Mohan Subramanyam took these words to heart and over the past 8 years has really made long-distance endurance cycling his calling, discovers Deepthi Velkur.
It was in 2010 that Mohan, an IT professional took to cycling for recreation, later making it his office commute and finally graduating to long-distance endurance cycling about 6 years ago.
With his trusted Trek 3700 (2010) MTB by his side, Mohan has notched 65,000KMs to his name over the past 8 years. This includes six 1000KM and four 1200 KM rides in addition to completing the London – Edinburgh – London ride in 2017 (a distance of 1450KM). Apart from India, Mohan’s cycling journey has taken him to Spain, Australia, and Israel.
His passion for riding doesn’t seem to fade away just yet. He has an impressive list of rides that he wants to complete, noteworthy among them are the IPWR (Australia), TransAM (USA), Japan Odyssey (Japan), the TransAtlantic (Ireland) and the TransContinental (Europe). His biggest worry though – how is he going to make time for this given his work schedule?
Despite travelling the world on his bike, Mohan has a special place in his heart for the scenic and challenging terrains that India has to offer. His hope for the future would be for world-class cyclists to ride in India and create globally popular rides.
His passion for the sport, his trusted bike aside, Mohan has his wonderful wife, supportive friends and family to thank for encouraging and pushing him on this wonderful journey.
Mohan took some time off his crazy schedule to share his thoughts on his cycling life so far.
FM: How did your journey into cycling start and when did you know that you wanted cycling to be more than just a passing fad?
Mohan: My father played a big part in my life and a major influencer for me to pick up cycling. Growing up in the 80s, we only had a cycle at home, and he used to take me along to the movies all the way from Rajaji Nagar to MG road. I also remember cycling around the city over the weekends with my friends – such gorgeous memories that I will cherish forever.
It was in 2010 that I gifted myself a Trek 3700 MTB for my 40th birthday. The idea was that I commute to work and explore rural Bangalore over the weekends, but fate it seems had other ideas.
In 2012, on a whim, I registered for the shorter version of the TFN (a 2-day event in Ooty) and got to meet Sundar Rajan from Chennai who introduced me to Randonneuring (long-distance endurance cycling). My 1st long-distance race was a 200 KM BRM in Chennai and 6 years on, my passion for cycling is stronger than ever.
FM: What is it about long-distance cycling that fascinates you?
Mohan: Well, I love travelling, seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and what better way to do it than on a cycle. Apart from that, long-distance cycling has been very transformative for me, it has helped me move on from being an introvert to someone who is more open. The challenges you face during extreme situations in long-distance endurance cycling and how you overcome them by taking instant decisions or finding alternate solutions has helped me overcome the fear of failure and made me determined to achieve more.
FM: Which was your first long-distance ride? How did you feel pre-race, during the ride and post the race?
Mohan: My first long-distance ride was a 200KM Brevet in 2013 at Chennai and prior to that I did a test ride of 100KM in Bangalore to know if I was ready to take on the challenge. My friend Satish Krishnan and I planned to ride together. At the start line, I was a bundle of nerves but as we started cycling, we had a chance to interact with some experienced riders like Jaya Ramurthi, Sundar Sir from Chennai and Ashok Sir who boosted our confidence. Additionally, the other riders and organizers provided the extra support that helped us complete the ride within the allotted 13.5 hrs. It was my 1st 200Km BRM and it was difficult owing to the headwinds on the ECR, Chennai. At the finish line, it was a sense of joy, achievement and discovering a new self. Though the ride ended on a good note, my whole body was in pain the next day and I could not sit properly due to saddle soars.
FM: You take Randonneuring very seriously. What inspired you to move from regular long-distance cycling to something so extreme?
Mohan: I love Randonneuring since it takes me to new places, meeting different people, seeing the world from a different perspective, interacting with locals, tasting local food and also getting to know the harsh realities. It’s a wonderful world out there to be explored and it wouldn’t have been possible by just sitting in a room. I follow a lot of long-distance endurance cycling across the globe, the riders and the cycling community keeps inspiring to achieve more. Here you are racing against yourself to see how far you can go and I believe there is no end to it as long as you are disciplined and determined to achieve the set goals irrespective of the challenges you face along the path.
FM: How is the world of Randonneuring organized in Bangalore?
Mohan: Randonneuring is long-distance Endurance Cycling with rides of 200, 300, 400, 600 and 1000 km called Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux (BRMs). Audax Club Parisien (ACP) is the international governing body for Randonneuring that administers and oversees the conduct of BRMs worldwide. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount.
Audax India Randonneurs (AIR) is the all-India organization of Randonneurs, which is recognized by Audax Club Parisien (ACP) for conducting and overseeing all Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux (BRMs) and Audax events in India. Bangalore Randonneurs is governed by Audax India Randonneurs and Brevets in Bangalore started in 2011 which was conducted by Bangalore Brevets. In the year 2015, it was taken up by Bangalore Randonneurs to conduct ACP authorized brevets.
FM: Do you conduct a lot of Brevets each year – can you give us a count and break-down, please?
Mohan: We do conduct long-distance endurance cycling called Brevets wherein a fixed distance needs to be completed in the allotted time 200Km (13.5hrs), 300Km (20 hrs), 400Km (27 hrs), 600km (40 hrs), 1000Km (75hrs) and 1200Km (90hrs).
We organize 1 or 2 rides over the weekend every month for all categories. The calendar year for Brevet starts from November 1st to October 31st of the next year. We also have a minimum of 3 Super Randonneurs series wherein a Super Randonneur is one who completes 200Km, 300km, 400km and 600km in a calendar year.
A list of all events across India can be found at https://www.audaxindia.org/events.php and specific to Bangalore can be found at https://www.audaxindia.org/bangalore-randonneurs-bangalore-c-9.
Bangalore has good challenging and scenic terrains to be explored. Last year we organized “Gates of Heaven” 1200KM ride which is a Signature ride and had over 50 participants across India. This ride takes riders on a roller coaster ride across the three southern states i.e. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, cutting through the exquisite countryside, climbing through the colossal hills of Yercaud, Nilgiris, Wayanad, Coorg, Sakleshpur, and Chikmagalur. These are some winding and deadly rolling terrain with an overall elevation gain of 13000+ meters.
FM: What are the challenges you face when organizing such events?
Mohan: It’s easier to organize smaller events of 200km,300km or 400km for which you need to be on the course for 24 hrs. Above 600Km it’s quite challenging since you need to be on the road with the riders for 2-4 days depending on the distance. There is a lot pre-work to be done before a ride in terms of logistics and complete other registration formalities. During the ride, we need to ensure the safety of each and every rider until they finish. The weather could play spoilsport to both riders and organizers alike – extreme winds, heat or rain pose a challenge to all. In remote locations arranging food, hydration, resting options and getting permission through forest areas are some of the challenges we face and finding quick alternatives will help to keep the event going smoothly.
FM: When it’s something new you usually see a lot of people attend but the fad passes, and number dwindle. Do you see participation as a challenge?
Mohan: Agree, there are some trails which I believe offers something new every time you ride and there are signature rides like “Anchetty 200Km BRM”, “Gates of Heaven 1200Km BRM” etc where we see the numbers growing and as long as you provide the right spirit of support and motivation you will always have the rider base and don’t really see participation as a challenge.
I personally feel we need to keep constantly exploring new challenging terrains and innovative methods to keep the riders wanting more. One such event we at Bangalore Randonneurs organise in November is the SR5 “Super Randonneur series in 5 days” where riders need to complete back to back rides starting from 600km, 400km 300km, 200km in the stipulated time. Cumulatively it is 1500Km of happiness, 110 hrs of cycling, 9500 meters of elevation and 4 beautiful destinations. This was the first time such an event was organized in India and saw good participation from across India.
FM: What kind of marketing campaigns do you run to educate people and encourage them to attend such events?
Mohan: We at Bangalore Randonneurs have built a culture where we cater to all types of riders in Randonneuring, from beginner to advanced riders and help them graduate over a period of time. We provide Value based Experience to our riders and that’s our selling point and our riders are the biggest campaigners. Gates of Heaven event was sold out in 30 mins when we opened the registration and it had the elite riders across India participate in the ride. Everyone looks for something unique and new and as long as we do that we will have the riders. Sadly, we see a lower number of female riders and hence to promote more female riders to take up this awesome sport “Randonneuring”, we have all female cyclists ride for free and can be a part of any number of events in Bangalore this season. Once in a while, we do encourage deserving candidates’ free registration for our rides.
FM: In your cycling journey you have covered many a mile. Which has been the longest ride you have done so far?
Mohan: The longest ride which I participated and completed was LEL-2017 (London-Edinburgh-London), though I could not complete within 117.5 hr allotted time and took an additional 2 hrs of time to finish. It will remain one of my best rides till date because of the scenic trails, wonderfully organized, awesome volunteers to support and great food. It wouldn’t have been possible without my ride partner Sayi Ramakrishna who helped with all pre-ride logistics and riding alongside me during the course as this was my first international event.
FM: Having explored multiple parts of India on the bike, which route do you think is a must-do on a cyclist/Randonneurs bucket list? Why?
Mohan: We have many beautiful terrains in India itself to be explored and one lifetime is not enough. For Randonneurs in India I would pick “Gates of Heaven”, “Bliss in the Hills”, & Mumbai 1200km to add to their bucket list and Internationally PBP and LEL for the sheer experience one can gain by participating in such events.
Leh-Manali is another ride that should be on every cyclist bucket list something which I have not experienced yet. We have scenic and interesting trails in the Western Ghats, Himalayas, and North East for touring.