The rise of cycling as a sport in India has been nothing short of remarkable. While the country witnesses the existence and use of cycles as a means of transport, its appearance as a sport were surprising. However, with the efforts, endurance, and sheer talent of some cyclists, India now boasts of having an impressive presence in the global cycling community. But, the uprise was not without hurdles, disappointments, or even failures. Nevertheless, Indians know how to get back up even after they are knocked down again and again.
With exhaustive efforts, the National Cyclists Federation of India was founded in 1946 with affiliation to the Union Cyclists International (UCI). However, a few years later, discrepancies with the government lead to its dissolution. After the dispute was resolved, the cycling body was renamed as the Cycling Federation of India in 1966. This was the emergence of an era where finally cycling was beginning to get appreciation like other sports.
Today, the Cycling Federation of India is responsible for arranging events, promoting cycling, directing and regulating various forms of cycling in India. It is unsurprising, but like all other sports, India is making waves in the world of cycling too. With continued support from the government to the cyclists, soon India will dominate global cycling.
If you are eager to venture into the professional field of cycling, it is vital that you know the greats that have made an impact on the sport. Here is a list of the 25 greatest Indian cyclists that you simply cannot miss out on.
In an era where female cyclists are still struggling to get the recognition they deserve, Deborah Herold is an inspiration. Her tales of struggle entail surviving the 2004 tsunami that hit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Gradually, she focused on cycling and trained in the Sports Authority of India (SAI), located in Andaman. Her achievements include four gold medals in the Track Asia Cup Cycling Championship held in New Delhi in 2014.
In 2015, Deborah clinched three medals in the Track Indian Cup and five by competing in the Taiwan Cup Track International Classic. She is also the first-ever Indian cyclist to have the 4th position in the UCI rankings in a 500m time trial.
Born in a family that practices farming in Karnataka, Sreedhar Savanur is a role model. Apart from working in the Traffic Department of Railways, Sreedhar is one of the most prominent road racing athletes. He bagged six bronze, five silver, and nine gold medals in the U-16 category.
Sreedhar represented India in the 2014 Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow. In 2015, he got the silver medal in the Ahmadabad 100K Elite race.
Also, he won a bronze medal in National Championship Criterium, a sliver in Time Trial, and gold in the 140Km road race in the year 2104. He was awarded the highly prestigious Eklavya award in 2013 and also the KOA award.
It is indeed true that when you are determined and have the talent to back it up, nothing can stop you. Bikram Singh is an example of how you can become a champion if you work hard. Previously a state-level footballer, this young cyclist from Imphal has an impressive collection of medals.
His first-ever participation was in the National Championship held in Trivandrum in 2000 under the U-16 category. He won the bronze in the 1km Time Trial under the Japan Round in the ACC Track Asia Cup in 2010. Furthermore, he represented India in the 2012 world track cycling championship organized in Australia.
A veteran in the cycling field, Rameshwori Devi wins medals as if she was born for it. It is hard to imagine, but she entered the arena of cycling by chance after testing the waters of triathlons, basketball, and cricket. At last, she found her niche in cycling.
With more than a hundred medals in her pocket, Rameshwori Devi has aced both national and international events. Her epic comeback after a maternity break of three years is still remembered. She won four medals, one of which was gold in the 2015 National Games held in Kerala. Also, she won silver in the Asian Cycling Championships in 2005.
With the infamous “Kaam Karo” quip that exploded on YouTube in 2017, Naveen John became a favorite among the Indian cyclist fanatics. He achieved an impressive feat by bagging gold at Road Race and Time Trial in the same event. His introduction to the world of cycling was through a charity event of 120-mile of cycling.
Immense hard work and rigid determination made it possible for NJ to win the title of the national time trial champion in 2014. Later that year, he attained the 55th rank in the World Championships under the Time Trial category. In 2019, he got 36th place in the Asian Road Cycling Championships.
With a coach like Rajinder Kumar Sharma at his side, it is no wonder that the talent of Amrit Singh shines through. Till now, this upcoming Punjabi cyclist has attained three bronze, eleven silver, and thirty-four gold medals. What dedication and skill!
Despite shouldering the responsibilities of his family, the Patiala-born cyclist has impressive achievements. He got two bronze and one gold medal in the 2014 Track Asia Cup. Also, he bagged three golds in the 2015 National Games in Kerala.
Moreover, he was the Indian representation at the Australia World Track cycling championship in 2012. He also represented India six times in Asia Cup and Asian Cycling Championship.
Lt Col Srinivas Gokulnath
Apart from serving the Indian military with distinction, Lt Col Srinivas Gokulnath shows that you can turn your dreams into reality with patience and skill. He and his team ventured on the Leh-Kanyakumari expedition and made a name for themselves in the Limca Book of Records. Their journey took only 15 days and 17 hours.
Then, Lt Col Srinivas set his eyes on the tough RAAM (Race across America). Even though he failed in his first attempt, he did not give up. Despite the dehydration, exhaustion, and sheer mental pressure, he became the first Indian cyclist to complete the RAAM in 2017. Then, in 2018, he completed the Race around Austria as the first Indian cyclist.
One of the most prominent Indian cyclists to attain great heights of success is Arvind Panwar. Born in Meerut, Arvind is now a part of the Asfra Racing Team Oudenaarde professional cycling team. His achievements inspire young cyclists immensely.
Arvind attained the first position in the National Road Championships in 2012 under Road Race. That was just the start of the incredible journey of Panwar. He then grabbed the 8th position in the CFI International Race held in Jaipur in 2013. In the year 2019, he got the 2nd rank under the Time Trial category in both National Road Championships and South Asian Games.
Believe it or not, but a 19-year old young man from the Andaman and Nicobar is creating waves in the global cycling community. Having both of his parents in the field of sports must have inspired Esow throughout his life.
Alben became a sensation when he clinched a silver medal in the UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships under the Keirin event in 2018, held in Switzerland. He also grabbed three gold medals for 200m Time Trial, Keirin, and Team Sprint in the Junior Asian Track Cycling championships organized in Malaysia. In 2019, Esow Alben, Rojit Singh Yanglem, and Ronaldo Singh Laitonjam attained gold in Team Sprint in the UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships in Germany.
Dr. Amit Samarth
Coming from a family of doctors, choosing medicine as a career wasn’t far-fetched. But, the realization of his over-weight led him to the world of fitness. However, his first view of the endurance cycling category was when he got signed up for the Deccan Cliffhanger in 2015. He came fifth but got hooked to the allure of adventure.
His next achievement was the completion of the Ironman event in Busselton, Australia, in 2016. Thereafter, Dr. Samarth has completed 16 global Ironman events. After that, he became the first Asian and the second Indian cyclist to finish RAAM in the year 2017. Later, in 2019, he became the first Indian cyclist to complete the Trans-Siberian Extreme.
Even though Alena Reji’s introduction to professional cycling was jus happenstance, it is refreshing to see young talents in the field. At the mere age of 12, the Kerala State Sports Council (KSSC) moved her to Thiruvanathapuram, where she got Chandran Chettiar as her coach.
She competed in the Track Asia Cup in 2016 and got a silver for her efforts. In the next year, she won the bronze medal under the junior women category in the 500m Time Trial in the 7th Asia Track cycling championship. She also participated with Deborah Herold in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in 2018.
Being one of the best Indian cyclists for a whole decade attributes to the immense skill, determination, and courage that Maxwell Trevor has displayed. Though he quit cycling when he was at the peak of his career, he is still one of the most respected personalities in the cycling community.
He has won the title of the national track champion eleven times and has won 250 or even more medals. In 1982, he was the Indian representation in the Asian Games held in New Delhi.
Then, he got the 4th position in the Seoul Asian Games under the 1km individual time trial in 1986. Perhaps, the most disappointing chapter of his life was when he was unable to compete in the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles in 1984.
Following the footsteps of her older brother Santhanu, Mahitha Mohan entered into the foray of competitive cycling in the year 2002. She was just 14 at that time. As the years passed, her achievements piled up.
In 2019, she won three gold medals for Olympic Sprint, Time Trial, and Points race in the National Track Cycling Championship. She also got gold for Time Trial and Mass Start in the All India Inter University Cycling Championship in the same year. Next year, in the South Asian Games, she attained gold for Team Time Trial as well as Mass Start 50 km.
Hussain Ajij Kurbu
Being born in a family that couldn’t support his bicycle dreams, Hussain Ajij Kurbu proved that money matters little when you have talent in abundance. Can you imagine making your own bicycle for the race? Yes! That’s what he did. Even after winning gold medals and attaining respect, he has never forgotten his humble beginnings.
Kurbu achieved three gold medals in successive years starting from 2010 in the National road cycling championships. Moreover, he got the first position in the Full Cyclothon category of Godrej Eon Tour de India in the year 2013. Now, he is the Maharashtra Cycling team’s revered captain.
Having supportive parents who never forced academics on Ronaldo Laitonjam made him realize his passion for cycling. This young kid from Manipur has the incredible luck of being coached by the extremely talented RK Sharma.
He won four gold medals in the Track Asia Cup which, was held in New Delhi in 2019. However, what made him more popular was his record-breaking win at the 200m Time Trial under the junior men category. He beat Liu Qi, who is from China, by 0.084 seconds. He, along with Esow Alben and Rojit Singh Yanglem, got gold in Team Sprint category in the 2109 UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships.
Being accredited as the fastest Asian to cycle across the globe is no easy feat. Yet, that is exactly what Vedangi Kulkarni did at the young age of 20. Though a Pune native, Kulkarni studies sports management at the University of Bournemoth, UK. While sports held her attention, it was never cycling that did. After her solo cycling trip at 17 across the Himalayan range, it changed her focus.
She undertook immense training and completed the whole journey across the globe in 159 days. She started it from Perth, Australia, and ended her mission at Kolkata, India. Experiencing a bizarre range of circumstances, Kulkarni pedaled her way across 14 countries and covered around 29,000 km.
Chetan Singh Hari
Back when cycling as a sport was not as popular as it is now, Chetan Singh Hari strived to make a difference. Born in 1936, Chetan is a supremely talented former Indian cyclist. He made an impact at a time when coaching, facilities, and even equipments were hard to attain.
He, along with Late Lalbir Singh, Late Amar Singh Sokhi, Late Amar Singh Billing, and Sucha Singh, competed in the Olympics held at Tokyo in 1964. They participated in the Team pursuit and Team Time Trial events. Though they did not win any medals, it paved the way for the next generation of Indian cyclists.
Competing as track as well as road cyclists, the story of Rajesh Chandrasekar is nothing but awe-inspiring. Despite being in a comatose state for ten days and struggling with his life for six months due to a tragic accident in 2012, he didn’t quit. After getting a second chance at life, he hopped back into cycling.
He participated in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in the scratch event in the year 2013. Just seven months following the accident, Rajesh secured his place by coming 10th in the Asian Cup held in Iran.
Raj Kumar Mehra
Raj Kumar Mehra is still an inspiration for those who are interested in acknowledging the legends that shaped the way professional cycling is now. He was an elite Indian cyclist and represented India twice in the Olympics. Once, he competed in the 1948 Olympics and then again at the 1952 Olympics events. Suffice to say, RK Mehra was a man with incredible talent.
He participated in the first Asian Games in 1951. It was held in New Delhi, and he won the silver medal for the 4000 Mtr Team Pursuit.
Jankidas Mehra led a thriving dual life and excelled at both the entertainment and sports fields with uncanny ease. Apart from a professional cyclist, Jankidas was also a filmmaker, actor, writer, producer, and activist. He represented India at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Then, he went on to break eight world records from 1934 through 1942.
Moreover, Jankidas was the British India representation in the 1938 British Empire Games held in Sydney. Also, he has the distinction of being the first Indian to hoist the national flag in the World Sports Congress organized in Zurich. He is one of the founders of the National Cyclists Federation of India.
Amar Singh Sokhi
One of the extremely talented former cyclists that struggled to put India on the international cycling map was Amar Singh Sokhi. Despite the lackluster performance of the team put together with RK Mehra acting as both coach and manager in the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, their participation is still a huge deal. It allowed the young generation to hope of reaching the Olympics once again.
However, Sokhi did attain the first position in the men’s individual pursuit – heat 9 in the 1964 Olympics.
Amar Singh Billing
Amar Singh Billing was a prominent cyclist in an era where India was struggling to get recognition in the global cycling community. Along with Chetan Singh Hari and others, Billing made an impact that is hard to overlook.
He, Chetan Singh Hari, Late Lalbir Singh, Sucha Singh, and Late Amar Singh Sokhi competed in the Summer Olympics held at Tokyo in 1964. Billing participated in three different events. He even managed to win the second position in the men’s team pursuit – heat 8.
Known for being one of the leading quarter-mile cyclists in the era of 1970, Suchcha Singh is a legend. Apart from his immense contribution to the Indian cycling field as a national champion from 1972-1974, he is also known for being in the team with other elite professionals. The team consisting of Amar Singh Sokhi, Amar Singh Billing, Chetan Singh Hari, Lalbir Singh, and Succha Singh competed in the Summer Olympics organized at Tokyo in the year 1964.
Netai Chand Bysack
Perhaps, there are only a select few that can hone a craft as beautifully as Netai Chand Bysack. The former Indian cyclist was a vision to watch when he was pedaling across events across the globe.
He represented India in the Summer Olympics of 1952 under four events. Moreover, he also participated in the 1948 Olympics. However, it is in the first Asian Games that he won the bronze model for the 1000 Mtr Time Trial.
A travel writer and explorer, Chandan Biswas fell in love with adventure sports in the year 2010. Apart from his passion for rock climbing and mountaineering, Biswas is also an avid cyclist.
He became the first Indian to finish the Solo Trans-Himalaya Cycling Expedition in 2017. The journey lasted for 153 days and entailed covering 6249 km traversing the diversified terrain of Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
In the year 2016, he led a well-organized Inter-Country Cycling Program from Kolkata to Dhaka to pay homage to the martyrs on International Mother Language Day.
These are just a few Indian cyclists that have made the list. In their own ways, each and every one of them has become a national pride. There are many more that are just waiting to be recognized. The main issue with professional cycling in India is the lack of marketing, or in simple words, the hype of the common man. But, with the new generation taking an explicit interest in different sports, cycling has hope for the future.
The road of cycling in India as a sport was definitely not an easy one. But, it persevered, and the Indian cyclists have proved their caliber in both national as well as international events. However, the journey is still on, and Indian cyclists hope to aspire the young generation to take up this fascinating sport.