Nepali Times Asian Paints
Zen and the art of mountain biking


Nepal is the ideal terrain for mountain biking: it has mountains and narrow dirt trails that are euphemistically called 'roads'.
When it started out in the US west coast as 'off-road biking' in the 1970s, mountain bikers probably didn't realise they were inventing a sport fit for Nepali conditions. No wonder off-trail biking has taken off here in a big way attracting enthusiasts and professionals from around the world. Mountain biking along trekking trails across the Annapurnas and pedalling to Everest Base Camp are catching on as our own version of extreme biking.

With shops selling bikes and accessories from internationally renowned bike manufacturers such as Gary Fisher, Trek, Giant and Specialized, Kathmandu actually has some of the best gear in the world. But they can cost up to $2,000. The trick is not to go for an expensive one right away, start off with models in the Rs 20,000 range and if you find yourself really enjoying the great outdoors, you can always buy a better one.

The beauty about Kathmandu is that there is a wide selection of mountain bikes at the famous bicycle row along Jamal or at Dawn Till Dusk, situated at the Kathmandu Guest House parking lot in Thamel.

Now that you have a bike, what you need is to latch on to a group to ride with, preferably one which has some experience. Travel light: the lighter you ride the more energy you have for riding. The hills surrounding Kathmandu Valley are some of the most ideal mountain biking terrain in the world. No wonder, the Himalayan Mountain Bike Races are held here every autumn.

Hatiban is probably the best place to start riding. Get off the Ring Road at Balkhu, travel past Chobhar along the asphalt for 15 km towards Pharping. These are not off-road conditions but the uphill stretches test your endurance and stamina. Once you get to the base of Hatiban, take a breather. Have a cup of tea, get a glucose fix at the local shop under the pipal tree, acquaint yourself with the shop and its owner.

Take lots of water: this is your su rvival trick. A litre of water for each hour of continuous riding is recommended. The steep switchbacks up to Hatiban ridge is only three km but it is real technical riding and will take up to half-an-hour to get to the top.

Once at the top you can make the choice of continuing up for a while, resting or riding back down to take a half minute's rest and pedalling all the way back up again. This is called training in intervals, a period of high intensity 20 minute riding followed by a 30 second respite. This will help in longer more serious rides like the day trip up the endless 10 km incline to Nagarkot. If you're lucky you'll be rewarded with a spectacular view. After Nagarkot you're probably fit to try riding off-road on grassy, sandy and rocky terrain. A perfect ride would be to the temple of Bisanku Narayan and further on to Kot Danda and then on to more difficult sections of Lakhuri Bhanjyang via Sisneri along the Valley's southeastern rim. Once you have amassed experience it is time to go further afield and ride up Sarangkot in Pokhara where the view is even better and the terrain even more challenging.

By now you must know how to deal with basic breakdowns: punctures, wheel tuning, brake adjusting and so on. Once you've started to ride, keep going. With experience you'll find yourself enjoying the exertion and the rush of
happy hormones that it unleashes.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)