On my way home from Powai this Sunday I happened to cross paths with Super Randonneuse Meera Valankar on the Eastern Express Highway. For those who don’t know, Super Randonneuse (Randonneur for men) are those who have completed the full series of fixed-time endurance rides, called brevets, in one calendar year. That means she’s done 200km in thirteen hours and thirty minutes, 300 in twenty hours, 400km in twenty-seven hours and, amazingly, 600km in under 40 hours (in fact, she’s done that twice).
She had just finished a 90km ride to Assangoan with Sheetal Bambulkar, another hardcore Mumbai cyclist. For the past year, Sheetal has been regularly cycling to work, as well as completing long-distance rides on the weekends. She is also a RideLondon 2015 finisher and a randonneuse.
The two only met three weeks ago but Meera saw in Sheetal that audaciousness that’s needed for serious randoneuring (which, appropriately, is also called “audax”). I learned that over the past two weeks they’ve been rigorously training for a one-of-a kind ride in India.
After a short ride to Ghatkopar, they introduce me to their surprise— a specially designed tandem bicycle.
Tandem riding, I learned, has unique challenges. It’s heavy, of course, and the steering is a bit wobbly. But most importantly, you have to carefully coordinate everything with your co-rider. Stops, turns, acceleration and deceleration have to be done together.
This is made possible by the riders’ carefully delineated roles. In tandem lingo, the person in front is the “pilot” and the person in back is the “stoker.” The pilot steers and is more or less in control. The stoker’s role is complex- she provides power, but also entertainment, motivation, emotional support and supplies. While the pilot directs the ride, the stoker keeps things going— she talks, offers words of encouragement, opens power bars and handles the water.
For this ride, Sheetal will be the stoker and Meera, who has more brevet experience, will be the pilot.
Their goal is to be the first women in India to complete a 200km brevet on a tandem. They will be making the attempt in Baroda this Sunday.
“We are just two women that have crazy dreams,” says Meera.
They completed the 200km brevet on Sunday! Here they are in Gujarat after finishing.