2018 GGR / THE THURIYA GETS READY

The Thuriya when she was floated in August 2017; view from aft, notice the small cabin, tiller and wind driver autopilot (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Thuriya, the sail boat that will carry Commander Abhilash Tomy KC in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR), will have her mast fitted in December.

The boat, based on the same design that Sir Robin Knox-Johnston used for his solo nonstop circumnavigation in the first GGR of 1968, was built at Aquarius Shipyard in Goa and floated in August 2017.

The GGR involves solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sail boat. Sir Robin was the first person to do such a solo nonstop circumnavigation. Suhaili, the boat Sir Robin used, was built in Mumbai.

The Thuriya is currently in Goa. Aquarius, the yard that built her, had earlier built the Mhadei and her sister vessel, the Tarini, too.

In 2012-2013, Abhilash had become the first Indian to do a solo nonstop circumnavigation aboard the Indian Navy’s INSV Mhadei.

His team manager for the 2018 GGR is Captain Dilip Donde (Retd), the first Indian to do a solo circumnavigation.

“ We did a dry run of the mast installation at the yard to figure out the placement of deck gear. After that, we took off the masts and kept them aside. We will do the final installation of the mast in December seaward of all the bridges on Mandovi River,’’ Abhilash informed last week. Being seaward of the bridges for mast-installation was the case when Mhadei was built at Aquarius, too. Sail boats may be small. But their masts can be tall and the road bridges over the Mandovi don’t have adequate clearance for such sail boats to pass through, below. The mast is therefore fitted closer to the river’s estuary, past the bridges. Aquarius on the other hand, is located upstream.

According to Abhilash, the team also did a trial of the jury rig on the river. “ Jury rigging is the use of make-shift repairs or temporary contrivances, made with only the tools and materials that happen to be on hand, originally in a nautical context. On square-rigged sailing ships, a jury rig is a replacement mast and yards (a yard is a spar to which a sail is attached) improvised in case of damage or loss of the original mast,’’ Wikipedia explains. “ We will be doing formal trials sometime this week after all the communication equipment and electrical systems are installed,’’ Abhilash said.

Incidentally, the Thuriya has to be free of modern digital communication and navigation devices. Besides circumnavigation, the second GGR’s quest is to sail around the world at the same technology level as prevailed in 1968.

Meanwhile, the engine trial has been done and the team is satisfied with the result. The engine on a sail boat is typically used for maneuvering within harbors. Races impose strict conditions on how they may be used, including sometimes, cap on amount of fuel permitted.

“ Sea trials will happen in December after the mast is installed,’’ Abhilash said.

Major sponsors to support the voyage are awaited. Few events showcase adventure in the true sense as sailing around the world solo and nonstop in a sail boat with electronics capped at 1968 level.

Abhilash is the only participant from India in the race.

For more on the Thuriya and the 2018 GGR please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2017/08/11/2018-golden-globe-race-ggr-meet-the-thuriya/

For more on solo circumnavigation please click on Sagar Parikrama under `categories’ in the side bar of the blog.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

THOUGHTS AROUND SMOG

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Breath is life.

Early November 2017, the question vexing Delhi was – how safe is the air?

The smog hung thick.

The union environment minister was quoted in news reports ascribing the smog to “ adverse meteorological conditions.’’ According to him, there were the twin problems of still wind at ground level and two wind masses – one bearing pollutants from crop burning in Punjab, the other laden with moisture and blowing in from eastern UP – colliding in the upper atmosphere. The minister was likely correct. It was also selective explanation, the stuff of calibrated response. It suggested that the fault wasn’t ours; it was more a conspiracy by weather.

We have known for long that Indian cities are polluted and becoming increasingly so. Across Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and more – there are rivers, streams and creeks that have been polluted to varying shades of sewer. Blaming their toxicity on lack of water flow or colliding water currents, would be laughable. We know the toxicity is us; our way of life. All the three major culprits cited for the Delhi smog are man-made – crop burning, automobile emission and construction dust. Mumbai escapes terrible smog probably because it is a coastal city. But its land, water bodies and the adjacent sea are scarred by pollution. Adding to the confusion over how to tackle pollution is life by religion. Amid smog in Delhi, some highlighted how the Court erred, blaming Diwali for pollution when immediate culprits are other causes. I shut my ears. By the time I left Delhi for Mumbai, two people were dead after their car fell into the Yamuna River, courtesy smog and low visibility. Elsewhere, there were reports of vehicle pile-up.

For those interested in running, major question was – what will happen to Delhi’s biggest running event due later in November? This discussion too was characterized by calibrated response. The organizers termed medical advice seeking cancellation of event as premature; they said similar conditions had been there before, they said vehicles wouldn’t be plying the race’s route from 12 hours prior to the event and that salt water would be used to wash the route to keep dust settled. Are we past calibrated response? Anyone who walks, runs or cycles regularly in Indian cities is automatically exposed to the dark side of our collective existence; the extent of air pollution and the danger of rising vehicular traffic. Besides poor quality air for runners to inhale, cyclists have got knocked down by aggressive traffic. People have died.

What worries in an experiential sense is how respect for human-powered locomotion and the outdoors is shrinking in Indian life and how that attitude is spreading like fashion. Nine days after I left Delhi, the city’s prestigious half marathon was held as scheduled. News reports said, close to 35,000 people had registered. Thanks to wind and rain, pollution thinned and air quality improved. It’s good to know that committed runners will run no matter what. Unfortunately nobody asks – what happens after they display their resolve? Will the resolve extend to making sure that next time around, pollution levels are low? As we become more and more slaves of our emergent nature, those of us feeling alarmed by pollution outside shrink in number and calibrated response to pollution becomes increasingly acceptable. It is convenient, avoids blaming us. Colliding air currents suffice to explain Delhi’s smog and runners and cyclists would seem a nuisance on streets meant for climate controlled-vehicles transporting people and goods to their destination. Why are we suckers for calibrated response? Why don’t we notice the blunt truth? Nobody likes pointing the finger of blame at themselves, particularly in context like India where national problems – from population to pollution – are self-wrought. Calibrated response is dished out to keep the human collective and strategically important economic interests therein, happy. Population becomes market and workforce for GDP; pollution becomes collateral damage for industry and employment.

