Attempt #2 for 500 kms in a day

I had written in my last post that I hoped to ride 500 kms in a day, perhaps after training. Secretly, I believed that this was possible without specific training. As always, there was no way I could prove myself wrong without trying!

I backed myself to scale the 500 km peak. This was possible, I told myself. Maintain an average of 25km an hour over 20 hours - and that's it. Easier said than done : my regular speed is somewhere around the 20s. The temperature was rising with each passing day. So, any attempt had to be made soon. After a week of dilly-dallying, on the evening of the 19th February (that's two weeks ago), I finally made up my mind.

Mentally, I had broken the march to 500 to three parts : the first 300 in 12 hours of riding, and the rest in two batches of 100 kms consuming 6 hours each. 20 hours of moving time @ 25km/hr, 4 hours of "stoppage time" breakfast, lunch, dinner all inclusive. An aggressive plan, but 500 is no small goal either.

It was clear to me that, to ride 500 in a day, certain parameters of the ride had to change. To understand this better, ask yourself the question, "what's in a kilometer ?". To call it a thousand meters is to simplify matters overtly. Most city riders start off with the notion that all kilometers are created equal. The natural first question that comes up is, "how many kilometers of riding". This is a reasonable metric in many cases. But before you ask this question the next time, spare a thought for the conditions of the ride. How smooth the road is, its evenness, the bicycle, what luggage you carry, the tyres on the bicycle, the external conditions, not to mention the physical condition of the rider, all influence a long ride. These determine if you can blast past a kilometer in 120 seconds or less, or if you need struggle 10 minutes or more to cover the same distance.

The most important and controllable parameter seemed to be the evenness of the terrain. My previous day-long ride had been on the Chennai road. While coming back, I had to climb up from Krishnagiri towards Hosur. Not the best of things to do when you are running out of energy at the fag end of the ride. It made sense to ride towards Davangere for this attempt. The details were dim in my memory, but I couldn't remember any significant hills on that road. However, getting to Nelamangala posed a problem - early morning lorry traffic. Manohar suggested that I could ride to Yelahanka-Doddaballapur and join NH4 on Dobaspet. The road till Yelahanka was no problem, but the stretch till Dobaspet was of unknown quality.

Learning from my previous experience, I stocked up on 4 electral packets. And three packets of Enerzal. And sufficient Duracell batteries to keep the electronics working. These were hard to procure. Out of stock everywhere! I saved myself some time and effort by visiting the Marwadi shop from where I had picked these up earlier.

The ride started at 4 AM sharp, post a peaceful sleep. I had eaten well the previous night, and packed my bags as always. Empty roads welcomed me towards NH4. Starting at Horamavu, I kept good speed till BEL circle. I planned to go direct to Nelamangala. The rosy plan crumbled as soon the long queue of lorries greeted me post BEL circle. So fallback to plan B: Yelahanka, Doddaballapur and then to Dobaspet. And may the road gods be with me !

The road gods did stay with me, all the way till Doddaballapur. The road was smooth. If I were Lalu, I'd liken them to the cheeks of a famous actress of the years gone by. No problems keeping up with 25 kilometers an hour. Post Doddaballapur and all the way to Dobaspet, Amrish Puri's cheeks took over. This dragged down the overall pace to 23.

The biggest pain of doing a whole day ride is, surprisingly, the ride itself. Most of the time, the mind is busy, goading the body to keep up the pace. The few joys, when they happen, seem worthwhile. The road towards Dobaspet has a few Banyan trees. A particular place had a couple of them. The rays of the sun bathed the top half of these trees in a crimson glow. A sight to behold ! And where was my camera when I needed it the most?

I stopped for breakfast at Dobaspet. One huge tatte idly, half lemon rice. Three glasses of water. I was consuming a liter of water for every hour of riding, an age old advice from Wayne Lewis. I had a small pain in the left knee, reminiscent of the cramp on the earlier ride. But the right leg seemed fine. One packet of electral had been used up, just to keep things safe. At 8:25, my odometer showed 85.32 km. 3 hr 38 minutes of riding, 43 minutes of stopping time, moving average 23.27, overall 20.6.

Post Dobaspet, the ride eased up. The road was level for large parts, slightly sloping down in certain places. I made good speed. At 10:21, I had covered 135.32km, getting the moving average close to 25. I rode merrily at-least till Sira. Around noon, the heat took over. I felt as if I was slowing down gradually, and perhaps uncontrollably. Partly to get some relief from the sun, at 1 PM, lunch was taken at Hiriyur. The odomoter showed 191.59 km. I had kept the moving average at 25 km/hr, and improved on the overall speed to 21.6 km/hr.

The highway was, as Manohar rightly said, "a barrren highway". An acute shortage of food places and places to relax characterizes this road. The sun overhead gives no respite to the rider, either. After a 40 minute lunch break at "Greenland Hotel", I was back on the road. A little rusty compared to the morning, but as eager as ever. I kept motivating myself. There was still hope to do 500 km.

Things got worse post lunch. I was clearly slowing down. The kilometers were going past slower. The heat was the biggest hurdle. Liters of water flowed down my gut and kept me cool. But did they speed me up ? No, sir. The sight of windmills is a feature of Chitradurga. The place where I saw the first windmill in my existence. At 4:00 PM, I finally reached the place after a short hill climb. 237 kilometers had gone past by the 12 hour time. Not bad, but worse was ahead of me, not that I could see it!

I turned back after Chitradurga. So tired I was that I stopped at a roadside shop and attacked the bananas. The shop owner informed me that the heat goes up from Hiriyur towards Chitradurga. I topped up my water supplies hastily and started my journey back; I had no time to waste!

By this time, it was becoming clearer that the 500 target would be difficult to achieve. I was hoping against hope. Soon it will be cold, I reasoned, and riding will be faster. What had I not considered ? fatigue. It was becoming more and more difficult to ride, a fact my mind was least interest to acknowledge. Or perhaps, that was the only way to keep some hope of the stiff target. When I look back at my statistics sheet, I can see what happened. On the road, I had no clue of what was going on. Dinner didn't taste right. I pulled myself back to riding at 9 PM. In the previous 5 hours, I had rested for 1hr 21 minutes and ridden 80 kilometers. In other words, I had been averaging a meagre 16 km an hour.

I have kept no records of what time I stopped, but it came at the 332 km mark - a mere 15 km after dinner. I felt very sleepy, almost as if my whole body wanted to drop asleep. It was very hard keeping the bike steady on the road. I found myself swaying a little to the right. That's the most dangerous thing to happen at night, with the lorries riding next to me ! So, I took the painfully difficult, but logical decision. I stopped.

I had aimed for 500, but fallen short of even my earlier highest, 340 km. I could have ridden a little more. There was time aplenty. But what was that the point ? If the aim was bettering 340, then I didn't need to strive so hard for the first 12 hours. Falling short of my earlier mark suited me just fine.

Luckily, a dhaba was just around the corner. I pushed my bike to a corner and mumbled my order, "ondu tea kodi". I also made a call to Harsha, telling him about what happened, and that I intended to transport my bike back to Bangalore. He offered to come by and pick me up if needed, not that I'd take it. I realize I didn't wait for my tea. I had dozed off without control. Perhaps for a half hour.

When I woke up, I was happy to see my cycle still around! My next task was finding some transport back to Bangalore. Lorries, smaller goods vehicles, or anything else would suit me just fine. The only tempo chap who had settled in the next 'Bar and Restaurant' flatly refused to take my bicycle. I had spent 20 minutes waiting for him, tried all my tricks. To no avail.

By this time, I felt a little refreshed. I rode ahead to the next dhaba, which did seem to be a promising location. Lots of lorries. At-least one guy would oblige. Bad luck - all of them were happily indulging in making fun of their marwadi seth. They had no work to do, nowhere to go. One of them suggested I sleep there, that morning would open up more options. I did exactly that.

No prizes for guessing that I had a sound sleep. But any guesses about when I woke up ? 6:45 AM, 8 hours of sleep. My knees felt a little like lead. Open air ablutions made it harder for me; a western toilet was the need of the hour ! I spent some time chatting with the guys, drinking chai, etc. I wouldn't be riding much, so it made no sense to hurry up. I luckily found some transport near the toll gate. I hopped onto an empty lorry. The driver had stopped there for tea, and that was good for me. I got a drop till Dobaspet. No interesting conversations happened on the lorry. In retrospect, that surprises me. The driver took no money for the drop.

As I was getting down at Dobaspet, a funny incident happened. We were parked just before the Dobaspet fly-over. A foreigner arrived on the scene. He was riding a broken "mens bike", funnily dressed in a lungi which wasn't folded. With his underpants showing up slightly, he cut a curious picture. One look at him, and you would figure out as much as I did : he was on the way to Bangalore. And here was my opportunity to get some company. I wasted no time introducing myself, "Hi! I'm Shree". "Hi! I'm Danny", came the quick reply. We were off.

We represented a strange role reversal, Danny and I. Here was this American riding an Indian "mens" bike, wearing a shirt, dhoti and chappals. And there was me, an Indian riding an American bike, and dressed up with my jersey, gloves and track pants. One of the first questions I asked Danny must have been, "why this dress", to which he replied, "I wanted the full Indian experience!".

This role reversal must surely have confused atleast some on-lookers. For instance, there was this kid at a roadside hotel. We had stopped for my breakfast. I had gone inside to eat tatte idly. Danny was resting on a bench outside. The bikes were parked next to each other. The bikes, naturally, were the first object of curiosity for the kid. I was keenly watching him, and he in turn was busy admiring my bicycle. The kid came in and looked at Danny. The kid pointed to the bike; his query was in the sign language. Danny pointed inside towards me, and pointed the Indian bike to himself. Guess we ended up with a confused, and perhaps unbelieving, kid.

