Monday, December 26, 2011

Post TfN Thoughts

So the 2011 edition of TfN is now over, and I can finally sleep in for a few days (and also take 2-3 days off the bike), which provides a perfect opportunity to post some random musings on the event

For me, it was a bittersweet ride.   It was great to meet up with a bunch of riders from across the country, many of whom I previously knew only by their forum names.   It was nice to do a bunch of tough rides back-to-back.   But being unable to finish the tour due to crashing was a less-than-ideal way to end the trip:   finishing the last 2 days of TfN in a car kinda sucked personally.

But I did learn some good lessons about my cycling - mainly, nutrition.    Day 3, at 180-odd kilometers, was my longest ride ever and also the day I felt the best, mainly because I ate a lot more than I usually do while on the bike.    As a result, I felt amazingly fresh at the end of the 180km, and - crash injuries aside - could have hammered another 50km quite easily at that point.  

On the other hand, I was a little disappointed with my power numbers from the first 2 days.  While the Day 1 power output was enough to put me in the 5th place, it was still a good 10-15% lower than what I should have been able to put out - which would have put me in 3rd.   Day 2 was abysmal - high Zone 2, and I felt as though I was dying.    This was, in hindsight, due to nutrition issues.   So while I was holding 5th place after Day 2, I was underperforming.     A lesson learned from this, and my 2012 training is going to be modified accordingly.

And of course, I have realized that even without the crash, I'd have been hard put to hold on to a top-10 place.   If I leave aside the time lost in the crash, I would have been in 8th or 9th place at the end of Day 4, with Ooty still to go - and would most likely have finished in 11th or 12th place.    So it isn't about horsepower, I think I will need to find a way to get down to 75kg for next year's TfN - at 82kg, I am simply too heavy to compete in a climber's event.  

Moving on to less mopey musings, here are some moments that stick to my mind from TfN:

- Sumit's monster ride:    For someone who's only training has been 15km  commutes, the man came out and murdered everyone for the first 4 days, and had a very impressive ride in Ooty for a non-climber, holding on to 6th place.   I think he gets the award for best results per unit of training!  

- Cowzilla's always-unique method of peeing:   last year, it was a massive strip-a-thon, which gathered a crowd of awe-struck locals.  This year, it was a very interesting torso bend, which prompted me to hastily remind him that there was water available in the support station!

- The plastic crinkling contest at 6:00am in Ooty:   judging by the increase in intensity and volume, it seemed to have gone right down to the wire.   The winner still has to be declared - Sumit or Erik.   Jokes apart, they were pretty good room-mates to have, even though one of them (I don't know who) snores like a fast-approaching jet plane, and they always relegated me to the mattress on the floor.   Such is the life of the domestique.  :)

- Last year, I always had the impression that the ride itself was sort of secondary in the grand scheme of things - this year, the Tour was entirely rider focused, no doubt about that.   Having fewer people was actually good:   it meant better hotels everywhere and generally better support.   The Tour volunteers were absolutely rock stars, as always: a big thumbs up to them, for making it a success.

- Watching Venky climb on his fixie was an alarming sight - it looked as though he was about to fall off the bike, the way he was muscling the gear.  Yet he put in some absolutely great times.   He'll be a scary climber on a road bike.

- A big shout-out to Narayan, from Gurgaon, for stopping to help me when I crashed, and also for lending me his bike and his shoes, thereby enabling me to complete the Day 3 CS at the expense of his own competition.   Unfortunately, by pulling out on the Ooty day, I didn't do full justice to his gesture, one of my regrets from the tour.    But I owe you one, buddy!

- The Feeding Frenzy at the Savoy in Ooty - This is my contribution to TfN tradition, and - if I may say so myself - is one of the high points of the Tour, along with Siva's "Raising The Bar".   This year's feeding frenzy didn't disappoint, either, with about 18-20 riders taking over the dining room of the Savoy, and causing them to run out of pizza and severely testing the capacity of their staff.

To all my cyclista friends, old and new, it was great riding and hanging with you guys.  And remember, the Assos Beak is watching!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 5

For once, I got a good amount of sleep the previous night.   However, I was still very sore when I woke up, thanks to an extended muscular effort (not aerobic) climb the previous day.     What I really wanted to do was lie in bed for a bit, then go out and lie on the couch outside, and then come back and lie down some more.  I was even justifying it to myself - after the hard ride, I need recovery, because it is during recovery that I would get better, and I shouldn't spike my weekly training load too much, etc. etc.  

It didn't help that everyone was speaking Roadie that morning:

"Oh, I am really not feeling good"

"We'll just ride nice and easy, at a recovery pace"

"I dont feel like riding, either"

"My legs are hurting"

So obviously, the gauntlets were being thrown down and it was going to be a hard and painful day.

The initial route was 20km of downhill, followed by 25km of rolling terrain, before the first climb of 6-7k.  After this would be approx 10km of rolling/downhills, followed by the queen climb:  Nuwara Eliya, 13km or so of approx 8%.

However, we decided to skip the downhill as well as the bulk of the rolling terrain and start directly with the climb. After breakfast, we packed up the car and drove about an hour to the starting point.

A short warm-up later, we were off.  And when I say we, I mean the others, of course.  I was pacing myself on this climb, saving my legs for the ballbuster at the end (not that it would have made a difference in staying with this group, I should clarify).  

We start, I get dropped

 The first climb was easy enough - rode at a steady aerobic pace, keeping legs out of the anaerobic zone despite being over-geared - my average HR was only 140bpm on this climb.    Despite the easy pace, it was quite hard going due to the sun and the heat.    After about 30 min of climbing, I made it to the top and we re-grouped with the others (translation - the others were waiting for me), and we started again.

Regrouping at the top of the first climb
Now we hit some rolling terrain - mostly downhill, winding through the hills:  my favorite type of riding conditions.  The weather was also starting to cool, so I turned up the gas a little and enjoyed the feeling of throwing my bike through the corners.   Being on freshly-glued tubulars, I wasn't going as hard as I could, but it was still fun.   Raj was riding with Ros and Rakesh, so it was Mohan and me up front.

Mohan - smiling, of course

And then we encountered the one clueless driver who almost spoiled everything.   We were on a wide road but on the left edge - where I was cycling - there was a deep and narrow (1.5') cement ditch just past the white line marking the shoulder.  A car passed me and as he did so, cut into me very aggressively, almost forcing me into the ditch.    

I yelled a few obscenities at him, but for some reason, the rage wasn't there and so I continued on at my own pace.   Mohan, however, charged after the guy and pulled him over shortly after and was explaining - very nicely, I might add - why he had just been a Giant Douche.   The driver did seem very contrite and it was obvious this was just cluelessness, not deliberate, so we let it go and took off again.

All too soon, the flats were over, and it was time for the climb.   Knowing that I would be trackstanding my way up the hill, I took my helmet off, deciding to enjoy the fresh air and mist on my face.  

And off we went.    And again, when I say "we", I mean the others.   At my speed, "went" would be a bit of an exaggeration.    :)

El Professore puts on a masterclass on climbing - and how to give The Look

This climb was truly a ballbreaker.   Due to a cassette spacing issue (turned out later that my freehub was loose, which is why the cassette wasnt sitting properly), I didnt have access to my 27t cog in the rear, and so was climbing along in a 39/24.    For my weight and that gradient, that meant a very slow, sustained muscular tension effort.   As the slope turned up, this effort was coming from my not-too-well-used glutes and hamstrings, and shortly after, they started to hurt something fierce.   I gritted my teeth and kept going, wishing to dear heavens I had not put my iPod in the car:  Rage Against the Machine and Metallica would have helped me climb immensely.

Climbing hard - see how much my legs are working!
At 5km mark, I passed the car and Rishi - Raj's son - gave me a cheery wave and said "You've still got a long way to go", crushing my soul some more in the process.  

Finally, at the 8km mark, I had to stop for a minute to stretch my lower back, which was in excruciating agony from the climb.   Then back on the bike and off again.   The stretch helped and I was able to keep going with a little less discomfort.   After an hour and change - and almost 3km+ beyond my expected 10km distance - I came across Raj, Mohan and Rakesh, looking soul-crushingly relaxed and rested.

"1 km more to go - do you want to stop or keep going?"

Yeah right.  I may be slow but no way am I going to quit on a climb.    So I kept going.   Rakesh also joined me - he had gone up a bit further and turned back, not realizing where the end of the climb was.   Apparently, there was a police checkpoint a little further up, and this was the summit finish, and he was just as eager to make it there as I was.

Rakesh:  very strong ride - he climbed as though he had 2 servings of Spanish beef.

So off we went, suffering together.    The 1km turned out to be 1.4km - and at that stage, every additional meter was Hurt Personified.  Still, we managed to summon up the energy to sprint for the finish together.

However, we were missing one person:  Rosanna.    Raj had told her that the summit was the police station - not the checkpoint - and so she had gone on ahead, continuing to climb for another 5km (!!!).   We waited for a bit and decided to get in the van and continue onwards to meet her at the top.    We had barely gone a couple of kilometers when we turned a corner and spotted her whizzing by - heading downhill.   Before we could react, she was gone!

Rosanna - the only one to actually climb to Nuwara Eliya!
Now we had to turn the minivan around and chase her - yeah right.   Like a big lumbering minivan is going to catch an Italian cyclist on a downhill.    Finally, after 5km or so, she pulled over and waited for us.     And of course, we were on the receiving end of some well-earned trashtalk, along the lines of her being the only person to actually complete the climb.   :)

We rented a room at a hotel along the way in order to grab fresh showers, give the boys some TLC and change into regular clothes.   After a mediocre lunch in a restaurant with fabulous views, it was then time for a long drive back, returning back to Colombo past 11pm - only to encounter a drunk passed out in front of Raj & Ros's doorway!    Woke him up, shooed him away - only to have him crawl into the back of the van (really!) and try to sleep there.   Woke him up, shooed him away some more.

The bikes and clothes were all tossed in a corner - we'd pack in the morning before leaving for our flights.

And thus, another edition of the Great Roadie Sufferfest came to an end.  And as before, the next one is already being planned:  Phuket in late January.

Yeah, yeah - he can climb.  But does that really excuse the mis-matched jersey and bibs?  :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 3 and 4

On Day 3, we rested.   Slept in till about 8am, and then, after breakfast, headed back to Colombo, stopping over in the historic town of Galle for some sightseeing en-route.   Checked out the old fort overlooking the cricket stadium, had some walnut brownies and ice-cream at a local cafe and then headed back to Colombo in time for a late lunch at Raj's club and then, a short three hours later, a Vietnamese dinner at the same place.

In Galle - from L to R:  Mohan, moi and El Professore

Safe to say that all carbs were fully replenished by the end of this day!

The next morning was another early rise - 5:30am - so that we could load up the car and head out of the city, to the point where we would start our ride to Hatton.   Rakesh had just arrived from Mumbai a couple of days ago, and he and Ros were joining us on the rides.   So Chaminda's minivan had 5 bikes, 5 riders and Rishi in it - and all fit very comfortably, much to my amazement.

After an hour-long drive out of town and breakfast of cakes and bread, we started riding around 9am.   The initial 20-odd kilometers were flat and rolling, and wound alongside a river - very scenic!   I did have a few  curse-out-loud moments when my bike ran over some rough patches while on a curve, jolting my not-fully-healed hand.   But other than that, all was good.

Early part of the ride, before the climb.  How can you tell?  I havent been dropped yet.
Raj, followed by me, Mohan, Rakesh and Rosanna

Then the road went up and I bid the other riders adieu and continued up at my own steady Z2 pace, taking in the ambience and scenery, and eventually catching up to the rest at the top of the 30km climb, where they were feasting on strawberries and tea while I had been slogging my way up the hill.  

Tea and strawberries.  Very civilized - except for the sweaty people in Lycra

After this, we only had a short ways to go - a rolling segment, a short downhill and then a 1.86km climb which Raj dubbed as the competitive section.

The climbing section was a solo ride for me
Off we went, with Raj leading, Mohan following and me, Ros and Rakesh next.    I was hoping to attack a little on the downhill segment and build up a little buffer before the climb, but just as I started, I got forced off my line by an incoming bus which was taking a turn wide - this threw off my line and rhythm, and I hit the climb behind Raj and Mohan, who were shooting up faster than petrol prices.    Knowing that it was a short climb - and the gradients were only 4-6%, which suits me - I punched it up and tried to follow the best I could.

Apparently, I went so fast that I dropped the GPS satellites - I covered the 1.86km in 1.6km!

However, it still wasnt good enough to catch up to Raj and Mohan, of course.    But it was a nice way to end the ride.  

We loaded up with munchies from a nearby supermarket, and I got another case of women walking by staring at my crotch and giggling to each other.   Good lord.  I was wearing black bibs, no world clocks were on display, so wtf was up with this?  

After packing all the bikes, we drove off to Raj's hideaway - an absolutely amazing cottage, overlooking the Hatton lake, where we stuffed ourself with more Sri Lankan curry.   By now, my stomach was getting the hang of it and I was able to dig in with such gusto that I think I saw panic in the eyes of the caretaker at the cottage.

The view from Raj and Ros's hideout - amazing
(Photo by Rajesh Nair)
Post-lunch was R&R time.   I lay back and read a book, while the others, showing a distressing level of energy and enthusiasm, decided to go for a walk to check out the dam.   Some more R&R later - which involved me teaching Rishi some Filipino stick combat techniques from Arnis and a Rammstein session, it was time to eat again - a most excellent pork curry (this really DOES sound like something from That Other Forum, doesnt it?).  

Tomorrow was our last day, a climb which Raj described as harder than Lavasa.  Gulp.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 2

The morning dawned way too quickly for my liking.    Being used to waking up at 9:30 or so, three consecutive days of early morning rising were beginning to weigh on me.   Mohan, as usual, was up and ready with a cheerful smile on his face while Baba Velo was outside, bustling around.

A quick breakfast of omelette and toast later, we loaded up the car and drove for 5 min to our starting point for the ride.

Mohan, Raj and me

My legs were a little tired after yesterday's long ride, and so I was happy that the initial 9-10km were done at a relatively easy pace.

After 10km, as the legs loosened up, the speed started to increase and we were rolling along at a brisk 32-34kph.  

My plan, based on Raj's advice the previous evening, was to attack the hills by shifting UP, and not worry about blowing up or saving myself for the end.  I did this on a few rides but on some extended climbs, went too far into the red and had to ease back, and then cycle like mad to bridge the gap to Raj and Mohan.

Of course, this would tire me out and I'd get gapped again on the next set of climbs.    So finally, at one point, I decided to draft a pickup back to those guys.   Barreling along at 42-43kph, I figured I'd continue past them for a kilometer or so and then ease up and recover, so that I could stay with them when they caught up.   So when the vehicle brought me alongside the others, I kept going for a while before pulling off.   As the next car passed me - going noticeably faster than the one I had been drafting - I noticed to my abject horror two cyclists firmly in its tow, whizzing by me.   So much for my rest.

The next 20-30 min were a game of chase and draft.   At one point, Raj and I were both sprinting up a hill, off the saddle, trying to close up to a tempo.   Raj later grabbed an auto with a see-through rear window and stayed with it for a long while.   I lost the wheel of the vehicle behind it and then sprinted like mad to catch the next one (which had Mohan on its tail), and was unable to do so, resulting in me blowing up in a spectacular fashion.

Drilling it!

All in all, great fun!

Then, in a tribute to That Other Forum, we stopped at the 50km mark for some coconut water.    A couple of coconuts later, we were off.   On the first hill, I had to stop as my rear brake's bolt was loose and the calipers were rubbing against the rims.   Took me 2-3 tries to fix it, which resulting me losing about 3-4 min to Raj and Mohan, and then another 2-3 minutes on the road, before I caught up to where they were waiting for me.  

We started off again together, but now my legs were dead - I had burned too many matches pushing up the hills and sprinting to catch the wheels of various vehicles.     I started to get hungry and got another pro-style handup of bananas from Chaminda, our support car driver.   But it was too little, too late.

I had neglected to eat regularly on this ride and even yesterday, after the 160km ride, I had less than my normal food (unused as I was to Sri Lankan curry and a rice-based diet).   So I was starting to bonk.   The bananas helped stave off a complete crash, but my HR was 135 (barely above recovery) and I was finding it hard-pressed to go faster.    All I could think about was eating - when I started having visions of leaping off my bike and ripping Mohan's calves off with my teeth and eating them, and this vision actually made me hungrier, I decided that it was time to get off the bike and refuel.

So pack it in I did at the 81km mark.  Chaminda was nice enough to get me 3 sausage rolls, all of which I inhaled in a hurry, ignoring the fact that I normally find hot dog sausages dis-fucking-gusting.    Then it was my turn to do a pro-style bottle handup to Raj, who, as usual, was turning the screws in the last 10km of the ride.   He had gapped Mohan, who - for the first time ever - was showing signs of vulnerability, with his head down and a grimace... yes, a genooo-ine grimace, on his face.   I imagine it must have been like this when Indurain cracked in 1996!

A short while later, both of them were done for the day as well, and we hopped in the car and drove to the hotel.   I was tempted to get out and finish my 100km as well, but then decided not to - I had followed my plan for the day:  to push on the climbs and not worry about saving myself, and second, I had learned a good lesson about my nutrition.   So despite the less-than-ideal end to the ride, it was still one where I got better (both physically and in terms of learning my limits).

After a shower and 10 minutes of Zabriskie treatment for my boys, we drove to Raj's favorite surf resort, where, after lunch, Raj and Mohan went off to surf while I lay on a beach chair with a book (couldnt get my hand wet due to the stitches).

Raj and Mohan, off surfing

Me, resting

The lunch was quite light, so by the time evening arrived, we were all starving and stuffed our guts in a royal fashion at the Welligama Bay Resort, before heading off to a well-deserved rest.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sri Lanka Pilgrimage with Baba Velo - Day 1

I ignored the knock on my bedroom window and rolled over, trying to sleep a little more.   The knocking went away, only to return more insistently a few minutes later.    Grumbling, I forced myself off the bed and started the process of getting ready for today's ride.

We were in the casa of Baba Velo aka Rajesh Nair, in the suburbs of Sri Lanka.    I had flown from Port Blair to Chennai the previous morning, met up with Mohan at the airport, and then continued on to Colombo on separate flights (which arrived within 15 min of each other in the early afternoon).

We had celebrated with large amounts of pizza the previous night, and I wasn't able to sleep till 11:30;  the night before, I had slept for 4.5 hours as well, as I had an early flight out of Port Blair.   So I was understandably in pain at 5:30am in the morning.

We packed the car and rolled out fairly close to schedule, and drove about 30km out of Colombo to the starting point of our ride, just outside the city.   A breakfast of cakes and chicken&cheese buns later, it was time to start riding.

Soon after we got underway, I had to make a short stop to adjust my seatpost, which I hadn't tightened enough, and then we continued.   The road was in fairly good condition, and while there was a fair amount of traffic, the drivers were quite polite and gave us ample space when they passed us:  no aggressive moves, no honking, etc.    The pace was nice and brisk, at around 32-35kp - the roads were quite flat and despite the lack of sleep, we were all full of energy as we had been looking forward to this trip for a while.   My recently-stitched left hand (had cut the webbing the previous day while trying to remove a pedal when packing the bike) was acting up a bit, making it hard to hold the handlebars;   every bump was causing a fair bit of pain as well.    However, in a short while, I was able to figure out a way to hold the handlebars that kept the pain to a minimum.