Delhi, early November 2017 (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

In contrast, endurance is about experiencing self and solitude. Deep into a run, hike or swim you confront it. You become just what you are. There is no room for pretense, cover-up and fraudulence. There is no hive; only bee. For such a mind, between noticing smog and buying into calibrated response, the former should attract. Doing so, you are no more market. A market pace of evolution is nowadays not only slow compared to the urgency of our problems, it also leaves us intellectually dissatisfied. Increasingly now, a better environment is our individual responsibility. The outdoors and endurance sport are like portals to awareness. Some view it as achievement. A slightly different lot would view it as a new way of looking at life. The word for it is perhaps – aesthetic. The Oxford dictionary describes aesthetic as: concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty. Dig a bit deeper. Here’s how the dictionary describes beauty: a combination of qualities, such as shape, color or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially sight. Within that meaning and several other sub-texts, there was also this: a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect.  Question to ask is – are we living an aesthetically pleasing life? Did the smog seem beautiful?

There’s more to the smog than meets the eye.

In it, we see what we have become.

A sense of aesthetic will help us pollute less.

Following which, any marathon will be beautiful, no salt water needed.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)  

BICYCLES: THE INDIAN MARKET CONTINUES TO EVOLVE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

An updated bird’s eye view of the market for premium bicycles in India. This article is ideally read in conjunction with the earlier market overview posted on this blog in August 2013. 

The Indian market for bicycles, for long stuck in unappealing product lines and then nudged to change by the entry of Firefox and Trek, continues to evolve. The pace of change has been slowly picking up; according to those in the business, the biggest change has been the Indian customer. Disposable income has risen and many traditional bicycle retailers have moved up the value chain to selling premium bicycles. But the critical question is – how much share does cycling command in the customer’s growing disposable income? Given the worry over climate change and consequent relevance of environment friendly transport, cycling worldwide has a bright future. It is limited by inadequate infrastructure in developing markets and the continued low penetration of the bicycle as means of transport in very poor countries. In India, rising number of automobiles, unruly traffic and lack of roads with proper bicycle lanes has meant urban environments that are far from futuristic. Although news reports in 2016 said that 41 per cent of the country’s population is younger than 20 years of age and nearly half the population is aged between 20-59 years, the shortage of enjoyable space for cycling may affect the pace at which cycling grows. Till Indian life and urban planning appreciate physically active lifestyle and environment friendliness as core values, the true merit of cycling won’t be adequately experienced.

Globally, bicycles and products related to cycling are among biggest silos in sale of sports equipment. As per a market study done by Paris based-NPD Group, the global cycling market was worth 47.4 billion US dollars (including revenue lines like parts & accessories, footwear and cycling apparel) in 2014. The survey estimated that around the world roughly 133.1 million bicycles, including e-bikes, were sold. Another study by Persistence Market Research (PMR) – the main points of which are available on the Internet – said that the global market for bicycles is expected to expand by 37.5 per cent over 2016-2024, from 45.08 billion US dollars to 62 billion dollars. Asia-Pacific is forecast to be the most lucrative market. There are several such studies accessible online; period of study and forecasts vary but there seems to be general agreement on factors driving the market.

For the earlier overview posted in August 2013, please click on this link:  https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/cyclings-second-youth/

The categories

In India, the premium segment, where the bulk of the action has been, retains its fundamental segmentation into four product lines (segmentation as perceived by this blog for purpose of simplicity) – road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids and other varieties like folding bikes, touring bikes and electric bikes. Road bikes, also called racing cycles in India, are truly performance category products. They are meant for speed. To this end they possess rigid frames, are built light and given the rider sits with a forward stance, demand a certain amount of competence on the part of the cyclist to be handled well. Mountain bikes have more moving components on them to cushion passage over uneven terrain and are typically geared for climbing. Hybrids straddle a mix of properties drawn from road and mountain bikes. A blended package of speed and some ability to tackle uneven terrain, they are now a product line, many Indian cyclists are taking to. According to the PMR study, hybrids are expected to account for the major slice of bicycle sales worldwide, going ahead. The category of folding bikes and touring bikes is still quite niche in India as are electric bikes. E-bikes can be pretty expensive. Still, according to the website statista.com, 32.8 million e-bikes were sold in Asia Pacific in 2016 with Western Europe a distant second at 1.6 million units. China was the biggest market. In several market studies, the e-bike segment has been forecast as a significant driver for premium bike sales, globally. A new, promising sub-category, which opened up in India would be that of stylish commuter bikes. They are typically partial to road bike in frame design but sport a straight handle bar eliminating thus the need for a hunched-over position while cycling.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The brands

In terms of market, the Indian story is roughly so: as Firefox tapped the market with its products and those of the American bicycle manufacturer -Trek, longstanding players like Hero Cycles and TI Cycles were forced to respond. Hero launched its new line of bicycles called Urban Trail (UT) and then proceeded to acquire Firefox. TI on the other hand, commenced its now well-known Track and Trail outlets, feeding them with a distribution pipeline offering foreign brands like Cannondale, GT, Bianchi, Mongoose, Ridley and Schwinn. It also launched an in-house brand – Montra – for the emergent premium segment of the domestic market. Put together, UT and Montra span MTBs, hybrids and road bikes. TI has also introduced Mach City, a line of practical, elegant and more affordable bicycles that can be used for commuting. Over time, some of these brands have expanded their product line-up; some have become focused. Both Trek and Cannondale have grown the variety in their product line-up for India while Mongoose has narrowed its portfolio to focus on BMX cycles. Among major brands entering the market after Trek’s early arrival and Track and Trail’s bouquet of imported models, were Giant, Scott and Specialized. Giant – one of the world’s biggest bicycle companies – partnered Starkenn and opened a series of showrooms with Pune as base. Specialized tied up with Bengaluru based-Bums on the Saddle (BOTS); they opened a flagship store in that city. Scott appears happy to sell through multi-brand outlets. Other foreign brands like Merida (incidentally one of the early entrants into India), Ghost, Focus, Fuji, Polygon, Bergamont and KHS – plus high performance niche brands like Merckx, Colnago, Pinarello, Cervelo and NeilPryde, which can be ordered – are also available in the Indian market. Not to mention, Rockrider and Btwin, sold by the French sports goods major, Decathlon. Even touring bike specialist, Surly, has dealers in the country. The Indian market also features electric bikes. E-bikes have cornered much attention overseas. But the significant market development domestically, post-Firefox, would have to be the advent of brands like UT, Montra, Kross and Mach City and what these brands and their product portfolios speak by way of promise for large Indian manufacturers going ahead. It is still early days.

