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Take the long, hard way


ANOOP PANDEY



ALL PICS: RBR BIKE CLUB

The July heat hasn't quite peaked yet, and so when a big cumulous cloud appears high enough in the sky to mean no rain for the next few hours, I know it's time to go. It's quick-a quick change into jersey and shorts, a quick bike, gear, and water check, head encased snugly in helmet and feet clipped in, I push off.

I weave through the traffic, hopping over potholes, and manoeuvring through busy Koteswor and up towards Bhaktapur. Up ahead, my favourite: a speed ramp. As I approach, I crouch down over my handlebars and jump forward taking my bike with me. It's a feeling like no other, and I don't want to stop. I'll go on, on to Nagarkot, to Changu Narayan, to wherever I can.

Biking is the quickest way to get out of the city and the rewards are significant. The air is crystalline and the advertising boards are smaller. The grass looks greener, the trees seem sprightlier, and the hills grow bigger as you get closer.

Mountain biking could have been invented for Nepal. The terrain makes for some of the most exhilarating and challenging mountain bike rides around and no matter where you are in the country you don't have to go far to find a dirt trail. Around the Valley, the numerous routes are small enough to become familiar with, yet large enough to get lost in. And how many people can say they've biked the foothills of the Himalayas.

It's a thrilling way to spend time outdoors and get fit. It's also a kind of meditation, a brilliant way to de-stress. How can you obsess about work or girlfriend problems while negotiating bumps, rocks, and potholes. Blistering down a narrow dirt trail, bushes, and branches whizzing past, the trail rising thrillingly ahead of you-that's freedom. When you finally pull on the brakes and come to a stop in a cloud of dust, all the other things in life start to look clearer.


BEST ROUTES

Kathmandu-Bhaktapur-Nagarkot (38km)
You'll want to head east to Bhaktapur before the traffic gets bad, but try to eat a decent breakfast first. Weave past trucks and rampaging minibuses until you get to the base of the hill. The 20km climb up to Nagarkot winds all the way to the summit and can take up to an hour-and-a-half, depending on your stamina and endurance. The view of the central Himalaya is superb. You might want to go down a different way and take the sandy trail to Changu Narayan or Sankhu. Maintaining a decent speed should get you back home in time for lunch.

Ride grade: Moderate. The blacktop up to Nagarkot turns into dirt and jeep trails as you head down to Changu Narayan.

Kathmandu-Kakani-Shivapuri-Kathmandu (70km)
This long day's ride is one of the best in the Valley. Leaving Kathmandu from Balaju and then head out onto the Trisuli road. Ride steadily up and out the Valley on the road towards Kakani 23km away. There's refreshing shade on the section past the Nagarjun Forest Reserve, after which you traverse the hill resort of Kakani, then Trisuli Bajar, and then on to Shivapuri. This is a hungry, thirsty ride, so go prepared.

Ride grade: Tough. It's all road, so make sure to crank up the pressure in your tyres.

Kathmandu-Panauti-Lakhure Bhanjyang (60km)
This is a full day of asphalt and dirt trails, ascents and steep descents. You can also ride to Banepa via the Arniko Highway and turn south to Panauti. Ride the jeep track past Kushadebi and Ryale villages until you start a 10km incline that is gradual but continuous. Pace yourself and conserve your energy. Lakhure Bhanjyhang is a ridge, so you won't see it until you get there. The ride down to Lubhu just outside the ring road is a rollercoaster.

Ride grade: Difficult. Dehydration is a real problem on this ride, so watch out.

Kathmandu-Daman (75km)
Until the bypass through Mugling opened about 20 years ago, this road, which goes through the lovely village of Daman (2,400m), was the only way out to India. Today, though, this old highway is light on traffic and heavy on adventure. The road spirals up and down as you weave in and out through valleys and passes. Exit Kathmandu valley at Thankot and head on to Palung. The ride takes all day, but there are few places from where you can see the panorama from the Annapurnas to Everest, which makes it worth the exhaustion.

Ride grade: Very difficult. You're riding with the sun in your face so don't forget the sunscreen.


GET YOUR GEAR

Mountain biking is not just for tourists or expats, says Suresh Kumar Dulal, a professional mountain biker who has participated in races in Asia and Europe. Dulal is co-owner of the 12-year-old Nepal Mountain Bike Tours and Expeditions and the Bike Nepal workshop, which promotes the sport among young Nepalis.

Each week the Bike Nepal crew head out for group rides. Riders include athletes on cross training programs, newbies, and adrenaline junkies. To join a ride, head down to the Bike Nepal workshop at Thamel at 6.30AM on Saturdays. No pre-registration is required, and if you do not have a bike you can rent one.

The prices are affordable-you can rent a top-of-the-line mountain bike with helmet and all accessories amounting for about Rs 400 a day. Just an extra Rs 100 will get you a professional guide.


BE PREPARED

You really don't want to be stranded on an unpopulated hillside with a flat tyre or dislocated chain. Make sure you carry a small first aid kit and a toolkit that contains the following:
. Tyre pump (Presta or Schrader, make sure it fits your valve)
. Spare tube (Presta or Schrader)
. Patch kit (for your tubes)
. Tyre lever
. Screwdriver
. Allen wrenches (2, 4, 5, 6mm)
. Chain tool (spare Shimano chain pins)
. Small crescent wrench

All items are available at Bike Nepal, 321 Chaksibari Marg, Thamel.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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