The road was mostly rolling - initially, I stayed with Raj and Mohan but kept going into the red while doing so.   Realizing that we still had a long way to go, I started going off the gas a little on the climbs and pushing harder to catch up on the downhills and flats.    After about 40km or so, the effort of repeatedly bridging up to them started taking its toll - we hit a prolonged climb and those two were gone.   I soldiered on for a while, pacing myself on the climbs and pushing on the flats.   By the 70km mark, my energy levels were dropping, my saddle - a Specialized Toupe, instead of my normal Selle San Marco Aspide - was starting to chafe and my shoes were hurting.   Thoughts of bailing after 100km started creeping into my head.

At the 90km mark, I caught up to the other two, who were waiting for me.   En route, I got a pro-style banana handup from Chaminda, who was driving the sag vehicle and by now, the banana was starting to take effect.     Mohan and Raj were also energized and we started with fresh gusto.   Soon, we turned off the highway onto a quiet road that passed through the side of a national park (electric fences on the side), and now we started picking up momentum, moving at a brisk 33-35kph.  

Riding next to a National Park
At around the 110km mark, we decided to stop for a quick lunch of Sri Lankan Curry (rice, chicken and a few vegetable dishes).    The resort was obviously designed for people on wildlife tours, and some of the guests walking in seemed a little surprised to see three sweaty lycra-clad guys sitting on a table.

After lunch, we got our aching muscles back on the bike and the initial 1-2 km were at a very sedate pace - we had agreed to take it easy for the rest of the ride, and in a strange linguistic mix-up, that actually meant that we were taking it easy.   We passed a couple of wild elephants right by the side of the road, watching us with impassive eyes from the other side of the electric fence, and also spotted a few land monitors sunning themselves.

By now, the food was starting to take effect and I started feeling better - by my calculations, if we maintained 35kph for the rest of the ride, we'd clock in the imperial at a 30kph.   Since we had been holding 33-34 for the bulk of the ride earlier, only losing time due to having to slow down when going through towns and villages, and with a smoother, faster tarmac under us and the hint of a tailwind, this was doable.

So we dropped the hammer, each of us taking turns to pull at the front.      After an hour, we hit rollers - and sure enough, I got gapped again (big surprise that.   As I've said on Facebook, when the road goes up, I get dropped faster than Paris Hilton's panties).    However, this time I was feeling good and while the legs were tired, I was still able to push when the road flattened out again.   And push I did, hammering along at 38-40kph for an extended period before finally bridging up to Mohan and Raj again.    Thus we continued for a while.

With about 140km under our belt, Baba Velo decided to turn on the screws and jumped.   Mohan tried to follow him, and I tried to follow Mohan, both with mixed success.   So we were all doing individual TTs.   At the 150km mark, Raj pulled over as per his ride plan.   Mohan and I continued onwards, and for the last 1-2 km, I gave it everything I had - big chainring, off the saddle, hammer hammer hammer for as long as I could before the legs eventually said no mas.    The Garmin read 161km at that point, at exactly 30kph, and that was it for me for the day.

The big push at the end

Mohan continued onwards for a few more kilometers as cooldown and soon, all 3 of us were back in the support van, feeling great about a nice fast ride and a very strong finish.

After a quick shower and a disgusting recovery shake (Rego, not my usual Hammer Nutrition), we took a quick round through Yala NP, scoring 3 leopards, an elephant, some chital, a couple of crocs, wild boar, a ruddy-faced mongoose and a few land monitors.    Not a bad way to cool down after a ride, eh?

Dinner was yet another Lankan Curry, after which it was off to bed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to speak Roadie

So the Guads are safely back on The Rock, after a hard weekend of riding in Pune.

The ride reports are online on BikesZone here, including my own quick notes - I'll may get around to putting a longer report online here (or I may not), but reading Boni's initial post, one sentence jumps out at me when he is talking about Day 2:

"I did not expect anyone to give all they had on the small climb when Lavasa waited ahead"

And that tells the Guads that something is wrong, something is amiss and something needs to be clarified.   Expecting Roadie Scum to not give all on any hill?     What kind of crazy talk is that?

It appears that a lot of people do not understand how Roadies think and operate.   Apparently, even giving up your Roadie Scum status in the short-term - as Boni has done - is enough to make you lose this vital and critical knowledge.

That simply will not suffice, says Thunder.
How are we to crush the souls of non-roadies if they dont understand us, agrees Lightning.

So it was decided.   I was asked by the Guads to be the Prometheus of the cycling community, and to bring to the great, unshaved, non-Lycra-clad cyclistas [known hereafter as "dogmeats"] the knowledge of Roadie Scum.   This starts by learning to speak Roadie.

So without further ado, here is a starter course on Roadie Lingo 101.

"I feel like crap, gonna take it easy"
- I am going to attack as soon as I can

"I am just starting my training phase"
- I am going to attack as soon as I can

"I had [no sleep/partied hard/too much to drink/etc.] last night
- I know you are going to attack as soon as you can.   I plan to attack before that, sucker

"Let's stick together for the first part of the ride"
- I am going to drop your sorry ass as soon as I can - before you can attack

"Easy Z2/recovery ride today"
- For you, maybe.  I plan to attack and drop you

"Nice bike"
- Nice bike.  I plan to crush your soul by attacking and dropping you

"Easy ride until [landmark], then we open up"
- Balls-out from the get-go

"Let's work on pace-lining"
- Let's attack

"Let him go - we'll catch him later"
- Let him go - we'll catch him later.  THEN we will attack and drop him

"There's another rider ahead"
- Attack!

"There's another cycling going the opposite way, on the other side of the road"
- Mark him carefully - next time we see him, we are going to attack and drop him

"That was a fun ride"
- I dropped your sorry ass!

"That was a hard ride"
FUCK!  I got dropped.    I should have attacked some more

"We should do it again"
I'll drop your sorry ass some more and make you my bitch.  Again.

"I'd love to give it another go"
- Next time, I drop YOU

"What happened on that ride?"
- You sucked and got dropped

"Not sure what happened to me on that ride"
- FUCK!  How the hell did I get dropped by him?

"Wow, you've really improved"
- Doper!

- "Dont worry, some days the legs just arent there"
- Yeah right.  You MY bee-atch, bee-atch. 

"Man, I wish I had a bike like that"
- That bike is the only reason you dropped me like dirty underwear.   Really.   Couldnt be anything else

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Manali-Leh blog - a cop-out

I was planning on having a version of the Manali-Leh ride on this blog as well, but in the end, I am too lazy to upload the images, caption them and sort them here.

So here is a link to the actual ride report:


Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 2: July 18 - More acclimatization

I was planning on just taking it easy today and finishing up some work that I was unable to complete before leaving, while the other two had planned a short ride.

We headed out for a leisurely breakfast of waffles with maple syrup (and I went double-dose, getting waffles with nutella as well!) and then ended up taking a walk through the excruciatingly steep roads of old Manali for an hour or so.

Then we decided to have lunch at the Original Original (yes, that's twice) Shere-E-Punjab dhaba, whose owner claims that this is the original (hmm) that spawned all the copies across the nation.   I know from a cross-country trip in 2004 that there are 13 Shere-E-Punjab dhabas along the length of NH-1 (GT Road).

After stuffing ourselves with shockingly greasy and temptingly tasty food, I went back to my laptop to finish the work, and then took a nap.   The other two must have gotten infected by my laziness, because they too bailed on the ride and napped instead.

The evening was spent trying to fix the headset of my Ritchey, which just wouldnt pre-load properly.  Finally, after a lot of grunting and struggling, we got it done.   Then it was off to get all the supplies for the trip and a tasty lasagna dinner at our usual haunt, the Johnson Cafe.

Just finished packing and realized that the camera mount for the Drift HD170 will not fit on the bike handlebars or my helmet.    Grrrr.

Anyway, off to bed.   Tomorrow, we ride for Rohan (or for real, anyway).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 1: July 17 - acclimatization ride around Manali

Woof - it has been a hectic few days:  flying from the Andamans to the mainland, running around like a headless chicken getting things done (although I was more productive than a typical headless chicken, who task list reads (a) Bleed, (b) Die).    Next morning, more of the same.    And I was up till 3am packing, even.

The flight to Delhi was late (not surprising.  Indigo, the budget airline, manages to be on time always and Jet, the premium airlines, is always late.  Go figure).    Thanks to frequent flier status with Jet, got away with 16kg excess baggage, though.

Then it was a long slog till midnight and then all of the next day to get to Manali.    And then more shenanigans with the bike.  It normally takes me 15 min to put together the Breakaway - this time, it took almost 3 hours.  Problems with re-attaching the RD, problems with the headset, problems with the cantis, swapping bars, etc.   All user error, incidentally.

Finally the bike was ready and I crashed at 1am.  

I woke up at 10am and by the time I got showered and dressed, it was close to 11.    After some tea, we got the bikes ready (last minute tweaks, pump the tires, wrap the tape).

But by then, it was near lunchtime, so we decided to walk down to a nice Italian restaurant up in the hills (run by an Italian lady, so there would no such abominations such as chopped coriander on the ravioli).    After stuffing ourselves with pasta, some more pizza and excellent cake (tiramisu for me, a chocolate mousse for Mohan), it was time to leave.

I was feeling a little achy from a bunch of things (sniffles, back spasms, etc), so I wasn't sure I was going to ride but the meal did wonders for my frame of mind and we decided to head out at 3pm for a short, easy spin to the town of Naggar and back.

Yeah right.   Get 3 Roadie Scum together (even if one of them is on an MTB, and the other two on cross bikes with knobbies) and there is no such thing as a short, easy spin.

The initial 0.5km ride out from the hotel was a bit dodgy - a very narrow, wet and muddy single lane road with honking cars winding down to the crowded town square, and descending further to a low bridge crossing the river Beas.     Once we crossed the bridge, we turned left, and headed south, with the river on the right.

The initial bit was a downhill and while we were still passing through the outskirts of the town, there wasn't as much traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular) so I let it rip a little to warm up.     Then the road turned upwards a little and while Mohan the Demon, who normally climbs like a Red-Bull-overdosed monkey, was taking it easy, Manish decided to start dishing out the pain, resulting in my HR touching 180bpm at times as I tried to stay with them, a fact complicated by the blind turns and my lack of confidence in my cantis.

Manish, after dropping the hammer on the way down

The terrain was mostly rolling for the first 6-7km, passing through settlements that were pretty much contiguous to each other.

After a while, the road starting going through a gorgeous alpine fir forest - tall stately trees lining both sides of the road as it descended steeply via a couple of switchbacks (uh oh, gonna have to climb that on the way back), and then it was rolling terrain again to Naggar, with the river bubbling loudly a little further down the valley on one side.  

At Naggar, we took a quick stop to refill water and started to head back.

This time, thankfully, Manish decided to stop hitting us with his hammer, and the pace was a lot more civilized.   The switchbacks on the way up were indeed painful (9-12% gradient), but not as long as they had seemed on the way down.    It was drizzling a little now, and I was finally glad I had brought my rain jacket along.   As I was starting to get a cold, I had chosen to err on the side of caution and get the wind and water resistant jacket, and until now, it had only made me sweat.  But now, it was doing it's thang.

Mohan - climbing fiend.  My goal is to get him to gain atleast 5kg on the trip.

All too soon, the bridge that led to Manali was back and now it was a short, very steep slog of 1-2km back to the hotel.

A quick shower later, cake, sandwiches and hot chocolate served as the perfect recovery meal.   Now, off to dinner!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Manali-Leh : A decision made

Ulysses was a hack compared to what I need to do to get anywhere.

Tomorrow, I take a ferry to the main island.   Then the next day, a flight to the mainland, where I will retrieve my bike, eat pizza, pack, run some errands, eat some more pizza, drink 5 bottles of Diet Coke (we've been out on the island for 2 weeks now, the horror!) and pack for real.  Then a flight to Delhi the day after.   And then a 14 hour jeep ride to Manali.

Thankfully, Mohan and Manish, who are flying in from Bangalore, are getting the most essential of supplies - tinned meat.   Everything else, including the bike, is optional compared to that.  I am NOT eating instant noodles and omelettes for 10 fucking days, thank you very much.

And I've made a decision on the bike.  I'm taking the Ritchey Breakway cross.    It has served me well in Bhutan and it should suffice here.   I expect Day 1 will have painful segments in the mud, and there will be occasional moments during the rest of the ride (stream crossings, rough road segments) when I will miss the MTB, but I think I should be ok.

Besides, Manish is bringing his Lynskey cross bike.  I take great pride in being atleast partially the Enabler for that one (even though he ended up getting his Lynskey before mine despite ordering it afterwards), so I figured that if he is going to suffer, I'll suffer with him.

Mohan the Demon is on an MTB, which means he is still going to drop us, but maybe by a few minutes less.  I still have horrible memories of him chasing me for 100+ km on the hills of the Nilgiris during last year's TfN, but my only relief is that this time he will be way out in front.  

And earlier today, as I was reading up on where else to ride once we reach Leh (Khardung La for sure, perhaps a trip to Lamaruyu and back as another), I came across a reference to Marsimik La, which is supposed to be higher than Khardung La.   It is beyond Pangong Tso - we were planning to ride there, so perhaps we'll drive to Pangong and then ride this instead, provided we can sort out the permits in Leh.   Let's see - need to discuss it with the other 2.  Also depends on our capacity for soaking in more pain at that point.

After slacking off for the past 4 days (was planning on putting in around 200km between Sat and today, only did 15 on the trainer), it is time for some real riding!

Day after tomorrow, once I have decent internet connection, I'll post some of my favorite photos from Leh from past trips as an appetizer.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Manali-Leh - planned route

So after a hectic week of trying to square away logistics, we seem to have a rough plan sorted.

Our itinerary is as follows - we get into Manali on the 16th by road (we were supposed to fly but Kingfucker Airlines cancelled the flight, the wankers).      So we are all meeting at Delhi airport on the 15th evening and driving over, stopping somewhere en route for the night.

Then, after a couple of days of acclimatization, we ride.   The ride plan is approximately as follows, showing distance, meters climbed on that day and the altitude of our stopover.

Day 1 - 40km (1300m) ride to Marhi (3238m)  
While not appearing to be that rough, this is going to be the big challenge because of the rapid elevation gain, and that too on the very first day of climbing.     I remember the climb to Chele La in Bhutan - it had 1550m of climbing (up to around 3600m) in around 36km and took about 3.5 hours of painful climbing, mainly b/c at that altitude, even getting my HR up to 150 felt as though my lungs were going to explode.    This should be hopefully a little easier and I reckon 3 hours of riding ought to do it.

The view from Rohtang La

Day 2 - 45km (701m) - Marhi to Sissu (3078m)
The first 12km is a climb and then a long downhill and flat with some climbing to get up to Sissu.  Marhi, as Sith Lord Sumit told us (and matching what I remember from past trips), is an absolute dump and I am quite tempted to suck it up, climb the remaining 12km to the top of Rohtang La (4050-odd m) and then descend and stay someplace en route.   We'll see how it goes.

Day 3 - 52km (762m) - Sissu to Jispa (3,291)
There is a 300-350m climb initially to Gondla then flat/rolling.  This should be an easy day.    Depending on how Day 2 goes, we may go all the way to Jispa after all.

Day 4 - 37km (650m) - Jispa - ZingZingBar (4328m)
Today is an easy day for additional acclimatization, but we may combine Day 3 and Day 4.  As it stands right now, Days 2, 3, 4 really make up 2 good days of riding, and my preference would be to do it in 2 days and take a day of rest (and wash my bibs).    This is something we will wing en route.

Day 5 - 52km (1100m) - Zingzing Bar to Sarchu (4419m)
Now, the pain begins.   Today, we climb Baralacha La, the first Big Daddy pass on our way, at 4800m.  I remember camping here, back in 2005 to get the photo below, and I really suffered with the altitude all night and in the morning, I could barely walk a few hundred meters to the lakeside to take this shot.    The road up is also very bumpy, which is going to make things a little rougher.

Suraj Tal

Day 6 - 55km (762m) - Sarchu to Whiskey Nallah (4754m) - via Gata Loops and Nakee La
Sarchu itself is a very pretty location, a narrow, flat valley with a deep canyon on one edge and several camps in the area.  It makes for a great place to spend a rest day.  This place is good for marmots as well as birds, and I plan to carry my binos and scope with me to get some quality birding in.      Another benefit of a rest day here is another day of acclimatization, as we will finally break the 5000m mark after leaving Sarchu.   First, we have the Gata Loops - 21 switchbacks that gain 350m over 10km.  I have done this on a jeep and those switchbacks are STEEP.   And at that altitude, we are going to be begging for mercy.   After the Gata Loops, we climb some more to Nakee La (5030m) and then descend to Whiskey Nallah.

Day 7 - 53km (650m) - Whiskey Nallah to Tso Kar (4700m) -- via Lachung La & Pang.
From Whiskey Nallah, we do climb a little more to Lachung La (5100m), then descent to the camp town of Pang.   Pang is basically bunch of tents which serve lunch and provide a place to sleep.   From Pang, a short climb brings us to the Moray Plans - an immense, flat mountain plateau at 4700m, surrounded by high Himalayan peaks all around.   This is a great wildlife area - you get the Tibetan wild ass, blue sheep and various other Himalayan herbivores... and this is where I've photographed an extremely rare Tibetan wolf.   We plan to get in the car and take a short detour to Tso Kar and stay there for a night or two.

Tibetan Wolf

Day 8 - 69km - Debring/Tso Kar to Rumtse/Lato-- crossing Tanglang La
This is the Queen stage of our ride.   Depending on who you believe, Tanglang La is either the world's highest motorable pass or the second highest (officially, it is the latter - Khardung La, which we shall climb once in Leh, is the highest.  But GPS and satellite data indicates that Tanglang La may be higher by 1m).   Either way, at over 5600m, this is going to be one bad mofo to climb.   The gradient is a steady 5-6%, which doesnt sound too bad, except for the altitude.  This is the day where any altitude-related issues are going to come around and bite us in the ass.       Once we cross Tanglang La, it is all downhill to Leh.   A long downhill gives us a choice of several villages where we can stay for the night.

Down from Tanglang La

Day 9 - 70km - Rumtse/Lato to Leh - flat and easy
A flat road winding alongside a narrow river takes us to our first view of the mighty Indus - from there, it is a gently-rolling road all the way to Leh.   Tonight, we Spartans shall dine at a nice pizzeria in Leh (Hell is behind us).

This is the plan, anyway.     The distances don't look too bad and I have certainly done longer/harder days in the mountains, but what none of us know is how we are going to handle the altitude.   While I have never suffered AMS per se, I have definitely had times when I've felt sick as a dog and completely lacking in energy at high altitudes (and other times, I've been ok).    That is going to be the big external variable.   I'd like to do this without the help of any medication, so I am going to avoid taking Diamox unless I really need it.

Some Spanish steak would certainly be nice, though!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Manali-Leh: What bike?

So I have been going back-and-forth about what bike to take for the Manali-Leh ride.

On one hand, looking at some of the road conditions, an MTB would be nice to have on the really gravelly sections, especially on the descents where the disc brakes will come very handy.

On the other hand, MTBs are great on trails but simply are no fun to ride on the tarmac.   A cross bike would be a lot more fun to ride on the vast majority of the trails, as well as on the climbs.

There are going to be a few crappy segments:

1/ Parts of the Manali-Rohtang route, where landslides etc make the road very muddy.   Here, I think I can manage on a cross bike with knobbies

2/ The descent from Rohtang - here, a MTB's superior braking will be much better for sure.  

3/ Segments of the climb to Baralacha - not an issue, as it is going to be dry and bumpy roads on climbs isnt really a big deal

4/ Descent from Tanglang La - again, an MTB would be preferable but this shouldn't be as big a deal as it is a pretty gradual descent and the roads are quite wide, from what I remember.

So does it make sense to take an MTB or should I just take my cross bike and 700x35 knobbies???  Or even the LHT, which can fit 700x45?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thoughts on the Ti cycles Montra

When I first heard that Ti cycles was developing a carbon bike in-house, my first reaction was:  excellent!   I wasn't expecting anything to compete with the Cervelos and Specialized(s?) of the world, but I figured we could atleast have an alternative to the made-in-China/Taiwan generic framesets which represent excellent bang for the buck.

The initial tech blurb also seems promising.

The bike comes in 2 version, aluminum and carbon.    The monocoque carbon frame uses Toray T700 carbon, a decent mid-level grade of carbon which is ideal for this frame.   After all, there is no point using really expensive T2000 carbon to make a $3000 frameset - who in their right mind would pay that for a first-time effort by a brand which has no experience with building performance bicycles?   

The frame also features BB30, which theoretically allows for better stiffness and power transfer.   Another positive sign - Ti Cycles seems to be taking this seriously.

Indeed, the advertising certainly doesn't hold back:

The Montra
Now, a bike that makes the world an unending open road and is the power of those who were born to achieve greater things sounds like a pretty damn special thing.

However, one look at the specs and it is very likely that those who were born to achieve greater things will also end up buying better bicycles than this.

Because what Ti cycles has done is take this frameset, spec it out with Rival derailleurs and Apeks brakes, put reasonably decent Shimano RS10 wheels on it and then proceeded to fuck up the entire bike by putting flat bars and trigger shifters on it!

And in their wisdom, they have decided to sell this Frankenbike for Rs 71,000 ($1600).

Now, just for the sake of comparison,  $1500 gets you a carbon Litespeed M1 with full Rival drivetrain. Yes, that includes Rival shifters.   I have a friend who has this bike - it's an awesome bike and for the price, it is a steal. And it is a Litespeed.   Not a Montra/Mothra/Mantra/Tantra.

Let's play "Understand the Cycling Market 101":

Question - who makes up the target market for carbon bikes?
Answer:   Racers or sports cyclists - people who like riding fast, either alone or in group rides.

Question - who rides performance hybrids?
Answer:   Recreational cyclists - tourers, butterfly-counters and utility cyclists

Question - which of the above 2 segment spends a lot of money for marginal gains in performance, such as BB30 bottom brackets, stiffer carbon fiber, 100gm lighter frameset, 10W aero savings?
Answer:   _______

Clue:   It isn't who Ti Cycles thinks it is.

And here is a clue about people who like to ride fast - they want road bikes, with drop bars and integrated shifters.    Why?   Because drop bars are more aero.    More aero == faster.     Flat bars = more upright == less aero == slower.

Now sure, there are companies that make flat-barred road bikes.   I believe Trek, Cannondale and Specialized all have them.    But these are niche products in their line.    You don't see Spesh trumpeting their Secteur or whatever on the pages of the sports magazines - you see the Tarmac with El Pistolero.  There is a reason for that.

Making a carbon flat-barred bike as your top-of-the-line bike is roughly equivalent to putting a Porsche engine into a Mahindra jeep and pitching it as your signature performance vehicle.    It.  Does.  Not.   Compute.

In this context, the BB30 is the icing on the cake - that is like putting spoilers on the back of that Mahindra jeep with the Porsche engine.    Make a bike that is about as un-aero as possible for a carbon road bike to be (at moderate speeds, over 80% of your effort is spent fighting air resistance), and then try to gain 0.1% of that back with a slightly stiffer crank.  Baby Jesus wept when it saw this.

Ironically, I think the Aluminum version on the Montra - a flat-barred road bike which takes 700x28 tires and sells for Rs 25,800 - looks to be a real winner and seems to address a real niche that hitherto has been missing.

There is a guy who wants to take up cycling (or maybe he already has a Hero Octane or similar bike and wants something nicer).    He has no plans to race, follow training plans or whatever.    Being a casual rider, he doesn't want to spend Rs 40,000 for a road bike.   Plus, he isn't sure if the drop bars/aggressive position are  for his style of riding.     But he'd still like a nice, relatively light bike that is capable of handling the less-than-smooth tarmac of our cities and that is relatively easy to ride.     Sound familiar?   BZ is full of people like this.  

What are their options?   The Schwinns, which are pretty basic spec-wise and not too light.    Or the Bianchi/Trek hybrids in the Rs 20k range, which are excellent bikes but again, relatively modestly-specced.   Or even - horror of horrors - an emm tee bee.

The Al Montra is an excellent alternative for these riders.  

However, Ti cycles seems to be following the idea that just b/c there is a market for Rs 25k hybrids, there is also a market for Rs 70k hybrids.     Sadly, no.

Ti Cycles, if you are reading this - you have specced/priced the carbon Montra at a level where it is neither fish nor fowl.   It is far too expensive for a performance hybrid (which is what it is),  and not specced to be a speed machine (which is what most people who spend Rs 70k for a carbon bike want).

So please put drop bars on that bike and integrated shifters (Apeks, perhaps).  Or sell it just as a frameset for Rs 25,000-30,000 so that people can dress it up however they want!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Base completed - some thoughts

So tomorrow is my last ride of base - well, technically, I still have Week 4 of Base3 to go, but it is a recovery week so not a whole lot going on there.

This year has been very different from last.

Last year, I knocked off 1000km+ in each of the 3 base months, including back-to-back 100km rides every weekend.   Weekdays, I'd just get some riding in for 45 minutes-1 hour per ride.

This year, I am following a Joe Friel based training plan.   It started me off very slow - no ride longer than 1.5 hours in the first month, 2.5 hours in the second month and only now, in month 3, am I riding 3+ hours on weekends.      Month 1 had some running thrown in.  Month 2 was on the bike only, and starting including some tempo work.   Month 3 was also bike-only and actually built up to a weekly FTP session.   All 3 months include some weight training as well.

Under this new plan, my overall mileage is quite low - some of it is due to doing a lot of rides on the trainer and the broken roads of the island (where I lose about 5-6kph for the same wattage due to bouncing up and down).  

However, I feel a good improvement over last year in terms of my ability to hold higher wattage and feel that my FTP is a good 20W more than what it was over the same period last year... ie, about the same as what I ended last year with.     So once I start the build phase next month, I am hoping to end the year a good 40-45W higher than where I started... which should be a level I feel happy with, and which will provide a good starting point for Ironman training.

But in the immediate future, Ladakh beckons - 2 weeks to go and I need to start planning for it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I've done - and continue to do - a bunch of dumb and risky things in my life, usually in the pursuit of an adrenalin (or other) high.   I have dived to 90m+ solo.   I've sat alone by a poolside in a Zimbabwean national park to get photos and had a hippo come at me.   I've told an ex that those pants did make her ass look fat.  

But a few things I am very fastidious about.  

One of those things is my seatbelt.  I don't even reverse my car out of the garage without putting on my seatbelt.   This fastidiousness about seat belts is the reason I am alive, instead of having my brain splattered all over the front windshield of my former car.

Another of those things is a bike helmet.   I always wear a helmet when I ride.   The reason is obvious, atleast to me:  I generally ride fast (what passes as fast for me, anyway), clipped in and on a quick-handling race bike with skinny tires.    If I am going to crash, I won't get a lot of time to react, and if I am going down, I want that piece of styrofoam between me and the tarmac.  I dont want to spend the rest of my life suffering from potential brain damage just because I didn't wear the lid.

So why do some dumb things and be risk averse elsewhere?  My rationale is - it is one thing to take a risk when there is a reward associated with it.   With all the risks I take, there is some benefit (a thrill, a better experience, etc).   With helmets, there is no real reward with going helmet-less (I am wearing lycra with a pad around my crotch, fer chrissakes - a helmet or lack thereof isn't going to make me look cool), so I dont see the point of taking this risk.  Same with seat-belts, etc.

Needless to say, I have also been very vocal in the past about all cyclists needing to wear helmets.

However, of late, the Guads have been muttering to themselves.    And when Thunder and Lightning speak up, I have to listen.  And as a result, I am changing my view that ALL cyclists need to wear helmets and amending it to allow for the fact that for certain types of cycling, you don't need to wear a helmet.

The fact is that all types of cycling do not present the same risk of falling or injury.   A lot depends on your riding position, speed and where you are riding.

Now obviously, if you are a clipped in roadie, wear a damn helmet.  It is stupid not to.   Same applies if you are a mountain biker (as in, you ride trails).

However, if you are riding a beach cruiser at 6-8kph on a boardwalk, do you really need a helmet?  No.

If you are riding a relaxed-geometry bike at slow speeds to the market or to run some errands, do you need a helmet?   Again, the answer is no.    There is always a risk of falling and hitting your head - but in this case, I feel it is no different from the risk of falling and cracking your head if you go for a run, for example.

