Thursday, 9 December 2021

Tour De France 2021 - Al-Bakistani Style

A few years ago, I took to cycling like a possessed man and regained considerable strength and stamina. As a bonus, cycling rid me of daydreaming and helped focus on plans worth pursuing. Speaking of dreams, I had an entertaining dream recently, which I promptly turned into an article for your pleasure.

Once upon a dream

My dream started from 712 A.D. I saw a teenaged Bin Casem laying the foundation stone of al-Bakistan.

The vision then suddenly flash-forwarded to mid twentieth century, depicting what seemed like the end of the world. The well-advertised Ghazwa-e-Hind was in full swing. I saw flying beings attired in green night-suits, nuking a derelict Indian village on al-Bakistan's behalf.

Our side fired a few GORI miss-isles but nobody in the enemy camp entered Naraka. The enemy fired a few more PRETTY-V anti-GORI miss-isles but none here embraced mortar-dumb. This kept millions of acres of heavenly real estate non-allotted and thus saved the government truckloads of medals and earthly plots.

When that ‘fifth-generation high-bred warfare decelerated to an abrupt end, all of Cash-Mir skid out of Hindu clutches, braked at our feet, and then rapidly developed into a humungous housing society of a defensive type.

I saw our Cricketer Cahn speak with the French to allow al-Bakistan’s team to compete in the Tour de France bicycle race in 2021. Carelessly Cahn blew a flying kiss at Macaroni but it inadvertently hit the elderly Mrs. Macaroni to cause an embarrassing moment in the history of foreign fallacy.

Macaroni gladly agreed and declared al-Bakistan a ‘brother country’—thanks to our Cahn who had already warned him, “Oye, look here, Macaroni yaar, keep it brotherly; no need to drag a sister into all this. Life is like an export quality sewing machine; a stitch in time saves nine.”

As a gesture of good ill, Cahn declared down-and-out Karachi as the twin city of Paris. Which part of Paris, you ask? Why of course, her most impoverished part, perhaps the network of underground tunnels and the catacombs.

With the publication of allegedly ‘derogatory cartoons’ and the news of a French teacher’s beheading almost forgotten, the relations of the two estranged countries returned to traditional cordiality. Not only did our team participate in the Tour de France (TDF) in July 2021, it won the most exciting bicycle race on the planet since 1903.

Meat, our team

Tour de France meant tour of France but since I was dreaming in Punjabi, I recall we called it France da tour. There was competition between French women with their adorable oui (pronounced wee, meaning yes) and Punjabi women with their habitual ooee (meaning ouch). Some anthropologists jumped in to opine that the French and the Punjabi women were prehistoric girlfriends.

Our cycling team’s captain was Professor Doctor Lama Zahirul Padri (‘pedo’ for short), who helped the team secure first position in the General Classification of the TDF.

The Team Emi-Rates finished second. The race commentators had great difficulty pronouncing their team captain’s full name: Shahzada Bandar bin Mazloom al-Katari. Much to the delight of the fans, our own race-ist commentators referred to him as either Baandar or Katri Shahzada.

Opportunity needs preparation

We had been daydreaming about winning the TDF race since 1947 (or perhaps 712 A.D.) when we obtained a huge housing society from the lovers of fish and chips (the Brits). Later we gifted the wet half of the real estate to the ones whose staple diet was also fish but with fistfuls of rice (the Bengalis).

Then my dream suddenly began to gallop at ten times the normal speed, during which I saw successive governments facilitating children to ride tricycles in narrow lanes, then bicycles on one-way streets, and finally motorbikes on the wrong sides of the roads. Such self-training and indiscipline required no foreign funding or coaching. With hardly an indoors or outdoors velodrome in existence in al-Bakistan, we took our time preparing for TDF 2021.

