Cycling in India has been on the rise. With more and more bicycles hitting the roads, people are looking to participate in cycling events. Some prefer racing, there are others who prefer riding long distances and thanks to BRM’s in India that took birth just a decade ago. While the story itself might have many back end stories, we got in touch with a veteran cyclist who played a major role in getting long distance cycling to India.
To cycling enthusiast in the country, Satish Patki needs no introduction. Famously credited as the one who brought BRM (Brevet des RandonneursMondiaux) to India, this middle-class guy from Mumbai has come a long way. In fact, most would agree that today Satish sir is living the dream.
His successful career as a cyclist and his many achievements in the sports arena are an inspiration to budding cyclist and athletes alike.
Below, are excerpts from my interview with Mr. Satish Patki, where the world famous cyclist talks about his humble beginnings, unconventional choices and the hard work that went behind making him what he is today.
How and when did you first get serious about cycling?
The adventure for me started in the 70s. I ran away from home in 1971 on the YHAI Mumbai sponsored Mumbai Udupi Mumbai cycle tour. I believe this was the 1st Randonneuring type event I did in India. I did it on a borrowed cycle and borrowed money. I had no cycle of my own and could
not afford to buy one. This was my 1st year in the four-year degree course of Science stream, I later went on to study Law and Management, Marketing.
2.Besides cycling, are you interested in any other sports?
It was in college that I got involved in Hiking and Rock climbing which led to big mountain climbing in the Himalayas and many places outside
After I got married, it was but natural that my long absences in the high-risk sport of Mountaineering had to be curtailed. This prompted me to take up Skiing. It kept the family together. It was then that I got into triathlons and one thing led to another and I attended some training courses and workshops for triathlete coaching in Australia.
Triathlons you must be aware has cycling as one of its components. As part of my course, I had to coach young triathletes in Melbourne.
Unfortunately, triathlons did not take off in India, due to various reasons which are unique to organising sports in India. For me, whether it was big wall climbing or skiing it was all for an adventure. After I superannuated, I wished to help the needy with all the knowledge and skills that I had acquired during the course of my youth.
3.What’s the perspective of people in India if you compare the past and the present?
First came Academics, because in India remunerative employment is elusive without it. I was teaching school level Science,Maths, and English to needy students for free.
Second came profession, in India the children who have the means do not have the will/talent to take up sports. Those who have the will and the talent do not have the means to take up sports with any long-term objective in mind. I did get opportunities when I met athletes who had the means and the talent but did not continue, for lack of will. There were also athletes who had the means and the will but no talent
or had passed the prime of life, 35+.
All this was very depressing, the money was there for the taking, but this was never my sole objective. During the course, I befriended Prabodh Keny who was trying to set up business as a retailer in the bicycling industry.
4.How did you help long distance cycling establish a foothold in India?
I realised that people were leading empty lives. Cycling and gossiping about cycling on the social networks were the only things that happened. It seemed to lack direction. It was then that I realised, I must bring in some change so that the noncompetitive cycling community, ( which was no small number) would get a direction and could aspire for international recognition.
What is your greatest sporting moment?
The quest of this objective took me to France, where I signed an agreement with the Audax Club Parisien to bring Randonneuring cycling to India. Which made me the first Audax Club Parisien representative in India. It was indeed a proud moment.
6.Did you receive support? Or were you left to fend for yourself?
The French organisation was delighted that India was coming to the fore. A lot of expense, time, money and energy was involved with frequent trips to France. I never asked for support, and I did not deny help, it was simply not given. There was a lot of sacrifices, what with my other activities, skiing , sailing, scuba.
But in the end, it all paid off, as you are aware. When one fails there is no one to share your failure but when one succeeds everyone will want to take it away, or belittle it especially in India.
7.What were the barriers you had to face?
The barriers, in the beginning, were to change the mindset of the cyclist in India. That’s it. If you would ask, rarely you will find anyone who knows who brought Randonneuring to India, but then when one eats a fruit rarely one knows who planted the tree!
Let me tell you a small anecdote here. Christopher Columbus was being honoured by the Spanish queen Isabella for his discoveries. During the banquet there was a lot of talk behind the scenes, belittling his discoveries. When Columbus became aware of this , he put forward a conundrum for the courtiers to solve. He took an egg from the table and asked if anyone could make it stand on its end; no one could, so
Columbus bit of one end and made the egg stand on its end and immediately everyone said oh that’s so easy. On this Columbus said, “But I did it”.
8.Who has been your inspiration?
In endurance cycling, I have been inspired by, Lon Haldeman, Pete Penseyres ed Pavelka, John Lee Ellis, John Hughes,Seana Hogan (for whom I was one of the crew for her Raam ride)the list is endless.
9. Can budding cyclists turn to you for advice and guidance?
A couple of years ago I drew a line; enough is enough. The money will not matter anymore.I give free advice to whoever comes to me. I am the Technical director for Kenycycles on an honorary basis. Anyone comes to me for advice vis training , nutrition, technology, cycling commerce will not go empty handed. If no one comes does not matter. My cup overflowed. I have always shunned publicity.
10.Where are you at the moment and what do you do for a living?
I’m located either in Colorado the Mecca of sports especially cycling during Fall and Spring.I am for a part of the Winter a month or so in France and America for skiing. Then back to आमची मुम्बई ।
A week or so Scuba doing in the Andamans in October. I attend bicycle trade fairs for Keny and help him wherever I can.
NOTE: Randonneuring would not have taken off in India without the lights off Kailas Patil- 1st and only PBP finisher in under the stipulated time, Sumit Patil now a RAAM qualifier, Kaushik Iyer, Mehul Ved, Mithun Das(who came all the way from Calcutta) and not the least Prabodh Keny
of Keny Cycles, and all those 200 odd cyclists who stood by him at the 1st BRM.
Abhishek Tarfe is a Certified Bike Mechanic from Park Tool School. He enjoys teaching people how to cycle and loves going on multi-day tours. Besides, he loves dogs and coffee.
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