Aha, you say, Guadz - what about cars?   Well, what about them?   Again, the risk of injury due to getting hit by a car is about the same when you are tooling around at slow speeds on a bike as when you are, say, jogging.    And if you get hit by a car at high speeds, a helmet isn't going to save you.

And lastly, polemic is one thing (as they've been saying all week at the Giro), but ultimately, the surest test is empirical data.   Look at cities where lots of people cycle - say, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  Very few commuters wear helmets there.   And they aren't falling and getting hurt in droves.  

Hell, even in our part of the country, look at all the millions of people riding roadsters daily - all without wearing a helmet.    Very few of them seem to be falling and getting injuries that would have been prevented by a helmet.

This review of my beliefs was inspired by BSNYC's book, whereby he points out that mandating helmets for general cycling implies that general cycling by itself is an unsafe activity.    We can all agree that this is not the case - while some sorts of cycling can be risky, riding a bike at a relaxed speed from point A to point B is not a hazardous activity.

If you want to wear a helmet, more power to you.    But I now feel that this should not be a requirement for general cycling, and nor should we be "helmet nazis" about it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Guadzilla guide to bike fit for beginners

The best of bikes is going to suck something fierce if it doesn't fit you properly.

Sadly, around here, bike fit seems to be consist of one of 2 strategies:   in more shops than you'd expect, the correct bike size for you is whatever the shop happens to have in stock.   Lucky you.   The more reputable shops make an effort:  they have you straddle the top tube and if there are 2-3 inches between your boys and the bar, you are good to go.  

Sadly, even the latter method - which is in widespread use the world over - is not a very reliable approach.   It has a good chance of putting you in approximately the right sized frame if you are of average proportions - that's about it.   It doesn't take into account personal factors like flexibility, the geometry of the bike or the fact that maybe you might not have "average proportions".

Let's take a step back and figure out what bike fitting is about - it is about putting 3 contact points of your body at the correct distance from each other:   the foot/pedal interface, the ass/seat interface and the hands/handlebar interface.  

The foot/pedal interface is pretty much fixed on a bike (you cannot really move the cranks around, they are where they are).  So good fit means putting the bicycle seat and the handlebars at the position that is comfortable, is biomechanically sound and which lets you generate a lot of power.

The "straddle the top tube" method is focused on one aspect of the bike only:  how high the top tube is from the ground.  It does nothing about actually fitting you on the bike - ie, putting the saddle and the bars at the correct point.   At best, it helps you get the correct bike size, but even the correctly-sized bike can be poorly set-up and lead to injuries.

Handlebars that are 2cm further than you'd like them, or 2cm lower than you'd like, can absolutely ruin your riding experience - because the moment you are not perfectly balanced on the bike, your body is straining to stay in position.   This affects your biomechanics. and can lead to all sorts of injuries.

There is good news, however - and it is that bike fit, while a relatively detailed topic, is not that complicated.   By following a methodical approach, you can adjust your bike just the way you want it.

Start by reading up on bike geometry (Google is your friend) and understand what the various terms seat tube length, top tube length & headtube length mean.   These are the 3 things that will affect your fit.

There are other terms - head tube angle, seat tube angle, fork rake and bottom bracket drop - which affect how a bike handles and also fit to some extent, but those are not so important right now.

Fitting is done in 2 steps:  first, you adjust your saddle position (up/down, front/back) to put your hips in the correct position relative to your pedals.   Second, you put the handlebars where your hands end up.  It really is that simple.

Saddle height can be set very easily by moving the seatpost up and down.   Barring any egregious fitting fuck-ups (ie, putting someone 6'5" on an XS frame), this part is easy and so the seat tube (ST) length is not so important.  

The challenge of a fit comes in making sure that once your saddle position is done, your handlebars are where you want them to be.    The main bike-related factors driving this are the effective top-tube (ETT) length (this affects the horizontal distance between you and the bars) and the head-tube (HT)  length (this affects how high the bars are).   Handlebar position can be tweaked by about 2-3cm up/down and 2-3 cm front/back by using different stems and spacers, but you need to get in the correct ballpark as far as ETT and HT are concerned.  

Note - the seat tube angle and head tube angle have a small effect in modifying the reach (so a 565mm effective top tube on one bike may give you the same reach at a 570mm effective top tube on another bike), but for now, we will ignore that.
    Ok, so hopefully by now you understand what we are trying to do with bike fitting and how the various measurements of a bike relate to fit.   If not, do some additional google research or ask a question on Bikeszone.   Do not go any further until you are completely clear on what we've talked about so far.

    Next, read the articles on this page, especially the Peter White article, to get a sense of how set saddle height and handlebar position: ... _links.htm

    Edit - the cyclemetrics website seems to be down, so here is a direct link to the Peter White article:

    Now, if I know you, you are going "yeah, yeah, Guadz, that's very nice, but what do I do".

    Ok, so here's how you apply this information for your own bike fit:
    • If you are going to buy a frame, go to and run their online fit calculator - it will give you a starting point as to what bike size you should be looking at.    Go to the website of the brand of bike you want, and find the frame that has same equivalent top tube length as the fit given to you by the CC website.   This is going to be your starting frame size.   Forget the traditional bike size (52, 54, 56, etc).   That is meaningless right now.  If you already have a bike, skip this bit.
    • Set the saddle height so that there is approximately a 20 degree bend in your knee when the pedal is at its lowest position.   Have a friend help you with this.  There are other methods you can also use, which are simpler (Google the Lemond formula, for example), but biomechanically, the 20 degree bend is achieving your saddle height via first principles and is probably the best method out there.     Again, this is just a starting point and you may find yourself moving the saddle up and down later.
    • Move your seat back and forth until the notch below your knee is directly over the pedal spindle when it is horizontal and forwards.   This is called "KOP neutral" - or knee-over-pedal neutral.    This is not necessarily where you will be, but is a good starting point.   Faster riders who ride in a more aggressive/bent position may prefer to be slightly further than KOP, while slower riders who ride with less weight on the pedals will often be slightly behind KOP.  For now, KOP-neutral is a good starting point.
    • Adjust your saddle height to make sure that you still have a 20 degree bend in your knee and adjust saddle forward/backwards.  Repeat these 2 steps till you have gotten it right.  
    • Make sure your saddle is flat.   Not pointing downwards.    Use a leveling app like Clinometer on the iPhone or something comparable on Android.
    • Now that you have your ass-pedal interface sorted, put the bike on a trainer, reach out and grab the handle bars (the hoods if you have a road bike - actually, my advice is geared towards road/hybrid riders - if you have an MTB, your fit will be different depending on the type of riding you do).   How do you feel?   You should feel pretty comfortable and well-balanced, and should have very minimal pressure on your hands.  If you feel that even some of your body weight is on your hands, your handlebars are too far forwards.  If you feel that you are bending too much, your handlebars are too low.   You can raise the handlebars by using spacers underneath the stem, or by choosing a different stem (one that is angled upwards more).   You can also adjust horizontal reach by using a shorter/longer stem.
    • It may also be that you are too comfortable - you are completely upright and there is no weight on your arms when in the riding position.  If so, you will need to lower your bar and maybe extend it further, to the point where you just start to feel a VERY slight amount of pressure on your hands:  ie, just the point where you go from not needing your hands to hold you in place to needing them very, very slightly.
    • If your initial bike size is correct, you shouldnt be too far off as far as handlebar positioning is concerned.   If the handlebar appears to be really further away, you need a smaller frame.  If your handlebar is way too close, you need a larger frame.   And if the handlebar is a lot lower than your saddlebar and this is uncomfortable, you need to consider a different bike geometry: one with a higher head-tube (for those of you with long legs/short torso, this is the main challenge - traditional road race bikes will put the bars way too low for comfort).
    This is your initial, static fit.     Now you start riding and adjust as needed.

    Some additional thoughts on fit:

    1/  If you already have your bike and are concerned whether it is the right size, take comfort in the fact that with any given bike frame, you can adjust the equivalent of one size up or one size down quite easily.   You can even make 2 sizes works, although that will be stretching it.  Of course, if you are way off in sizing, you may have to consider getting a new bike.

    2/ If you are in doubt about bike sizes, pick the smaller frame - it is easier to make a small frame fit bigger, but it is impossible to make a bigger frame fit smaller without affecting handling.

    3/ If you are riding and you feel pain in your hamstrings or hamstring ligaments, lower your seat

    4/ If you feel pain in the back of your knee, slide your saddle forwards by a mm or two at a time

    5/ If you are feeling pain in the front of your knee, slide your saddle back a mm at a time

    6/ If you are feeling pressure on your hands, your saddle is probably sloping downwards.  Level it.  If problems still continue, your handlebars are too far forwards or too low for you.

    7/ If your back hurts, your bars are probably too low.   But it could also be a matter of you having a weak core or poor riding position.   Try not to arch your lower back, but roll your pelvis forwards instead, flattening out your lower back.   This will require building some core strength.

    8/ If your saddle is causing your privates to go numb, make sure it isn't sloping upwards too much.  Typically, saddles are usually level or inclined upwards by 1-2 degrees max.    If your saddle is flat and it is still making you numb, you need a different saddle - dont angle it downwards or you will have all sort of hand/wrist pains.  Or try a recommendation I read on John Cobb's website - turn your saddle sideways by half the width of its nose.    John Cobb is an aerodynamic guru and makes excellent saddles to boot - he knows of what he speaks.  His advice is mainly for his own saddles, but you can try it as well.

