The Dawn of Mountain Biking

It would be sad but safe to assume you’ll be stuck in traffic today on your way to work and back. With thousands of motorized vehicles added to the streets each year, this is not really a surprise. And widened roads are only poised to add more. Reaching office half an hour late despite cutting down on your morning sleep becomes a norm. You get an earful from your boss for arriving late and nasty stares from your co-workers. If the bureau predicament wasn’t bad enough, your lungs choke on smoke, your ear on the din and of course, your wallet on steep fuel prices. Daily commute becomes hell.
Adding two and two, there is no denying why people have found refuge on a more modest medium of transportation. Enter – the bicycle.
People are slowly switching to bicycles en masse, and not merely to commute, but also for recreation, and for a handful few, even as a way of living and competitive sport. Gone are the days when a price tag of Rs. 50,000 for a new bicycle you wanted drew ominous stares from dismayed dads. With a wider range of bicycles now available in the market, you have more options to choose from, varying from design, purpose and budget. There is something that fits everybody’s needs, with a flurry of bikes shops that have mushroomed in the city in recent years, and Ason’s dominance as the go-to place for bicycles all but diminished.

Cycling in Kathmandu
It is interesting to note that even riding within city premises ideally requires a mountain bike, thanks to the pervasive and endless potholes and rocky bumps gracing our roads. This means simple urban bikes will wear out in not time and simply won’t make the cut. The rough roads in the city as well as the rugged trails in the outskirts demand a proper mountain bike, which come in three flavors – hardtails, all-mountain and downhill bikes. Hardtail bikes have front suspension (fork) and are ideal for cross-country purposes, i.e. travelling long distances on undulating terrains. All-mountain bikes are suited for enduro-type trails marked with steep climbs and gradual but technical descents. Downhill, as the name suggests, are the more extreme form of mountain biking which require more skills and a comprehensive protective gear than cross-country or enduro riding. Before rushing into your adrenaline escapades, you would need a proper bicycle and protective gear. Get your basics down by dropping by in an acclaimed bike shops in town.