The shell-shocked Swiss governing body of international cycling, UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) noted our training model that resembled our economic model that resembled nothing ever witnessed by man on planet earth. They feared our potential of taking over Switzerland’s watchmaking, secretive banking, chocolate production and cheese making industries. The UCI caved in to all our demands while trembling at the mere thought of seeing a terrible unshaven man, wearing a boom-boom jacket to give a blow-up job in the Swiss Alps.

We sent two riders: one from the barren ‘Agricultural Department’ and the other from WHOP-DA. The former was also a trained pizza deliveryman while the latter an expert at supplying cheap electricity at off-peak hours in dreams.

At a certain point, Journal Zee Owl Heck hijacked my democratic dream in a most militant manner. That patron saint of cycling smilingly launched a thousand stinger missiles from Ojhri (Rawalpindi) and then calmly cycled to the Presidency, followed by official peddlers.

To know more about the Ojhri tragedy, visit the following links:

Remembering the Ojhri Camp Blast
Ojhri Camp Incident in Pakistan 1988
Rare footage of Ojhri Camp Incident (1988)

Designer apparel

Cycling required standardized apparel but Zee Owl ordered public flogging for those found wearing padded-cycling shorts to show hairy legs. He issued an ordinance permitting only modest shalwar-qameez. He banned clipless pedals and cycling shoes, and ordered a Kohati cobbler (far away from Kohat) to make Peshawari chappals with thick soles made out of discarded tire-rubber.

As helmets, he thought of Sin-D caps (with small circular mirrors woven into them) to placate the Sin-Dees, Turkish caps to attract Erdogan, Arab keffiyeh to play ball with the Oily Sheikhs, starched bombproof turbans to please the far right-wingers, but finally selected steel-reinforced mullah caps.

The government decided to import bikes from Italy because the ‘leetal sitar’ of al-Bakistani bicycle manufacturing ceased to ‘tweenkle tweenkle’ long ago. When the selected Italian manufacturer asked, “Scusi, according to which standards shall we manufacture your bikes?” we insisted, “Al-Bakistani standards”, meaning, no standards at all.

Check out the 2021 Tour de France Bikes

Al-Bakistani methodology

Our team initially wanted to compete with just one cyclist. When the organizers questioned this folly, we explained, “One Almighty, therefore one cyclist. Allahu AkbarAny objection?"

The organizers tried convincing us with logic: “Look, the Hindus have thousands of gods, each with multiple limbs. They even have shapely and multi-talented goddesses but their team doesn't have thousands of cyclists!”

The officials clarified, “Anyone shouting Allahu Akbar could be considered a terrorist, fined heavily or shot on sight!”

It was only after our team selectors clicked on the following links to get a reality check that he complied with the rules:

Swiss Muslim fined £178 for saying ‘Allahu akbar’
Man fined 210 Swiss francs for saying 'Allahu akbar'
Venice mayor: Anyone shouting 'Allahu akbar' in St Mark's Square will be shot

Competitors such as the Indian and the Israel Start-Up Nation cycling teams posed serious security risks to our team. To outdo their teams' support vehicles we demanded a battle-ready Hummer and civilian commandos wearing al-Baba John's T-shirts with the slogan: There is such a thing as a free launch. Of course, we were refused permission.

Doping test

At the arrivals, the EU Customs staff found naswar on the person of 'pedo' (our team captain) who insisted, “The future is green. Besides, this is the fun thing used in northern al-Bakistan.”

Upon subjecting naswar to a comprehensive chemical analysis, the French found in it 20% sectarian oxide, 10% terror sulphate, 30% racial nitrate, 20% bigotry silicate, and 20% militancy carbonate. Surprisingly, the hosts ignored this find.

Special food and drinks 

Other TDF cyclists wore traditional jerseys with three rear pockets in which they stored energy bars to gain lost energy during non-stop rides. Al-Bakistani boys decided they would have pockets on the fronts of their shalwar qameez suits to stuff in them packs of nihariseekh kababsbiryanihaleem, and naan bread.

