Tell us a bit about yourself, and a little bit about some of the rides you’ve done in the past.
Hi! I’m India, I’m 24 and currently studying a Masters degree in Naval Architecture. I’ve erred towards the long distance side since I began riding a few years ago, which came as a huge surprise as cycling used to be my least favourite activity in the world; I couldn’t imagine wanting to spend 10 minutes on a bike, let alone 10 hours! Some of the rides I’ve done include Badlands (which I started as a pair, scratched and had a weeks holiday in Granada before continuing the route in touring mode), Two Volcano Sprint (crashed 300km in, got the train to the finish and ate arancini while the rest of the riders came in) and the Pan Celtic Race (which I finished! I bet you thought I was about to say I’d scratched again – so did I for a second there).
How did you get into long distance riding?
One day while I was doing my undergrad, my mum called me to express her desire to enter a bike-packing race called the NorthCape4000. I thought it sounded incredible, so told her to go for it, but she explained that it was going to coincide with my 21st birthday, and that of course she wouldn’t enter if I would be sad about her missing it. For some reason, even though I had only ever complained about cycling when anyone had suggested a ride to me before I decided that it was something I too wanted to enter, and convinced mum to let me join along for the ride. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the finish as mum had a crash in Poland - not too bad thankfully! - but after covering 1000 miles in 10 days I had officially been bitten by the long distance bug.
What’s your favourite local ride, and what makes it so special?
Recently, it has to be the Cadence Coffee run. During the second lockdown where we were only allowed to ride with one other person, I made some new cycling friends through Instagram and often ended up riding to a trailer that had opened locally just off the South Downs, serving great coffee and gigantic toasties. Now that I and most of my riding buddies have moved away, each time we return we make sure to incorporate a Cadence loop. It reminds me how much I love going back home to cycle those lanes, whether I’m with friends or with family.
Tell us about your most epic ride yet…
This is so difficult to answer, but I think it would have to be Further 2020. I had initially asked Camille the race organiser if I could enter as a pair, but he refused and said I could only have a place if I entered it solo. I didn’t think I was ready - I had only done two ultras before, both as part of a pair, and both on road (Further was advertised as off-road) - but I was so intrigued and so desperately wanted to do the race that I agreed. I spent most of my time on that ride cursing the multiple hours long hike-a-bikes but also standing in stunned silence and utter awe of my surroundings, at every crest of a never-ending hill or flowing descent that I had astonishingly made it down without coming off (I had only owned a gravel bike for a few weeks before departing for the Pyrenees). I don’t often like repeating rides or races, but this is one I would return to in a heartbeat.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned while bikepacking/racing?
The hardest lesson I have learnt is that things can - and will - happen that are entirely out of your control, that either severely impact your race or cause you to have to stop entirely, even when you know you could have continued. For example, you may be feeling physically on top form, when something on your bike breaks that you had not factored for and renders it unfixable, ending your race. Conversely, your bike could be functioning perfectly, but your body decides to deteriorate on you – a stomach bug, a swollen knee, etc. Mentally you want to carry on, but physically you might be unable to. Both of these have happened to me, and both are equally frustrating, but dealing with this and preparing as best you can for the next one is all you can do. As annoying as it can be, the lessons learnt can definitely be taken and applied to life in general, and I think ultimately that’s a big positive.
What makes cycling and bikepacking truly great for you?
I love cycling and bikepacking for a myriad of reasons, but the most prominent would have to be how much it can increase confidence in yourself. Being self-supported in these races has meant learning to trust myself, whether it’s being competent in the mechanical side and being able to fix my bike if something goes wrong, or just the simple belief that I can cover the distance I have set out to with the knowledge that I’ll also be okay if I can’t. It’s also been an incredible tool for listening to and realising my body’s needs and has helped me overcome an eating disorder by enabling me to view food as fuel to power these adventures on two wheels. And of course, without a shadow of a doubt what makes cycling so brilliant is the wonderful people it brings together – I’m so grateful for the friendships I’ve made because of it.
What piece of kit could you not live without?
The one thing I have taken with me on every long ride and (almost) every race since the NC4K is a small JBL speaker that clips easily onto my saddle bag. It’s proved invaluable on multiple occasions, particularly when morale begins to wane, but is just as applicable when you’re already in a great mood and just fancy a bop along. The only thing I would say is remember to download your tunes before embarking on your journey – there’s nothing worse than almost reaching the summit of a climb when you lose signal and the music stops all of a sudden (especially when you’re surrounded by others enjoying the songs, they will all groan at you in unison!).
If you have any top tip for a newbie bikepacker, what would it be?
My go to tip is simply to take way more food than you think you’ll need. Not that you definitely will need it, but it’s always reassuring to have a reserve. Eat before you get hungry, when you’re hungry, when you’re stationary – just constantly eat little and often, you’ll always have a better time than if you don’t! Also play about with where you like packing your items in your bags – it sounds obvious but figure what you use repeatedly on rides and make that the most accessible, where you initially think that will be might change with your riding style, how confident you are riding one handed etc. Try and do this a week or two before the ride you have planned, or you’ll be stressing and faffing the night before, and again 5 minutes before you set off, and then again during your ride. Or that might just be me,I’m writing this hoping I’ll listen to myself in the future…
Finally, I don’t know if this will work for everyone, but I like to envisage absolutely everything that could possibly go wrong on a ride and imagine that it will probably all happen (and of course predict that the weather will be terrible). The likelihood of this is so low, but when you’re out on the ride and then none of it happens, it’s the best ride ever!
What’s your go-to riding food and why?
A toasted sesame bagel filled with cheddar, marmite, spinach, and tomato chilli chutney. I’m not quite sure when I started making them, or why, because I’m very aware that cheese doesn’t really agree with me on rides, but they’re delicious so I can’t stop. And they fit very well cut in half in a jersey pocket (again, don’t ask why but I’m partial to a bit of sweaty cheddar). Mmmm.
What are your plans for this year ahead?
My aims this year are to step out of my comfort zone a bit more, and so I’ve entered the Highland Trail 550. I’ve never ridden a mountain bike before but have been told I absolutely need one for this race. I love a steep learning curve! The majority of races I’ve participated in so far have been abroad in warmer climates, so I’m conscious I have a lot of prep to do in a short space of time in order to become accustomed to riding multiple days of cold and boggy conditions. In addition to HT550 and Further East later in the year I’m hoping to mix up my disciplines and have a go at some fixed crits, which terrify me but I’m looking forward to improving my handling skills. I have a newfound love of Audax too, so keen to get in a few more of those this year, potentially a RRTY or Super Randonneur!
Dan King (@breakawaydigital)
Rupert Hartley (@ruperthartleyphoto)