BRM 300 – Mumbai – Pune – Mumbai (October 05, 2013)
Alright, so I just saw an update about this brevet on face book and I fancied the iconic gateway of India as the starting point for a ride all the way to Pune and back passing Lonavala and Khandala. I hoped to gorge on the fantastic street food on the way. I just love missal paav, vada paav, chikki, farsans and various crunchy delights that one gets here and it made me determined to undertake this tough 300 kms brevet with treacherous climbs in the ghats and variety of gradients throughout the route.
So here I was hoping to salvage some fun on the weekend, which looked really boring otherwise as we had to cancel our holiday to Pondicherry on these dates. Mentally prepared, all set, looking forward to meeting Anil Uchil and others from Mumbai Randonneur, I fly in to Mumbai on Oct 04 late in the evening. I preferred a hotel in Colaba near Gateway of India so that I can easily locate the starting point without much fuss.
Now there was a small glitch – while assembling my bike I realized that the front brake and front derailleur was not working as the brake cable got stuck in the hose. This meant I was not going to have the front brakes and 1-1 combination, and I was told this route has steep climbs and downhills – I prepared myself for this while fitting the bike in my hotel, but, what I really did not prepare for was yet to unfold!!! I had removed the ‘clip-on pedals’ and was banking on regular pedals for this terrain. After I assembled the bike in my hotel room I realized I can’t get the pedals fixed, I tried with all my might but somehow the pedals won’t fit – I thought this was the end of my missal paav plan but as I was determined to ride and it was midnight already, I somehow managed to hammer in the pedals and then tightened them with a wrench (I later discovered on YouTube that right and left pedals have different direction of wrench turns, for fitting in and out!!) Now this forced fit of the pedals made the pedal axis rotate with a bit of an angle on both the pedals- thus making it very uncomfortable to pedal – I was worried that if the pedals came off – I will have a real bad fall, so I rode a bit slow and avoided off-saddle standing on the pedals for a while, I got used to this funny spin in my feet after some time though.
Ok so we were flagged off at a few minutes past 6, Anil Uchil’s briefings and planning for this brevet was perfect, he made all of us understand the route, the dangers and the control points. Anil - hats off to you Sir!! Mumbai Randonneurs is doing a fab Job. I also met the legendary Mr. Mohinder Singh who checked my bike – his rides on the ghats I’m told are nothing less than superlative, hope to ride with Anil and Mohinder ji soon in a BRM.
Alright after we were flagged off I wanted to check my speed and on the flyover past VT, I looked at my suunto ambit mounted on my bike and I realized it was not recording the speeds, the bike pod alignment seemed to have been disturbed during reassembling of the bike at the hotel, so I stopped and reset the suunto ambit to only gps/heart rate mode in the ‘run category’. Luckily I have a bontrager cycle computer as well so it saved my day. BTW, I prefer a back up for all essentials! (I mount two front lights, two rear lights and carry a folding spare tyre along with 4 spare tubes on rides like these – I also have 2 spare wheels which I plan to carry and keep in the marshal vehicles in future, if there are marshal vehicles in a BRM)
I began riding with Sanjay Patel and Raghvendrasin Jhala from Baroda who were on hybrids and were really riding very well, they knew the route and guided me to take the correct turns till Panvel. We encountered some traffic and the road was quite bumpy after about 30 kms from the start near Kalamboli. One has to be very careful on this stretch of the Sion Panvel road as there is hardly any margin and the lorries and buses almost graze past you! The road is really in a bad shape around here and It’s so bumpy that I lost one of my bottle holder and bottle here. It simple fell off the bike!!
Once we were on the Uran road the going became much smoother, the scenery was getting better one could see a hillocks and I thought I will pick some speed here, but I realized that the gradient was gradually going up and maintaining speed was getting increasingly tougher. We rode smoothly as this was a traffic free stretch and reached the junction of NH4 to our right. The famous Datta Snacks is at this point – It was about 55 kilometers and we were doing about 24kmph average till this point. While Sanjay and Raghvendra decided to proceed towards Khapoli, I decided to take a snacks and chai break – I was very tempted to order missal paav as well but I realized if it gave me acidity then I will have problems so I just stuck to potato and bread and vada paav it was – good fill and carbs, I also digged in to a nutrition bar and started after a halt of 20 minutes here.