I saw our team members dismount from their horses or camels (I mean bikes), spread a large peek-neek rumaal  (picnic cloth) by the roadside, and have mid-race meals. Knocked senseless by the spicy aroma, western cyclists too began clamouring for al-Bakistani food. When an Indian cyclist shouted, “Don’t get fooled; Paki food is actually Indy food!” a violent kussun-mukki (Punjabi fistfight) erupted.

The French Customs had already allowed cyclists from the Indian sub-continent to bring in chewable 'leaves' (betel leaf or paan) and 'stones' (betel nuts). The global television audiences were aghast seeing these cyclists eject massive projectiles of reddish sputum that landed on competing cyclists and the spectators who lined the route.

A public affair

I will leave my dream alone for a moment to provide some facts about the TDF.

The TDF’s nickname, La Grande Boucle, translates to ‘big loop’. This is the equivalent of Formula 1 car racing but for cycling.

Nothing displays the French passion more than the TDF which is a two weeks long international event held every July. Because it is a ticketless affair open to all, spectators flock to the streets, hand goody-bags to the cyclists, and encourage them to win. Women refuse to stay at home to cook, and children get off days from school.

Film-crew in helicopters and motorcycle-riding camera teams shoot the entire race from interesting angles. The global audiences get to appreciate the amazing natural beauty of not only the French countryside but also of several neighbouring countries.

The race comprises of twenty or more stages, each anywhere from 40-400 Km long. The longest route ever recorded spanned 5,744 Km (3,570 miles). Each city through which the cyclists pass, attempts to outdo one another in providing better facilities.

Every competing team has a support vehicle with a qualified bike mechanic and a doctor. They follow riders to tackle mechanical problems and, when needed, provide spare bikes which are mounted over the roofs of the cars. Bicycle pileups and crashes occur on a daily basis but the trained mechanics are able to fix things within seconds so that the riders do not lose precious time.

Each bike is a custom bike costing anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, and is fitted to exacting standards and the demands of each cyclist. No bike can be more than 6.8 Kgs, as per the UCI rule. Currently, the frame material of choice is carbon fibre, while 

Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM provide the group-sets (brakes, cranks, shifters etc.).

Every cyclist wears a chest-mounted heart-rate monitor for the pulse to be visible on a small cycling computer mounted on the handlebar. The screen also shows speed, RPM, distance, route and more. Team directors remain aware of mechanical and physiological conditions of their respective team riders.

Here are some interesting statistics from the TDF 2014:

Cyclists burned a combined 19.8 million calories (each burning 100,000 calories).

You may laugh at the last arrangement because when an al-Bakistanii VVIP moves in Riasat-e-Medina, he may have as many men around at State expense.

Yellow jersey

Traditionally, the TDF always rewards colourful jerseys to winners of each stage.

As the cyclists pedal through the plains and mountainous terrain, the race tests their stamina and tactics. 

The coveted prize in cycling is the famous yellow jersey (maillot jaune) of the Tour de France. It is the awarded to the overall winner and worn by the current race leader at the start of each stage.

The newspaper owner of L’Auto (today L’Equipe) Henri Desgrange was also the race founder. He printed his newspaper on yellow paper and that is why he chose the yellow jersey so that fans could clearly spot the rider in charge.

Green jersey – best sprinter

The green jersey is the prestigious prize given to the best sprinter in the Tour. The fastest riders compete for the biggest points at the end of flat stages and smaller points during intermediate sprints.

Polka dot jersey – King of the Mountains

To the rider who earns the most King of the Mountains points, they award a jersey almost as famous as the yellow one: red polka dots on a white base jersey.

The riders earn the points along the way by being the first to the top of categorized climbs – the more severe the climb, the greater the points. The first to win both the polka dot jersey and the yellow jersey was the great Eddy Merckx in 1970.

