Testing the water

Sugar, table salt, even chocolate- crystallisation is how we get them as we do. It’s always been a technique of purification, perhaps a poor man’s technique in this age of chromatographic separations, but an effective way nonetheless of getting one pure substance out of a cesspit of gawd-awful gunge. That’s how it was; until 1844, when a man called Wohler separated something called quinhydrone. Quinhydrone has two different chemical compounds in its crystal structure; which means, in simple words, the constituent compounds like each other way too much to let each other go.
My research is in a discipline with a fancy name- crystal engineering. I am a matchmaker. I search for compound-pairs that would be likely to love each other until death do them part (Death, in this case, involving a load of nerdy stuff like electron beams in high vacuum or evil-smelling elixirs. I need to get a life. I know.). Believe it or not, crystal engineers all over the world have voted to form an entire database of compounds for finding these compound-pairs. Yup, we take our matchmaking seriously. We do.  Methodologies have been advanced quite a bit in the last two decades or so, to the extent that we can narrow the search down to only a few potential partners just by looking at a few arcane diagrams. Partners, mind you. Only a pair. 
The big question we in the GRD group have been asking is, “What about a family, then?”. How many of these little buggers can be forced to coexist in one single box without burning it down? Two? Sure. Three? Well…  I myself have worked on ternary systems; and constructing them is devilishly difficult. Four? Unimaginable. At least until 2016, when a senior of mine painstakingly constructed a series of them. Five? Six? This paper, of which I happen to be a coauthor, says YES!


I read in a delightful book a few days ago about how particles of inspiration continuously zip through the universe; and how, by some quirk of statistics, they make contact with susceptible minds. The results? Revelations in the murk of half-sleep about the benzene molecule being a carbonaceous hexagon; or the X-ray plate revealing the truth about a double helix; or the realisation that there exists an all-pervading force of attraction between any two bodies possessing mass (The legend goes that this particular particle was rather red, and rather tangible.). Things like that. Pretty important, I’d say.

Most are never hit- the book says- while a blessed few are hit once or twice in their lifetimes (And they go on to propound theories that change the world.). But the most unfortunate are those weird particle-magnets who, by some statistical bias, seem to get them all. Like me. When the first one hits, I work out an ingenious method to overcome the problem I was wrestling with. Then the second one hits and my mind, true to its impish nature, begins exploring the ways in which the subject of my project could be turned into a bomb. I work that out and am immediately hit by what could only be called a hailstorm of particles, and the resultant cerebral riot forces me to turn to my blog. Forgive me, netizens, polluting the internet allows me to preserve my sanity. But oh boy, a single particle can cause enough havoc sometimes.

“Looking happy today, Shaunak.”


A rather reckless particle of inspiration had chosen that very moment to dive out of the ionosphere and straight into the right hemisphere of my brain, and was now happily splashing around trying to drown the other, more important, things- like the ITT I was about to start on in a few seconds, and the worries about whether my injured knee would start creaking again- with alliterated nicknames for Craig. (Sorry, mate. I’m ready to die on the next ride.)

“Rocket Raynes?”, the particle ventured.

” Sounds too much like Rocket Raccoon. Get the hell out of my head.”

“One. Two. Three. Go!”

“Who, me? Dammit!”

I pushed off, somehow managed to scrabble on to the saddle without any incidents, and fumbled the clip-in.

“Double dammit.”

I glanced down and realised that I had not started the GPS.

“Triple dammit!”

Gawd I despised untimely hits!

“Ripper Raynes?” the particle insisted.

“Oh, shut up.” I focused on Raghu, who had started before me and was now hammering away tucked in the TT position, about 300 metres ahead. I did not have TT bars, and wondered if I had enough power left after the injury to catch up with him.

“Craig the comet?”

“Stop trying.” I impatiently batted the particle away and focused on my cadence. It buzzed away to a corner of my mind and gave what it obviously thought was a menacing growl. If only it weren’t in falsetto…

My legs were definitely weaker, but my heart was still just as strong. I decided to keep spinning at over 100 rpm and transfer the load to my aerobic engine, and prayed that the result would be the same.

I passed Kartikeya and was almost on to Raghu when Craig zipped past.


“Crusher Craig?” My nemesis was back. And it had a point.

“Yup, definitely. Well done.” I patted the particle. It purred, tried to take an affectionate bite out of my mental hand and melted away.

I heaved a sigh of relief and glanced at my GPS. 9.6 km, 165 BPM and 36 kmph. My knee seemed good. What if I went full-power now?

“Might as well. God mode: Engage.”

Finish line

I slumped back on the saddle and took another look at my data. 24.5 km, 175 BPM, 38.17 kmph and 97 rpm. And my knee didn’t hurt!

Yep. I was happy. Definitely.

Breakaway 101

38 kmph.


I resist the urge to pull harder as the gradient dips. We go way back, this stretch of road and I, and the memories are mostly of the unsavoury kind. I scan my numbers carefully, and tense for the attack that I know would come in a minute.

I zoom through the trough at the head of the train, and drop a gear as the ramp says hello to my legs.

46 kmph… 49… 50…48…

And it comes.

I hear the tell-tale rhythmic skrish-skrish of tyre on tarmac. Someone is off their saddle.


I get on the drops as Murali zips past, followed by Phani and Sarvesh and whoa, Azzy!

“Aha! So you caught up.”

Before I know it, the gap is twenty metres.

“Scrawny buggers.”

I begin cranking the juice out of my legs, and I’m on to Azzy in a flash.


But he is already depleted.

I lurk in his draft for five seconds as my legs recharge.

“God mode: Engage!”

I quietly rejoice as I settle on Murali’s wheel and wait for the long false-flat that I know is only metres away. If I know these boys, there’s a big one coming.

And it’s Sarvesh. We’re all off our saddles in the blink of an eye, all guns blazing, and Phani  closes the gap.

Sarvesh goes again. I follow Murali as he clings on to his wheel.

He shoots forward one more time, and this time it’s me who bridges.

He goes again.

“Gosh, what’s this kid made of?”

I survey the other two, but they seem unwilling to respond.

“Ah, chuck it! God mode: Engage!”

I glance back from Sarvesh’s wheel.


He looks at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Let’s hold them off till Upachar.”

“Another TTT, huh?”

I sink into my private world of pain, where each second is as long as an hour, the only sensation is a dull, smouldering ache, and the only sound the rush of the wind in my ears.

“Come on, we’re gaining on them!”

I dig a little deeper as I move up. We can’t be far now…

“Good effort. We’ve likely put over a minute into them.”

I clumsily squeeze the hand Sarvesh extends at me as the edifice of Nandi Upachar looms out of the fog.

“So THAT was a breakaway.”


I had found a wheel.

My heart must have burst a minute ago, my legs were definitely full of molten lead, my lungs were quite possibly bloody rags by now, but yes, I had found a wheel.

“Dammit! Why hadn’t I shifted to a larger cog?”

The race in the elite category had just begun.

November 19, 2016. The day of my last road race for this season and, well, not my day. I was fresh back from home– two weeks off the bike, fat, sluggish, and with my legs in cryo-sleep. The route recce the preceding weekend had involved a fueling foul-up with some rather embarrassing consequences, and I knew as I attempted to assemble my bike with cold-numbed fingers, and peered shortsightedly at the other elite riders through the thick fog, that I would be lucky to simply finish the race. I

“Gosh, I definitely should have stayed where I belong…”

2 km to the U-turn

I did something I would never have dared to while riding in the amateur bunch. I yanked a bottle out of its cage and squirted water into my mouth. Riding in the elite peloton was definitely something else (Yes, this was my first elite road race. Yes, I’m a rookie. And yes, I know that.). Everybody. Held. Their. Lines. Everybody. Gave. Signals. Wow!

