Faded memories of cycling … » Construction Reunited
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by on June 24, 2022

On my mother’s loft in her home that is currently under lock and key (she’s been staying with me all through Covid) is the frame of a racer cycle I had in the 1980s. It’s a Marco Polo bike. Of Dutch origin, I think, or English. Light as a feather. And fitted with accessories that back in the day were unavailable for love or money but could be got through the beg-borrow-steal practice. I was training to enter racing at the state and national levels. That didn’t happen. But the cycle remains with me. On World Cycling Day, yesterday, I thought of it. The frame, some black-and-white pictures, are all I have to remind me of cycling back then.

The most prestigious race in the country was the 160-km Bombay-Poona that was in January. It also had prize money for the first three cyclists to reach Panvel and then Khopoli and Talegaon. The route was the old National Highway 66. With a special and coveted prize for the cyclist who conquered the treacherous Bhor Ghats first and entered Khandala. The champion cyclists then were a group of Parsi boys from Bombay and a couple of gritty cyclists from Poona. Punjab had arguably the best cyclists in the country but they reserved their stamina and saved their cycles for the Nationals at Patiala and never entered the Bombay-Poona.

The Art of Cyclists

You could make out a cyclist by his powerful leg muscles then just as you can identify a bodybuilder by his chest and arms now. There were a couple of cycling clubs to which everyone was affiliated or you could not enter races. Sprinters was one and Bombay Cycling Association the other. They had their own colours. The competition between them was fierce. But all the cyclists, the Bombay and Poona fellows, got together when it came to competing in the Nationals against Punjab and Karnataka and the Railways. At las,t, today, I understand, India tops in Asia and our junior cyclists won the world title. But it’s all cricket, cricket, cricket.

I don’t understand electric cycles and cycling to save the environment and special tracks made for Sunday morning cycling. The cycle has become a fad. Back then it was used for racing (of course, milkmen and postmen also used Hercules and Atlas cycles) and you did your training on the road amid traffic. Two champion Bombay cyclists, Homi Bhatena and Ashok Khale, died tragically in road accidents. And I thought of them. Also of Yezdi Khambata, Ashok Captain, Rustom Havewala, Kamlakar Zende, Mehernosh Hakim, Bapoo Malcolm and Rakhshin Patel, who won 9 Women National titles, and is the only friend I have left from then.

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