At 73 years of age, Sundar Rajan symbolizes the renaissance that cycling in the south has had. For this retired engineer’s legs, age is certainly only a number.
A month ago, he rode 600 km from Chennai to Trichy and back on his bicycle. On World Cycling Day, inmathi salutes this veteran who has completed 85,000 km on his bicycle in the last ten years. He has many bicycle expeditions to his credit, being the captain of the longest Kashmir to Kanyakumari bicycle rally and a winner in the Srinagar to Leh-Khardungla bicycle tour.
It was after retiring from service as a mechanical engineer that Sundar Rajan took bicycle rides seriously. Each ride was a new experience for him. Many do cycling mainly to reduce weight or keep themselves fit, but it is something beyond these usual expectations which connect him with the machine.
In 2013, he became the oldest Super Randonneur of India by covering 600 km in 40 hours. He has completed seven Super Randonneur (A person is called a SR when he completes endurance distances of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km in a defined timeline within a calendar year.)
In 2020, when he heard his wife’s sister had passed away, Sundar Rajan didn’t find any option to reach the house in T Nagar from Indira Nagar where he lived due to intense lockdown. Padmini, his wife, however wanted to see the mortal remains of her sister badly. Roads were blocked, and many advised him to drop the idea but his wife. Finally, he took his wife on his bicycle after placing a folded bed sheet on its carrier.
Being a cyclist, Sundar Rajan is not new to adventures, but it was after 40 years that he took his wife pillion on a bicycle. Every 15 minutes, he turned back and asked whether she was comfortable. When they reached home, Rajan asked his 68-year-old wife how the ride was for which she said, “how do you guys ride bicycles for long distances”?.
Yes, only Rajan knows how to answer the question. As soon as you enjoy cycling, there is no problem. But what irks cyclists like Sundar Rajan is those who come on the wrong side. “Many of our drivers don’t follow the signals properly and often drive towards the wrong side. We cyclists end up victims of their errors. I have faced it so many times,” said Rajan, an alumnus of the College of Engineering, Guindy, Chennai. Rajan knows that it is not possible to provide exclusive lanes for cycling on the roads across India. “But drivers of the big vehicles should at least give some respect to the cyclists,” he said.
Sundar Rajan gives tips for beginners: You need to warm up for at least 30 minutes. The first week, do one five-minute climbing effort, pedalling at 90-plus rpm every day
The rule, according to him, is applicable to cyclists as well. “A cyclist should have a clear idea about the traffic. He should never overtake without knowing the movement of the other vehicles on the road. One should also maintain one’s speed depending on the situation and terrain,” he said.
A bicycle can be a good companion for you if you know how to use it. There are bicycles available from Rs 6,000 to a couple of lakh. The more expensive it is, the more comfortable. “But at the same time, the service and maintenance charge will also go up. The high end models are comfortable, and you need them if you are riding more than 100 km at a stretch,” said Rajan. “A newspaper boy will need only a basic model for his two-hour job, but you won’t be able to use it for a 50-km ride. You need a bicycle cable for riding long distances,” he said.
Rajan replaced both of his knees in 2021, since he was suffering from arthritis. The doctor advised him not to run, but he told him to do cycling or swimming. “I have rebuilt my muscles with cycling and other exercises. I can cover long distances without any trouble,” he said.
Rajan said many people “make the mistake of hanging onto the wheel in front of them until they blow up. They think that if they do this often enough they will improve, but it’s the opposite of what you need to do to get better. You need to warm up for at least 30 minutes. The first week, do one five-minute climbing effort, pedalling at 90-plus rpm. Go as hard as you can while keeping your breathing under control. Each week, add another five-minute effort to the ride until you can do five in one session. Pedal easy for at least five minutes between intervals,” he said.
Rajan has some advice for cyclists who are new to long distance riding. “All the imported cycles are manufactured at various places in the world. No one knows when they were assembled or how long it took to ship the final destination. So, the fork and wheel bearings, bottom brackets and the free wheels are to be serviced and re-greased. Please get the bicycle serviced before venturing into long distance rides,” he said