up the Rs 20,000 Suncross custom from his shop, I also managed to spend about Rs 5,000 acquiring a helmet (no, I couldn't locate a Kagayama pattern to fit in with the Shoei unfortunately) and a hook to hang the thing from at home so it would be out of the way. I'd have spent more - I'm a gadget and gizmo hoarder that way - but Faisal firmly refused to sell me more cool cycling gear until I started using the bike regularly and he was sure I was spending on stuff I'd use. Evidently parting a fool from his money has become harder and some people still want what is best for you.

Anyway, so I dragged my nearly 40-year-old self onto a saddle smaller than my nose and went for a ride. I thought it would be easy. My attraction to cycling was simplicity itself, after all. Cycles are single-track human-powered devices that work the same way as motorcycles, right? They lean left to go left and so forth.

I've had occasion to re-evaluate my initial assessment. Normally when I ride out of home on my motorcycle, I pay little attention to things like gradients, for example. Almost every powered two-wheeler takes simply no notice of the gentle slopes we encounter every day. On a cycle this isn't so. A minor 0.15 per cent grade (15cm of climbing over 100m of pedalling) had my lungs wanting to burst, knees wanting to pop right out of my body and run away. I enjoyed the sensation of the lactic acid burn in the thigh and calf muscles but my god this is hard work.

Cocky that I am, I'd also added disc brakes to my cycle since "See Faisal, I'm a motorcycle tester. I'm used to disc brakes, so how about them, eh? I don't like these silly rubber pad on the rim jobs." But to use them - these are simple cable-operated non-hydraulic brakes - I have to remember that I weigh 81kg and the bike 18kg. Which means if I brake hard and forget to arrest the stoppie that is coming by hanging my considerable bottom off the back of the bike, I could easily be looking at a full-on face plant over the handlebar. And no, despite my protests, my family has threatened to disown me if I wear full motorcycle gear and ride a bicycle. Evidently there is a ceiling to the gratuitous stupidity I am allowed.

But honestly, the biggest teacher has been the 21-gear mechanism. Cycle gears are simple. The chain skips across three large sprockets up front and, on my bike, 7 sprockets at the rear. And you work them like a CVT.

Every human being depending on his or her physical condition has a pedalling speed (in rpm, called cadence in cyclist-lingo) at which the body is most efficient. The idea is to vary the gears depending on slope and speed to ensure you are always at your most appropriate cadence. Trust me, it is hard to be an engine and an ECU at the same time.

But when you do get it right, the feeling is brilliant. There are times when you are pedalling furiously uphill but inching forward. This is a good gear for climbing because it means pedal effort is low though forward motion per rotation of the pedals is less. But it means long slopes can be tackled even by a heaving, about to collapse old man. And on the downhill, you reverse the gearing so you pedal with less effort again but each rotation of the pedal becomes a much greatest distance traveled forward. 45.20kmph on a bicycle? Oh yes sir, indeed.

And believe me, I've hit 300kmph, on occasions, in cars and 270kmph on a bike (both under controlled conditions) and 45kmph on a cycle is far more satisfying in some ways because all that speed is yours. You create that speed.

But why am I doing all this? Motorcycles return to the picture here. I believe cycling will make me fitter, stronger and at a racetrack faster overall. And I cannot think of a better way to exercise. Because minus the motor, a bicycle has everything else I love about being on wheels.

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