    9/ If you have just bought a new bike and have also started to ride clipless - wait.   Stick to platform pedals and get your bike set up properly and then add clipless pedals.   Clipless pedals add their own complexity to fit, and it is best not to have too many variables to adjust at once.

    10/ Dont be afraid to experiment.  But experiment changing only one thing at a time, and in small increments.  Listen to your body and adjust accordingly, especially when it comes to your pedaling postion.

    Ride safe!

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    The uncensored Guadzilla guide to buying a bike

    Some time ago, I wrote a little FAQ on Bikeszone for people in India looking to buy a bike. In my usual haste, it had a bunch of typos.  And based on what I have read since, I think some people were not really getting the point.

    So I have decided to post an updated version of that guide, free of the limitations of avoiding cuss-words.

    Step 1: Understand a few things
    Let's get this out of the way right now.  There is no single "perfect" bike for you, no matter what your budget.  There is this thing called free market, see - it means a bunch of companies all make products, many of which are virtually identical and some of which have minor differences in some areas.

    To use an analogy, think about bikes as women.  At the top of the line, you have Angelina Jolie (my wife to be), Megan Fox, Katrina Kaif and others.  Yes, they are different.  Some people might prefer one, others might prefers others but pretty much all of us would be happy - and on our knees, both in thanks and for other reasons - to ride any of them.  At the middle end, you have your cute co-worker, that girl who you regularly see at the Barista next to your house and others: also attractive and more attainable by most people.  At the bottom end, you have the fat rejects from Tamil films.  If nothing else is available, they will do.  Nothing to brag about, but functionally, they get the job done.

    Ok, now that I have managed to offend just about every PC person on the planet, let's get serious.  Bikes work the same way.  The top-end bikes are great, mid-end bikes are good enough for 99% of the population and while the entry-level bikes may not be very glamorous, they still get the job done.   And since bikes are pretty simple devices in many ways, the difference between entry-level and top-end is a lot less than the difference between Jabba the Fatt and Angie.    

    Furthermore, regardless of which level of bike you are looking at, there is no single "ideal" bike.   Each bike at a given level is more or less equivalent to the others in the price range, with some minor differences that may set it apart.    Emphasis on "minor" and "may".    

    To make things even worse, you will not be able to tell if these differences really matter and if they do, which one is best suited for your needs, by reading a spec sheet.   You will need to go to a store and check it out in person.  

    Think about it - if one bike at a price point was clearly better than another, why would the second bike even exist or sell in the market?    

    So this post will not give you a brand and model to buy.  It will help you decide what features to look for. After that, you can do more searches to identify models that fit your needs and budget, and then you need to get off your ass, go to a bike shop and try out these bikes.  Don't expect to be hand-fed.

    Read this section over and over again until you believe it and accept it.  No, really.  Read it again.  If you are not convinced, go read this instead, because there is no point you going any further.

    So with that in mind, let's get on with the program.

    Step 2: Decide on your needs 
    In theory, there would be 1 bike that does everything well.  In theory, Katrina Kaif and Angelina Jolie should also be fighting over me.  Alas, reality can be irksome.  Katrina is not interested in fighting over me and no single bike does everything either.  You can try to get a bike which tries to do a bit of everything, and end up with a compromise that does nothing well, or you can be honest with yourself, decide what the primary function of the bike is going to be, and get something suited for that.

    If you are going to ride the bike on tarmac for most of the year, do you really want to get a mountain bike just so you can go off-roading once a year?  Do you also buy a pick-up truck instead of a sedan just because once a year you will need to transport some boxes?

    So here are some potential uses (we will get into bike types, features, etc in more detail later):

    (a) Commuting or general usage -- it is a good way to get exercise, be environmentally-friendly and save money as well.  A commuting bike will focus on comfort, have space to carry a change of clothes/briefcase, have mudguards and will be easy to ride in a city

    (b) Fitness -- a fitness bike is likely to be ridden on tarmac and pretty much any bike can be used for this purpose.  You can look a the list of bike features later and decide what works for you

    (c) Racing/long rides -- here, the emphasis is on efficiency, comfort and speed.  Usually, you want a bike designed for road use.

    (d) Off-road riding -- if you want to ride trails, climb hills, fly down dirt tracks, you want a mountain bike.

    And sometimes, the answer may be to buy 2 bikes that specialize in 1 area each, rather than 1 bike that does neither well.

    Step 3: Select a budget
    Now, this gets tricky.  A lot of people have a price expectation of bicycles that is based on the Rs 1500 Hero cycles that are common everywhere.  The fact of the matter is, high-quality bikes are not cheap. A top-end hardtail mountain bike runs $3000 or Rs 1.5 lakhs.  A top-end full-suspension bike runs Rs 2.5 lakhs. Top-level racing bikes range from Rs 1.5 lakhs to Rs 6 lakhs.  Dont run away... I am not saying that you have to spend this much money to buy a bike.  I am just saying that bikes are pretty high-tech pieces of equipment, something that is not immediately obvious to a newcomer who has only seen the iron behemoths that are prevalent in India.

    What your extra money generally gets you is:
    - lesser weight - and the lighter you go, the more expensive it gets to reduce weight further
    - higher quality components, which work better and last longer (better/faster shifting, better brakes, etc)
    - more features (full suspension, hydraulic disc brakes)
    - modern materials and R&D (high modulus carbon, higher grade steel, double-butted Al)
    - improved performance (faster shifting, better power transfer, etc)

    Generally speaking, there are 2 approaches here: one is to get an inexpensive bike so that you know whether or not you are really into it.  The other is to get as nice a bike as you can afford - this is not only cheaper in the long run, but also, if you have a nicer bike, you are going to enjoy riding it a lot more. Sometimes, a really low-end bike, especially one loaded with useless features and junk components, can actually put you *off* biking.

    Only you can decide for yourself on which option makes sense for you.   But generally speaking, open up your purse strings.  If you can spend Rs 10k-40k on a phone, you can damn well spend more than Rs 6-7k on a bike.

    Step 4: Decide what features you want
    From section (2) above, it should be clear that for a given price point, the more features you want, the less the quality of each of those features is going to be.  And if you want a lot of features and high quality in each of them, you are going to have to pay more.  

    So be careful about selecting features that you really NEED, as opposed to WANT.  Sometimes, it is better to have fewer, higher-quality features than a lot of features of shoddy quality. 

    Of course, there is also the argument that sometimes having a bike that you really like can inspire you to ride more, and so maybe you want a bike which has features that you want.   Fair enough - but if you think you fall in this category, loosen up those purse strings and be prepared to spend more.  

    In short - don't expect a free lunch.    You want more features, functionality or technology?  Pay more.

    So let's now talk about features and where you need them.

    (a) Rear Suspension:  Let me keep it simple.  You dont need it.  Full suspension is for extreme trail riding, with lots of roots, rocks and bumps and a good full-suspension design is *not* cheap.  If you are on BikesZone as a first-time bike buyer, and your budget is under Rs 1 lakh, avoid rear suspension like the plague.  It is going to suck (if it works at all), it is going to make your bike heavier and slower and it will NOT make the ride any more comfortable.  Trust me on this.

    Repeat after me:  You do not want rear suspension.    It doesnt matter what roads you ride on.

    (b) Front Suspension: You need front suspension ONLY if you plan to ride a lot of trails.  You do not need front suspension to ride on tarmac, no matter how potholed it is.  Yes, it helps a little on rough roads but imposes a weight penalty, cost penalty (top-end full suspension forks cost over Rs 35,000 - even a decent budget fork costs over Rs 10,000), handling penalty and speed penalty (not as efficient as a rigid front).  

    You *especially* don't want a cheap front suspension -- it has all the disadvantages listed above and doesn't even work very well.  Tire type, tire pressure and choice of bike frame (steel vs aluminum) will make a bigger difference in ride quality.  Yeah, I know - where you live, the roads are crap.  Newflash - that is true for most of us in India.  Trust me, you dont need suspension to ride on these roads.

    (c) Disc brakes:  Disc brakes are nice to have, but by no means a necessity.  Remember those Rs 5 lakh racing bikes I told you about?  The pros ride them at 80-90km/hr on downhills and they dont have disc brakes.   Remember - these are bicycles we are talking about, not motorbikes.   This whole "disc brakes are better" mantra is something started by ignorant people.

    Disc brakes are useful in the sense that they work better in rain and mud (esp mud) but by using proper techniques, you can stop quite well with rim brakes as well (and besides, unless you are a loco MTBer, how fast are you going to be riding in the wet anyway?).  Good rim brakes are better than cheap disk brakes, are easier to adjust, easier to maintain and better value, especially if you are on a budget. 

    On tarmac or gravel roads, at the speeds that you are most likely going to be riding, rim brakes will have more than enough stopping power to send you flying over the bars.    So you do not NEED disc brakes.

    (d) Bike frame: Most good-quality entry to mid-level modern frames are made of Aluminum these days b/c it is lighter and easier to hydroform into various shapes.   High-end frames for racing are made of carbon fiber, but I am assuming you are not at the stage of spending Rs 1.5 lakhs on a bike yet.  

    Steel is making a comeback and for a good reason - steel absorbs road vibrations a lot better and so can make the ride a lot more comfortable.  A steel bike with a steel fork in the front (so no suspension) can actually be a lot more comfier than a cheap Al bike with crappy front and rear suspensions.  Yes, inexpensive steel is heavier than aluminum, but unless you are racing, the tradeoffs can be worth it.

    (e) Tires: Tires typically come in 2 flavors: 26" diameter, which are the fat bad boys that go on mountain bikes and are used for off-road riding, or 700c, which are the larger, skinnier tires that you see on road bikes and which are intended for tarmac use (there is also a third type of tire - the 29" MTB tire, but I'll leave that aside for the time being).  