It’s no secret that Kathmandu’s traffic is less than accommodating, the wider roads of late notwithstanding. Safety and health issues are rife, and incidents of road fatalities splash across newspapers and airwaves every other day. Organizations like Kathmandu Cycle City are advocating a bicycle-friendly city and regularly hold workshops and rallies, most notably Critical Mass held on last Friday of each month, which has really helped in creating safer riding conditions for cyclists. According to one of the organizers Shailenra Dangol, Critical Mass serves two purposes: to make people aware about the benefits of cycling; and secondly, to make the cyclists’ presence felt in the city. “We have noticed a dramatic change in the mindset of people and quite a few people have switched from motorbikes and cars to the more eco-friendly bicycles.”
“I bike to work every day because firstly it’s fun and secondly, it’s more economical and good for healthy too,” he maintains. “I actually get to work faster on a bicycle than by public transportation because I know all the secret shortcut alleys,” he adds.
Cycling has not only seen its fair share on the streets of Kathmandu, but also on the trails on the valley outskirts. Several regular groups – both professional as well as amateurs – can be seen riding about the valley. Kathmandu Bike Station and Himalayan Single Track organize regular group rides where you get to bike with experienced riders. Likewise, Evening Rides by Gnarly MTB is perfect for beginners and experts alike who want to join likeminded folks on nearby trails for a quick post-work biking excursion. Besides these usuals, there are several individual groups that can be seen soaring along the trails in their hundreds, especially in the weekends. The likes of Shivapuri, Bhimdhunga, Nagarkot, Dhulikhel and countless other have amazing trails fit for everyone. The best thing is you don’t have to wait for the weekend to venture off on a thrilling ride, because the trails are just a stone’s throw away and you’ll be back home on time, whether you choose to ride in the morning or in the evening.
It would be hard for many to believe how one could live off bicycles. But stories of people living their passion of riding bicycles and earning a living from it are not quite fiction. “When I tell my friends that my profession is mountain biking, they don’t quite seem to understand,” says professional guide Shyam Limbu, also a Co-founder of Gnarly MTB. “After a short moment of awkward pause, the topic is dropped silently,” he laughs. Unlike the saturated trekking industry, mountain biking is in its nascent but growing stages. Like Limbu, there a few but growing number of cyclists who make a decent living as professional mountain biking guides. Limbu states, “Summer and Fall are the peaks seasons for biking when the weather conditions is just right to enjoy the wonderful mountains.” He adds that Annapurna Circuit and Upper Mustang, only recently exclusive to trekkers are now fast becoming popular biking destinations as well. Jomsom - Muktinath is another famous route enjoyed by many tourists on short biking getaways. Construction of roads in these previous inaccessible locations, especially in the Annapurna region, has become a boon for mountain biking tourism.
Competitive Sport
Biking as a competitive sport has seen substantial development in the number and quality of races held in the country. These range from a single-day event to multi-staged race. Among the most anticipated races include the high-profile race Yak Attack which draws in elite cyclists from all over the world, including ones who have participated in Le Tour de France. A multi-staged race around the Annapurnas, Yak Attack is widely acclaimed and considered to be one of the toughest races in the world. 2014 saw several races that redefined standards of sports events in Nepal. Lamatar MTB Race in April this year (which saw almost two hundred participants), and Palpa Urban Downhill held in September (the first of its kind in not just Nepal but in the whole of South Asia) were a raving success.
“Kathmandu has amazing trails, do doubt,” says race organizer and Co-founder of Gnarly Shyam Limbu, race director of Lamatar MTB and Palpa Urban Downhill Race. “But in order to really promote biking, the events have to be held in other parts of Nepal too. And more importantly, races need to be more innovative,” he adds. All geared up for Showdown Dharan 2015, a 3-day biking fiesta of Downhill Marathon and Cross-country races in January, Limbu says this is a prelude of a series of top-notch races Gnarly Events has in pipeline for 2015.
Likewise, performance of our national riders too has drastically improved, having left a lasting impression in various national and international races. Winning Yak Attack several times in a row and outperforming in several international races, for instance, is Nepal’s reigning cross-country national champion Ajay Pandit Chhetri, who has an impeccable racing accolade. Likewise, Chris Keeling and Rajesh Magar have taken the downhill scene by storm with their fierce yet calculated and composed riding styles, winning several downhill races in succession.
For adventurous souls that have seen the simple joys of riding on bumpy trails and also the lucrative side to it, getting stuck in Kathmandu’s traffic is no longer acceptable. Whether you can afford only the good old budo cycle or a more robust mountain bike, and despite the cyclists being heavily outnumbered by their gas-guzzling counterparts, this hugely popular adventure sport is alive, doing well and here to stay.


Showdown Dharan 2015

Towards a Cleaner and Greener Dharan
Dharan is all set to host the most thrilling face-off in mountain biking with downhill and cross-country trails meticulous marked by professionals in the northern outskirts of the gorgeous city.
Mountain biking comes to the East! 2015 will kick off with some eighty mountain bikers that’ll have their hearts pound and muscles scream in pain along rugged trails of Dharan’s gorgeous outskirts. The eastern city will see downhill and cross-country cyclists competing in the much anticipated Showdown Dharan 2015, a 3-day biking fiesta taking place from January 8 to 12, 2015. 
Downhill Marathon Trail
The enduro-style downhill trail starts from Bhedetar’s paragliding area, with a bird’s eye view of Dharan to the south, and Mt. Makalu up north. Start on flowy single tracks by the ridge, then a mix of jeeptracks en route on downhill sections. A few short climbs, rocky sections, small jumps and drops come along the way. Tight and challenging switchbacks along with root and rocky stretching past a huge chautara demand utmost skills and concentration, all the way to jeep trails. Finally, a detour on singletracks touches the finish line at AmarhatChowk after an intense downhill ride of 6.5km.
Trail composition:    Singletrack: 85%   Jeeptrack: 15%
Cross-Country Trail
The XC circuit trail starts from Bijaypur School’s football ground by the river from where jeep tracks through the outskirt towns runs by the river. After crossing the river, singletracks through the forest and scattered settlements and farms take racers to a wooden bridge, whence jeeptracks head south and then divert to a steep rocky uphill climb to reach paved roads at the periphery of the famous Buda Subba Temple, and onwards to the football field to make a full 6.8km circuit. Elite category racers make 4 laps; Open, Women and Junior categories do 2 laps.

Trail composition:    Singletrack: 30%   Jeeptrack: 50%   Paved road: 20%

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