White jersey – best young rider

The highest placed rider, aged 24 or younger on the first day of the year, gets the white jersey. They introduced the jersey in 1975, before a 10-year hiatus in the 90s, but returned in the 21st century.

Back to the dream now.

Al-Bakistani cyclists displayed no concern for jerseys and instead asked for yellow, green or polka dotted kurtasWhile on the podium, they shook hands with the French girls who stood on either side of the winning riders.

Tour de France Winners Every Year (1903-2020)
Why Mark Cavendish Is The Greatest Sprinter In History

Pedestal and ceiling fans

There was no shortage of al-Bakistani fans lining the routepresent courtesy of our political parties who wished to show the world their party flags. In the spirit of one-upmanship, our fans cheered for our team and jeered at others. They also handed over to our cyclists, talisman for protection against Satan who, they suspected, wore a black jersey of invisibility but nothing below the waist.

The start

The race began with a bit of misfortune; the straps of our cyclists’ Peshawari chappals entangled in the front derailleurs of the bicycles.

Throughout the 3,414 kilometres long race, al-Bakistanis took long breaks of a devotional nature. Whenever the cyclists dismounted the bikes, which they affectionately called horses or camels, the peloton (group) of 174 cyclists did the same out of respect. The faithful faced Arabia but the unfaithful quietly thought of the steely Eiffel Tower under whose shadow the TDF would terminate.

Time trial

For this sub-50 kilometres race stage, other cyclists pedalled as hard as they could but our boys turned up with a smart a lawyer who thought ‘time trial’ meant standing trial in a court of law to serve time.

The mountain stages

Our team did rather well in these stages; the riders broke several records of making mountains out of molehills.

Picnicking all the way

Our 2-man team pedalled the bicycles very hard since there was nothing else to pedal without bookies. They spent the hardest moments of the race chatting while pedalling, giving one another high-fives, laughing out aloud (LOL), sometimes rolling on the grass laughing (ROGL).

No rest for the wicked

The TDF cyclists’ tough routine of pedalling an average of 160 Km for three to five hours daily required having off days to recover lost energy and repair muscle damage. Because an average cyclist daily burned 4,000 calories, his nutritional requirements were phenomenal.

Our team started each day with pre-sunrise congregations of a prayerful nature, followed by no holds barred consumption of halwa-puri and a huge glass of sweet lassi. After a rather long catnap, they applied Hashmi surma in their eyes before donning cycling eyewear and returned to pedalling ferociously.

For lunch, the team preferred chicken or mutton karahi, sometimes gurda-kapoora and maghaz kata-kat or chapali kabab, roghni naan, raita, salad, and inevitably firni. The choices remained the same for dinner.

The middle

At stage 15 of the race, the al-Bakistanis were way behind the Emi-rates and the Israeli teams. From stage 16 onward, the power of a taweez (talisman) propelled our riders as if heavenly hosts in green TDF jerseys pushed their pedals.

The finish

By the grace of the Creator and Lahore’s Data Ganj Bakhsh, by the time our cyclists reached the finish line of Parisian Champs-Élysées, their chains and pedals were broken, the rims deformed, and the brake pads worn out. When they remained unstoppable even after having crossed the finish line, the French police served them with a stop and desist order.

Apart from the cash prize, each stage-winner got a stuffed lion (the traditional race mascot) but our cyclists were in no mood to accept it because it was the election symbol of civilian Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was de-selected by the 'selectors' of the motherland.

Read: Tour De France Prize Money 2021: How Much Do Winners Get?

Celebrations

After winning the TDF 2021, al-Bakistanis at home went totally berserk (or Barzakh). They distributed sweets, burned old tires, created roadblocks, kicked ATMs, overturned cargo containers, and mocked the Law out of habits developed over decades of peaceful coexistence with the neighbouring countries.

Some from the unfaithful who occupied the second and the third winning spots on the podium let out jets of champagne from oversized bottles. Our faithful riders tried the same with bottles of Rooh Afza but failed to create drama.

The victory party must have been something but I was unable to witness it because a clock alarm woke me up.

© Tahir Gul Hasan, 2021

DISCLAIMER

The author has not attempted to deride the dead or the dying supposedly depicted in this article. No statement of the author need be misconstrued insulting any person who should have protected his reputation and that of the country he promised to serve faithfully but did not. No draconian law designed to choke freedom of expression need trigger a lawsuit against the author. Uttering vile threats in person or in cyber space are an exercise in futility; those who wish to argue with the author may do so in a courteous manner in the comments section of this blog.

Friday, 14 May 2021

A Beginner’s Guide To Cycling

In this article you will learn how to choose the right bike and accessories for maximum riding comfort and pleasure. To read my previous article, 'The Innocence Of Cycling', click HERE.

The cost of a decent bike

Certainly, a bike costs much less than a golf club membership. Swinging at golf balls will burn perhaps a hundred calories per session, and hurt your wrists and the back.

By contrast, a bike will make you burn nearly 700 calories per hour, get you to places, and greatly improve cardiovascular fitness. Cycling also beats pumping-iron at a gym to gain muscle mass.

A branded bike’s well-matched components will last much longer than unbranded cheap junk. Forget about bikes that cost $100 (Rs 15,000 in Pakistan). To know what I mean, read my article 'Refurbishing An Old Bicycle'.

The starting point is Rs 80,000 for a branded mountain bike (MTB), and Rs 120,000 for a road (‘race’) bike. Better bikes cost between three and twenty-five Lacs (only).

Over a dozen top brands dominate the global market. In Pakistan, Giant (Taiwan), and Bianchi (Italy) are available.

You might come across other brands but these ‘second-hand’ options are not recommend mainly because the any damaged or worn out parts will require repairs or costly replacement.

Availability of quality parts is an issue in Pakistan. Unless you personally know the previous owner or can thoroughly get the bike mechanically checked, DO NOT waste money on used machines.

Alternatively, you could borrow or rent a bike, try it out for a few rides, and then buy the best possible bike with as much money as you would spend on acquiring the latest ‘smart’ i-phone (‘i’ is for idiot)?

Right attitude, wrong bike

Years ago, browsing through bicycle magazines I would marvel at young riders having off-road fun in the dirt. I thought if they could do it, I too could.

I resisted buying a road bike during several trips to China and Europe, and ended up buying a mountain bike (MTB) which I rode on non-mountainous terrain.

Much later, in 2019, out of several top brands I purchased a Bianchi road bike. This Italian brand, being the world’s oldest manufacturer, has dominated the market since 1885. In retrospect, I should have bought a road bike much earlier.
Bop till you drop

Gym, jogging, swimming, cycling?

Jogging in middle age stresses the knees and hip joints.

When a friend died after having a cardiac arrest on a treadmill, I told my treadmill-brethren who usually poked fun at cycling, “At least my bike gets me to places; your treadmills get you nowhere!”

The gym-types need to understand that pumping iron in gyms rob you of two things: fresh air and vitamin-D. By contrast, both of these you will get for free and in abundance while cycling.

Dog-work at the gym
Swimming is problematic because of water contamination and COVID fears. Golf is for old folks, ex-servicemen, and desperate social-climbers. For more on golf, read my other two articles:

As The Crow Flies
Refurbishing An Old Bike

So, stop being a sad grownup, cycle to strengthen the lower body, and delay or prevent expensive hip or knee surgeries in old age. As a reward, Mother Earth will thank you for leaving zero CO2 footprint in her environment.

