“I knew that the professional carrier as a cyclist won’t last forever and won’t earn me enough to spend on family, adequate nutrition, expensive cycles and accessories. This is why I wanted to do business,” says 29-year-old Rakesh Rana, a national-level professional mountain trail cyclist, at his cycle-themed cafe in Satkhol village, Nainital, Uttarakhand.
Even though Rana could not study much, he always wanted to start his work. He recalls that even before passing 12th “with a lot of difficulties,” he often used to work as a labourer to support the family. He also opened a small general store and a tea stall on the road.
However, chance participation, with his cousin, Kamlesh Rana, at a cycling race organised by non-governmental organisation Aarohi in 2012 changed his life. “I had never thought that one day I would do cycling professionally,” he says.
However, as he lives in the hills, the emphasis on being physically fit and be active in sports was always there so that he could get a job in the army. In the race, Rana’s brother Kamlesh won the race and received a mountain cycle whereas Rana came third in his category.
Rana got hooked onto mountain terrain biking and used Kamlesh’s bike to practice. The result of this practice was that in the next year’s race, both Rana and Kamlesh won the race in their categories. However, this year as a prize, Aarohi sent them to Bangalore for eight days of intense training in which they cycled over 1000 km. “I started taking serious interest after getting training and encouragement. Today, apart from participating in all the national events, I have participated in international events in Bhutan and Nepal. And in all these races, I have finished podium,” proudly tells Rana, who is also the first Indian who was in top 10 in Bhutan’s Tour of the Dragon, a 255 km long one-day ultra-marathon mountain bike race spreading over four mountain passes.
Rana is lucky that everyone in the family encouraged him in his cycling journey. “Nobody forced me to apply for jobs in the army. It helped that we could not have afforded a ticket to Bangalore and a cycle on my own,” he narrates.
As a result of this encouragement, he started doing cycling full-time in 2015. Throughout he kept in mind about economic reality and that his career as a professional cyclist won’t last forever.
In 2016, Rana visited Manali to attend a cycling tour where he stayed at a camp. This experience gave him an idea of opening a cycling-themed cafe in his village. This idea was supported immediately by his cyclist friends who promised to support and promote it. In 2017, he founded Camp Greens, an eco-friendly cafe where adventure activities like mountain cycling, trekking etc. are offered. The initial expenditure for this was Rs 4 lakhs, which came from earning from cycling and borrowing from family and external sources.
However, Rana soon realised that as the camp can’t be occupied throughout the year, to keep his relatives, who were working at the camp busy, he established a cycling-themed cafe to serve serving tea, coffee, momos, bun-omelette, and Maggi above his general store on the main road.
As Rana was solely focussed on cycling, he was struggling with expansion, marketing and social media of the camp and cafe. He came to know about Udhyam’s cohort on entrepreneurship, which provides not only financial help but also mentorship, through Jeevan Dangwal and Shubham Kabadwal (both entrepreneurs from the first cohort) in 2018.
“Udhyam taught me how to work. Apart from the marketing, and accounting, which helped me look at the business in a better manner, they also introduced me to people so that I could learn from their experiences.”
The association with Udhyam also gave him an idea to start cycle rent business. Today he rents six cycles, all professional ones bought for personal use. “I was also sent to Birdsong cafe in Bhimtal to understand the cafe business,” says Rana.
Rana, who is the first cyclist in Nainital who competed and stood at the podium at these level, is currently nurturing five youngsters. To promote the talent and the Mukteshwar region for mountain cycling, he regularly organises mini-marathon and cycling. Even on January 26, 2020, the day we met, he had organised an event. “All this also helps me in increasing the occupancy rate and promoting the camp,” adds Rana.