After a long hiatus, T.K. Vibhaker returned to competitive cycling on the wheels of a 1982 Raleigh
In the early 1970s, T.K. Vibhaker represented Tamil Nadu at national cycling tournaments. He bowed out of competitive cycling earlier than he should have. In the early 1980s, he wished to make a comeback but did nothing about it. So, his wife Shanta took matters into her hands. In 1982, she got him an expensive racing Raleigh. It was, however, not a straightforward gift. Vibhaker had to go to the Raleigh factory in England, because the cycle was going to be built after the engineers studied Vibhaker's anatomy.
A cycle that works for one may not work for another, says Vibhaker. “To perform well, a cyclist has to feel comfortable on his cycle. The right size and geometry of a cycle frame varies from cyclist to cyclist. Measurements including the size and width of the cyclist's arms and the length of his legs are vital in designing a suitable machine for him.”
Shanta let him decide on the customised frame. He explored many possibilities including Peugeot, Batavus, Colnago, Gianni Motta, Gitane, Olmo, and Raleigh. These names were synonymous with big-time cycle-racing and making a choice was difficult. Peugeot, Colnago and Raleigh made it to the shortlist.
He finally settled for Raleigh, because it was based on the English thread pattern that was in use in India. In contrast, Peugeot offered the French thread and Colnago, the Italian. Moreover, Raleigh was common in India and he would be spared the headache of servicing the bicycle in the event of a breakdown.
Vibhaker wrote to Raleigh expressing his interest in a customised bicycle that incorporated the Tour de France specifications. Cycles made for Raleigh's racing team had these features.
Raleigh responded immediately and listed whatever was available. For the frame, Vibhaker had to choose between Reynolds 753c and 531c tubing. “I chose the 531c because it was considered more durable and could be expected to deal better with bad road conditions, rampant in India,” says Vibhaker.” “It was decided that the bicycle would be fitted with Campagnolo components and handmade performance-oriented tubular tyres.”
Following decisions pertaining to bicycle components, Vibhaker went to a special Raleigh workshop in England for a head-to-toe examination. He must have had the sense of being in a physician's office.
“Made to sit on a replica bicycle, I was studied by the engineers. They decided on the adjustments that had to be made so that it suited me perfectly. Their findings were passed on to the work floor where bicycles are built. ” Besides building the cycle, the engineers put him through a training that has helped him ride this powerful bicycle efficiently. This bicycle has figured in many of his cycling triumphs.
Vibhaker has other racing bicycles, but the Raleigh is the most precious one. Because it was a thoughtful gift from his wife and it helped him resurrect his racing career.