Last week, I had been mulling over going for a spin on the ECR (East Cost Road: the famous Chennai-Pondicherry scenic highway). Though I have been commuting to office on a cycle, a decent ride (read 50+km) was long due. So, I wanted to make a trip on the ECR to market it as a possible weekend destination for fellow cyclists (as if no Chennaiite knows about it ).
Missus wasn’t happy, though. Her reasons were:
1. An unenviable record of heavy casualties on the ECR due to rash driving and narrow roads.
2. There had been instances (rumors?) of robbery on the isolated stretches of ECR.
3. I had had my right inguinal hernia operated two years ago, and she didn’t want me to strain.
I had to resort to all sorts of tricks to convince her. She finally accepted my proposal with a condition that I would have to complete the trip in two hours. I started wondering if I would be able to do a 25kmph ride.
ECR, here I come, come what may
I start at 6:45 (late by any standard) from my home at Chitlapakkam near Tambaram. Shove a couple of bananas, a packet of biscuit, and a bottle of water into the backpack. I don’t have a helmet, so put on a cap. (I am sure that with the amount of sea breeze lashing, I will not sweat much. Also, my hair will not be dry as an arid land after the ride.) Hand gloves have always proved their worth, so I put them on.
Take the Tambaram-Velachery road. Traffic is sparse and the cool morning breeze is soothing. Road is good and I start eating up kilometers. Reach Medawakkam (7 km) and turn right toward Sholinganallur. When I am about to touch the Sholinganallur junction, I feel this pain on the right knee. I have had this dull pain during the previous 50km ride. Now, I start to panic. I want to ride on the ECR, and I will ride come what may. It is just a niggling pain, so I will snub it. Excruciating it may not be, nevertheless it starts hampering my speed. When I reach the ECR (14 km), happiness obliterates pain, and I start enjoying the ride. Also, I find that if I try the stand-up-and-pedal trick, the pain vanishes.
ECR has always been my favorite weekend destination, but I have never ridden a cycle on it. It twists along the seashore. Scenic, beautiful, enchanting, and if all these adjectives describe something, then it must be dangerous, too; right? The tarmac is inviting, but the road is narrow and doesn’t have a divider (median). Shoulders are provided, though. So, I compete with the local people who ride their roadsters and MTBs. A tailwind helps ease the pain. Sneak through the toll plaza (two wheelers are spared, anyway), and go past a few rustic and not-so-rustic villages. On the way, I see quite a few (Ok, about eight) cyclists in full cycling attire riding in the opposite direction (toward Chennai city); I notice two Bianchis (of which one is a single speed). I wave and show thumbs-up as I ogle at the bikes.
Enter Muttukkadu that is famous for its little backwaters and the boathouse. Time is 8, and the missus calls me as per the contract. Odo says I have covered just 22 km, and I want to make it at least 25; but, she insists I take enough rest and get back. Swallow some biscuits and the bananas, gulp down some water, and start the return journey. Swallow some more biscuits near the toll plaza.
Now, the tailwind becomes a stiff headwind and rubs salt into the wound. The pain restricts my speed; the wind limits my movement. I crawl all the way up to the Sholinganallur junction. I do not want to take the same Sholinganallur-Medawakkam route again, so I turn right on the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), which is also called the IT Express Way. The road has three lanes (I think) on either side of the median and is very good. The headwind still haunts, but I manage to reach the Thorappakkam junction. The signboard says Pallavaram: 10 km. The Thorappakkam-Pallavaram is one hell of a stretch; hell because numerous IT parks are being set up along this way, and even on Sundays, tippers and trailers ply at monstrous speeds. The tarmac is good, though. To avoid the pain, I stand and deliver (err…pedal). Reach the end of the stretch, turn left, ride along the railway tracks and cross them, reach the GST road, go past the MIT flyover, and return home.
Time spent on the saddle: 3 hours and 16 minutes. Distance covered: 54.92 km. Average speed: ~17kmph. Top speed: 30kmph. I console myself that I would have reached early if not for the pain. Only another ride can tell.
It was a nice trip. If you have a good bike (road bike or MTB with thinner tyres), you can cruise through the ECR all day. My bike (Hercules Ryders ACT 103) with its primitive Shimano SIS 6-speed gears held on well till the end.