Thank you, Girish!

The bike
It all started with this bike (the green one in front)

21 February 2010

I rode the 12Km Bandra ‘cyclothon‘ – an organised ride, on closed roads, through streets of Bandra.

I didn’t own a cycle back then. I hadn’t even thought of riding that cyclothon, let alone going and buying myself a cycle. The idea was all Girish‘s, supported by MehulAmit and a few others on twitter1. We signed up – Raghi borrowed a bike from her friend, Simran, and Girish offered to lend me one of his old bikes.

We, Girish and I, didn’t know each other that well back then. We may have met once or twice, and had chatted on twitter for 6 months or so. And despite just that feeble connection, he didn’t just encourage us to sign up for the event, but also offered to lend his bike.

I loved the cyclothon. It was just 12 Km, mostly through narrow, potholed streets of Bandra. Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed it (as did Raghi, I suspect). It’d been 9 years since I’d last ridden a (my) cycle, and that small event brought back flood of memories of cycling.

Thank you Girish for lending that bike!

Our first bikes
Our first bikes

Raghi and I went on and bought our own bikes soon after – with guidance from Girish on models and specs – and started riding around Bombay – first Bandra and then beyond.

In fact, Raghi ventured out of Bandra before me – joining a random bunch of Bombay cyclists on a ride from Borivali to Bandra. Slow as she was, she was soon hanging at the back of the group, trying to stay confident & alive in Sunday morning Western Expressway traffic. One rider staying at her side for company all along the way. Girish. Offering her words of encouragement and advice, getting her safely home.

Soon after I started going out on longer rides, outside of our neighbourhood of Bandra. 50Km rides to Nariman Point and back. Wednesday nights with Girish and Amit. We’d argue, eat, and ride. We locked horns with each other, with rowdy motorbikers when they tried to kick us off, and with Bombay traffic crawling through the Dadar-Mahim bottleneck.

SMBC at Carter Road
SMBC at Carter Road (Clockwise from front left: Mehul, Anupam, Shakti, Raghs, and Girish)

Then came the SMBC – Saturday morning biking club – where I got to make even more twitter & RL friends in Bombay – Shakti, Nirav, and Anupam come to mind. We’d go out for an easy paced social ride every Saturday morning, and finish it off with a hearty breakfast – the breakfast usually accounting for twice the calories burnt in the ride. Again, the introducer to the people on these rides, as well as the most regular participant, was Girish.

It wasn’t long after that we left Bombay for London, so our participation in the Bombay cycling community was short-lived. But the reignition of love for cycling was on a firm ground, bringing with it more changes than I ever imagined.

The first century ride
The first century ride

Within an year of moving to the UK, I rode my first century ride, following it up with a flurry of century rides – to Cambridge and to Box Hill, bought my road bike, rode my first sportive. And there hasn’t been any stopping since. I ride to work, and to shops. I ride the 2.5Km downhill to station, and I ride 240Km around hills of South Wales. I ride alone through cyclonic wind and rain, I ride with friends 8x up the Leith hill, and I ride (whenever she permits me) with Raghi around Surrey hills. I ride.

It’s more than a bike

When I smoked
I smoked

I was addicted to cycling, and wanted to get better. I started realising that my smoking was taxing my lungs. Lungs that I needed to efficiently supply my body with oxygen if I was to ride better, farther, faster. So, 6 years after I started it, I gave up smoking.

That initial bike lend by Girish had got me far – I was fitter, though still extremely fat (obese!), an ex-smoker, and now preaching cycling to anyone who’d hear.

Even more importantly, it’d provided me a safety valve, a happy place at a time in life when I was down and alone far too often. If I was angry, I’d go out and ride – let the cold air rushing through my hair calm me down. If I was frustrated, I’d ride out to my favourite spots – greens off The Broadwalk in Regent’s Park, or the White lodge hill in Richmond park.

Cycling was also a great way to get to know this new country – I saw more of London and her people when riding around than I’d ever seen on the bus or tube. The sportives I rode were the best sightseeing tour of British countryside anyone could’ve asked for. We even took our bikes on the vacation to Scotland, riding around in the Great Glen, and on the Black Isle.

Way more than just a bike

And it wasn’t just cycling. 3 years back when my tryst with running began, Girish was again an inspiration. I’d always wanted to run2, but it’d been decades since I’d been able to. Girish never introduced me to running, but he did inspired me.

Sidin‘s updates, through his Couch-to-5K program, were the immediate trigger. But years of reading Girish’s updates of running to virtually everything – weekday morning office commute to weekend morning runs to the cinema – were the ones that had kept the fire burning.

W1R1 of C25K on 2nd November 2012: huffing and puffing on creaking knees and ankles through the 8x 60s runs required. 6 months later my first 10K. Early next year, my first half marathon. 3 years on, and now running is an addiction – a week with sub-25K mileage is a depressing week3.

It took time to get started. There were a lot more injuries along the way. But it has me, and rest of my small family, hooked. We ♥ running.

Weight loss - the running effect
Weight loss – the running effect

Running led to other good things too – it helped me drop 25Kg, going from almost morbidly obese to moderately fit. A year later, after she started running, Raghs underwent a similar transformation – from overweight to hot!

Along the way I made a host of new cycling and running friends, got a dog who loves running (and swimming) more than me, got Raghi addicted to running, and became that guy who nags his every friend and relative to take up running, cycling, or swimming – if not all three of them.

It’s been a long, happy, and fruitful journey – despite its fair share of injuries, and accidents. And there’s no end in sight – it’ll probably come the day I drop dead (if I’m lucky, on a trail or a hill somewhere). But every time I think back to how and when I got started on this journey, I come back to the same moment and person – Girish lending me his bike for that 12K cyclothon in Bombay.

For encouraging us to sign up for that event,
for lending me that bike,
for helping Raghi on her first long ride,
for encouraging and accompanying me on those rides to town,
for being the calming factor(!) when Amit & I argued on the many small things,
for being the inspiration that got me running,
for continuing to be that inspiration to many others back in Bombay and beyond,
and, above all, for being a friend, a supporter, a believer when you didn’t need to be any,
Thank you, Girish!

  1. Those were the days when twitter in India was still nascent, the community more supportive, sociable, and welcoming. We did have nontroversies, but no outrage or hashtags yet. That was when I was still known as @rbx
  2. 3 things I’ve wanted to do since mid-teenage, all 3 of which I sucked at:
    – swim
    – run
    – dance (still pending) 
  3. 9 of them so far this year, 2 of them the taper weeks before Fred Whitton and Dragon Ride. 
Thank you, Girish!

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