Riding above the haze
Mountain biking with a mask is better than no exercise at all
It was only after getting above Budhanilkantha that I took my mask off, as I gasped up the trail on Shivapuri. This is my morning routine: ride outside of the Ring Road until I reach an area with better air. Two hours later, I return down to the Valley floor, where I put the mask back on and ride the last 7 km into the city centre.
With Kathmandu’s air quality constantly at ‘Extremely Unhealthy’ levels there isn’t really another option.
Riding with a mask until reaching safer air and getting exercise is better than not exercising because of pollution.
Some studies even show cyclists are potentially exposed to less pollution than people in vehicles, so wearing a mask that reduces pollution by 90% or more is worth the risk (see health tips, below).
Despite the pollution, the Valley rim is still a great place to stay in shape. The ridges surrounding the Valley offer trails ideal for running and cycling, extending from forested hills through the paddy terraces far above the pollution. One can easily ride 2 hours in the morning and get above the dirty air, and still make it back for work. Or there are 4-6-hour cycling trips on weekends. The rides with Himalayan views, clean air, good singletrack and tasty lunch at village tea shops make for an excellent Saturday out on a bike.
Tyler McMahon has lived in Nepal for 10 years, and has completed the world's highest mountain bike race, The Yak Attack, five times. He is co-founder and adviser for SmartPaani.
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Shivapuri Scar Route
Easily accessed by riding or driving to Kakani, enter the Shivapuri National Park (Rs1,565 for foreigners, Rs100 for Nepalis). Continue on trail until a fork taking right and left contours around the park. Left is more travelled by, with a technical singletrack and beautiful views for 10 km until Gurje Bhanjyang. Drop back to Kathmandu via Tokha and Grande Hospital or continue on. The loop can have as much as 30km off-road singletrack. Multi-day adventures include Chisapani and/or Nagarkot (single 12-hour+ day for extreme riders).
Up to Jamacho is also a very good ride inside the National Park. Around the perimeter of Nagarjun used to be good, but is now a dusty, muddy loop due to construction and traffic.
Best time to ride is October to May. Despite the high mountain bike fees charged by the park, minimal maintenance is done and leeches and stinging nettle are in abundance, along with landslide damage.
Shivapuri Helipad Route
This is a shorter morning ride, easily accessible from Budanilkantha. Take a right before the gate, take a right and head east. This road meanders, but follow the track up the ridge. This is a steep 2.3km climb which tops out onto an old helipad and continues up into the park.
This downhill (not for beginners) is famous among Kathmandu mountain bikers and is one of the best.
Continue to Kopan Monastery or take different trails back to Kathmandu.
Best time to ride is October to June, with some exceptions in April/May after heavy storms, but it remains ridable all year (no leeches).
Mudkhu to Tokha Trail
Good ride for beginners and fun the whole year.
Construction and bulldozers make conditions unpredictable, so be prepared for muddy conditions, even in winter.
Year Round Ride.
These are all scenic rides on the Valley’s southern rim. Some require fitness for climbing (Lakuri: 550m, Phulchowki >1400m in 14 km) but all have easy access, are forested and away from the Kathmandu chaos. The loop times range from 2-7 hours depending on entry and exit points. The brick factories below Khokana emit a growing amount of pollution.
Mostly year-round rides. Some of the forest singletracks are slippery in the monsoon.
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