Meet my MTB


Mountain bikes come in three kinds of frames (there are actually several other variations too):

Rigid: without any shock absorbers, just like a normal street bike

Hard-tail: with a shock absorber only on the front wheel to dampen lighter jolts

Dual suspension: with shock absorbers on both wheels to dampen bigger jolts on rough terrain

During a visit to the humungous Giant showroom in China in 2003, I felt like a child in bicycle heaven. This Taiwanese brand remains the world’s top manufacturer.
Rigid

Looking at the road bikes with low handlebars and skinny tyres, I felt that riding one might turn me into a hunchback of the Notre Dame variety. I tried an MTB whose relaxed geometry felt better. A knowledgeable English-speaking wide-eyed Chinese salesgirl helped narrow down the unbelievable choices, and happily I paid for a Giant C-Rock 1 model.

This ‘dual-susser’ (dual suspension) came equipped with Shimano Alivio group-set, meaning, three sprockets on the front (at the pedal cranks’ position), and eight cogs on the rear wheel’s hub. The 3x8 configuration meant I had 24 gears to cater to varying riding conditions.
Hard-tail


All through my childhood I rode a fixie, meaning, a bike with only one gear. Suddenly having 24 on my MTB seemed like overkill, considering a car’s five gears. Soon I would get used to selecting gear combinations to generate decent pedalling power.

Out of China, I paid nothing extra as air freight charges, and the nice Pakistan Customs levied no duties on my purchase.

The bike’s assembly was DIY (do-it-yourself). After adjusting the handlebar, installing the pedals onto the cranks, and pumping up the tyres I hit the road.
Dual suspension mountain bike
Timings and places

The friends I asked to join me for cycling considered it ‘very dangerous’ because their mothers or the wives said so. Finding no manly company, I decided to soar alone like an eagle.

In the beginning, I rode close to home usually during late afternoons. When short distances and the sameness of scenery began to bore me, I switched to early morning rides. From 15 kilometres, I progressed to 25 and finally 32 per session.


Cycling enhanced my road sense, opened the eyes wider, improved the hearing, broadened the peripheral vision, greatly improved the metabolic system, had me eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, sleeping early, and rising before daybreak. It was goodbye to a sedentary lifestyle.
Triple chain-ring (front)
Company on the road

During the morning rides, the roads belonged to me, no pollution, no traffic mess, not even traffic lights would stop me.

Strange fans sometimes suddenly appeared during the rides. The poor, with their rickety bikes, were the silent admirers. When I sped past them, some attempted to chase after me but when I changed to high gear, they just could not compete. Their poorly-maintained machines and the drag-inducing apparel (shalwar qameez) always took a toll on power output and efficiency.

Motorbike riders or rickshaw drivers sometimes rode along, asked about my bike’s price, and then sped away. The ladies just looked on, and the school-going children giggled; perhaps they all dreamed of cycling.

Cogs (rear) 
Sometimes I ran into professional cycling teams of various government departments. To them I was a mountain-biker in his mid-40s, riding on paved roads while attired in apparel appropriate for road cycling. I would reach home by 7:30 a.m., by which time the school rush-hour hit its peak.

Until a decade ago, I mostly saw on the roads, poorer folks on ordinary bicycles. After 2017, recreational or fitness-oriented cycling in Lahore took off, and several clubs appeared on the scene to cater to different age groups and riding styles.

Helmet and gloves

All thinking heads require serious protection.

The first accessory I bought was a Bell helmet and which gave me greater confidence on the road.

Tyres

When the time came to accessorise and customise the bike, I replaced the original knobby 2.35-inch wide Kenda tyres on my 26-inch rims because these required considerable effort to pedal over paved roads.

I chose narrower 2-inch wide Geox tyres which sported plainer treads, produced less rolling resistance, and helped me ride faster to greater distances with much less fatigue.

Improving the wardrobe

Even if one is not a professional, it does not hurt to look so.

Increasing passion made me invest in padded shorts to protect the family jewels, a team-jersey that had three rear pockets for storing eatables, and a pair of summer gloves.

Pedals and shoes

The stock pedals of my MTB had plastic toe-covers on one side which allowed me to place the toes properly for firmer pedalling. Their plain reverse side was suitable for use with sneakers.

