KARACHI: Nearly 17 years ago, a 16-year-old labourer in Karachi’s Jackson Market was fascinated by the idea of competitive cycling. Barely able to make ends meet as it was, he knew he didn’t have the means to buy a second-hand bike, let alone a new one.
He decided to assemble one on his own with whatever parts he could find. That 16-year-old kid was Naeem Nazir Ahmed, and on Monday he won the first Tour de Sindh to take place after 18 years and the biggest in the race’s history.
“I didn’t have a lot of money to buy a new bicycle so I bought a second-hand body, then bought the tyre from another place and then assembled it all together with the help of my friends who worked at a bicycle shop,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
Ahmed reveals he was never a precocious talent. “In the beginning, I never did that well and often finished quite far behind the pace setters,” he said. “But the first race I participated in was an inter-Karachi one and I really enjoyed myself.”
Ahmed, the runt of the litter who refused to give up, continued to work hard and it wasn’t long before he was showing signs of improvement. “I used to travel everywhere on my bike so that i can build the required muscles since I didn’t have the money to go and train somewhere with a professional,” he said. “I was really excited when I finished sixth on my self-made bicycle.”
Ahmed then won several races in Karachi and Sindh before he was selected by SSGC in 2004. “The small amount of money I won from races and whatever I got from the junkyard where I worked helped me buy another bicycle. The body cost me Rs20,000 and the other parts cost me 10,000 more, which was a lot for me back in 2003 but cycling meant a lot to me.”
Between 2004 and 2007, Ahmed cycled for SSGC, claiming more than 15 trophies and medals for the department. However, he was soon dismissed due to internal politics despite his successful stint there. During that time he was also among the top performers of the 2005 National Championship and the 2007 Tour de Pakistan that featured international cyclists.
Such was his love for cycling that the dismissal from SSGC left Ahmed shattered. “I sold my bicycle, left the sport behind and went back to my old job at Jackson Market,” he said. “I also used to help make bicycles for those in need. I did this till 2012 when my professional cycling friends forced me to ride with them to Hawke’s Bay.
“I really enjoyed the ride and then started doing that on my off days,” he said. “I soon realised I was still better and faster than most professional cyclists and decided to give cycling another chance.”
One year later, Ahmed was winning local races once more, before being given a job at a professional bicycle store Bikestan in 2015.
When the Tour de Sindh was announced, Ahmed had a date with destiny.
“I started the race with the same bike that I use to travel to Hawke’s Bay but after the first six stages I realised the other cyclists had far superior bikes, so I asked the shop where I work to lend me a bike,” he said.
The unusual request was granted and with better gear than he had ever used before, there was no catching Ahmed.
The man who built his first bike from scrap had now won a Rs1 million race. But he is not yet done, and Ahmed is now targeting national and international races.
It has been a long and arduous journey, taking its toll on both on legs and wheels, but Ahmed’s passion has driven him along through thick and thin. Bigger and better things await.