Monday, June 02, 2014

The Lightning Kid

Athul Bos, 24, on his Kawasaki Ninja 300, raced from Hyderabad to Kanyakumari and back in less than 36 hours to win an international bike award

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Mithun Vinod 

At night, on the Hyderabad-Bangalore six-lane highway, Athul Bos zipped past a lorry and sped ahead on his Kawasaki Ninja 300. After a while, when he glanced at the rear-view mirror, he saw an astonishing sight. The truck was veering from left to right and back again. As Athul increased the speed, to avoid being hit, on the opposite lane, he saw a similar sight. When he looked closely, he saw that the driver was nodding off. “Apparently, this happens often on the highways,” he says.

But Athul, 24, had no time to stop and do something. He was racing from Hyderabad towards Kanyakumari, via Bangalore and Salem, because of a challenge: Athul wanted to cover 1500 miles (2400 kms) in 36 hours so that he could win the BunBurner 1500 award, issued by the US-based Iron Butt Association (IBA). This is a group that recognises long-distance endurance races, and enjoys a worldwide reputation.

Interestingly, for the journey, on January 31, Athul set out at 5 p.m. “I left in the evening, because it would be easier to stay awake at night since I felt fresh,” he says. “If I had started in the early morning, by the time night came, I would have felt tired. During the day you don’t feel sleepy.”

To keep himself replenished, Athul carried several tins of energy drinks, like Red Bull and Gatorade, as well as bars of chocolate. In fact, the only stop he made was at 4 a.m. at Salem, where he used the toilet facilities of a 24-hour McDonalds outlet.

And to prove that he had done the distance, Athul had a petrol pump attendant in Hyderabad sign a witness statement before he left. All along the route, he got computerised petrol bills which showed the date and time, as well as the bike number. He also saved ATM receipts and took photos.

Meanwhile, while he kept the speed between 70-90 kms per hour, on some sections of the highway, where the roads were smooth, he turned the throttle. “I reached a maximum speed of 170 kms per hour,” he says. “The wind does not hit you hard if you use the right technique.”

The correct way is to bend down, place your head over the handle and keep the knees together. “In that way, the wind will blow over you,” he says.

What also helped were the right clothes. Athul wore a special black jacket which he imported from the USA. It had elbow, shoulder and back pads, and the cloth had meshes, to allow easy passage of air. “If I fell from the bike, the jacket provided protection, apart from the helmet,” he says.

Athul was travelling on schedule, but on the return journey, from Kanyakumari, he got stuck in Bangalore during the peak evening traffic and lost precious time. In the end, he had to do the last 500 kms in six hours. But when he entered Andhra Pradesh he encountered thick fog for a few hours which slowed him down. Eventually, he reached Hyderabad in 5 hours and 55 minutes.

Later, Athul sent the petrol and ATM receipts along with photos, to the IBA headquarters in Dallas, where they studied the material, and mapped his route, before agreeing that he had set the record.

Michel J Kneebone, president of the IBA, says, “Only a handful of riders from around the world, including Athul, have managed to overcome the challenges of such a gruelling ride.” In fact, Athul is the first from South India to get the certificate. In total, there are four from India.

Asked what he likes about bikes, this mechanical engineer, who works in his dad's textile business in Thrissur, says, “When you are riding a bike you are in another world. All your worries are far away. There is the open road, the breeze is hitting you and you are going fast. It’s a nice feeling. People ask me why do I attempt these challenges? I always tell them that I enjoy it.”

In fact, Athul has more challenges to tackle and enjoy. He wants to do the Kashmir to Kanyakumari bike route. “I want to break the existing time in the Limca Book of Records,” says Athul. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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