The pace had not exactly been scorching so far, and I had spent a fun hour chattering away with Ajjay Kamble from Chennai and moving up and down the group looking for the other Ministri boys. Anantha and Shankar seemed to be pulling up at the front, with people like Craig, Naveen Raj and KKR always hovering around the second and third positions. It was obvious that the moment we rounded the U-turn, they were going to take off like acetone-soaked cats; and when that happened… well, I didn’t want to think about when that happened.


It was utter bedlam. I possess this mysterious power of being at exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time and, well, I duly found myself near the tail of the bunch, stuck in the biggest gear and muttering obscenities as I struggled to meander my way through the chaos. I could see a small group of riders about 100 metres ahead. A split-second lapse in concentration had cost me the chance to gun for the ‘star-studded break’, and I was not happy about it.

“Pffft… Not another time trial!”

3 km past the U-turn

I was redlining. My heart rate had never dipped below 180 bpm in the last 3 km. I needed to find shelter, and quick!



I put all I had into a sprint to close the 20 metres to his wheel.


I was safe for a bit.

5 km past the U-turn

I had had to sit behind Raghu for three full minutes before I could start working with him. We had jumped on the wheel of another rider as he hammered past us and had convinced him to work with us. We had picked up Pramod and Vivek (Bhateja) shortly afterwards, and the strength of our chase group had gradually grown as we swept up more and more riders who had been dropped. A few of them seemed to have been considerably weakened, but everyone willingly did their turns. The whole situation had a somewhat apocalyptic feel to it ( I don’t enjoy getting dropped. No sir, I don’t.), but the throb of my bruised ego had subsided enough for me to start enjoying the race.

“Hey! Wait a second!”

I noticed a group of riders a small way ahead as I moved up for my turn.

“Guys! We need to catch them! Come on!”

I raised the pace a little.

8 km past the U-turn

I surged after Vivek as he accelerated. I could see Nikhil, Vinesh and a few people from Spectrum, in what surely was the first chase group, about 50 metres ahead.

“Almost there…  just a little longer… hang in there…”

Aaand we had caught them!

“Whew! That was fun!”

My race was uneventful post this moment, except for responding to a few sporadic spurts of acceleration. The group was full of banter, and Vinesh and Vishwesh seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in egging Rajat (from Pune) on into putting out intermittent bursts of speed. Imagine being picked on by a 17-year old kid! *rolls eyes.

We stayed together till the base of Nandi, until both of my legs seized up and I had to slow to a crawl while the others took off. I somehow managed to finish the race in 3 hours and 10 minutes- about twenty minutes after KKR.

I felt a slight rush of pride as I sat slumped on my handlebars and massaged some semblance of life back into my legs. I had just realised that I had finished all the races I had signed up for this season! The pride is probably misplaced because I’ve never won anything, but hey, I’ve had one awesome year getting progressively fitter and faster!

Lord Venky’s blog describes all the heroics that were going on up ahead while I was chilling in the chase group.

I got to make it to the breakaway next time. The video was charged with raw adrenaline!

Until next season, then.


Limbering up

I nip into the washroom to give my reflection a quick but thorough scrutiny:

  1. Cheekbones: Prominent. (Ugh!)
  2. Tan lines: Why didn’t I wear something with longer sleeves? (Why!?? WHY!??)
  3. Waist: O! M! G! (I’m so dead!)

The phone vibrates.

“Coming! Coming!”

I sprint out of the exit terminal, stuff my not-at-all-sapient (sigh…) luggage into the boot, vaguely try to pull the sleeve of my tee down further, mutter an oath, suck in a rattling breath, and duck into the backseat.

One hour later…

“Arrey Mashi…, I eat enough for two people! Honestly! Pliss to be believing me!”

Ah, home sweet home!