Pedals with toe-clips
There was more to pedalling then just moving the legs in circular motion. The next great improvement was buying Wellgo WPD-95B pedals.

The clipless side of these heavier diecast alum catered to special cycling shoes, while the reverse side was designed for ordinary foot wear.

Next, I bought Shimano’s MTB shoes which used 98A (SPD type) metal cleats under the soles. These kept them locked over the pedals in a perfect position so that while pedalling hard my feet did not slip off. This allowed maximum power transfer from the ball of each foot, and increased pedalling efficiency. I was catching up with science.
Special clipless pedals

There was one minor drawback in cycling with special shoes locked into such pedals: to unlock my feet I had to move the heels outwards. This required some practise, which meant experiencing a fall or two. The most memorable one was at a traffic light where I failed to disengage and fell sideways.

I waited for a worried damsel to rescue this knight in distress but nobody appeared exclaiming, “Hai Allah! Aap ko choat to nahi lagi?” (Oh, God! Hope you haven’t hurt yourself?). For some moments I remained an amusing sight for the male onlookers.
Cycling shoes with cleats

Cycling computer

The next upgrade became an essential training tool: Cateye Astrale-8 cycling computer.

This wired system came with two magnetic sensors: one I affixed to the inside of the left pedal crank to read the cadence (revolutions per minute of pedalling), and the other to one of the spokes of the front wheel to generate speed data. The 2”x2” screen also displayed distance covered, total distance, average speed, and ride time.
Cycling computer

Gear-wise, I usually used the largest front ring (42-tooth) with either the second smallest (13-tooth) or the third smallest (15-tooth) rear sprocket. It took time to understand how various combinations of front and rear gears worked.

Soon I stopped being a speedy Gonsalves distance-freak to concentrate on maintaining more efficient cadences (pedalling revolutions per minute).

I also discovered that professional road cyclists tended to maintain higher cadences because pedalling at a cadence of 60 was less efficient than going at 80. Faster pedalling also burned more fat and caused less muscle stress and damage.

With machine-like efficiency I went about cycling for up to ninety minutes with no breaks. Back then I started on an empty stomach, and took along only a 500 ml water bottle to quench thirst on the road. Years later I would correct these serious nutrition-related mistakes for improved performance.
Headlight
Head and taillights

Because sometimes I rode in the evenings, I invested in a Cateye headlight to light up the road, and a Smart safety taillight to warn traffic in the rear.

Puncture-repair kit
Safety taillight

Every cyclist gets tyre flats. Soon after I got my first one, I put together a repair kit that contained patches, adhesive, sandpaper, and tyre levers. It was not easy in the beginning but I learnt to repair punctures during rides. The most memorable one happened on Gulberg’s Ali Zeb Road (named after the famous acting film couple: Mohammad Ali and Zeba).

Pumps and pouch
Make-up kit

Initially, I only used a hand-pump to inflate the tyres at home but later purchased a floor-pump. A small pouch attached to the seat-post made it easier to carry the puncture kit, the hand pump and the cell-phone.

Other types of bikes

Apart from an MTB, you have other types of bike choices:

Road bikes: light-weight, built for speed and endurance

Road bike
Gravel bikes: with features borrowed from both road and MTB bikes for mixed terrain riding

Hybrid or fitness bikes: frame geometry that suits riding in the city

Cruiser bikes: for sandy terrain

Hybrid e-bike
E-bikes: with battery-assisted power for reasonably fast speeds. These are still quite expensive and neither environmentally-friendly nor maintenance-free.

My advice is: DO NOT succumb to expensive trends but rather save money by remaining traditional and mechanical. These days the bicycle manufacturers are forcing down several expensive choices down consumers’ throats; these are listed below:

Disc brakes


Traditional rim brakes use inexpensive rubber pads, and work beautifully under most conditions. Disc brakes are more efficient on downhills but are heavier and costlier.
Fat bike

Hydraulic brakes

With these the price and maintenance hassles go up. You will either have to learn to service them yourself or pay regular visits to a mechanic.
Click HERE for a comparison of mechanical versus hydraulic brakes.