Danny's Indian bike had been rebuilt from just a frame at a cost of 1500 rupees. The front brakes were non-existent. The chain had a tendency to come off. Danny had been riding this bike for a couple of days with patience and effort. He seemed to be enjoying this experience. Danny rides a bike like mine back in the United States. So he has seen both sides now. That has led me to thinking when I'll try the "complete Indian experience" myself...

There were several interesting things about Danny. For starters, he is just nineteen years old. He told me that he was "between schools". The American usage of the word "school" has confused me for years now. For instance, they use terms like "graduate school", which would be considered ridiculous here. Here, if you aint goin to "college", you aint grown up. His parents have been very supportive morally of this journey, he says, but he saved up for the trip by working part-time ! And why would he be visiting an Ashram at this young age ? A short story is his reply. But the summary is clear : he wants to find out what he wants to do, and then get a degree for it ! Needless to say, I am suitably impressed by this young man. Read more about Danny's activities at his blog, and perhaps his latest post which speaks of his ride and our meeting.

We rode together for perhaps a couple of hours. I had a fixture for the afternoon, a school alumni meet at 2:30. To have a realistic chance of making the meet, I had to ride hard. We had a parting tender coconut, some snaps and then I had to leave him behind. My legs were still a pale shadow of yesterday. At Dasarahalli, I took an auto back home. That ensured I reached R.T. Nagar right on time for the alumni meet.

Thus ended this attempt to 500. I didn't achieve it. When will I try it again ? After the summer maybe. But never mind when. Irrespective of success or failure, you will read about it here.

Before I end, I must tell you about one change I finally made to my bike. I am now riding on a Brooks B17 Classic saddle. Any hint of bum discomfort seems to belong to history now.

Also, I seem to have found the reason for the pain in my knees. It's so basic I find it embarrassing to write about here : seat height too low. Without that, I am still wondering how far I could have gone...

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  1. Shree,

    Great attempt, and a very good blog post. I guess you have this uncanny ability to interesting blog posts. Next time neevu 500 kms barrier break maadteera ansta ide…

  2. Hey great blog, Im sure you will make the 500km in a day soon enough. Next time im in India Im probably going to do a bike tour, Ill be sure to contact you. Great meeting you and take care.

  3. @Raama: Thanks. I have no uncanny ability as such; it takes effort to write something that makes an interesting read 🙂

    @Danny: Good to see you here. Have a good trip to South America, and hopefully we’ll see you again in India ! I can’t tell you how many of my friends are envying you right now !

    Next time should make it to 500 !

  4. Awesome stuff man… I liked the contrasting styles between you and Danny and the way you’ve put in…

    Keep riding man…..

  5. man hats off to you. I had done a trip from New Delhi to Kathmandu, last year in May. And I was pretty proud of my average around 130 kms a day with around 8 hours of riding. One thing going against me was definitely the hot northern summer.
    But still you are way ahead man :). I get a new goal now.

  6. @Balu, kaa: Thanks guys.

    @kaa: New Delhi to Kathmandu with an average of 130 is very good indeed -with the many mountains you would have crossed ! It won’t be fair to compare multi-day rides and single day efforts. In my multi-day rides, I typically average 100 km/day. In my earlier cycling days, I have done rides with averages as high as yours. With age, I am slowing down – looking around, and perhaps enjoying more !

  7. @shree: a brave attempt. I’d say it was too soon for you to fare well. If you were really serious about knocking off this 500k you should have trained a lot more. I know you are an experienced rider with many many tours. But these brevet rides are a different animal altogether.

    Interesting there is a discussion on th Kathmandu ride. Yesterday at the base of a serious climb (I was resting before riding back home) I met a guy whose grandfather (along with 70 or so others) started an epic rally from Pune to Kathmandu in late 1940s or early 1950s. 15 or so reached Kathmandu. He has a newspaper clipping that he is going to scan across to me.

  8. Awesome post !!

  9. Sree sirji.. Awesome post.. Love the way you take us along on your journey.. As you might have already figured it out, better training and you are sure to have a better crack at this 500km nut. All the best 🙂

  10. @Rajesh, Venky : Thanks guys!

  11. Hi Sree, long time since i visited your blog and this post is quite something. I cant even imagine the physical and mental stamina and drive to do such a thing. Cos its just my wrist that does the work when i ride.

    Hats of to your mind’s domination over ur body:)
    I will surely read a 500km a day log here.

  12. Hi,
    Just came along this post while searching for people who have done around 500 Km in less thaan a week…my learned friends @ office think it is impossible to ride for 100 kms in a day on a bike when I expressed my desire to do so…getting a lot of moral boost after reading this post…

    Shree currently I have a hero hawk(97 model) without gears and its not able to take my heavy wt(94 kgs) any more…any suggestion for a good mountain bike within 15 k in India?

  13. covered 510 ka in 9 hours with bajaj avenger..from ranchi jharkhand to nepal

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