Inspiring Stories


HCL Cyclothon - Noida 2024

25 Oct, 2023

The Pursuit of Happiness

Winning the national crown nine times sure lifts Naveen John’s heart, but it isn’t the only thing that makes him smile.

It doesn’t take much to make Naveen John happy. A day spent on the terrace relishing mom-made parant has (like he did at competitor-cum-friend Arvind Panwar’s roof), for instance, ticks the box brilliantly. So does tucking into rasgulla dessert after a particularly exhausting ride, all the while insisting a little ‘cheating’ won’t upset the universe. Naveen also digs mingling amongst multicultural milieus – something his upbringing and adult life across the Middle East, US and India has made possible. Nothing, however, compares to the rush of beating a rival 14 years his junior. Or winning the national crown an astounding nine times (he’s been doing that since 2014!). Make no mistakes. In the firmament of Indian cycling, Naveen John is a shining star, happily lording over hundreds of smaller constellations.

Naveen’s tryst with the bike began with the desire to do something for the public good. In his second year studying electrical engineering at Purdue University in the United States of America, he signed for a cycle ride called the ‘Habitat Bike Challenge’ to raise funds for the a non-profit to help build houses for the underprivileged.

Growing up in the Middle-East as an overweight kid who had never really been too concerned about fitness and exercise, Naveen put himself through the paces to get fit enough for the ride. No good deed ever goes unnoticed, and the 120 mile race reciprocated in kind. Without his realizing it, Naveen’s quest to lift the lives of the have-nots had elevated his own journey.

Having loved participating in the ‘Habitat Bike Challenge’, Naveen signed on to the college cycling team. Initially, cycling was a way to make friends, free up ‘quality alone time’ for himself, immerse into USA’s vast and passionate community of bikers, and find a passion that would help him endure long hours spent in a basement lab without windows. One thing led to another, though. The cycling bug bit him hard, and the hobby evolved into a serious pursuit. One that would go on to fetch him fame, fans, and yes, happiness.

In 2014, Naveen John became India’s national time trial champion. The following year, he joined British team Kingsnorth International Wheelers. In 2016, Naveen joined Australian UCI Continental team State of Matter MAAP Racing, making him the first Indian to join an international professional cycling team. Later that season, Naveen – along with Arvind Panwar – became the first Indians to compete in the World Championships. In 2017, he joined the Belgian club Asfra Racing Oudenaarde, and defended his title as national time trial champion, and also won the road race championship. In February, Naveen John competed in the Asian Road Championships, finishing 10th in the time trial, and 44th in the road race. In April 2019, Naveen took part in the Asian Road Cycling Championships, ranking 36thin the Mass-start road race.


The latest feather in Naveen John’s rather crowded helmet was his victory at the 40km Individual Time Trial in the National Road Cycling Championships in Nashik this year. The Karnataka star powered his bike home in 51 minutes 21.014 seconds, beating talented Railways lad Vishavjeet Singh – nearly 16 years his junior – by a good 22 seconds. That’s not all. Back in the 2021 Championships, Naveen had got the measure of Dinesh Kumar (albeit by a whisker), despite the Services rider being almost 14 years younger than him.

There’s no question Naveen John is the veteran statesman (the loadstar, for many) on the trails, but it’s hard to tell by just looking at him. The man remains humble, always ready to share his learnings. And there is much to share. The 36 year old’s kaleidoscopic journey has left hima rich harvest of insights from the barracks.

His recipe for longevity is a case in point. Naveen’s message is simple : Skip the temptation for the theatrical and the spectacular. In other words, avoid short bursts of excellence, and aim for consistency instead. “You can floor the pedal and you’ll be burnt in three years. But if you do it gradually, then you can extend your career.” It is also a surefire way to get better at one’s craft. “Keep working. Improvement takes time. You have to play the long game. That’s my biggest learning from this sport”, says Naveen.

The trailblazer also acknowledges the need for constant improvement, even for someone like him who has been dominating the national stage. “It’s the never ending journey of an athlete, the constant necessity and need to not just improve but also stay ahead, quite literally, of the chasing pack”, according to him.

Naveen John is also a great evangelist for the sport he has been ruling for long. “People say cycling is an expensive sport, but actually, it’s just buying a cycle that is expensive. You can then ride it anywhere you want. In India, cycling forces you to get up early, because there’s no other time you can cycle on the road. It inculcates a good habit of starting early and going hard”, are his words – a proven and powerful success template for the next breed of aspiring champions.

Naveen’s advice to them could make for a viral motivational post on Instagram or a poster in a youth hostel : Spend on experiences, not on equipment. He adds that new cyclists would benefit a lot from participating in events since that would eliminate doubt, foster connections and enhance self-belief. “Meeting others with a similar passion is always a huge boost,” he says. “Sometimes meeting a thousand others on the starting line is a great way to remember why you chose to do this sport.”


There’s no danger of that happening with him. It won’t be easy for his fans to forget why Naveen John had chosen biking : To create a ding in his heart. After all, he keeps creating those dingsso frequently.