Of the 25 years I have spent darkening this planet, the initial 16 passed in Burdwan, a small, quaint town around a hundred kilometres north of Kolkata. It’s a place of azure skies with fluffy clouds, verdant paddy fields, sparkling streams, ancient moss-stained mansions, and dark green marshlands dotted with morose old temples. The people are glib and suave, the vendors overly so. In fact, I would not be very surprised if there is a man somewhere feeling rather sheepish at this moment as he sits back and admires his purchase of the day: a dozen fluoro-green umbrellas, a honker for a Lamborghini and a nuclear submarine. I’m kidding about the submarine. It’s a loud and colourful town full of blustering madness, quite the opposite of what I enjoy being amidst; but I do like to come back here once in a while- because my parents live here, and because the sweets are succulent- and that is the root of half the problems in my life.

I own a fancy bicycle which I like to ride in and around Bangalore. I am a talentless twerp as a cyclist, as has been very generously and deliberately hammered into my psyche by people I am (un?)fortunate enough to call my friends, but I do enjoy riding my bike. It has brought me down to 64 kg from 80 (that’s where I had reached once upon a time, courtesy of the succulent sweets), my parents have made peace with their fate of having a son with cheekbones, and my uncles with the fact that their nephew will obstinately maintain for the rest of his life that he never wants to take after them, potbelly-wise. Inquisitions have been held, counselling sessions have commenced and have adjourned, promises have been made of debilitating and incurable diseases, and no amount of cajoling and threatening has been able to show me the errors of my ways so far. I like not looking like a chubby-cheeked Russian babushka. Deal with it.

The attempted brainwash and force-feed sessions aside, the visits are not that bad. I get to eat home food (heaven!) and to loaf around on the couch with the books and comics I grew up reading. It’s a peaceful life, mostly, except for the rare occasion when I take it into my head to take the traditional walk around the town. I have been told I would tire myself out, but the long legs and the base fitness of a road cyclist who frequently dares to race in the elite category have their unfair advantages.

Despite having grown up in the town, its sprawling maze of lanes and alleys and what passes for thoroughfares never ceases to amaze me. I stroll past the cool, shadowy university campus, through the corridors of the apparently deserted medical college, past the mouldering palace of the rajahs and under the Curzon Gate, towards my old school, and the river after that, wondering how it would be to bring my road bike here someday. I immediately decide I would have to be high on weed and liberal doses of coke with a dash of LSD thrown in to do that. Riding a road bike through that anarchic melange of pedestrians, steel bicycles, superbikes and electric ‘toto’ rickshaws, all rocketing around  without any apparent order or reason, promises to be a hair-raising experience. Well, no thanks, I’ll pass. The traffic here is an organism I never want to mess with.

I will not even talk about home food and the sweetshops lining the streets. It’s probably for the best that I don’t visit home so often.

This happens.


Every. Damn. Time. Even when I have the BBCh Nandi Epic 100k coming up in three weeks. I come back to Bangalore cursing my sweet tooth, two weeks off the bike, 2 kg heavier and with my upper aerobic zones in tatters. Every. Damn. Time. So much for limbering up for the race.

But I DO need some time away from the lab once in a while. Ah, well, home is sweet home after all…

Roadie scum goes M’tubbing

The sun shines warm on my neck, weaving magic as it filters through the greenery surrounding us. It is a crisp blue morning- slightly cold, with an occasional, rather austere, breeze. The tarmac looks enticing- beautifully dry and smooth. But today I am going off it; on a sluggish orange bike which with its too-small chainrings and morbidly obese tyres, is the polar opposite of my regular steed.

I must be nuts.

I roll down into the field after Peter, my stomach in a tight knot. Branches whip my knees as I follow the faint trail of dust his tyres kick up, my nostrils full of the smell of the earth. He drifts through a corner. I rise up in my saddle, feathering the brake levers, and…


I can roll over gravel without skidding! I can power over ditches without flying over the handlebars! I can drop from a height without breaking my wrists! It’s a bit of a culture-shock, and idiot-grin fun!

I feel invulnerable.

The easy skill with which my companions manoeuvre their bikes amazes me. I, however, possess all the grace of a steamroller, crunching over gravel, dirt and bushes with the sheer brute power of my roadie legs.

