It’s all in a day’s ride for cyclists of Bikers Terrain who range from novices to those who are planning ambitious 1,200 kilometrechallenges, writes Esther Elias

The full moon is still out, but the stars aren’t and there is no sign of the sun. Lit by their flashing front lights and trailed by their reflective rear lights, 30 cyclists ease their way out of Cosmopolitan Club’s gates and onto Avanashi Road, deserted but for speeding trucks. With the morning nip, a gentle wind and the howl of stray dogs, they ride close to pavements; circle around Codissia, cross the airport and onto Kalapatti. By now, the sun has announced itself and more car honks fill the air than bird calls. After a short stop for water and conversation, they return to an awoken city and choked streets. It’s all in a day’s ride for members of Bikers Terrain (BT), a 130-strong cyclists’ group in Coimbatore.

Bikers Terrain (BT) began in April 2011 when Sanjana Vijayakumar discovered cycling through Sanjay and Arjun Balu, and later bought a cycle with her husband Sri Hari Prasadh. She began a Facebook page by the same name and added Hari as well as her friends Divya Chandran and Sujini Meiyappan.

Soon enough, acquaintances and relatives joined, strangers found them online, and within a year the group was a 100 strong, and cycling in several teams of smaller numbers frequently.

Over time, some have stopped riding and others have changed cities but despite the shifting population, Sanjana says 80 per cent of their group are active cyclists. “We do large group rides once a month to places such as Chettipalayam, Sulur, Siruvani and Maruthamalai, and most people cycle several times a week with people from their locality,” says Sanjana.

Varied styles

The group currently comprises of cyclists with varying riding abilities and styles. For instance, Arjun and a few friends hit the mountain trails on long rides through tea estates, forest edges and often, uncharted territory. While it is physically demanding, he says, “It’s worth it for the places you discover and the people you meet.”

Vinay Balaji, on the other hand, takes to road biking with friends and trains for brevets — long-distance endurance rides of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km each. The group most recently participated in the 200 km Cochin Brevet and hopes to qualify for the 1,200 km Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015. “It takes a lot of saddle time to prepare for these rides. It’s not about going flat out till your lungs are bursting, but about taking it easy enough to hold a conversation while you’re riding — ‘chatting pace’ for say, three hours at a time. It builds a great sense of confidence to meet these targets,” he says.

For Divya and Sujini, cycling began as a variation from running but soon grew into a viable cross-training exercise. “It’s not as strenuous on your body as running since the physical impact is less but it develops a different set of muscles,” says Divya. With Sanjana, the trio now challenge themselves to triathlons periodically — 5 km run, followed by a 20 km cycle and a 750 m swim. Besides these, they cycle over 20 km thrice a week.

So does Shanthini Rajkumar, who rode a 100 km for the first time last week. “That’s the first benchmark most cyclists try to meet but it’s the love of cycling that makes you wake up before sunrise to explore how much more you and your bike can do,” says Shantini.

While BT has its share of experienced cyclists, it also welcomes newcomers. Sujani Balu, for instance, got back on a cycle at 65 and got comfortable by cycling around her compound with her six-year-old granddaughter. “Once you find the right bike, and begin riding right, your posture straightens out and you feel fitter. It’s addictive,” she says.

Finding your fit

Choosing a cycle depends entirely on what kind of terrain a rider prefers, how much he/she plans to ride and specific geometric variations on the bike that are judged by body type, says Sanjay, who sells cycles at his store MVS Enterprises. “Step two involves ‘riding for time’ which is getting conditioned to spending time on the bike independent of how far or fast you go,” he says.

Some energy bars and decent hydration later, a beginner is set to start. In terms of maintenance, Shanthini says, “We wipe our cycles down regularly, keep them free of moisture, lubricate the chain and check for tyre pressure often.”

On the road however, life isn’t smooth sailing for a cyclist. “We’ve had ferocious dogs at our heels and traffic in the wrong direction. Also, people on the road aren’t used to cyclists riding fast. And sometimes, cyclists are fast enough to be thrown off at sudden brakes,” says Nitiya Sathish. “That’s when cycling with a group ensures a little more protection,” says Sanjana. BT is also a platform where people share their cycling experiences across the globe, discover new routes and learn more about bikes. “It’s an easy-going bunch of people with enough focus to encourage a cycling community,” says Sanjay.

Adds Shanthini, “People are already beginning to cycle to work, mothers ask if this is safe for their children and most of our kids already cycle. It’s going to be the way of the future