    There is a second number along with this, representing the width of the tire (in inches, for 26" tires or mm for 700c tires).  So a sample tire may have its size given 26x2.0 or 700x25.  Typical mountain bike tires tend to be in the 2.0-2.2 thickness range (thinner tires are more for racing).  In road bikes, 700x23 and 700x25 tires are for racing, 700x28 to 700x32 tires are for general use and 700x35 or fatter tires are for touring, where you are carrying 15kg+ of cargo on the bike.

    Everyone likes those big, fat mountain bike tires. They look bad-ass. They look big (and we are mostly guys, so bigger is better...).  They look hardcore.  And they are great for off-road riding, where they provide extra cushioning and oodles of grip.

    However, on tarmac, skinny tires roll a lot faster (with less effort, to boot) and can have a deceptive amount of grip: a lot of people avoid them b/c they are afraid of falling or skidding out, but that fear is unfounded.  It does take a ride or two to get used to them, and the difference in speed compared to a mountain tire is mind-blowing.  So if you want to go fast, get skinnies.   And they have a lot of grip on tarmac as well - in fact, slicks can actually be better at cornering on tarmac than knobbies.

    However, fat tires add a big degree of comfort. Larger air volume + lower pressures == built-in suspension and a plush ride. If you are going to be riding relatively short distances, or comfort is more important than going very fast, then get fatter tires. Try to get them in a slicker tread (less knobs) if you are going to be riding on the road, to reduce the rolling resistance - you dont need heavy knobs for road riding.

    (f) Handlebars: A lot of people prefer straight handlebars (which are used predominantly in Mountain Bikes).  The benefit of those is that you ride in a more upright position, which can be comfier, especially if you are not very flexible or have a few extra pounds on the waist.  A lot of people are also put off the thought of drop bars (those curved, rams horn like bars you see on racing bikes), thinking that they are harder to handle, and you need more practice/skills in order to manage.  Rubbish.  It takes 1 ride to get used to drop bars. Drop bars give you a few more hand positions, which is nice for extended rides.  And if you want to go fast, drop bars let you get into a lot more aerodynamic position and let's face it, they look pretty cool to see and to ride - there is a great thrill of being hunched over in the drops and flying at speed.  

    Another misconception about drop bars is that they put you in an aggressive, hunched over position.    With a race-oriented bike, yes.  But there are plenty of other bikes with drop bars which put you in a more upright position.    

    Ultimately, however, go with what makes you comfortable - just make sure you get it for the right reasons and not based on misconceptions that one is harder to manage than the other.

    (g) Gears: Gears are good. If you are riding mainly in flat terrain, you dont need too many gears (or even any gears). But if you want to ride hills, gears are your friend. Gears are advertised in a range of numbers, with 24 speed or 27 speed being quite common these days. These are typically written as 3x8 or 3x9, which means 3 gears at the pedals, and 8 or 9 gears in the rear. More gears typically means smaller spacings between each gear, not necessarily a greater *range* of gears. This means that with more gears, you are better able to fine-tune and get the perfect gearing for any situation - it doesnt mean that it will necessarily become easier to climb a big mountain with a 27 speed geared bike vs a 24 speed geared bike.

    Also, without getting into a lot of details on gear ratios, even a 27 speed geared bike really has around 14 distinct gear ratios, more or less - there is a lot of overlap, and there are some combos which are not supposed to be used. So dont fret too much about the number of gears - focus, instead, on how easily the gears shift (especially the ones in the front - those tend to be a bit temperamental, especially with budget gear shifters).

    Step 4:  Some recommendations on bike types
    When you go to a bike showroom, it is hard to not get seduced by mountain bikes.  They are amazing pieces of technology, they are brawny, they look cool and they had macho names like Sultan, Jet, Leviathan and more.  Road bikes are slim, svelte and have names like Pista, Madone and Roubaix.  So naturally, you are going to want to buy a mountain bike.

    Umm.  Think again.  Are you REALLY going to be bashing around on mountain trails?  REALLY?  Or will you just do it once or twice, and then stick to using this bike as an urban commuter?  Remember what we started this thread with - know thy intended usage.

    If you want to go trail riding, by all means buy a mountain bike.  Expect to pay atleast Rs 15,000+ (Rs 20k+ if you are heavier than 70kg) for a good, trail-worthy mountain bike with front suspension that works, and which is robust enough to withstand the shocks and impact of trail riding.   And walk away from any bike that has a rear suspension.   That rear suspension is going to be crap and more importantly, because it still costs money to put it there, it means that other parts are going to be worse.    At a budget of Rs 50,000 or less, you want to get a hardtail mountain bike - ie, front suspension only.

    The more rough your intended trails, the more money you will need to spend, but for most beginners, this is a good starting point.  Yeah, there are cheaper options but they will more or less suck.  Companies to look at: Trek & Cannodale are 2 top global brands in India - they may cost a little more than generic brands, but you will get a quality product that works well (compared to a lot of other bikes which look like mountain bikes but which will die within half an hour on the trail).  Merida is the world's largest manufacturer of bikes and is also a good option to consider, although it is not as much of a premium brand as the other two and their customer service in India leaves a lot to be desired.  If you are on a tighter budget, then consider the B'twin Rockrider bikes sold by Decathlon.   Although they have a fair bit of generic components, some of the specs look good and they've gotten good reviews from trail riders recently.  

    Avoid Firefox for actual trail riding. I have yet to see a Firefox bike that I would take on a trail. I'd much rather walk, thank you very much.

    If you want to race/go fast, get a road bike.  These are not going to be cheap. Expect to spend north of Rs 30k for a Merida, closer to Rs 40k for a Trek or Cannondale.  But now you are getting a bike that is built for speed and with components that, while on the budget end of the scale, will still give you years of service and performance.  Cheaper options include LA Sovereign (no reviews of it, however) or Firefox (couple of happy users here on BZ) and recently-introduced road bikes by B'twin/Decathlon.
    Road bikes and mountain bikes are specialist bikes - they do one thing, and they do it really well.

    However, most people seem to be looking for a bike that they can use to go to work, to ride around for exercise and maybe even go on an occasional trail or two, but primarily use on tarmac - a general-purpose bike.  For such people, the ideal bike is a hybrid bike, which combines the best of both mountain bikes and road bikes. 

    Some features of hybrids:
    - thinner tires than found on a mountain bike (but fatter than on race-oriented bikes) - typically 700x28-700x35 or 26x1.5-26x1.8 slicks, depending on the wheelset. This gives you a good mix of speed and efficiency.
    - upright handlebars - comfier position
    - front suspension or all rigid - on a cheaper end, you want all-rigid; at a higher budget, you can go for a front sus if you want, but remember what I rode earlier: it is a tradeoff.

    Bianchi and Trek both make good hybrid bikes for a fairly reasonable price of approx Rs 20,000 or so and these are again, international-standard bikes.    Schwinn has launched the Sporterra series which clocks in in the Rs 9-13k range and which is also functional, although parts are not as nice as on the Bianchi and Trek.

    Another sportier option for people looking for a versatile bike is a cyclocross bike.  This is similar to a road bike but with a few differences:
    - the design allows for fitting of thicker tires - up to 700x32 or even more
    - the handlebars are higher, so a more upright position
    - often, you can fit racks and fenders
    - the geometry of the bike is such that it is more stable, unlike race bikes which tend to be more quick-handling

    A cross bike can function as your commuter, your race bike or even a tourer.   The downside - there are very few options available in India.  Kona Jake is the only one that I can think of.   Otherwise, you will have to import the bike - expect to pay Rs 50k or above for one.

    To use a car analogy: Mountain bikes are the SUVs of the bike world - powerful, tough, go-everwhere bikes.  And just like SUVs, a lot of people buy them to ride on tarmac... which works, but there are other choices which are better for this application.  Road bikes are the convertible sports cars of the bike world - fast, sporty, not very practical for general usage (but daaaammmn, did I mention "fast"?  As in, put-a-grin-on-your-face-and-make-you-think-you're-Lance fast?).

    Hybrids, on the other hand, are the minivans on the bike world. More utilitarian, good value for money, practical for daily usage, etc.   Cross bikes are like the sports sedans - a good mix of utility and performance.

    Step 6 - find the bike with the correct fit

    The best of bikes will suck if your fit is not correct.   Your ass will hurt.   Your back will hurt.   Your hands will go numb.   Your knees will hurt.   Your willy will not rise.  

    The problem is, there are maybe 6 dealers in India that I can think of who know how to fit you to the correct-sized bike:  Krish in Hyderabad, Venky and Rohan in Bangalore, Sami and Alpesh in Pune and Prabodh in Mumbai.   There may be a few more but not a lot.

    So what do you do?  I will post a guide to bike fitting soon as well but until then (and even after that), use the power of the Intrawebz to educate yourself.   Here is a starting point: ... _links.htm

    Peter White's article on that page is a great first read.      Competitive Cyclist has a good fit calculator on their website which will give you an approximate starting point.    If you buy a bike with those approximate specs, you can easily adjust your fit by changing some inexpensive components.      Remember - there is a lot more to getting a good bike fit than just making sure there is 2-3" between your crotch and the bike's top tube.

    I will end with an editorial.  A lot of people think we are insane to spend the money we do on bikes. My friend, who lives in Delhi, drives a Ford Endeavor (when he can get by with a Zen) and shakes his head in puzzlement at my how much my bikes cost.  My response to that - I ride my bike daily, it keeps me fit, it gets me outdoors, it reduces my carbon footprint and it is FUN.

    Compared to the many other things we spend so much money on (clothes, mobile phones, cars, holidays, etc), a bike is shockingly good value.  And if you buy a good bike, you are more inclined to ride it, have fun and stay fit.  Something to think about...