Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.
When the Meghalaya Cycling Association (MCA), which started as Cycling Shillong in 2015, was officially formed, all that the founding members had in mind was to promote the sport and encourage young enthusiasts to experience freedom on two wheels.
Seven years on, the association is doing a yeoman job in spotting talents and promoting the sport in every part of the state. This, probably, has been possible because of the unique structure that MCA follows.
Lenning Bareh, a veteran cyclist and president of MCA, says the association does not have a permanent membership structure and “anyone who wants to ride can join us”. This has encouraged many cycling enthusiasts to become part of it at different points of time.
“We have no restriction. We have no stringent rules. Rather, we provide a platform for any cyclist from any part of Meghalaya,” says Bareh, who started cycling decades ago.
MCA not only spots talents but also nurtures them to become champions. The members often spend from their pockets to support young cyclists. With barely any fund coming in, this becomes an uphill task but that is no deterrence for them. The association regularly organises local championships to create awareness on the sport.
Apshai Griffith Niangti, a 23-year-old mountain biker, remembers the days of Cycling Shillong. “All cycling enthusiasts would meet as a group and we would go out for a ride. That’s how we started,” says Niangti, who won silver medal in National Downhill Championship in Uttarakhand in 2020. He had also participated in the Asian Enduro Championship and was named among the top 10 mountain bikers.
Bareh says Meghalaya has immense potential in mountain biking and cross-country cycling as the place is blessed with a topography best suited for the sport. This gives local cyclists practising mountain biking an edge over sportspersons in this discipline from other states. In fact, the state has produced the country’s first woman downhill biker, Anissa Lamare.
“My counterparts in other northeastern states also agree that Meghalaya can win medals even in international mountain biking championships. With help from the government, we can take the sport to its zenith in the country,” Bareh says.
The association has already received affiliation from the Meghalaya State Olympic Association and is in the process of getting permanent membership with the Cycling Federation of India. “We have also spoken with the state government for funds and received positive response. Our performance has been convincing throughout,” informs the 51-year-old MCA president.
John Kharshiing, the working president of MSOA, says talks are on with the state government for long-term help for the 21 sports associations affiliated with MSOA. “We are also seeking activation grants for the other 20 state associations, including MCA, some of which are under ‘provisionally affiliated’ or ‘recognised sport’ category. The government has been positive,” he adds.
The association is making efforts to get cycling on the list of sports in the upcoming North East Games as “it has great potential”, says Bareh.
MCA is also planning to start a district chapter in Garo Hills. Marcellina Sangma, who practises randonneuring or long-distance endurance cycling, lauds the association’s works in promoting cycling and organising events.
“Cyclists from other parts of the country are also invited. Besides promoting the sport, these events can boost tourism too,” she observes.
While MCA looks at a bright future for the sport, the fact is also that cycling requires fund. Without a sponsor or government support, it becomes especially a struggle for mountain bikers to continue in the discipline.
“Mountain bikes are expensive. Also, we have to spend on travelling to participate in events outside the state. At times, bikers drop out of such events owing to lack of money,” points out Niangti.
Bareh agrees and reiterates the need for government attention. At the same time, he cites the example of a cyclist from West Khasi Hills who innovated to reduce cost.
“When everyone else was using expensive bikes, this boy was riding a normal cycle. All he did was put tubes on the tyres. And he beat other competitors in two rounds in a championship. I am planning to take him to the nationals in Pune,” says Bareh and recollects his days as a carefree youth on a bicycle.
“I would ride from Shillong to Dawki on a regular cycle. In those days, there were no gears for cyclists too,” he remembers the “good old days”.
MCA is not only promoting the sport but is also trying to spread awareness on the rights of cyclists in the city. Bareh says he has already spoken to a senior government official for cycling space on city roads.
“The official had a word with the National Highway Authority of India and it seems that the road from Shillong to Mylliem is too narrow for a cycle lane. I am hoping there will be one beyond that,” he adds.
Promoting cycling in the city will help in cutting carbon emissions and encourage people to choose a healthy lifestyle. According to Sangma, more people will switch to bicycle as a mode of transportation over the years because “this is eco-friendly”.
It is time that the state government pays attention to how MCA is moving souls on two wheels and extends support to local bikers who are aspiring to bring fame to Meghalaya.