But you cannot possibly hope to get away with trying to flatten anything and everything that gets in your way, as a boulder soon teaches me on a climb.


I fly off my line into the thorny embrace of a bush as Hugo and Peter slowly pull away.


I leap onto the saddle, and extend my leg full-force. There is a funny screech from my rear tyre as it struggles to find traction.

“You can’t be serious!”

I lean back further from the handlebars, and kick again. The front tyre lifts off the track and the bush warmly declares its undying love for me.

“Too far back!”

I am more careful with my torso this time, and…


I am rolling again.

I peer up the slope, and spot Peter and Hugo about halfway up. Can I catch them before they get to the top? I lean forward a little, just enough to ensure that my front wheel stays on the ground, and shift to a smaller cog.

“God mode: Engage!”

“Good climbing, man.” Hugo gives me a fist-bump as the two of them roll up to where I stand waiting for them. I suppress a chuckle as I resolve to put the 50/34 crankset back on my road bike for the next race.


It is perhaps time to try out a few XC races. I think I am getting the hang of it. There is only one, minor, snag- I shall have to buy yet another bike.

Follow this link for a video from the ride.

Photo courtesy: Hugo

BBCh TTT 2016


9:00 p.m., September 17, 2016

“Dude, you can’t be serious.”

-“You bet I am! I never joke about food.”

I watched with disbelief mingled with amusement as Vinesh proceeded to scoop king-sized dollops of ice-cream into the bowls.

“That’s a strange way to carb-load…”

5:20 a.m., September 18, 2016

I stifled a mega-yawn as the car inched forward in the queue at the toll. I had been hoping to catch some shut-eye on the way, but…

“Boy, does the parakeet ever stop?”

I heaved a sigh, resigned to my fate of being treated to ‘The Life and Times of Vinesh Chawla’, and leaned back in my seat to quickly go over our preparations for the time trial:

  1. Monster teammates: Check!
  2. Squeaky clean bike: Check!
  3. Sparkling (somewhat) drivetrain: Check!
  4. KOM with roller fatigue: Check!
  5. Flying off the rollers: Check! (Do not try at home.)
  6. Mojo: Check! (Even if you can’t ride well, you gotta look good. On the bike and off it. No excuses.)
  7. Rejecting gay taxi driver: Check! (Too much mojo, apparently. Don’t ask.)
  8. Energy gels: Check! (Probably redundant with 1 litre of ice-cream in your system, but anyway…)
  9. Death Rays: Check!

“Cool! All set and ready to roll.”


6:55 a.m.

Or was I?

The sight of Naveen Raj warming up on his time trial bike, resplendent in the SKCT skinsuit and with what looked like the cranium of a dead alien perched on his head, had given me a bad case of the willies. Gosh, I wasn’t even wearing shoe-covers!

” We’re so about to be destroyed today!”

I rolled down the road to smother the wriggly feeling in my gut, and immediately wished I had not. There sat Anantha, warming up on his turbo; the Terror Trio of Craig, the Lord and Dr. Bhateja were zipping up and down the road; and gosh, was our team the only one that didn’t have aerobars?

“Damn, I probably should have stayed in the amateur category.”

7:40 a.m., Kilometre 0

“Three… two… one… GO!”

I quickly settled behind Vinesh and glanced back to make sure Mr. M was on my wheel.

“Steady… steady… ON!”

“Come on, Bharat Benz, get us up to speed.”

Kilometre 16

I moved up for my turn, relishing the faint hum my spokes made as they cut through the air. Our transitions had been smooth so far, and my legs were fresh and awake. With the amazing weather, the cool brightness of the morning and the satisfaction of an well-executed team effort, this promised to turn out to be one heck of a day.

“Oh, ROT!”

Naveen Raj powered past us, with Anantha clinging on to his wheel.

I watched, with bemusement that was mutating lightning-fast into horror, as their support car rumbled past us, drew level with them to pass instructions, and slowed down, with us right behind it.

“What the f***k, mate?”