Now I was on my way to Khapoli and the road was absolutely fine, with no problems, the gradient was gradually becoming challenging. I took it quite easy and did not exert at all, I also realized that I was experiencing gravity hill phenomenon on a few slopes that seemed going down but actually the bike was not rolling down on these. I thought that may be something is stuck somewhere in my wheels or my brake pads are misaligned and stopping the movement – this was quite amusing to me as nothing was wrong with the bike, it was just the gradient!! I now neared Khapoli and the gradient was even more obvious! So I decided to take a break and refill my supplies as the Bhor Ghats climb was next. It was close to 85 kilometers now, I ordered a vada paav from a local chai shop, refilled my water – the shopkeeper was quite stunned to see me filling my hydration pack – I asked him for some salt, added it to my water and gulped it down (I lost my bottle holder on the way and along with it my favourite Desert500 bottle that I was carrying with Gatorade in it)
Within a few kilometers I was on the Bhor Ghats – this was quite a challenging climb, with my front derailleur out of action, I was finding it tough pulling up on the bigger chain wheel, so after a while I decided to walk the climb. I saw others who decided to be on 1-1 too could not make it beyond some distance and it was too steep to cycle uphill, so most of us walked this 3 kms stretch, it was really tiring and I was noticing my heart rate was about 150 bpm even when I was walking at about 4 KMPH. I met Sherwin here and he explained the route to me till Lonavala. The weather was thankfully very pleasant and there was a bit of mist and fog around – One got a fantastic view of the valley and the town below. After this tough walk we finally reached the stretch on the Ghats where NH4 connects with the Mumbai Pune Expressway- this small stretch on the ghats before and after the tunnel is where the cyclists are allowed on the expressway. I cycled slowly at about 10kmph behind Sherwin and Ninad as the gradient was still very steep and finally crossed the tunnel, and made it to the turn on the expressway where we get a left turn for Khandala. With the extreme climb ending I continued easily towards the control point in Lonavala passing the landmarks in the cue sheet – hotel Ramakrishna to our right. I and Ninad reached here almost together and I punched in my card in the HDFC ATM at 1221 hrs. (this was 105 kms) It was very interesting place with Magan Chikki brand leading the show!! I was tempted to buy some chikki but I realized I won’t have the space to carry it so I gave it a miss. At this point I was reunited with Raghvendra and Sanjay. We decided to have a quick bite – yes road side vada paav yet again – some energy bar and refill of water and off we went again towards Pune. Thanks Sanjay and Ninad for the lunch, this set us up for the next control point - Pune CCD @ 165 Kms.
We all began together after the lunch, after about 10 odd kilometers of easy gradient the climb started again, this was not as steep as Bhor but was quite a challenge, this was Kamshet, we crossed this at an easy pace and I saw both Raghvendra and Sanjay having taken a lead, Ninad too was going quite fast here. I saw Ninad a bit ahead and he asked me if I had an allen key, his cleats were coming off, I helped him with the allen key and and he was back on track quickly. I decided to take it easy as we had enough time till the next control point and I was in no mood to exert and get cramps as it was quite humid, I knew once I start my return I will do all the catching up with the gradient being easier on the return. The road was nice, there was no problem of any unruly traffic or any passer bys troubling us with questions, there were one or two excited kids who asked us the price of the bike and that’s it, nothing like what one encounters in the north!!
I decided to take another break just before the right turn from Dehu Road towards Pune. I was drinking a lot of water and my hydration pack needed a refill, I stopped and had a nutrition bar and some salt, had a litre of water and checked my phone for missed calls. Made a few calls home and to friends in Delhi, updated them that I was fine and about 135 kms in to the ride. This gave me a boost and I started again. I was now getting a bit of saddle discomfort due to chaffing – I managed that with the Vaseline I was carrying – and it worked like magic, I was all set and took off and did not stop on any climb till CCD Pune. I was greeted there by a volunteer who clicked our snaps and stamped my brevet card – it was 1551 hrs at this point.
CCD is the best place to stop and recover on a ride like this as coffee works like magic, I ordered for a double cold coffee with ice cream and a tandoori chicken sandwich. This really set me up for the return leg. Sherwin, Ninad, Sanjay, Ragvendra and other riders were all here with me along with the gentleman on the foldie and his mates. I was feeling quite charged up after the coffee so I decided to leave after a short break, I started at about 1630 p.m. from CCD Pune and I was pushing hard towards the Dehu Road – on the way it started raining yet it was sunny and bright. I stopped and took out my rain jacket and quickly started again, I had to be careful as I was really going fast and the roads were wet and to add to the thrill I had just one working brake in my cycle!!
The rains stopped after about 20 minutes, but it made the roads wet and my shoes and socks were drenched too and I was hoping it can all dry up soon so that I don’t have itchy feet on the remaining leg. I removed the rain jacket put it back in the small pouch which I attached to my cycle head tube with the help of Velcro belt that the pouch comes with and continued. I kept on pushing hard and really gave it all I had, and soon crossed Dehu Road police station turn and then after taking a left it started getting dark a little while later, I put my 1000 lumens front light on and continued pacing towards the control point in Lonavala. I crossed another rider Sushil somewhere before HDFC ATM, and when I punched my card at 1919 at Lonavala HDFC ATM, I saw Sushil arriving, I asked him if he will stop for dinner, he said he was not sure if he will stop now, may be after some time. While he went inside the ATM I started riding back towards khandala and Khapoli – Susheel told me it will be all downhill from here, and what downhills these were! crossing khandala, on the Expressway, past the tunnel and the turn to NH4 and all the way to Khapoli, I did not pedal at all! I just ensured that my one working brake was fully engaged all the time till I came down to Khapoli, I was pre warned of the speed breakers there so I was careful. My bright front light really helped me in covering this distance in pitch dark as I was confident and could see the road ahead while speeding down.
Once Past the steep downhill stretch, I was quite relaxed and stopped at a roadside chai shop for a refill of water and some much needed carbs intake for the last remaining 60 odd kilometers, the only option I had here was a samosa. I quickly ingested that and refilled my hydration pack and then I got the homely connection that I so missed - A bhaiya ji on this chai shop asked me looking at the bike – Bhaisaab is saikil ka kya system rehta hai? I told him this is a brevet etc …so he asked me if he can take part as well? I told him for sure – he surprised me with his next question – Saikil free milegi kya? So it told him - Bhaiyaa saikil free siraf chunaav se pehlay milti hai, Etawah mein!!! Anyway with a quick raam raam to him, I moved on towards Panvel. I crossed a toll plaza and found a road fork with right direction marked as Panvel Bypass, as I was not sure so I called Anil Uchil, he guided me the route ahead. He asked me to not take this bypass and keep going straight. After this point I slowed down and cross checked the cue sheet and kept asking for direction and then I had the much needed help – I heard a voice - oh it was another rider who thought I was someone else, on coming closer he said are u part of the BRM, I nodded yes! He said ok I did not know you were ahead…oh you covered quite a bit of ground!! I said yes I’m just riding almost nonstop since Pune. He introduced himself as Amish Vibhakar – he said he’s from Mumbai and he knew the way to the last control point. It was about 9:45 p.m. from this point till the end we rode together, a bit further we found the left turn from Datta Snacks towards Uran Road and then the right turn for Sion Panvel Road, we kept the speed up and stopped twice as Amish wanted to make a call and a water break in between and made It swiftly to one flyover after the other, took the naturally turning flyover in to Vashi, crossed the vashi Creek and the toll plaza. At this time my gloves started hurting me badly as these were really soiled, so I removed them and just threw them off!! And rode the last 15 odd kms without the gloves. We kept on straight road and reached the Shivaji Statue in Chembur at about 11:10, Amish guided me to the end and then we crossed the road and punched in to the ATM – Amish like a gentleman told me to go in and punch first, but as he told me that this was his first brevet and I told him as you are turning a randonnuer today you must punch your card first. After we both congratulated each other and punched our respective cards, it was about 11:15 p.m., just under 17 hours of riding the fab 300 kms!! At this point we also met the legendary Mr. Mohinder Singh again, who was very kind to welcome us in and guided me to the nearest taxi and public utilities.
I managed to get a taxi back to my hotel in Colaba, it was an awesome weekend well spent, met new friends and riders, and did the most interesting and tough 300 KMs brevet ever!!
Hope to ride more in this part in the coming times. My thanks to everyone from Mumbai Randonnuers and all my riding partners. Thanks Mumbai. Jai Maharashtra.
Tips for Riders on this section and in general to Randonneurs: