A very important part of the Rickshaw Challenge is the Support Crew. The crew is made up of a number of invaluable mechanics and medical staff, who are on hand help participants in need. In this interview with Support Crew member Suresh Rajendran, find out the inside story about the medical and mechanical problems that Rickshaw Challenge participants have to deal with, and how to best prevent them.
What's your experience with the Rickshaw Challenge?I've participated in five auto rickshaw rallies now. I provide services -- physical therapies -- free of cost because I like to contribute to charity. At the time I initially got involved with the Rickshaw Challenge, I was working in a hospital. My friend Aravind needed help with the first rally, so I agreed. I love traveling abroad, meeting new friends from all over the world, and also driving auto rickshaws.
What do you do when you're not helping support the Rickshaw Challenge?I'm involved in sports medicine, and I'm also the proprietor of a company called Media 5 in Chennai. Media 5 provides advertising for theaters.
Not to alarm anyone, but what medical injuries have Rickshaw Challenge participants sustained?The most common problems are minor bruises and scrapes. Out of the 32 teams that participated in the 2007 Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge, 10 had minor accidents. However, a team of two girls did lose control of their auto rickshaw. One of the girls severely damaged her leg. It happened two days before the end of the rally.
What about mechanical problems? These auto rickshaws are known to break down a lot. What are the most common mechanical problems that Rickshaw Challenge participants have to deal with?The most basic problem is that of the oil and petrol not being mixed properly together. This results in too much oil getting into the engine, which obstructs the flow of petrol. The rickshaw stalls and can't be started. This happened to Auto Mates a lot! (Note from interviewer: Auto Mates was my team in the 2009 Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge). Another common problem is the spark plug. If the rickshaw gets wet, there will be no spark to the engine and the spark plug will have to be replaced. More serious problems, which also commonly occur, are broken clutch and gear plates.
So tell us, what's the worst mechanical problem that can happen to an auto rickshaw?The engine could seize up, requiring a complete change of engine. This could be due to bad driving or a worn engine. The rally wouldn't be fun if the auto rickshaws all had new engines and ran smoothly. Participants wouldn't get to interact with the local people when their rickshaws break down.
What can participants do to minimize the occurrence of mechanical problems?Many of the mechanical problems happen because participants don't know how to drive their rickshaws well. The clutch shouldn't be held in unnecessarily, especially when going down hills. When changing gears, the clutch should be pressed in firmly and released slowly. Petrol and oil must be well mixed together. Put the petrol in first, and also shake the rickshaw to help mix both together. Participants should also avoid playing their stereo when their auto rickshaw isn't running, as this drains the battery and produces electrical problems.
Many of the roads in India are in bad condition, and full of pot holes. Surely these roads must be responsible for some of the mechanical problems encountered?The bumpy roads disturb the engine, and can cause the rubber engine mounting to come loose. If this happens, the rickshaw will fail to start when the crankshaft is pulled. The rubber mounting must then be replaced.
Is it just the rickshaws that have mechanical problems on the Rickshaw Challenge, or the support vehicles as well?No, during the 2009 Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge, the luggage truck had numerous electrical problems. A faulty speaker wire caused the truck to catch fire (fortunately, the fire was controlled).
What's the funniest incident that's happened on a Rickshaw Challenge?One rickshaw went missing during the 2007 Mumbai Xpress. There were 32 teams, and when the rickshaws were lined up for flag off, one of the rickshaws couldn't be found anywhere. It had been hidden in an auditorium by the participants. We found it only after searching for over 20 minutes.
It sounds like supporting the Rickshaw Challenge is a fun experience for you?Yes, it really helps me get free from business tension.
Suresh can be contacted by email at: email@example.com