It took over a decade to construct the Golden Quadrilateral, the 5,846 km long highway connecting the four metropolitan cities in India. Meera Velankar and Dinkar Patil hope to finish the entire stretch in under thirty days, if all goes well, peddling their way through Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai on a tandem cycle. When we spoke, they had completed a little over half the distance, around 3,200 km in 18 days, says Velankar, who was then at the town of Fatehpur, about 90 km away from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
For someone who has been on the road since June 19, often riding through the night or grabbing some quick shut-eye in dhabas, gurudwaras, strangers’ homes and low-budget hotels (they are on a shoe-string budget), Velankar sounds remarkably upbeat. “I am absolutely driven by the fact that what we are doing is unique,” she says. “No one has done this route before on a tandem bike,” believes Velankar, a PhD in life sciences.
It isn’t the first time she’s travelled long-distance on a tandem bike, however. In October last year, she traversed the 3,849 km between Kashmir and Kanyakumari (K2K) with another partner, crossing 11 states within 18 days, 18 hours and 46 minutes. “I wanted to start this within six months of my K2K,” she says. Comparing the two routes, she says that GQ is a flat route, unlike the varying altitudes encountered in the K2K stretches. However, this one has its own set of challenges: the distance is far greater, for starters. Also, unpredictable weather and heavy traffic “too many lorries driving too fast,” says the Bengaluru-based Velankar. It was particularly terrible in the Delhi-UP stretch, pipes in Patil, the less garrulous of the two. “Everyone drives on the wrong side of the road there,” says the 48-year-old, an ex-serviceman based out of Nashik who works for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)
Velankar, now 45, began cycling at the age of 36 “exactly ten years ago,” she says. She started cycling simply to restore confidence and challenge herself, she says. “I began by just exploring 15-20 km around Bangalore, “she says. Over time, she started riding longer and longer distances, sometimes cycling down to Hoskote, nearly 30 km away from the city, and back in 3-4 hours. “Cycling gave me my identity back,” she says, adding that she went on to participate in multiple endurance events, including a half Ironman. Patil, who already had a good fitness base, thanks to all those years in the army, took up the sport around six years ago. “This is the first time I am riding with a female partner,” he says.
The two met on a WhatsApp group for long-distance cyclists. “It was Meera ma’am’s idea,” says Patil. “She told me what she was doing and asked if I would come along. I thought about it and agreed,” he adds. Since the two were in different cities, they trained separately, only meeting in Bengaluru the day before they set off for the ride. They both worked out for a couple of hours to build the endurance needed to complete the ride. “The main thing for me was not to repeat the same training,” says Velankar. “That way, I could stay injury-free.” Some days she cycled long distances—either outdoors or on a stationary bike; on other days, she ran or weight-trained or did a farmer’s carry of sorts, walking up multiple flights of stairs carrying a load. Patil says he trained by simply cycling for 50 to 60 km a day, consistently.
While recreational cycling is intensely popular in India, tandem biking isn’t quite there yet. “Indian tandem bikes are really basic and heavy,” says Velankar. For example, the tandem bike she is riding on, which she co-owns with a friend, weighs 22 kgs, she says. Throw in the weight of stuff carried and two people weighing 65-odd kgs, and it works up to a lot, she says with a laugh. Additionally, coordinating between partners, seeing that your respective speeds match, is far from easy. “It is like a potato-sack race. So, you have to adjust,” she says. What keeps them going to the end goal—2,800 km away, back to Bengaluru, where they started the journey together—is this: not wanting to let the other down. “You are, after all, sharing one goal, one frame, one dream with someone,” believes Velankar.