In this continuation of yesterday’s post, Cycling iQ holds a Q&A with Vivek Radhakrishnan, co-creator of Bangalore-based KYNKYNY Wheelsports cycling team, about the road cycling scene in India.
Where are the real “hot spots” for road cycling in India?
Bangalore is the place where it happens. With the rapidly increasing traffic, pollution and rampant felling of this city’s beautiful trees, people have become very concerned about the environment and future of the planet. Cycling (for some) emerged as one of the most sensible forms of transport, even for those who could afford a car. About three years ago the PRIVATE (read non-federation) racing scene was born, with newfound interest in the sport and the cycling experience of many foreign-returnees such as myself. For the last three years, there has been a “Bangalore Bicycle Championship (BBCh)” race every month. Today, folks are flying in from different cities to race here every third Sunday of the month. The Championships are run by volunteers, and people throw money in a hat at the end of every race. It is truly remarkable to see the dedication of the cycling community here, organizing these events in their own time and with their own money.
Is the India Cycling Federation doing a good job of promoting the sport?
To be honest, I am not a great fan of the Federation and the way it functions. They have control over all the National-level events, and show no support to private teams. The system in India is that you can only represent your State, or a Government team such as the Railways, Army and so on. As one may imagine, this allows for a lot of politics, especially in a country like India. This primitive mentality did not allow teams such as ours to participate at elite level events; we had to literally find ways of sneaking in for the first few years. The future of Indian cycling lies in the hands of private, passion-driven individuals and teams, and KYNKYNY Wheelsports is paving the way!
Is there a national road cycling calendar?
For the longest time there wasn’t, but it seems that the federation has recently put something up. It is not amazingly informative, but it’s a start! Typically, a race would somehow be announced, only with a couple of weeks notice. One would have to know people who know people to hear of these “National Events”. This does not allow for proper planning, training or peaking, so the racing culture here has been very different from how it is in the rest of the world. The BBCh races have had a calendar for three years now; all the serious athletes and enthusiasts plan around it. There is an organized points system, so for the real contenders it is pretty bad to miss a single race.
What is the biggest non-professional road cycling event in India? Can foreigners enter?
“The Tour of Nilgiris” is happening this December for the fourth successive year. It is a non-competitive event, but covers large distances through the very beautiful landscape of the Nilgiri mountains in southern India. It has been very influential in popularizing the sport, and has been an event that has launched people into the racing scene. It is a paying tour, and people from all over the world are welcome. There is however a maximum of 70 or so participants, and a selection process as it is a very demanding event.
Is the Tour de France shown on television?
Bloody hell! Some years it is televised. The tour transmission usually comes on at around 60-40km to the finish, and typically the allotted time is only an hour or two at the most. It has happened on many occasions that there is about 2km to go, the HTC train is all lined up at the front, you’re on the edge of your sofa with your mouth open and the chip still in your hand, and they end the transmission to re-run some bloody West Indies cricket match from the 70’s, for the eight bloody time!!! So technically the answer is yes… This year we did get to see a good deal of the stage finishes. And we were rooting for your boy Evans all the way.
Where would a foreigner go to find out more about road cycling in India?
There are many online forums in most of the large cities, and people discuss everything; the various rides on tomorrow morning, traffic problems, what is the best mask to wear, road bike vs mountain bike, slicks vs knobbies, should one really shave ones legs, is it better to start shaving one leg and then graduate to the other… blah blah blah. The bottom line is, there are a lot of people talking about a lot of stuff pertaining to cycling!
Is it easy to find high-end road bikes in most major cities?
Today, yes. High-end in India is sort of entry-level in the west, but a proper dealer will arrange any bike from a brand he sells, given a little time. What is available off the shelf is, however, not bad for recreational cyclists and most enthusiasts. Components – stems, pedals, bars, etc – can be difficult to find, but can be sourced; it’s a very different scenario than about four or five years ago. There has definitely been an incredible growth in the industry. For proper pro gear, there are only a few good sources; Wheelsports (Bangalore) being one of them.
Are Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles (or other online stores) popular?
Yes! People usually do collective shopping to save on the shipping, but I know quite a few folks who have bought bikes and loads of bits and bobs from Chain Reaction UK. We get pretty badly hit with import duties some times; other times you get lucky.
What are the popular bike brands?
Trek, Merida, Colnago, BMC, KHS, B-Twin, Cannondale, Willier, Bianchi, GT, Schwinn, Giant; there is a new one every day, the market is opening up. At the elite level you will find other brands, usually bikes that have been specially imported for a team or an individual.
How many road cycling teams are there in Bangalore; is road cycling popular with both men and women?
Probably around 10; it’s mostly men, but it is slowly catching on with the ladies.
Who is the strongest Indian road cyclist?
Lokesh Narasimhachar, one of our KYNKYNY Wheelsports riders, is definitely one of the finest and most experienced cyclists in the country at the moment. He is an elite rider of international standard. Nineteen year-old Naveen Raj (also of KYNKYNY Wheelsports), symbolizes the potential that India has. Like Lokesh, he is a tech-head and racer. He lives and breathes cycling and, given all the necessary training, support and opportunity, he could very well be a name on the ProTour listings one day.
We’re at the end of the Q&A. What do people do at the end of a ride? Coffee stop?
In Bangalore, most road cycling has to be done on the city’s periphery. The tradition is to drive out and park at a Café Coffe Day (the local Starbucks), so rides usually end with a coffee and a bite at the café.