This edition of “The Cyclist” was written by fellow biker Kaushik Satish – reach out to him on twitter (@kaushyk) and tell him how awesome this writeup is.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon, as I cycle my way to meet Dr. Arvind Bhateja. A neuro-surgeon by profession, but known more popularly in the city’s cycling community as a biker.
An inspiring biker, I was told by Vasu Mishra, an avid biker himself, who had instantly recommended Dr. Bhateja for this post. And it’s easy to see why. Over the last 4 years since he took to biking, Dr. Bhateja has packed an impressive range of accomplishments, including taking part in the Iron Man 70.3 triathlon in Singapore and in two editions of the BSA Tour of Nilgiris, a 7-day cycling event that covers 900 kilometers across breath-taking mountains in South India.
Dr. Bhateja meets me on time at his office on Bangalore’s O’Shaughnessy road. It’s difficult to not notice that his profession must make incredible demands on his time, for, he is not only a neuro-surgeon, he also runs a 70-bed specialty hospital named after his mother, Dr. Sita Bhateja, an accomplished gynaecologist and obstetrician in the city. So I begin by asking him how he after all managed to get into cycling. “It happened while flipping a magazine,” he says. “I was with my family in Thailand on vacation, sitting at the Bangkok airport and had much time to kill. I picked up this magazine called Runner’s World and it was full of inspiring stories about marathon runners, couples doing marathons in various cities and I found it really exciting. And considering it was the end of 2008, I was soon putting together a running plan and making New Year resolutions!”
As a member of the National Cadet Corps during his school days at Bangalore’s Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Dr. Bhateja was a long-distance runner. His athletic achievements even won him a spot in the country’s Republic Day parade. But that was nearly 18 years ago. When he returned to running this time, his New Year plans barely lasted a month. Excruciating knee pain and subsequent advice from his orthopaedic friends soon had him hanging up his running shoes, albeit temporarily.
“It was around this time that I happened to meet a good friend of mine, Dr. Deepak Rao, who introduced me to some really good bikes,” he says. “In fact, it was exactly this day four years ago that I picked up an MTB,” he recollects delightedly. Soon, Dr. Bhateja was riding long stretches inside the city three to four times a week. But the MTB turned out to be a poor choice for beating Dr. Rao, who he reveals was “kicking the pants off us with his road bike.” That convinced him to pick up his first road bike, a Merida 905. “Since then, it’s been crazy.” I ask him to define crazy, and pat comes the reply, “Eat, think, drink and walk biking! I even did my first Tour of Nilgiris (a.k.a TFN) that year!”
In 2011, Dr. Bhateja did his second TFN, which he recalls as one of his more memorable biking experiences. “Especially because it was competitive. Getting beaten by Vicki Nicholson is never a happy memory. It stays with you,” he smiles. Earlier that year, he had taken part in his first triathlon, the Iron Man 70.3 in Singapore. The event involves a 1.9 kilometer swim, 90 kilometer bike ride, and 21.1 kilometer run, all of which need to be done in 8 hours and 30 minutes. Dr. Bhateja clocked his in 6 hours and 53 minutes.
He can barely contain his excitement describing a recent biking trip to Hawaii. “That was an epic climb,” he says. “It’s a professional race called Race to the Sun, which starts at sea-level and ends 10,000 feet high at a dormant volcano on a mountain called Haleakala. The weather changes dramatically through the climb, it’s hot and humid at one point, and then you are suddenly above the clouds. You finally end up on the top with all the craters and a hue of colours!” he describes. The climb, 60 kilometers long with an average grade of about 5 per cent, took him nearly 5 hours to complete. “It certainly was one of my most challenging climbs.”
While Dr. Bhateja tries to train at least five days a week, his schedule for the most part depends on the race he is training for. “Sundays are usually with the team. We do at least 100 kilometres covering Nandi. But the other days I take a call based on what I’m aiming for. If it’s a Nandi race, I take my bike to the base and do multiple repeats, but if it’s a road race, I train mostly indoors. It’s just easier.” He is particularly careful about his nutrition in-take. “I make sure to consume protein shakes typically after each training session as one needs them to aid muscular recovery. You need to ensure you are consuming the right amount of protein and carbs.”
Currently, Dr. Bhateja rides two bikes. For training and competition, he relies on his Look 566, a racy-looking, red-and-white, carbon road bike, which sports a relaxed geometry. For commuting, he imported a made-to-order, stainless steel Fixie – a single-speed, fixed-gear bike – from Wabi, Los Angeles. “It’s beautiful,” he explains, “made single-handedly by a guy called Steve. It’s got one crank and one cog, and I had always wanted a fixed-gear bike with drop handlebars.” “In fact, that’s exactly what I typed to search,” he beams.
I wonder if he believes a bike determines how well one trains. He has a firm, immediate retort, “That’s all bull… I think discipline and consistency in training are more important. As with other things in life, a good cycle will come if you put in the necessary hard work.” But he does believe that getting good coaching is crucial. “Cycling is an extremely scientific and competitive sport, you need good advice to excel.” Having worked with several online coaches, he is now training under an expert in Chennai.
It’s time for me to wrap up, and I ask him what’s currently topping his wish list. “A Bangalore Bicycle Championships podium!” comes the reply. “Perhaps, in a Master’s category!” he then adds with glee.
A must-do cycling holiday?
Yercaud. Especially, for someone who is just getting into cycling. It has a great climb, which is gradual, steady and long, not too steep. One can get into a good rhythm on it.
My Fitness Pal. I use it for tracking my calories – and that’s the secret of my weight loss, too!
Thoughts on Lance Armstrong?
Never had much respect for him to begin with.
Who in the city’s biking community has the sassiest legs?
Naveen John (of Kynkyny Cycling Team) without a doubt! He has the biggest guns I have seen. I was riding right behind him, and I was so intimidated by those thighs!