26, 27.5, 29: battle of the twenty somethings

Against the above market scenario, trends carried over from the international bicycle market, made their presence felt. One trend that kicked up plenty of conflicting views, dealt with wheel dimension. Internationally bicycle tyre sizes are many. Until recently the average customer of a premium bicycle in India had to contend with two tyre sizes in the main – 26 inches (with room for width and tread variations therein) for mountain bikes and similarly, the 700c for road bikes and hybrids. The longstanding 26 inch size was both the leading dimension in mountain bikes and a favorite with cyclists into technical riding as it made overall bicycle size compact and maneuverable. Over a span of maybe two years, this dimension was faulted by bicycle manufacturers for less distance covered for every rotation of the crank, besides less surface contact and greater difficulty in rolling over obstacles.

One leading manufacturer pushed for 29 inch wheels (at which point technically speaking, a 700c tyre should also fit that mountain bike) as new standard; another promoted 27.5 inch. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that this move – with no pressing demand from customers for it – caused confusion. YouTube videos exist in which industry representatives can be seen asking angrily, why customers can’t cope with change. Some manufacturers resorted to models that could accommodate more than one wheel size as though to hedge market risk. The problems were several. A bicycle is an aggregate of many parts, each connected to the next. When you alter the dimensions in one part, it cascades down the chain. Wheel size is a major change having immediate impact on a bicycle’s fork and the geometry of its frame. Given a big chunk of mountain bike users was running 26 inch wheels with matching fork and frame, what the manufacturers were pushing for had the capacity to leave existing users with outmoded designs they couldn’t easily modify to take on the new specifications. The transition to 27.5 inches and 29 inches caused anxiety with some chats on the Internet citing reduced fresh production of 26 inch tyres by reputed tyre manufacturers. Premium bicycles are not use and throw consumer products in India. Altering wheel size and potentially rendering an existing size obsolete affects users / customers in emerging markets like India because premium bicycles are still seen as an investment. In the premium segment of the Indian market, both 29 inch and 27.5 inch models are now on offer. The old 26 continues to be around.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The emergence of new generation bike builders

According to the NPD survey mentioned earlier, the composite of bicycle sales plus related revenue like parts & accessories, footwear and apparel would make cycling, the single biggest category in the global sports market. That’s a measure of the opportunity. Asia Pacific is portrayed as the market to look out for in the future and therein, India is a big market. Firefox’s biggest selling point when it debuted in the Indian market was how different its products were compared to the bicycles Indian manufacturers made. While big foreign brands followed and palpable difference by performance DNA set in, the next step – that of Indian cycling enthusiasts realizing in flesh and blood, the blue prints in their head, commenced. Pune based Psynyde Bikes – founded by committed cyclists – started out with custom built bikes. By 2017, they were in the market with a mountain bike called Furan,’ which they had designed themselves and got made overseas. Psynyde also makes bicycle components. Such developments are not to be discounted. If you trace the history of some of cycling’s iconic brands, you will find this is how their journey started. Are there more such stories brewing in India? Time will tell. Interestingly being a cyclist needn’t by itself make you good at the business of bicycles. One leading retailer described how he gets a lot of enquiries from people passionate about cycling, to join his team. Among the first things that can happen when a cyclist goes into business is that his / her personal time for cycling may go down as the business needs attending to. “ Cycling and managing a bicycle business are two different things. You have to be prepared to handle the difference,” he said. He thought Psynyde made the cut because Praveen Prabhakaran – one of its founders – had been at it for long. The Furan is the result of a long journey, patiently done. It wasn’t passion alone. It was also hard work, sustained for several years.

Aspiration grows but local environment limits

Finally, Indian cycling – as in what the cyclists are up to – has also evolved and come of age. There are people now travelling overseas to compete at races. Milestones coveted by the domestic cycling fraternity are being achieved. The first team-finish and the first solo finish by Indians at Race Across America (RAAM), one of the most grueling endurance races on the planet, have happened. A few years ago, Bengaluru based-Kynkyny Cycling Team was in the news for meriting sponsorship from Specialized (it is understood that sponsorship contract has since expired). Given aspiration is what pushes up benchmarks in any market, these developments will have an impact on what products / models can be sold in the Indian market or accessed from here. A good market also needs scale. Notwithstanding enterprising cycling groups and growth in available product line-up, cycling stays challenged by the lack of a proper bicycling environment in Indian cities given few to no bicycle tracks, growth in vehicular traffic and general contempt by motorists towards their non-motorized brethren on two wheels.

Try this for perspective: In February 2017, the media reported that as per figures released by International Data Corporation (IDC), the Indian market for smartphones registered shipment of 109.1 million units in 2016, a marginal annual growth of 5.2 per cent. Obviously smartphone manufacturers are not thrilled. This is the digital age and they would like stronger figures. Reports have indicated there is a migration issue in the market; smartphone prices are still high and Indians love value for money. Roughly two years earlier, in August 2015, media reports quoting IDC also forecast that by 2017 the Indian market for smartphones will be bigger than that of the US. This is the smartphone ecosystem in India. Not all digital technology is a blessing. Debating that or the growing specter of smartphone obsessed people isn’t the purpose of this article. What is clear is that cycling can work as an antidote for sedentary life. Theoretically, a problem and its solution should grow hand in hand, provided tax rates, infrastructure, policy – they don’t adulterate the market.

The Indian bicycle market has no sales figures of the sort comparable to the Indian smartphone market. Unlike the bicycle, the smartphone is an easy purchase, which once done, sits in your pocket. You don’t have to worry about storage space at home (although using it, you can cram your home with more consumables!) But the reason this comparison of two seemingly unrelated products, engages, is because their costs are near similar and the nature of lifestyle they inspire, contrasting. According to a news report in April 2017, the hot spot of the Indian smartphone market is in the Rs 10,000-20,000 price bracket (this roughly matches the lower strata of the Indian market for premium bicycles, where incidentally the bulk of the action for domestic manufacturers is). During 2015-2016, after four years of sluggishness, the average sale price of smartphones in India rose by four per cent. Two things strike you about the growing market for smartphones in India – the ability of wireless connectivity to overcome a physical world characterized by poor infrastructure, clutter and congestion; an exploding ecosystem of content and things to do using the smartphone. Juxtapose on this, what a committed cyclist and bike retailer I spoke to quipped, “ people spend up to a lakh of rupees on an iPhone.’’ What prevents them from spending so on bicycles, which are clearly products delivering good health and zero pollution? The biggest likely reason for this lay in the larger Indian ecosystem, still partial to sedentary life, unimaginative infrastructure, chaotic traffic and the rule of might is right. With a car or SUV, you can dominate. Unlike a smartphone, which opens doors to a virtual world, a bicycle is a refined way of living in what is still, the old physical world. If the bicycle has to have as much share in your disposable income as a smartphone, the attraction for cycling has to be that compelling. The cycling environment matters. “ Abroad also, there is a price you must pay to own the type of bicycle you want. But once you own it, you can cycle around, you can enjoy cycling,” the person I spoke to said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The best civic authorities are yet able to serve up are fads like shutting down roads to traffic for a few hours every month to host healthy recreational activities including cycling. Once or twice a year, these authorities, companies and other interested sponsors also get together to organize a group ride for publicity. Photos taken and splashed in the media, cycling is back to where it was. In 2012, the government hiked import duties on bicycles. Now under the new Goods & Services Tax (GST) regime, bicycles and components merit 12 per cent tax while accessories lay scattered across the 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 28 per cent tax slabs. “ A bicycle helmet attracts 18 per cent tax under GST. I wish we are able to acknowledge the fundamental merit in bicycles and position cycling solidly for the future instead of treating it like this. For sure, GST puts a structure in place and that is good. But I don’t think cycling deserves the tax slabs it has been cast in. Why not five per cent?” a leading retailer said. If its any comfort – a May 30, 2017 report in Times of India, said, smartphones fell in the 12 per cent GST slab. In comparison to this Indian predicament, countries like Germany are building roads exclusively for cycling. In end-2016, Germany opened its first stretch of a 100 km-bike autobahn. That’s the equivalent of rolling out telecom network, of which we saw much in India. Cycling’s relevance for the future is clear. Question is – when will India take notice of it?

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AQUARIUS: TALENTED BOAT BUILDER LIMITED BY MARKET

Ratnakar Dandekar (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Ever since it built the INSV Mhadei, Goa based-Aquarius Shipyard has become a noted builder of sail boats in India.

The Mhadei did two circumnavigations; she also participated in trans-Atlantic races and other long voyages. After the Mhadei, Aquarius built the Tarini, which is identical to the former. If all goes as planned, the Tarini is expected to sail sometime in August 2017 on a circumnavigation executed for the first time by an all-woman Indian crew. Both vessels are sloops, based on the Tonga 56 design by Van de Stadt of Netherlands. According to Ratnakar Dandekar, owner of Aquarius, there is a third Tonga 56 being built by the yard; this one for a private party in India. On August 7, 2017, Aquarius floated the ketch, Thuriya, built for Commander Abhilash Tomy KC to sail in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR), which will be another case of circumnavigation; a solo nonstop circumnavigation.

Each of these voyages comes with post-launch support offered by Aquarius. While the 2018 GGR is a case of retro sailing with very low electronic technology onboard and strict race regulations in place, in the previous two circumnavigations of the Mhadei – India’s first solo circumnavigation and first solo nonstop circumnavigation – Ratnakar as builder, was available for online consultation whenever anything went wrong aboard. The yard is thus a rare repository of knowledge and experience on building a sail boat from submitted design and supporting long voyages at sea.

Yet this does not translate into bright market opportunity for Aquarius.

The main reason is that a market for sail boats and yachts is so nascent in India that it is almost nonexistent. Potential buyers are growing in tune with India’s rising GDP and increase in the number of wealthy individuals. But sense of adventure and genuine appreciation of sailing is lacking. Most people who can afford a yacht prefer to buy it from overseas as the intention is to own a vessel one can brag about. Brand and cost matter. As Abhilash, who will sail next year as part of the retro styled 2018 GGR, pointed out, Indian buyers seek expensive yachts and brands they can boast of. While that is the state of buyers, any hope of kindling a popular market for sail boats with appropriate models – similar to what the Maruti 800 did for motoring in India – is checked by the very limited interest in sailing in India despite the country’s 7500 km-long coastline. Sailing is still mostly a privilege of the navy, an organization with vast resources and the ability to own and deploy boats. In several countries, civilian sailing has acquired scale and respect with reputed sailors from the civilian domain. In India, the scene is completely different.

The Thuriya, just before her launch on August 7, 2017. This ketch, the latest sail boat built by Aquarius, is slated to do a circumnavigation over 2018-2019 (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Developing the local market is important for sailing to take off. Globally, the big sailing markets are Europe and US, of which Europe is closer to India. But India is not geographically as close as Turkey and the Middle East are to Europe. Builders from there have been doing a good job, exporting sail boats. Lack of scale also impacts Indian builders. According to Ratnakar, because he builds with skilled craftsmen, some of the low cost advantages associated with India are lost. On like to like comparison – that is if you compare a one off build overseas with similar work by Aquarius – he will be cheaper. But the problem is, his cost for a boat tends to be high when compared to boats coming off serial production overseas. Serial production cannot happen without a market in sight. Finally, the segment of yachts he can service – basically the middle category placed between cheap boats and the truly expensive ones – has not been doing well internationally. Turkish and Middle East builders were well placed to cash in on the recessionary trend that hit the market, Ratnakar said.

Notwithstanding this predicament, Ratnakar wished to continue building sail boats. Economically it doesn’t make much sense. Given the sort of clients he caters to – mostly the Indian military and the country’s many state governments – winning an order is based on being lowest bidder. Economics takes precedence. What still attracts him to sail boats is, the challenge in building them. When a boat is powered by wind, the requirement for good design and excellent craftsmanship in construction rises to the fore. When the risk is further compounded by circumnavigation and solo sailing, the requirement for these attributes is even stronger.

“ There is more challenge in building sail boats,’’ Ratnakar said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

MARKETING RUNNING: NEB PACKAGES A CIRCUIT

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

In what is perhaps a sign of things to come in the fast evolving running scenario in India, one of the leading event organizers therein – NEB Sports, has formally announced a National Marathon Circuit (NMC) composed of five events it organizes.

These running events are spread across Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Delhi. If a runner signs up for NMC, he / she gets to run half or full marathons at all these locations. The distance is slightly different at Hyderabad where the longer races have been kept at 25 km and 50 km. “ The Hyderabad event is a new one for NEB. We tweaked the distance for the longer races to slightly more than the regular half and full marathon distances, so that people wishing for such a stretch get a chance,’’ Sunil Shetty, veteran ultra-runner and a senior member of the NEB team, said. The NMC will open with the Mumbai event in August 2017, followed by Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Delhi (the last two events in 2018).

NEB Sports was founded by Nagaraj Adiga, who is also its chairman.

According to Sunil, the concept of NMC was floated last year. It was given shape well into the second half of 2016. By then, the running season was already underway. Consequently it could be tried out only in a limited fashion. As per NEB’s 2016 intimation on the subject, four of their marathon events featured in that list – Bengaluru, Goa, Kolkata and Delhi. Mumbai missed the bus. The running season of 2017-2018 marks NMC’s formal announcement as a product from NEB with whole season ahead. This time, Mumbai is included as is Hyderabad. Goa does not feature on the list because NEB is not the organizer for the Goa River Marathon, this year. At three locations – Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai – IDBI Federal Life Insurance is the lead sponsor for the NEB-organized race. The title sponsor at Bengaluru is Shriram Properties, while (as of May 29, 2017) the search was on for a title sponsor at Hyderabad.

Beyond unique medal, customized T-shirt and certificate, a concrete incentive for runners to sign up for NMC was yet to be in place. Asked if a runner signing up for all five races under the new circuit would be able to do so at a cost that is cheaper than if he / she were to sign up for each separately, Sunil said that as yet, the organizers are unable to make that happen. What NEB can do for incentive at present, is help those signing up in finding hotel accommodation etc. Other details – like whether a single bib number can be used across races – would also need to be studied.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)      

A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Dr Abhijeet Ghosh, Head (Health Administration Team), Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

A small step has been made with regard to meaningful insurance cover for those engaged in adventure sports.

Since the middle of 2016, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd, among leading private insurance companies in the domestic market, has piloted a Personal Accident (PA) insurance product that includes cover for adventure sports as one of the options. As yet the company is the only private insurer in the space. What makes the cover particularly relevant is that once availed, the cover – offered as an additional option under its PA product: Global Personal Guard (GPG) – meets the cost of evacuation in the event of medical emergency, as well. This is an improvement from the earlier prevailing situation in the Indian market.

Previously, in a scenario of insurance for adventure sports shunned by most Indian insurers, one public sector insurance company was sole exception, acknowledging its necessity. However that insurance policy (Indian mountaineers are familiar with it), while meeting medical expenses to an extent, did not include evacuation cost. The product from Bajaj Allianz is claimed by the company to be the first in the domestic market that meets evacuation cost for those into adventure sports. The evacuation cost will be met only if accidental injury resulted in a medical emergency.

Why should inclusion of evacuation cost matter?

Among fundamentals they teach you in a wilderness first aid course, is that in the event of serious mishap with potential for loss of life or limb, once relevant first aid has been administered at accident site, the focus is on enabling formal medical intervention at the earliest. The quicker a seriously injured individual is reached to hospital, the better the chances of survival. If you are backed by insurance cover, the confidence to call in a chopper (should the circumstance be such that a helicopter is genuinely required) is more. According to Dr Abhijeet Ghosh, Head (Health Administration Team), Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd, adventure sports is one of twelve additional options that a customer can choose to avail cover for, when purchasing GPG. In the case of adventure sport, the maximum cover offered is up to one crore rupees (ten million rupees). It comes with a condition attached – the client’s adventure must have been a supervised one; there should be an expert / supervisor in the frame (Dr Ghosh said that in the case of experienced adventurers going out by themselves, proof of expertise / training can be considered as alternative for supervisor). Should a GPG customer not have availed cover for adventure sports initially but is beset with an opportunity for adventure sport and wants the cover, then he should be able to activate it through his agent in two to three hours, Dr Ghosh said.

GPG is a global product and therefore the cover is effective in India and overseas. The company covers a basket of adventure sports. Within that, it treats the risk across sports as the same; in other words, the premium paid is related to the sum insured and not the sport covered. Compared to the company’s other insurance policies, premium for GPG with adventure sports included, is on the higher side; it can be two to four times higher. However depending on the cover size, the premium maybe as affordable as Rs 1200, Dr Ghosh said.

According to him, Bajaj Allianz decided to test the waters due to a combination of factors. There is 40-50 per cent growth in the outdoor activity segment and even online booking for such trips are happening, he said. Many people traveling abroad also sample adventure sports, providing scope for the adventure option to be tagged along with travel insurance. Interestingly, India’s changed demographic profile now very partial towards youth hasn’t been a pronounced driver in the company cosying up to adventure sports.  As Dr Ghosh pointed out, interest in the active life appears to be more in a slightly older lot; not the young saddled with responsibilities like EMI payments. He maintained that these are very early days for the product covering adventure sports as the overall market (pool of customers) is still small. There is an encouraging volume of inquiries but conversions into actual deals lag. “ Out of 100 GPG policies sold, maybe three percent opt for adventure sports as additional option,’’ he said. It is therefore too early to speculate about a stand-alone product solely meant to cover risk in adventure sports. “ I don’t see a stand-alone product materializing in the next three to four years. For now, this is a bridge to build the data and understand the risk in a better way,’’ he said.

Although it is as yet the only private insurer in the adventure sports space, Bajaj Allianz hasn’t been vocal about its product. Dr Ghosh says that is not the company’s style. “ We would rather be efficient in dealing with claims than advertise. Word of mouth publicity for work done well is more effective,’’he said. According to him the company has been in touch with outdoor clubs and adventure tour operators. Prima facie there are challenges for acceptance like the seasonality of adventure tourism versus the twelve month-cycle of the policy or the need for single trip-insurance versus a year-long policy. It makes people working in the adventure space and clients wonder why they should seek cover. Dr Ghosh felt that given low awareness about the benefits of risk cover, the ideal scenario would be a top-down dissemination of information about the positives of insurance by the management / leadership of clubs to its members. One example in this regard was on display at the recent annual seminar of The Himalayan Club in Mumbai. Office bearers, speaking ahead of the seminar (which was open to the public) said that the club was attempting a multi-tiered membership with select benefits accruing to each level of membership. The highest category proposed, which seemed oriented towards whatever support may be required for expeditions, had among options under consideration – insurance. “ If insurance cover can be blended in with a club’s membership fee, that would be a step forward,’’ Dr Ghosh said.

Panchchuli, seen from near Munsyari. This picture was taken from the ridge above Balatigad (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Asked for his opinion, a leading adventure tour operator pointed out that while forays into the risk-cover segment by insurers are welcome, the real lacuna in emergency response in India continues to be bureaucratic hassles in the actual evacuation process and consequent delay. Cut to 1992 and one of the most iconic photos of a rescue underway in the Indian Himalaya: it showed an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter, its rotors inches away from a steep, snow clad-mountain face and a crumpled human being on the chopper’s skis. “With no space to land, the pilot could only bring the helicopter close and hold it steady. Stephen had to be on the ski,’’ Harish Kapadia, veteran mountaineer and among India’s best-known explorers of the Himalaya, had said in 2012, pointing to the photograph. We had met for a chat on search and rescue. The picture in question was clicked by Dick Renshaw at around 21,000ft on Panchchuli-V — a 21,242ft-high peak rated the toughest in Kumaun’s Panchchuli group. The rescue was spectacular and despite severe injury, Stephen Venables, one of Britain’s best climbers, survived. Also surviving was a footnote: two persons had to rush all the way to Munsyari, normally a four day-trek, to report the accident and have the authorities dispatch a helicopter. Many years before this, Kapadia fell into a crevasse on the 22,400ft-high Devtoli, damaging his hip. He was brought to Base Camp at 12,000ft where he waited nine days for a helicopter.

Much has changed in the Indian Himalaya since. Climbing gear, road and telecom network – all have improved. But rescue can still entail waiting. On the other hand, the number of people heading to the mountains has steadily risen – it means the need for quick response and dedicated infrastructure is all the more indispensable. If you are in a place where mobile phones don’t work, you have to run to the nearest village or military/paramilitary outpost to report the incident and get the word out. In other countries, this problem is overcome by using satellite phones. However, that communications life-saver was banned in India after misuse by anti-national elements and reported refusal by an international service provider to comply with security norms. India has treks where local rules stipulate that an expedition carry a satellite phone. In such cases, the phone can be hired from an approved source like the local mountaineering institute. But phones for hire are few. Satellite phones make a difference. In August 2011, after a successful first ascent of the 24,809ft-high Saser Kangri-II in Ladakh, Steven Swenson, president of the American Alpine Club, developed respiratory problems. In his case – details were available on his blog — a satellite phone helped in medical diagnosis and timely evacuation by chopper. The actual evacuation though could begin only after some “bureaucratic wrangling”. Courtesy security concerns, detailed maps of the Himalaya, Global Positioning System (GPS) and emergency beacons – all risk being viewed with an element of suspicion.

The accident reporting process is layered. Typically, the first person alerted somehow is the concerned tour operator. In the case of a foreigner, the tour operator informs the client’s insurance company as evacuation by chopper is expensive (increasingly the IAF flies two choppers for the purpose). Then the embassy concerned and the external affairs ministry are contacted, which in turn alert the defence ministry. From there, word reaches the air force or army headquarters in Delhi, which alert the air force or army chopper base nearest to the accident site and get a bird in the air. The chopper may succeed in the first sortie if weather is good; if not, another sortie or more as required. This roundabout process takes time; not to mention the added risk of the accident getting reported on a holiday when government offices are shut. Yet, on the request of a district magistrate, Indian trekkers and mountaineers get evacuated and the armed forces have to be thanked for responding with their helicopters. Given the absence of comprehensive insurance cover until last year, what the armed forces did for Indians qualified to be social service.

Some countries including Nepal have private players participating in search and rescue. The tour operator this blog spoke to said that he had tried to obtain clearance for a private search and rescue apparatus using helicopters he was willing to invest in. “ I wasn’t motivated by profit. My thinking was – such a facility has a positive impact on the overall adventure tourism space,’’ he said. But his suggestion was discouraged because parts of the Himalaya are deemed strategic and the defence forces prefer to keep the skies there restricted. A silver lining, according to him, is that the government has acted on the satellite phone issue but as expected, clarity down the chain of command and into the trade is still awaited. In the meantime as recent as August-September 2015, a rock climber from Mumbai, who was seriously injured in a mishap in the Himalaya, could be reached only after several days from the time of accident, by when he was no more. So while insurance can enable action, quick response at ground level is a separate issue altogether. If insurance is complemented by a responsive, efficient evacuation infrastructure in the mountains, the impact will be more.

For now, an insurance policy with evacuation cost covered, is a beginning in the right direction.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is a composite of a March 2017 conversation with Dr Abhijeet Ghosh in Pune, a February 2017 conversation with the tour operator mentioned, a January 2012 article by the author in The Telegraph newspaper and relevant updates. The primary intention of the article is to provoke thought on how India can have an affordable, easily accessed and efficient search and rescue apparatus, useful for adventurers.)

PSYNYDE ALERT: THE HOUR OF THE FURAN

The Furan (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

The Furan (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

It’s the hour of the Furan, a game changer for Psynyde Bikes.

Wikipedia describes Furan as a heterocyclic organic compound; one that is a colourless, flammable, highly volatile liquid with a boiling point close to room temperature. At Psynyde, Furan is a hardtail mountain bike (MTB). It represents the first time, Psynyde Bikes – a small enterprise funded by “ friends and family’’ – is making a departure from custom-built bicycles and launching a product for the larger market. Doing so, they have to move through all the regular motions of a bicycle manufacturer from finding the best way to make the bicycle, selling it and supporting it in the market.

The story is longer still, if one sees Pune based-Psynyde as a response by riders to the shortcomings of the Indian bicycle market, dominated for decades by a clutch of manufacturers churning out large volumes in protected economy. Thanks in large part to one man – Shiv Inder Singh, one of the founders of Firefox Bikes (subsequently bought by Hero Cycles) – a market for premium bicycles opened up in India. Away from the main market, cyclists like Praveen Prabhakaran and Vinay Menon, tapped into their personal learning to start initiatives such as Psynyde (for more on the origin of Psynyde, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/the-story-of-psynyde/).

Making custom-built bikes, Psynyde catered to a small niche of customers for whom, premium didn’t necessarily mean perfect. At that level of search, the bicycle world entailed materials science, computer aided design, frame geometry, welding technology and the like; basically the quest to make a perfectly fitting bicycle that also addressed the application in mind. There is much learning here but as Praveen said, it can also be a bit difficult sometimes coping with unrealistic deadlines and customer expectations. It was from this backdrop that the Furan, Psynyde’s first hardtail MTB to be made in large numbers, took wing. Two aspects qualify the Psynyde approach. First there is the obvious – they see their products as designed, tested and made by riders. Second, both Praveen and Vinay are clear: they wish to be in the performance segment, which at present is a niche within the premium category of bicycles. “ We want to address serious cyclists,’’ Praveen said.

A bicycle component - a stem; part connecting the handlebar to the fork - made by Psynyde Bikes (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

A bicycle component – a stem; the part connecting the handlebar to the fork – made by Psynyde Bikes (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

The premium category can be broadly divided into three types of bicycles – road bikes, hybrids and MTBs. Road bikes are popularly called “racing cycle’’ in India. The MTB segment, born for uneven terrain and previously little known, became popular once the market opened up. The hybrid, as the term denotes, straddles the lightness of a road bike and the off-roading capability of a MTB without being pronounced in either. It is a flexible, overlapping segment gaining much popularity of late. Psynyde’s need to be identified with performance meant the hybrid was automatically ruled out for want of sharp definition. While Psynyde has custom-built road bikes, they did it using steel, a material that has advanced much in terms of metallurgy and machining. A discerning client will comprehend a light road bike made of special steel. But the market revered carbon fibre as ultimate in light weight road bikes. Psynyde is yet to acquire familiarity with carbon fibre. On the other hand, although there are good performance grade aluminum road bikes internationally, in India for some reason they are perceived as `entry level.’ Further, the posture adopted on a road bike isn’t exactly the market’s sweet spot. It is radical; an effort to sustain and to that extent, defining a road biker rigidly to the expense of other cycling styles. Looking for a product to debut with in the market, Psynyde’s focus therefore shifted to the MTB segment. MTBs attracted for a variety of reasons. To begin with, both Praveen and Vinay had a background in mountain biking with Vinay ending up among the best freeriders in India. When the Indian bicycle market opened up, the MTB was what everyone rushed to buy. Many people subsequently upgraded to hybrids and road bikes. But the entry was through MTBs, pointing to a fascination for the model. For its first mass produced bike, Psynyde decided to go with a MTB.

Next step was to decide which particular segment of MTB, seemed best to make a mark in. The MTB category can be roughly divided into three: cross country, trail bike and all-mountain. The cross country bicycle is designed to spend long hours off-road. It is usually strong at tackling uphill. What it occasionally misses is good control at aggressive levels of riding. According to Vinay, many of the MTBs currently sold in India are closer to this technical set up in lineage. All-mountain on the other hand, showcases control including in aggressive riding that pushes the limits. It typically has a wider handle bar and shorter stem. It tends to be tad heavier but is capable of greater control at higher speeds.  In the middle, sort of like a hybrid within the MTB segment, is the trail bike. Its geometry too is amenable to decent control when pushing the limits. A fourth segment – fat bike, featuring fat tyres – has started showing up in India, but for now, it is a novelty. The Furan was imagined as a performance MTB that could also be used on roads. Psynyde decided that a versatile trail bike is what the Furan must aspire to be.

The Furan (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

The Furan (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

Having resolved to build a trail bike focused on performance, the question next was: how do you define the performance package in a machine that is a composite of frame and outsourced components made to different quality levels and performance parametres? “ Our story is a lot similar to brands like Marin, GT and Specialized – all of who began as frame builders,’’ Vinay said. Like its wing is to an airplane, in a bicycle, the most important part is the frame. Every bicycle manufacturer worth its salt, stakes its reputation on the frame; its geometry and build quality. For Psynyde’s Furan too, its DNA would reside in the frame. That’s the calling card. Other components can vary to provide affordability. The Furan frame was thus matched to different combinations of components. Across the three finishes of Furan offered on the same frame, one critical component stayed the same – a fork with 120mm travel; it was in line with the performance segment the bike wished to be in. Very importantly and in a step unique for the Indian market, it was also decided to sell the Furan frame separately allowing dedicated cyclists in the market to build a cycle with components of their choice.

Next was firming up wheel size. By early 2016, when the idea of Furan was assuming shape, the global MTB market had split into three main wheel sizes: 26 inches, 27.5 and 29 – all having strong reasons for being what each is. The standard used to be 26. Altering wheel size shakes up the market. Existing frames, forks and suspensions become redundant when wheel size changes. It makes existing customers insecure. It puts new ones at the mercy of what companies dish out as logic for the shifts. The core reason for moving into dimensions bigger than 26 inch-diametre – the erstwhile standard – is roll over ability. As the term denotes, a bigger wheel rolls over obstacles easier; it also covers more distance. To complicate matters, even as they suddenly lost fancy for 26, big bicycle manufacturers who committed investments towards their chosen new standard, polarized in their preference for 27.5 and 29. This created the impression that money power and not users will decide trends. As if that is not enough, the manufacturers too appear to be undecided which way the wind will blow for some of their bicycle frames are capable of hosting more than one wheel size. In markets like India, where cycles are bought and retained for long due to less money with customers, such tricky shifts worry. What should Psynyde do? “ We grew up on 26, we are all 26 fans. If I am doing jumps with my bicycle, I still prefer 26,’’ Vinay said. At the same time, you have to accommodate the future and provide for versatile use, which includes covering distance on roads. One thing mattered – as a performance bicycle, expected to be put to punishing use, the Furan couldn’t risk flex in the rim. It seemed wise to embrace the future conservatively. The 27.5 was closer to 26 than 29. It was decided that the Furan should have 27.5 inch wheels.

Praveen Prabhakaran (left) and Vinay Menon (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Praveen Prabhakaran (left) and Vinay Menon (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

All through Psynyde’s journey, Praveen had been the brain behind design and manufacture. He was the one custom-building bikes and who in the process acquired knowledge of materials and welding techniques. While Praveen worked on the Furan’s design, the team searched for a factory that would build the frame from 6061 aluminum alloy. India is a price sensitive market dabbling still in steel for much of its bicycle manufacture. It does not yet support the economics of manufacturing 6061 frames to affordable cost nor does it have the required finesse in aluminum welding techniques. The place to look for was China. Praveen emphasized a point here. China is the global powerhouse in bicycle manufacturing. Many of the world’s leading brands of bicycles are made at factories in Taiwain, China, Vietnam and elsewhere in South East Asia. Investing in scale, the Chinese have a reputation for being low cost. It is also fashionable to associate the Chinese with poor quality. “ What is closer to reality is that they will make a product as you wish it to be. If you ask for a low quality bicycle, you will get a low quality bicycle. What we forget is that we blame the source based on what product we chose to sell in the market, ignoring who decided product specifications in the first place,’’ he said.

Sudeep Mane (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

Sudeep Mane (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

Sudeep Mane is a statistician. He grew up in Pune. His first job after completing studies was with Bajaj Allianz General Insurance. Finding himself interested in archery, he trained in the sport at Army Sports Institute (ASI) for about a year. Later he took up trekking. By then he had moved to his second job, at SAS Research & Development. His engagement with the outdoors growing, he decided to do his Basic Mountaineering Course from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling. Upon finding it hard to obtain leave for a month – the duration of the basic course – he quit his job and proceeded to do the mountaineering course. His third job – this time with the US headquartered-IT company CNSI – found him based in Chennai. For a person liking outdoors and Pune’s hills, this was different terrain. So Sudeep focused his attention on training for the triathlon. As part of this, he bought an entry level Schwinn MTB. He also learnt swimming. A year and a half later, Sudeep took part in the triathlon organized by Chennai Trekking Club. He realized the sport wasn’t his forte; his swimming was not up to the mark. But he had made a discovery: he liked cycling. He had found something he wished to pursue. His inquiries revealed that the best bike would be a custom built one. On the Internet, he stumbled upon Praveen’s blog about building cycles. The blog appeared an on-off affair without systematic updates. Sudeep mailed Praveen. “ I mailed him exactly five words: do you still do this?’’ Sudeep said.

The Furan being tested in Spiti. Rider: Ajay Padwal (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

The Furan being tested in Spiti. Rider: Ajay Padval (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

Praveen built a bicycle for Sudeep; a road bike named Psynyde Projectile. Meanwhile Chennai was working on Sudeep. The city had a fairly big community of cyclists. “ Early mornings I would probably find two to three times more cyclists in Chennai than in Pune,’’ Sudeep said. Slowly the idea of a good quality bicycle in an Indian market progressively getting ready for it, took shape. In May 2015, Sudeep got in touch with Praveen and Vinay and pitched the idea of a partnership in making bicycles. Committing himself to the move wasn’t exactly easy for Sudeep. Having no previous experience as entrepreneur, he wondered whether he should do a MBA. Two things helped. A professor he knew at Mumbai’s Wellingkar Institute guided him; officials at the company he worked for – CNSI, were supportive. Today Praveen, Vinay and Sudeep are the core equity investors at Psynyde Bikes. Sudeep coming aboard had immediate impact. The enterprise acquired structure and a sense of urgency. In January 2016, Psynyde Bikes moved to official address on 1000 square feet space at a MIDC-industrial estate in Pune. “ Praveen was building cycles. Neither he nor I was thinking of how to sell it. I knew how to test a bicycle. Sudeep gave the idea concrete shape. That was needed. Otherwise, we would have still been chilling, taking it easy,’’ Vinay said. Sudeep oversees the finance function at Psynyde. He handled Psynyde’s dealings in China.

According to Praveen, the typical Chinese manufacturer keeps a catalogue of already designed products. Many brands order bicycles from the catalogue. What is bought is then badged to sport a given brand’s name. “ We were approaching a Chinese manufacturer with a bicycle frame we designed. We knew what kind of frame we wanted; we merely wished to get it built and produced in numbers. We were also uncompromising on specs,’’ Praveen said. By April 2016, two Furan frames and their associated components had arrived in Pune. Two bikes were assembled. Vinay headed to Spiti in Himachal Pradesh to test the MTB. With him was Ajay Padval, an upcoming mountain biker, currently part of a Psynyde sponsored-team of cyclists. They tested the Furan for a month in the mountains. They also participated in some mountain bike races. The Furan had a couple of finishes in the top ten-category, Vinay said.

The Furan in Spiti (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

The Furan in Spiti (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

In early November when we met for this article, the Furan was in the stage of crowd funded-sales. About 120 bikes or so were totally on offer in the initial phase. Orders placed – as visible on the crowdfunding site in early November – were very few. Less than 10 days remained for campaign’s close. Neither the demand for Furan nor the level of funds raised by then (a little over one tenth of what they stated as goal) bothered Praveen and Vinay. They said there had been healthy enquiries for the bike from riders and dealers long known to them. While around 70 dealers who are into performance bikes, showed interest, about 25-30 of them have agreed to stock the Furan to gauge market response. “ The crowd funding campaign provides us visibility because news of the Furan gets dispersed thanks to the very nature of crowd funding. Being a small outfit, our budget for marketing is otherwise very low,’’ Vinay said. Sudeep provided insight into the start-up company’s finances. Broadly speaking, the money for investment has come from people who empathize with cycling, understand the product and have noticed the Indian bicycle market or believe in the promoters, their background in cycling and their commitment to it. He approached several banks for funding but nothing worked. Their procedures wouldn’t allow them to take a position on a new bicycle venture like this. So investors other than the promoters have put in their funds as loans. It is currently debt but should the company hit revenues forecast, it can be converted into equity. Otherwise it is money to be repaid. Interestingly these investors include some senior corporate officials, who have invested in their personal capacity.

The Furan being tested (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

The Furan being tested (Photo: courtesy Psynyde Bikes)

Deliveries of the Furan were slated to commence by mid-December. “ As regards where the Furan is in the Indian bicycling scenario, it is in a good spot right now. There are a small number of people who understand performance bikes. They will identify with our journey. We are also in no hurry to grow,’’ Vinay said. According to him, the Furan has the required quality certification to sell in the Indian market. Rider friends from overseas have shown interest. While they can pick it up in India, supplying the Furan to dealers overseas, even in limited numbers, will take time, for due certifications have to be obtained.

According to Praveen, the foray into manufacturing the Furan had another reason too; a secondary one. Psynyde had machined bicycle components in the past. These components were periodically disclosed on the outfit’s Facebook page. The components were meant for discerning riders. Fact is – you can’t have a market of discerning riders seeking high end components, unless the market has an idea of a good ride. For that, you need good bicycles. If the Furan can pull it off in its chosen segment, then Psynyde’s capacity to design and machine high performance components, also stands to gain. Vinay assigned five years for Psynyde’s Furan phase to play out. When that draws to a close – maybe earlier, maybe tad later – he expected to see others like him, Praveen and Sudeep enter the performance category with bicycles they designed. That would spell competition. But it is also the spirit of Psynyde, vindicated.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)