We are in conversation with Baba, ace mechanic and competitive cyclist, who’s passion is to build wheels and race his MTB. A story where life’s fortunes changed through wrenching bicycles…
In the bustling streets of Bangalore, where the hum of traffic is as constant as the city’s heartbeat, there exists a realm where wheels turn not just out of necessity but as an expression of passion and craftsmanship.
In the heart of this urban tapestry, you’ll find Baba Fakruddin, a 26-year-old bicycle technician, whose life intricately weaves through the spokes of two-wheelers, both as a dedicated cyclist and a meticulous mechanic.
Baba Fakruddin: Pedalling Through Passion & Mastering the Art of Wheels
This is the story of Baba, a different story compared to what we normally publish on CyclingMonks. Its a story of a young man whose life has been intrinsically linked with the humble bicycle from childhood.
The Early Pedals of Baba
Baba’s journey into the world of cycling began in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. Born there, he later found his way to Bangalore, making it his home for the past 15 years.
It was at the tender age of nine that he took his first spin into the world of bicycles. His uncle, a proprietor of a local bicycle store, became his mentor. “I used to cycle to school on rental bicycles from the shop and after school, I’d head to the store to tinker and learn,” Baba reminisces about his humble beginnings.
However, it was more than just the joy of riding. It was the intrigue of understanding how these machines worked, the alchemy of cogs and chains that fuelled his curiosity.
His uncle’s bicycle store, which dealt with the repair and maintenance of army personnel’s bicycles, became Baba’s playground. It was here that he took his first steps into the intricate world of bicycle mechanics, absorbing the wisdom passed down from his uncle, a seasoned mechanic.
Till 2017, Baba was working on the most basic Indian roadsters. Often, these bikes would be repaired with a hammer, rather than a wrench!
Crankmeister: Elevating the Craft
In 2017, Baba’s journey took a leap as he joined Crankmeister, a premium bicycle store in Bangalore.
It marked a pivotal moment, exposing him not only to the spectrum of premium bicycles but also refining his skills in repair and maintenance. “I already knew the basics of bicycle repair from my uncle. I gradually learned how to work on high-end bikes as well in Crankmeister. It was easy for me to learn these fancy bikes,” he explains. Highlighting the transition from the rudimentary to the sophisticated in his craft.
This shift brought a broader understanding of cycling. From the mechanics of high-performance machines to the nuances of riding. “For repair and for riding, both. That is when I learned proper cycling,” says Baba, encapsulating the transformative period in his career.
Passion Unleashed: Riding and Racing
For Baba, cycling isn’t just about turning wrenches; it’s about turning pedals and embracing the wind. “I enjoy both riding and working on bikes,” he quips, reflecting the seamless integration of passion into his profession.
A self-proclaimed aficionado of wheel building, Baba’s passion for the craft reaches its zenith in this meticulous process. “I enjoy wheel building. I do this a lot,” he admits. For him, wheel building is more than just tightening spokes. It’s an art form that demands precision and an intuitive understanding of the interplay between materials and mechanics.
“I see a wheel, and I just start! It attracts me,” he muses, capturing the magnetic pull he feels toward this specialized skill. Wheel building, is not just about putting together a set of spokes, a hub, and a rim; it’s about creating a dynamic and balanced component that will endure the stresses of the road.
Lacing Together a Story Built on Spokes
As he delves into the intricacies of wheel building, Baba explains the meticulous process. It starts with measuring the hub-to-rim distance. Then selecting the right spokes based on the rider’s specifications, and finally embarking on the delicate dance of lacing and tensioning each spoke. “The lacing of the spokes differs depending on the bicycle, rider weight, usage, etc. It’s a nuanced art,” he says, emphasizing the customized approach he takes for each build.
A wheel takes 4-5 hours of concentrated labour to build from scratch. That is a full day’s effort for both the wheels of your bike. Wheel building is as much art, as it is science, which is where the allure lies.
His expertise extends beyond just wheel building. He finds joy in intricate tasks like internal cable routing on time trial bikes and takes pride in being the go-to person for Bangalore’s top-level racers. “In Bangalore, all the top-level racers come to me with their bikes,” he mentions, showcasing the trust he has earned among the cycling elite.
While Baba’s craftmanship speaks volumes in the workshop, it echoes louder on the open road. A dedicated cyclist himself, he has seamlessly integrated his love for cycling into his professional life. “I race both road and MTB. I just finished the try-out for the state level, and later I will be going for the state championship,” he shares.
Recalling his first race at the State MTB Championship in Bidar, he narrates an incident where experimentation with a gel just before the race led to an unexpected bout of acidity. Despite the setback, he continues to look forward to his next opportunity at competing.
The competitive streak is forever burning, as he points out that he is the ‘fastest tube changer’ in Bangalore!
Baba doesn’t have quite the support structure to go full-fledged racing. He isn’t part of a team, where he can get support. As such, he finds it easier to race XCO loops on his MTB. That ways he can at least find somebody to assist him during the race with hydration and nutrition.
With no support, road racing is infinitely more difficult. Going racing in such adverse conditions is not logical or rational. It is pure passion…
The Educator: Empowering Riders with Knowledge
Beyond fixing bikes, Baba also enjoys educating and growing the knowledge base of the cycling community. Recognizing the lack of understanding among cyclists about their own bikes, he tries to bridge this knowledge gap. “Out of 10, only 2-3 riders have decent knowledge about their bikes. Most don’t even know how to repair a puncture!” he laments.
To address this, the store charges a fee for a puncture repair, not just as a service but as a lesson. “The idea is to teach them how to repair a puncture, so that they never have to go to a store again for a puncture repair,” he explains, emphasizing the importance of empowering riders with basic maintenance skills.
Baba’s role extends beyond a technician. He is a crusader for cycling literacy, advocating for a community of riders who understand and care for their bikes.
The Evolution of Cycling in Bangalore
Baba has an excellent vantage to observe the changing landscape of cycling in the city. As a technician in a bicycle store in Bangalore, he has first-hand experience of cyclists. Constantly interacting with a wide range of cyclists, from absolute beginners to veterans of the sport.
In the last few years, the cycling landscape in Bangalore, like in many other cities globally, has undergone a profound transformation. The pandemic acted as a catalyst, propelling more people toward cycling for fitness and commuting. E-bicycles, hybrids and foldies are selling in much larger numbers than previously, opines Baba.
“We have seen a big increase in the number of people who bought bicycles for fitness purposes. Recently a lot of people have also started buying bicycles for commuting within the city,” he notes. But he also points out, that a lot of people have bikes parked in their houses gathering dust. After the initial enthusiasm wears off, the bicycles tend to be used for drying clothes or adding to the home’s décor!
However, Baba notes, that more riders opt for aesthetics over longevity when purchasing bikes. He believes that the consideration of the longevity and maintenance of a bike over the years often takes a back seat. “Most riders buy a cycle based on the paint scheme! They do not consider the upkeep and maintenance of the bike over the years,” he remarks.
On-Event Support: A Technician on the Move
Apart from his role at Crankmeister, Baba also plays a pivotal role during cycling events, offering technical support to riders. Crankmeister’s association with significant events like the Goa Ironman and Tour of Nilgiris (TfN) has seen Baba traversing diverse terrains, not just as a rider but as a reliable technician.
During such events, Baba’s expertise comes into play, ensuring that riders have a smooth and uninterrupted experience. His ability to swiftly address mechanical issues on the go has made him an invaluable asset during events. And it has also made his thinking more flexible, because on the road, you don’t have perfect working conditions.
“If a spoke breaks on the road during an event, I can repair it within 10 minutes. Punctures, chain breaks are more of the regular problems you encounter with riders during an event,” he explains, narrating his experiences at TfN. Anything more serious, and it gets proportionately more difficult to keep that rider pedalling.
He highlights the differing dynamics between the two events. The Tour of Nilgiris, known for its changing locations each day, demands an on-the-road presence, dealing with unpredictable challenges as they arise. Conversely, at the Goa Ironman, where a pre-event stall caters to the riders’ needs, the focus shifts to prepping bikes before the event commences. The former being far more challenging as a mechanic.
Baba’s Perspective: A Technician Who Rides
His dual persona as both a technician and a rider offers Baba a unique perspective in his craft. “It is much easier to find out the root problem. Because I also spend so much time in the saddle,” he remarks.
His passion for riding and racing augments his ability to identify and troubleshoot problems effectively. Riding regularly has given him a deeper understanding of the intricacies of bicycles, enabling him to diagnose issues more efficiently.
As Baba continues his journey within the cycling realm, his commitment to his craft and the community remains unwavering.
Through his dedication, Baba is not just spinning wheels but helping shape the cycling culture in Bangalore, one pedal stroke at a time. His tireless efforts, whether in the workshop or on the road, are a testament to his unwavering dedication to the world of cycling.
People like him, who sit on both sides of the fence, will help cycling grow much faster in our tiny community. And as his journey so far shows, with timely opportunities, bicycle dreams do come true…