I watched with savage satisfaction as scorching blue flames engulfed the car. My Death Rays had been right on target. I hammered past my victims as they disintegrated into atoms, lips twisted in an evil-galactic-warlord smile.

(Okay, I was kidding about the Death Rays. The car fell back after being bombarded with some truly innovative swearwords from my teammates, and kindly waited until NR and Anantha had built up a larger gap before streaking after them. A regrettable incident, since we lost speed and time in the ruckus, but I suppose it could have happened to anyone.)

Kilometer 20

“@#$#%! *&$^#@#! @#$%$…” (Unprintable Hindi)

“What the hell is Bharat Benz honking at?”

I peeked out from behind him.


I swerved right just in time to avoid smashing headlong into the huge buffalo, while Vinesh shot off towards the left.

“@#$#%! *&$^#@#! @#$%$…” (More unprintable Hindi, but a different voice)

I glanced out of the corner of my eye, mirth bubbling up from the pit of my stomach.

“Mr. M? Not bad!”

We had lost more time.

Kilometer 32

“PUSH, PUSH, MAAAN!”,  the yell barely made it through the rush of the wind in my ears. It felt like I was trying to push my way through a solid, but invisible wall.

I caught a glimpse of Vinesh slotting in behind me.

“Mr. M?”


“Oh, damn!”

10. Human sacrifice to the wind god: Check!

5 km to go

This was beyond ridiculous. Every fibre in my legs burned. The winds were unrelenting. Each pedal stroke was agony. I was nearly at my limit. Our pulls had long since stopped being evenly measured. The two of us pulled as hard as we could, for as long as we could. I had only a vague awareness of who we passed and where we were. All that mattered was the screen of my Garmin, which coldly displayed how the headwind was winning with every passing kilometre. I reached into my jersey pocket for my third gel, and felt my left leg give an ominous twitch.

“Please, not now!”

500 metres to go

“Please, NO!”

My left leg had cramped.

“Vinesh, pull! Pull!”

“Can’t be far now…”

100 metres to go

“Sprint! Sprint!”


I willed myself out of the saddle.


“Almost there, almost there, almost there… MADE IT!”

I collapsed back on the saddle, my breath rattling in my chest, and retched. Thankfully nothing came up.

“Well, that’s sure to have burned the ice-cream off!”


We had clocked an average of 37.4 kmph over the 49.3 km course, and were the fourth fastest team of the day- 1 kmph slower than Ministri Racing. The two teams on the podium had clocked over 41 kmph! I certainly have a lot of room for improvement.


Gawd, it was a hard, hard ride.

On to the next!

P.S. All the photos I’ve used here were taken by the ace photographer Chenthil Mohan. What a boss!





I was handed this book when I was loafing around my favourite bike shop last Sunday,  running a probing finger over my injured knee while keeping an wary eye out for a certain gormless kitten; and listening, I admit with some feigned contrition, to Mr. M grumbling about how my bike seemed fresh out of an oil-and-grime bath. It took me barely two minutes to go through the first piece, but when I had, I was smiling like a man who had just had a mystical revelation. I read it again, and again, and again. I caught myself memorising the passages, savouring the elegance of the images they conjured, and marveling at how they stirred the rider in me. Here was a man with passion, speaking to other men (and women) with passion, about how his heart lifts a little every time he swings his leg over his machine, “at a moment pregnant with possibility.”

So many possibilities… Indeed, so many possibilities.

“To set out on a bike is always to travel with the expectation of an encounter. We are not bound by the rules of public transport of politely pretending that our fellow passengers are invisible and that whatever temporary association binds us is purely a coincidence of direction and certainly not to be mistaken as a justification for social intercourse. Nor are we prisoners of the myth of invisibility of the private motorist, who feels impregnable in his (usually his) sound-system asociality, but is, in reality, a goldfish trapped in a bowl and a figure of pity and derision.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 94-98). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.


“On a bike, stopped at a light, tourists ask us directions – because we know the topography of cities better than town planners, police officers and civil engineers. Better, even, than GoogleEarth, because we know contours and gradients too – we feel them in our legs.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 98-100). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.

And boy, does it feel good!

“And every few weeks, I run into someone I know. We ride the next mile together, annoying drivers by riding two abreast while we chat. A happy accident, this brief convergence of busy lives.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 101-103). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.

A smile, a nod, a wave, a shout in the middle of our intervals as we zip past a friend coming from the opposite direction… nothing like it, is there?

And then there’s this, meant especially for people like me who like their own company:

“But riding a bike is only incidentally social. Often, its finest hours are those spent alone, in that rare and desirable commodity of private communion with oneself: uncluttered by routine thought, just open to experience. It’s a gusty day, a sunny day; the leaves are turning, the blossom is coming out; a cold wind puts a ruddy burn on our cheeks, a summer breeze dries our perspiration. We experience the seasons, feel the weather in its fine detail of temperature, pressure, humidity, Beaufort scale, sun strength. Our senses are engaged, yet our minds set free to wander.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 104-107). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.

I ride out to train for races and rarely need to commute on a bike, but I feel you, Matt, I feel you. And damn, when would I write like you?

I will get on the rollers now. I missed my ride on account of an experiment today, and I must serve penance in my paincave.

Suffering like a boss: Check!

I grew up in a house full of cats. Seventeen of them, to be exact… tabbies, calicos, gingers, whites, each with their different temperament and personality. They had one thing in common, though- dip the tips of their tails in a small amount of tape-cleaning fluid (Acetone. Perfectly harmless.), and they’d zip off like the road-runner in that lovely cartoon show. All of them. Without fail. I think one or two of them might have even broken the sound barrier. I’ve done some truly evil chemistry as a child.

Funnily enough, this was the memory that kept running through my head as I hammered away on that cloudy morning, gasping like a fish taken freshly out of water. I was in the hardest race I’d done yet, KKR and Murali had attacked, and I was required to break the sound barrier myself to escape getting lapped.

“What goes around, comes around.”, I thought wryly.

9:40 a.m., July 17, 2016.

I felt a chill slither down my spine as I rolled up to the start line.

I’ve always had some serious misgivings about my capabilities as a cyclist. I’m not good at certain aspects of riding, as my more physically endowed friends at IISc never fail to remind me. But I had somehow, unbelievably, done OK at the BAR criterium last month (race report here.), and since none of the boys was racing amateur anymore, it seemed only right that I should move up as well.

So here I was, sitting among the big boys in the elite category, wondering what I was doing here and desperately playing the”Aal-eez-well” mantra over and over in my head.  I had three plans of action for the race:

Plan A: Survive

Plan B: Survive

Plan C: Survive

The whole group had designs on Vinesh’s wheel, much to his consternation (Vinesh, if you’re reading this, who asked you to grow so big, you muppet?). The agreement was to race our individual races, but if the Trivandrum guys went on the attack, we were going to work together and reel them in.

9:45 a.m.-10:15 a.m.

I was among monsters. It was the BAR crit all over again, only a mutated and jacked-up version of it. I was sucking in air like a giant vacuum cleaner, my legs seemed to be tearing themselves apart, but it just wasn’t enough! One moment I had the draft, and the very next moment I was frantically groping for it. It was like being stuck on the ends of a spring:


God that hurt!!

10:15 a.m.-10:35 a.m.

Half of the field had been decimated. Phani seemed to be really suffering, somehow, and had dropped out soon after winning the opening prime. Nikhil had vanished, one of the Trivandrum riders had crashed, another had shot off a corner, KKR and Murali had attacked on a bend and had not been caught, Vinesh had opened up a small gap from the main bunch and seemed set on time-trialing away… chaos reigned. And surprisingly, even after all the beating I had taken at the beginning, I felt good. In fact, I’d never felt better. I cast a look around. Only Anantha Viswanathan and Vivek Bhateja left.

“Looks like another team time trial.” I thought with a dry chuckle.

10:35 a.m.

“LAST LAP!!”, the shout cut through my TT-daze like the crack of a whip. I rolled up to Vivek.

“Good ride.”

He reached out, panting, and gave me a pat on the back.

I’d escaped being lapped. Again.


Quite a few people said I’d put out a good ride, even going to the length of using words like “brilliant” and “awesome” in their kindness.  As always, I’d take their compliments with a pinch of salt, but they made my day despite the cramps shooting lances of pain through my legs. Mr. M’s wheels definitely helped a lot. Maaaybe I ought to give myself more credit, but the doubt remains…


I need to teach myself how to corner better and how to anticipate the correct gear ratio for the sprints that follow. But I’m hopeful that would come with experience.

Here’s my ride data on strava if you’re interested.


As a post-script, I’m seriously considering repeating my childhood chemistry experiment on a nameless kitten in a certain bike shop. The fool meows at me piteously asking to be petted, and the moment I succumb to her considerable charms, she tries to take my arm off. Every bloody time. I even have scars to prove it.

Anyway, it’s time to build powah for the TTT, and for some more blogging hibernation. Until next time, then.




BAR crit: Posterior view

I’m not a sprinter. Gosh… I haven’t the faintest notion what on earth I am. I’m too fat to fly up hills, too slow in time trials, and by the time I’ve found the right gear for sprinting, my rivals are already waving like windmills from the podium. Boy, does it get frustrating at times! Well, I certainly am a sucker for punishment, because when I saw the notification about the BAR criterium on the 26th of June , the only thought that crossed my mind was,

“Why the hell not?”

An open category race- on a course with corners tight as a jar lid and headwinds that make you feel like you’re forcing your way through congealed silicone oil- against all the speed-fiends from the darkest depths of Bangalore, eager to dole out unlimited servings of pain… sure, why the hell not?

Laps 1-6

What had I gotten myself into?!!

My heart was bursting, my legs were screaming, my bike refused to respond to sprint efforts, I was on a constant and futile lookout for the draft… I was so out of my depth here!

“Why in the whole wide world did I give those wheels back??!”

Another corner, another speed bump, another surge like the Devil himself were after us, and I was spat out the back like a gob of chewing gum.

“Ach! Great!”

It was carnage. The field was being torn apart by the big guns up at the front. Another half lap, and the breakaway was clear.

“Dang! When would I have an engine like that?”

I began my examination of the debris.

Lap 7


Awesome! My race wasn’t over yet.

Lap 8

“My turn!”, I yelled at Mohan as we cornered into the windy downhill stretch. I had had to sit back for one full lap to recover from trying to chase the break on my own.

“Better start our team time trial now!”

Laps 8-16

The group gathered at the start point seemed to be growing larger with each lap. The break seemed perpetually to be one curve ahead. I kept slipping in and out of a daze, only dimly aware of my surroundings and the sizzle in my legs. It felt weird. Was I chasing? Or was I being chased? I stole a look at the clock on my Garmin. 38 minutes.

‘Just a little longer…”

Lap 17

“It’s over!”, Venky’s shout barely cut through the cobwebs in my head.

“Good one!”, Mohan said as we rolled to a halt and shook hands. Relief washed over me. We’d escaped being lapped.



This was the first criterium I have ever ridden, and it was certainly one for the memory banks! I need to develop a king-size engine to keep up with the big guns, but next time, whatever happens- I puke, I die, I fly off the road into a bush- I’m not riding amateur . “Elite rider” has a nice ring to it. Hmm…

I was a little incredulous when I received a few pats on the back and was told I had put out a good ride. Now that’s not something I get to hear often. 🙂

Oh, did I mention it was Mallick and Duggal’s last race in Bangalore for some time to come? The crit, and the yummy lunch at our favourite local bike shop afterwards was the best way we could have told them to get lost, I guess.


What a day!!


Here’s my ride data on Strava, and now that it’s out of my system, it’s time to go into blogging hibernation again. I got a bleddy PhD to finish!