Armyman Bharat Pannu has made two Guinness World Records for fastest solo cycling in October 2020. It was this month that he received his two record certificates.
Lieutenant Colonel Pannu made the first record by cycling from Leh to Manali, a distance of 472 km on October 10,2020, in 35 hours, 32 minutes, and 22 seconds. His second record saw him begin cycling the 5,942-km-long ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ route, which connects Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, on October 16, 2020. He started from India Gate, New Delhi, and, completing the route in 14 days, 23 hours and 52 minutes, finished at the same spot on October 30, said army officials.
But Pannu’s journey began in Rohtak district of Haryana where the 38-year-old was born. Son of retired army Subedar Ram Mehar Singh, Pannu calls cycling an elixir to his soul. While it has been his passion since childhood, Pannu started competitive cycling sports only in late 2016.
“It was just a mode of recreation until then. Only when I moved to Nashik in September 2016 did I feel that it was my passion too,” he says.
The first cycling event he participated in was Super Randonneuras. ”It was a 300 kilometre ride. When I completed it, it made me more confident to continue this passion,” he says.
Next up was the Ultra Spice Race by INSPIRE India, a 1,000-kilometre race. “There was no real experience and to win an ultra race, one doesn’t only need tobe committed but also smart, and with a strategy,” he adds.
“I wasn’t even sure that I would be able to complete the race but I ended up winning,” says Pannu who ended up being the first Indian to complete an ultra race of over 400 miles.
In August 2017, Pannu registered for Race Across Austria (RAA) along with another cyclist, Darshan Dubey. “It wasn’t easy. We needed a crew this time. We did have a tough time but alongside training, we gathered a very experienced crew for us and we ended up winning the fifth rank in RAA,” says Pannu about the race that saw the duo become the first-ever Indians to successfully finish any ultra race in Europe.
So what does one need to participate in ultra endurance cycling? Pannu says that apart from dedication, one needs to mentally prepare for it. “Ultra endurance cycling is something that tests you every second. The race clock is on and one hardly gets to sleep for an hour or two. Clothes, nutrition, everything happens on the move. One only applies brakes to answer nature’s call. It’s exhilarating, and never impossible,” says Pannu.
With such achievements to his credit, it was only natural for Pannu to begin preparing for the famous Race Across America (RAAM) competition, an event many cyclists aspire for.
RAAM is a long distance road cycling race held across US where racers must cycle a little over 4,800 kilometres, across 12 states, while climbing over 170,000 vertical feet.
“To get a firsthand experience of the race, I first joined as a crew for team ‘SEA TO SEE’, a visually impaired team where I acted as a navigator/driver of their follow van in RAAM 2018. The team ‘Sea To See’ later went on become the first visually impaired team to complete RAAM,” he says.
Once he had that experience, it was only natural for Pannu to attempt RAAM 2019, but fate had other plans. Pannu ended up breaking his collar bone in the last leg of preparations in the US and had to drop out.
“It was a setback. The whole crew abandoned me. They thought I won’t ever be able to cycle again but it did not cow me down. I rebuilt my crew and attempted the Guinness Record for solo cycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. It was a new team with no experience of working together but we travelled the whole country in just 8 days, 9 hours, and 45 minutes, covering 3,604 kilometers, and breaking the existing record by almost two days,” he adds.
Pannu, who attributes his success to his parents and his coach Tracy Mckay, a US veteran, went on to participate in RAAM 2020 which was held virtually.
“It was a virtual static cycle race with a distance tracker, so we thought it would be easy. But riding a static cycle for about 5,000 kilometres is exhausting. Around 50% of participants dropped out midway but I ended up third among all the global participants, and also the first in my age category,” Pannu says.
He credits Indian Army for the constant motivation that has kept him going, helping him find his way into the Guinness Book of Records.
“What’s more encouraging is that since I made my first record, two Indians have gone ahead and broken it. I am really happy that my cycling journey motivated others to participate and even create new records,” he says.
Adil Teli from Kashmir was recently in the news for making a record for the fastest cycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Earlier, Om Mahajan from Nashik had done the same while breaking Pannu’s record.
As to what one should learn from their challenges, Pannu says, “Pain is an indication for introspection and correction and not a reason to shy away from our goals”.
Not one to rest on his laurels, he adds, “Goals are meant to be broken, and I urge every youngster of our country to make a goal but with a timeline, because a goal without a timeline is useless.”