Girls in top gear

Suma Rao Done 13-day trek in Bhutan in the Himalayas; rock climbing in Hampi, France and the US; 21-day National Outdoor Leadership School sailing course in Baja, California. Photo: Abhijith Rao

When Anita Bora, a Bangalore-based communications consultant, told her colleagues that she was going to cycle 901-km across the Nilgiris, they were a little taken aback. “What? 900 kilometres? Can’t you just take a bus?” they asked.

Anita is not alone. This December, she will go on the 901-km BSA Tour of Nilgiris, one of the most challenging and demanding bicycle rides in the country that starts from Bangalore and goes through Mysore, Hassan, Madikeri, Irupu, Sultanbathery and Ooty. Six other women and 60 men will join her on the tour. All 70 participants will complete the adventure in the rugged Blue Mountains in eight days, cutting across forests, grasslands, coffee and tea plantations, enjoying the culture, heritage and cuisines of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The BSA Tour of Nilgiris, now in its second year, is not an easy ride but a rewarding one — it’s a brutal test of will power, focus and endurance. “This definitely will be in the family legends for years to come!” says Manjula Sridhar, an engineer and an entrepreneur who runs two technology companies. She is also trained in the martial arts and teaches karate. She is one of the seven women participants on the tour.

Sweat and toil

Fielding questions from incredulous colleagues and eager to come back with a story or two for their families, the seven women are preparing seriously for the tour by doing 80-100 km rides on weekends, 30-40 km rides on weekdays, and yoga and a spot of running too. The daily practice is aimed at conditioning their bodies to take
the punishing inclines in the mountains as well as the distances.

In addition, the regular conditioning rides help the body understand its nutritional needs. On an average day, each rider on the tour will burn an astonishing 4,500-5,500 calories. And that’s not just for a day — they will burn this each day of the tour, finally ending up with a scorching calorie burn of about 35,000 to 40,000. Cycling almost 6-7 hours a day is also very demanding on the protein, carbohydrate, salt and fluid balance of the body. On average, a cyclist will consume 6-7 litres of water, sports drinks and fruit juice each day, to replenish the loss due to sweating. Clearly, this is no ordinary bicycle ride in the park.

Weaker sex? You must be kidding!

“Tough is tough,” says Nischal Pai, a behavioural trainer who rides a Cannondale Quick 5, describing the tour. Nischal is looking forward to beating the demons that the tour throws up. For most of the women, going on a tour like the BSA Tour of Nilgiris is an extension of their interests. Says Suma Rao, a freelancer with a recruitment agency: “I have a wide range of interests involving the outdoors such as rock climbing, trekking, wind surfing, running and bird watching. I am looking forward to the challenge of this ride, as well as travelling through the Nilgiris on a cycle.”

‘My choice, really’

And what do their families have to say about their decision to undertake the back breaking, mind-bending adventure? “I’m going to spring the news as a surprise to my parents,” says Anita Bora. “So that they have really little time to react.” Malvika Jain, a copywriter, says: “Cycling is a regular interest. So I am just following it like people do photography or bird watching. There isn’t much opinion to be sought from family. They don’t really cast a thought to it.” But it is Reena Chengappa, the owner of an urban gardening company and who also rides a Cannondale Quick 5, who chuckles: “I am sure my mom wants to join in the fun, but is too cool to admit it.”

The seven represent a growing number of women for whom long distance cycling is a regular, normal activity. And it is an activity that is gaining popularity across the country. According to Abhishek Sareen, product manager for performance bicycles at TI, the country’s largest manufacturer of bicycles, there has been an increasing demand from women for high-end performance bicycles. “In recent months we have introduced feminine versions of the Cannondale F7, F8 and F9 and 90 per cent of these have moved out to customers.” In fact, after seeing that high-end performance bicycles for women are doing so well, TI cycles is now planning to introduce cycling apparel for women. Says Reena with a quick laugh: “Tell me about the clothing. For once I am looking forward to having 60 guys around me in their short shorts. Mostly it’s the girls that get stared at. This time it’s the turn of the guys!” But for the most part, the women on the tour are pretty unconcerned that they will have so many men around. Says Lavanya Viswanath, a product manager with a life sciences company, who is on the tour: “How can being on a tour with 60 guys not be a good thing! More seriously, what I really look forward to in the tour is the experience of riding with some of these super bikers and the immense learning and fun that should come along with it!”

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