‘Intelligent’ gear-shifting
Caliper brakes

If you are too lazy to even change gears, this bit of technology will decide which front gear will work best with which rear one. Wireless Blue Tooth will move both the gears and the brakes without mechanical wires.

To read more about this technology, click HERE

Let us now look at basic bike maintenance.

Assembly

Disc brakes
New bikes come 90% pre-assembled; the remaining 10% work—as I have already mentioned—is DIY. A bike provides years of trouble-free service if you keep it clean and lubricated.

Never go for bike repairs to a shoddy mechanic; instead prefer an able mechanic for jobs that you cannot handle yourself.

If you are a DIY handyman, invest in a few essential bike tools. God bless YouTube instructional videos; you too can become a decent repairperson if you do not mind dirtying the hands.

Grace under pressure

Schrader valve
Modern MTB tubes use Schrader (or American) valves which are the same as those found on cars. This means, you may visit the nearest tyre shop and use its air-system for inflation. However, road bikes use Presta valves which require a different pump nozzle.

Check the sidewalls of your tyres and note the minimum and maximum pressures in p.s.i (pounds per square inch) or bars (1 bar is 14.7 p.s.i).

Instead of pinching a tyre to check for inflation, buy a floor-pump with a built-in pressure gauge, and nozzles for Schrader and Presta valves.
Presta valve

Do not maintain equal pressure in both the tyres because about 60% of your body weight is on the rear wheel, with only 40% up front.

Neither fill the tyres to their minimum pressures nor to the maximum. Too much air pressure will make the bike feel jumpy with less road grip; too little pressure will slow you down and cause punctures.

Find the right pressures that suit your body weight, riding style, terrain and weather conditions. Check your tyres for proper inflation at least twice a week if you ride regularly.


Chain reaction


A bicycle’s chain has hundreds of moving parts, and these require regular de-greasing and oiling.A dirty dry chain will not only wear out fast, it will also shorten the life of other components being driven by it.

To obtain maximum pedalling power, DO NOT use grease or automobile engine oils to lubricate the chain. Instead buy special chain oils, de-greaser fluids, and a chain-cleaning tool for quality maintenance.

Hand pump
Brakes and gears

For rim brakes, keep the rims clean. For discs, keep the rotors spotless. Both types must be properly adjusted for free play, and their pads kept dirt-free.

Stopping in most situations will only require a mild application of the front brake. Since most of your weight is on the rear wheel, applying the rear brake will only wear it down faster but not slow you down faster. For sudden stops, apply both brakes together, giving more weightage to the front one.

Words of caution

The manufacturers are clever; they want cyclists to part with serious cash for gizmos that usually add more weight to the bike which wastes cycling power.

Chains
Having unnecessary electronics and Blue Tooth onboard causes distractions, increase maintenance, and seldom do little to increase riding pleasure.

Speaking of distractions, DO NOT take or make phone calls or read text messages while cycling. Tune your ears to the environment by NOT wearing earbuds. If you must listen to music, do it elsewhere.

DO NOT be tempted by ‘lighter’ carbon bike frames as these pretty things are expensive. While steel or aluminium frames can be repaired, if you ever crash a carbon bike, its hairline cracks will be impossible to mend. Aluminium frames remain the cheapest and the best choice for frames.

Chain-cleaning tool
Select a machine suitable for your body and riding style. Do your own research or ask a knowledgeable cyclist. Allocate a budget of at least 10%-20% of the bike’s cost for a helmet, clothing, tools, and other items.

Now what?

Well, put that silly cell-phone away, and get on a bicycle. Good luck with the rides.


Read my other related articles on cycling: