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mountain bike magazine

ISSUE 22 | JULY - AUGUST 2014 | FREE DOWNLOAD www.freeridermag.in


mountain bike magazine

EXCLUSIVE STORY | Himachal Downhill MTB Trophy | 5 EPIC TRAIL STORY | Below Zero | 19 BIKE CHECK | Ibis Ripley | 28 FRESH JUICE | 661 Race Brace | 33 20 INCH EXCLUSIVE | 2000 Likes Jam | 36 TRAIL STORY 2| Tag Team Trail Hunt | 41 HOT EVENTS | Himalayan Trails n Dust + More | 44 - 53

ISSUE 22 | JULY - AUGUST 2014


Cover Photo by: Jigme Bodh | Rider: Gautam Taode | Location: Solang Valley, INDIA

Oops! I know this issue is late… but it’s here and packed with some wicked stories from India and Nepal. India saw its world class downhill mountain bike race in the Mountain Biking Capital of India early July and the action continued with more classic events in this beautiful country. Himalayan Trails n Dust Mountain Bike Challenge in North, while Sharptune gang from Bombay conducted a BMX jam to celebrate 2000 likes on their Facebook page. How many of you celebrate Facebook likes like that? Don’t forget to check out the Epic Trail Story “Below Zero” where rider Claude Balsiger and photographer Martin Bissig challenged themselves to ride the famous and frozen Zanskar River – IN WINTERS! This challenge + adventure not only gave them memories for lifetime, but also officially made Claude the the first man on frozen Zanskar with a bicycle. Issue #22 also features one of the famous 29er trail bike “Ibis Ripley” which we personally checked and will continue to test it on the Indian terrain. Don’t forget to check out more mountain bike races this season. Things are getting hot n spicy for sure. More to read in this issue; We hope you enjoy it as usual.

Vineet Sharma

Founder, Editor-in-Chief | vineet@freeridermag.in Freerider Mountain Bike Magazine #410, Sector: 10 Panchkula (Haryana). 134109 - INDIA. ........................................................ This magazine is intended for free distribution and is only available through our web portal. E-mail us for more details. www.freeridermag.in ........................................................ Feel free to write or contribute. E-mail at: vineet@freeridermag.in | vinay@freeridermag.in

Contributing Editors and Photographers ISSUE # 22 Jigme Bodh, Martin Bissig, Claude Balsiger, Tarun Dagar, Ajay Padval, Gyasudin Kothariya, Sunil C. Sharma, Kumar Ale and Jivan Ale, Red Bull Media House.

The Team: Editor in Chief: Vineet Sharma vineet@freeridermag.in Deputy Editor: Vinay Menon vinay@freeridermag.in BMX Agent: Dipak Panchal dipak@freeridermag.in Himalayan Trails Minister: Naveen Barongpa


HIMACHAL DOWNHILL MOUNTAIN BIKE

First version of “The Most Wicked Mountain Bike Race of India” held in the Mountain Biking Capital of India on 4th and 5th July, 2014. Words: Vineet Sharma | Photography: Jigme Bodh and Vineet Sharma The Himalayan Mountain Bike Festival got postponed for next season which means the first big downhill mountain bike race of India was getting postponed too. It was not because of monsoons… Just the time and funding was not enough for this concept in India. S#!t happens when least expected. The riders were already training and looking forward for this DH race in India, so a quick decision had to be taken and it was decided that Himachal Downhill Mountain Bike Trophy which was part of Himalayan Mountain Bike Festival will take place in first week of July 2014. To make it even better a XC race was also planned soon after this DH race.

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With mountain biking culture on full swing in India and only XC races being organized so far, Himalayan Mountain Bike Network - an organization based in Manali and is managed by passionate and experienced riders who offers exceptional quality mountain bike camps, MTB races throughout the year, bike trails and park management solutions and various events revolved around the sport of mountain biking; decided to satisfy the needs of handful downhill mountain bikers in this country.

The venue was finalized – A Ski resort. Yes… A ski resort in India which was built back in 2010 by Ski Himalayas and is equipped with state of the art ropeway built by Poma of France which features19 cabins with a seating capacity of 8 persons in each.

It’s open for everyone; from newly married couples on honeymoon to snowboarders and now us… people with big bikes. Pro riders Andi Wittmann and Guido Tschugg were here last summers to travel in the Himalayas and their ride started from this ski resort. The location is Solang Valley which is 12Km from a small Himalayan town called Manali aka The Mountain Biking Capital of India. Manali is a magnet for all the riders going towards Ladakh which has some of the highest passes in the world. It’s a different trip to ride in this super high Himalayan region. FR MTB MAG | 6


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Famous Indian riders; Vinay Menon, Piyush Chavan and Ajay Padval reported a week in advance and so did James Frampton – a British rider who proved to be a big big help to finish the race track and lot of other things required for this race. Finally the track was A-Ok and was tested side by side. As monsoons season was arriving here, the rain God’s poured lots of water on the track, on us and my camera gear which is dead unfortunately. In the end the job got done and all were happy + ready for this event. Meanwhile, the dudes from Nepal, Italy and other parts of India started arriving with their bikes and the town looked like a big party place. Bikes and curiosity everywhere. How’s the track? Is it too technical? Is it gonna rain? Can I complete my registration tomorrow? These questions were topped up with more queries from locals and tourists. The most common question – How much does this bike costs? After all queries answered; It was time for some beer. Lots of beer and food to be precise and gear up for the following practice day which turned out to be the best riding time we had in Manali.

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All the participants were highly impressed with the race venue and compared it to other bike parks around the world.

Few of them even nicknamed it as a Mini-Whistler. The rude track was not completely sculpted purposely. Most features were natural which were much appreciated. Maybe you should come and check it out yourself. After few practice runs and couple of crashes it was time to ride back all the way to Manali town. 18 riders rolling down 12 Km of trail and road was a stunning sight. All the tourists, locals and cows stopped and started wondering what the hell just happened! It’s definitely not a common sight in this country. Not even for us.

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RACE DAY: Early morning start for the organizing team to install the barricading and tapes and banners and what not. This can’t be done a day in advance. Someone would nick the banners or the cows would destroy the marking tape and barricading. An hour later 16 competitors started reporting for the seeding run which was pretty smooth. Mangal Krishna Lama from Nepal was the fastest in Expert category and Jeewan Jeet Singh from India in Amateur category. The final run started an hour later from the seeding run. The environment was getting serious and the local crowd was in their positions while the paragliders stopped their work to make the final run successful without any issues. They all knew that the limits are gonna be pushed this time.

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The final run starts with Amateur category. Jeewan Jeet Singh Dhillon who is well known for long distance wheelies and jumps was the fastest by completing the 2Km run in 5 min and 19 sec followed by Akshay Chaudhary who took 6 min and 28 sec. Gurman Reen who came third took 7min and 45 sec. In expert category Piyush Chavan showed his dark side by completing the run in 4min and 42 seconds making him the fastest downhill mountain biker of India. Mangal Krishna Lama from Nepal was few seconds behind him and took 4min and 49 seconds. Gautam Taode from India came third by clicking 4min and 53 sec.

Too Much – Too Young – Too Fast:

Piyush Chavan grabbed the Himachal Downhill Mountain Bike Trophy and was super stoked to win the most wicked mountain bike race of India. The next plan: The next Himachal Downhill Mountain Bike Trophy will be held in June 2015 during Himalayan Mountain Bike Festival (Manali). There will more mountain bike races, bike expo, workshops, live concerts and much more. The way this sport is going on in this country, It’s just like early 90’s when mountain biking was on progression stage in US and Europe. You can witness and be a part of it again. Himachal Downhill Mountain Bike Trophy was proudly organized by Himalayan Mountain Bike Network (www.himalayanmtb.com). FR MTB MAG | 17


Himalayan Bike Bar Old Mission Road - Manali Himachal Pradesh - 175101 Ph: +91 941 861 2482


There are just two ways to reach the snowbound Zanskar valley in the Indian Himalayas in winter: over the frozen Zanskar river or the snow covered high passes. Claude Balsiger and Martin Bissig took both routes on their expedition; across the ice to reach the valley and over the passes to get back out. How bad can it feel to fulfill one’s dream? For me,

it feels bitterly cold. Breathing heavily with my head hung down, I’m standing next to my bike. Mountain biking at minus twenty degrees works surprisingly well. But when a bitingly cold wind is added, then nothing works. My friend, Tundup, catches up with me, he has cared for me since Day One. “You have to keep moving, or you’ll get too cold, my friend,” he says to me, pulls up the scarf and moves on. I mount the bike and start to pedal. The ice crunches under my wheels and I continue up the river. I was first here six years ago; I was looking for single tracks in the summer and met Tundup. Even in the early days of our friendship, he wanted to persuade me to do this winter adventure, ride a mountain bike down frozen rivers to the Zanskartal. This is how my dream to cross the Himalayas in winter with a bike and skis developed. Now I stand in the middle of this icy dream. We want to cross the Himalayan mountain range in four weeks, on a bike, on foot and on skis. We start in North India, in the town of Leh, then

I cycle almost 300 miles on frozen rivers through a gorge to the end of the Zanskar valley. From there we ski southwards and hope to reach our goal, the Indian town of Manali, within four weeks.

Words: Claude Balsiger | Photography: Martin Bissig

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Cruel Companion It’s morning and it’s really cold, bitterly cold. The morning is not a pleasant companion in a Himalayan winter. It is, in fact, the most evil time of the day, I regularly hit a mental low point. I’m lying in my thick sleeping bag, my eyes squinting out of the small opening but my body lies motionless like frozen chicken in the feather down. I pull the zipper down and cold, minus 20 degree air streams into the interior - the day’s misery begins. Socks, pants and jacket, everything is with me in my sleeping bag overnight, here wet clothes freeze stiff in a very short time. I share the icy sleeping space with Thomas, my expedition partner. The aspiring mountain guide is responsible for the demanding return journey on skis. With thick down gloves we force the tent into its sheath. Then our cook, Sonam, brings us some hot tea. I cling to the warm cup, press it against my cold nose and let the steam warm my cold face. It happens every morning. When I mount my bike an hour later I’m looking forward to the warming movement - but the airstream makes things worse. My feet are in massive hiking boots, but they don’t help much. They burn with cold, my toes feel more like padding at the end of the shoe. My “Rocky Mountain Altitude” is perfect for the freezing temperatures thanks to plastic pedals, spikes, insulation and caliper brakes, but I am not capable of handling this icy adventure.

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Barren Trail

For three days I’ve travelled along the ice covered Zanskar River. The surface is often so smooth it offers no support. The 400 spikes on my tyres sink like little claws into the crystal-clear surface and keep me on track. It’s a really fun track, with little curves and dips, that winds through the ice on the white surface of the river. After travelling three hours through the canyon we finally see the first rays of sun on the valley floor and that warm me up a bit. Now I’m euphoric. The breathtaking scenery and a trail that couldn’t be better, the ground is very firm and the track full of variety The track leads through a gorge with rock faces several hundred meters high, the river is just ten feet wide in places. Minutes later, the landscape is completely different. I now pass through a small plain; here the frozen river is nearly 100 feet wide.

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For the Zanskari, the inhabitants of this Himalayan region, the route across the river in winter is their only link to the outside world. My friend Tundup has done the route dozens of times on foot and told me exactly how to behave on the ice. The biggest dangers are watery and crumbly ice: I must spot these before drive over - otherwise I’ll fall through. Usually the ice is between one and three meters thick and could carry a tank.

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Official Recognition After five days in the ice gorge the valley opens up and we reach Zanskar. The main town could be straight out of a Western movie: Padum, that’s the name of the dump, consists of a few houses standing at an intersection. When I reach it on my bike, people rush out of their houses onto the street, looking at me in disbelief and whispering among themselves. Suddenly a well-built man steps into my path. He comes up to me and his broad face under a thick fur hat grins at me: “Welcome to Zanskar, we’ve been waiting for you,” he says to me. How can this giant know me? “The rumours reached us a few days ago, but we did not believe them,” he continues. “Now we know that in fact the first man with a bike has crossed the frozen river. Please come with me,” he says. You don’t contradict a man like him. I climb off of my bike and follow him through a large gate into a courtyard where a small blue house with a tin roof stands.

Above the entrance is a hand painted sign, “Sub-District Magistrate of Zanskar.” He is the head of government in the region. His office is small and stuffy, I sit between a stack of documents, half a pita bread and a Buddha statue. FR MTB MAG | 23


Then he finally speaks to me.

He wants to congratulate me on my success, the first man on the frozen Zanskar with a bicycle.

This is a remarkable achievement. He wants to congratulate me on behalf of the Government of Zanskar. In the following hour, I am lectured on the chance of survival in the Chaddar. He releases me with an official Letter of Recognition from the government. Not everyone can boast of such a souvenir to take home!

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On the Ridge Two weeks later my ski partner, Thomas, and I are lying in a small tent on the 5100 m high Shingo Pass. I had to leave my bike behind because I could no longer carry it through the fresh snowfalls. There is a storm outside and visibility has been reduced to ten meters. Yesterday on the ascent we got stuck in darkness and fog and had to put up the tent on the spot. We made a tough decision in the evening, the risk in continuing the trip was too high. Poor visibility, the avalanche risk and depleted reserves speak for themselves. We have to turn around and re-trace the journey made over the last three weeks - just four days before reaching our destination. The journey back is a race against the thaw in which the ice breaks up in the rivers. If we don’t get back across the river before the thaw, we will have to spend several weeks unable to leave Zanskar. So we press on as for long as our feet will carry us. We can’t use either bike or ski in this landscape of snow, ice and water. In just five days we cover 160 kilometers back through deep snow, ice and water. We take very few breaks and arrive completely exhausted at the lower end of the frozen Zanskar River as the final group for the winter,

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I live these days with an intensity never before experienced. Just hours lie between the bitter misery of the morning cold and the euphoria on the ice trail. I no longer mind crawling out of my sleeping bag at minus 20 degrees or walking on bleeding feet. The only things I really need are my sleeping bag in the evening and a warm soup for dinner. This is pure life in its most extreme form, painful and euphoric at the same time. I look forward to a comfortable bed and lots of delicious food at home - but I don’t yet want to wake up from my expedition dream.

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Words: Tarun Dagar | Rider: Gurman Reen | Photography: Vinay Menon

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Tarun Dagar the man behind Padalers Village has been associated with Ibis Cycles, USA for past 7 years and is part of their design team, handling most of their CAD from here in India. He has been awarded the Distributorship by Ibis Cycles and is currently working on Brand Promotion and Awareness Campaigns in India. Himalayan Mountain Bike Festival was the first major event where the two bikes from Ibis Cycles, Ripley 29er and Mojo SL took part and were center of attraction for most of the riders. One of the even got the podium. First lot of Ibis Cycles will arrive soon in India!

We have tried a coulpe of 29ers that are available in India. The Ibis Ripley 29 here has been tried and tested in the Himalayas and has impressed us and a lot of riders in this country who are looking forward to acquire this 29er all mountain bike. The build quality is A-class, the carbon frame is super light, sexy and the specs can be customized to suit your pockets. Being a 29er; it can nearly take everything a trail can throw at it. - Freerider Mountain Bike Magazine FR MTB MAG | 29


Design goals of the Ripley 29 Ibis bikes goal was to bring the advantages of a 29” wheel to a lightweight, nimble and fun trailbike. They think 120 mm of travel is the sweet spot for a snappy bike that isn’t cumbersome or heavy. Ibis also wanted the Ripley to be configurable for a wide range of terrain and riding styles, so they made it compatible with 120–140 mm travel forks. Ibis asked Dave Weagle (Mr. dw-link) to give the Ripley pedaling efficiency, XC-like acceleration and optimization for 29er specific gearing in addition to the usual dw-attributes such as excellent small bump compliance, predictable travel through the range with no wallowing or harsh bottom out. This version of the dw-link, like the ones he’s done for Ibis in the past, delivers on the promise.

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Features of the Ripley 29 • 120mm rear wheel dw-link travel • 5.0 Pound frame with X Fusion Microlite Shock, 5.2 lbs with Fox RP23 CTD • Approved for 120-140mm forks, 32 or 34 stanchion, 51mm rake is STRONGLY recommended • Tapered head tube (suitable for various Cane Creeks & Chris King InSet 3) • Internal TT cable routing with molded carbon cable stops • Shock Specs: Fox Float CTD Adjust Factory Series with Kashima Coat 184mm x 44mm with .4 volume spacer • Provision for cable-actuated adjustable seat posts • BB92/Press GXP style integrated BB • 142mm Maxle rear axle • 160mm carbon fiber post mount rear brake mounts • High direct mount front derailleur mounts directly on swingarm • Headset: IS ZS44/28.6 | EC49/40 • BB height w/ 2.1” tires: 325mm (12.8”) • Geometry measured with 520.8mm axle to crown fork

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Pricing for India Frame only with Fox Float Kashima Coat CTD Adjust Shock : 120mm travel at INR 2,53,000. Special Blend Bike at INR 3,44,000 to fully loaded with XX1 and XTR kits at INR 6,10,000 with respective Kits. According to Tarun the Special Blend Build at INR 3,44,000 and XO1 and XT kit build at INR 4,88,000 with respective kits are best buy options. *All prices are approx. based on International pricing and current USD value. These prices may vary in future.

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RACE BRACE PRO

ANKLE BRACE REVIEW by VINAY MENON

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WHAT WE BELIEVE Armour for your ankle is a must these days. With high flying spills on jagged terrain its only wise to keep your feet protected with a good pair of shoes and ankle braces. Our crew received the 661 Race Brace Pro earlier this year and have spent months falling off our bikes and walking away from bails thanks to the ankle support. Like most of the ankle supporters out there, the 661 Race Brace Pro is a lace up design made of Nylon. This lace up design gives a snug fit inside most shoes. More stability is achieved with the two plastic strips that have been added on the sides. If you are coming back from an ankle injury this ‘Race Brace Pro’ will definitely be a good choice! At 20 USD (INR 1200/- Approx) the 661 Race Brace Pro is a good buy compared to other pricier models from leading brands.

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Words: Dipak Panchal| Photography: Gyasudin Kothariya & Dipak Panchal

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Its not every day that you get to see a mob of BMX’ers all

jamming at one spot, but when you do, you can stayassured to be blown away by the incredible levels of bike control and physical capabilities of the riders. Sharptune BMX based out in Mumbai – India, recently achieved 2000 fan likes on their Facebook page, and had organized a BMX jam and a fun contest, which gathered the entire BMX community of the city of dreams. This was an informal jam for the riders to get together and shred together. No sponsors no bullcrap; purely for the riders and by the riders kind of a deal.

There were 22 riders over all who registered for the contest, in the 3 different and very simple categories, a huge number form the time the scene picked up. The categories were Highest Bunny Hop, Street Best Trick and Flatland Best Trick. The boys had fun on the bunny hop bar as the riders advanced the bar was being raised higher and higher until it reached a peak of 37 inches. Street Best Trick and Flatland Best Trick was judged on the aspects of difficulty and completion of tricks, where riders competed in elimination jam format. FR MTB MAG | 37


The jam kicked off with riders all the way from the Western and Central suburbs of Mumbai who showed up with great enthusiasm, so many new faces that were so pumped to ride and show off their skills. The riding has reached to a new level as even the beginners are trying to imitate the seniors. Irzaan Khan, Jamshed Shah, Fuzail Khan, Annul Pale, SaifShaikh, Abhishek Patil, Manoj Jaiswal were some of the hard shredders who meant business.

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We started up the contest with Street Best Trick followed by Highest Bunny Hop and Flatland Best trick. The BKC back roads were the venue, which are free from any kind of vehicular traffic on a Sunday, giving us ample of room to mess around with our bikes.

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The bunny hop heats took about an hour to end, as the competition was tight between all the riders. It was pretty sick to see the guy’s use the curbs side walks as obstacles for the Street best trick and we nearly got busted by cops for having such a huge audience for the Flatland jam. All went smooth and we were at the end of the jam, winners were awarded gift packs and were handed over by Vishal Sharma - founder Bandra Cycle Club. Shahjad Khan - founder Ghetto trends men’s accessories and Shabaaz Khan – One of the most talented and respectable flatland riders. It was great to see so much of young growing talent coming together and having a blast, hoping to see a bigger number next year. See you at the next jam.

SHARPTUNE 2000 LIKES JAM WINNERS: STREET BEST TRICK:

1st - HasmukhParmar. 2nd - DevendraRajpurohit. 3rd - Irzaan khan.

HIGHEST BUNNY HOP: 1st - HasmukhParmar. 2nd - DhroovRajpal. 3rd - Nikhil Dhon.

FLATLAND BEST TRICK: 1st - Rajas Naik. 2nd - Yusuf Shaik. 3rd - Sameer Shaikh

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Pune duo Piyush & Ajay go in search of new dirt.

Summer 2014 began with a bang!! Started off with me working in a Bollywood project (about which you’ll read in our next issue). With money saved up from the project and working part time at a local bike shop I got “my first” dual suspension bike I’ve been dreaming of. Soon I had Piyush Chavan on my caller’s list everyday planning rides for the local trails. First few rides were fun and thrilling. But soon we got used to the local trails... needed to do something we’ve been planning for a long time. FR MTB MAG | 41


After a few talks with some local people about some potential zones, we decided to scout and ride the hills approximately 40km in the west of Pune. Since we were in the middle of summer with temperature ranging between 30 to 40 degrees Celsius it was impossible to go that far riding in our bikes. After pleading Piyush’s mom to let us drive the famous Maruti Suzuki 800 to the spot we were off. With the minty taste off toothpaste in our breath we were off for an early morning drive hoping to scout and ride some gnarly trails. As we were getting closer to our destination, we had our necks popping out of the windows looking at some possible trails that could be ridden. Finally we decided a spot and parked our car by the road - got our bikes out of the car - got our riding gear on - and yeah, it was on! We were in the middle of nowhere looking for these hidden trails to put our tire treads on.

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The results seemed fruitful after pushing our bikes for a long time. Getting on top of the hill was another challenge and to remember the trail was another. Soon it was time to roll down this sketchy trail which was full of ruts and shrubs making it hard to ride. But we had fun riding it all the way. Unfortunately none of us was or happy or convinced with the current location so we decided to hike up a mountain that we could see on the opposite side. Piyush and me were hungry and sweating like pig. After common struggle we completed the hike up the mountain under the sweltering sun. We had scanned the trail nicely this time and we knew where the next turn and obstacle was. The ride started in no moment and soon we realized that we were wrong as a rock garden popped out of nowhere (which we never saw while hiking up) and bamm!! Few seconds later I see Piyush asking me if I’m alright. And I was‌ but bummed out and laying flat on the rock garden and the heat was making me mad. I got up and resumed the rode the rock garden. Did I mentioned we scanned the trail? Because we entered the woods which again were not observed during the hike. This location was full of huge trees and a bit of humidity but the trail was super flowy which led us to a small shoot down the hill packed with natural berms and switchbacks and all the way to the road! Our mission was complete and we had found another epic trail in our hometown. Driving back home with smiles on our faces from ear to ear pretty much explained how stoked we were with the new trails we rode in the summer of 2014. More runs soon

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Race report by Vineet Sharma

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Himalayan Trails n Dust Mountain Bike Challenge is going on strong since last three years. This race is usually organized in winters, and based on demand; the team of Himalayan Mountain Bike Network organized the summer version of Woodland Himalayan Trails n Dust Mountain Bike Challenge on 6th July in Manali, The Mountain Biking Capital of India. Total 30 riders from different parts of India (Manali, Kullu, Chandigarh, Delhi, Dehradoon and Shimla) competed in this summer version one day stage race.

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There are many ways to describe the selected 22Km trail from Manali to Majjhach village and the surrounding areas. It’s full with epic scenery, peaceful environment which is packed with relentless climbs and a groovy descent on way back. The weather was perfect and everybody completed the first stage with bit of struggle. After a good break and lunch the downhill stage was something which everybody was looking forward to. Local rider Devender Thakur was ready for the challenge and prayed that he can complete the stage without a flat which cost him his title last season. The results were out and as expected Devender Thakur won the summer version of the Himalayan Trails n Dust Mountian Bike Challenge by completing the race in 54min and 38 seconds. Shiven came second followed by Sunil Barongpa who impressed everyone with his performance considering the equipment he was using. The winners were give medals and prizes that were sponsored by Woodland, Firefox bikes and Psynyde bicycle components.

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Next up? The Himalayan Trails n Dust Mountain Bike Challenge will be conducted in winters as usual. The summer version of the race may not be continued. However there will be more mountain bike races that will conducted in Manali. The next Himalayan Trails n Dust Mountain Bike Challenge will be 2 days long and will be organized in the month of November 2014. The route selection for the November 2014 race is under process. Follow-up can be done on Himalayan Mountain Bike Network’s website: www.himalayanmtb.com

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Organizers Dawn Till Dusk and NepalSutraTM presented the race as “super extreme” to the participants and briefed them extensively about the intense nature of the competition. Race Director Chhimi U. Gurung, an accomplished mountaineer and adventure sportsman never understated the grueling nature of this unique race, “Participants will battle all of the nasty elements including extreme heat, severe cold, high altitude, dust and gusting winds, and long and treacherous riding. For some of the racers their biggest obstacle may be their own ego and personal limits, but as it is a race they have to battle everyone else’s too.” In this inhospitable terrain, organizers planned to anticipate every contingency during the race including emergency evacuation, trauma and illnesses. A tie up with the Nepal Army and Grande International Hospital proved vital in successfully managing two medical emergencies requiring helivac rescue during the race. The entire race was designed to test one’s mettle in a competitive and unforgiving environment.

Words: Sunil C. Sharma| Photos: Kumar Ale, Jivan Ale, Sunil C. Sharma

Yak Ru

- Annapurna Challenge ’14, the preeminent mountain biking enduro style race concluded on May 12 after 6 racing days in the remote Himalayas of Nepal. The race route traversed five of Nepal’s most beautiful and remote districts covering 240km in this 5-stage race. The formidable Thorong-La pass (altitude 5416m) was the most daunting stage for all participants, especially the riders traveling from sea level. International and Nepali riders agree that they are humbled by the mountain, but this high altitude race is not for the weak of spirit or faint of heart.

At the outset participants traveled 165 km by bus to the starting line in Besisahar (577m), a small gateway town to the mountain district of Manang. Besisahar means “a low altitude town”, and it is all uphill from there. The first day was expected to be hot and humid but a torrential downpour hours before the race provided a great respite and also a taste of the fickle mountain weather. The day remained cloudy throughout; sheltering racers from the onslaught of the summer sun. Everyone completed this stage - a short 20 km section designed to warm up riders to more challenging stages ahead. The trail, mostly jeep track and a mix of single tracks follows Marsyangdi River upstream to reach the village of Bahudanda (1250m) perched on top of a scenic ridge. All but one of the riders reached the stage one finish line in around 2 hours. Korean Rider Jae Chun Woo broke his front suspension in a fall near around the halfway mark. He didn’t give up and carried his bike to the finish. Dawa Sherpa and Ram Kumar Tamang from Nepal were neck and neck till the finish line closely followed by Singaporean Wilson Low. The trio made it to the podium finish for stage one. The riders awaken to a beautiful overcast morning in Bahundanda. By 8:30am, with their belly filled up with porridge, fruit, boiled eggs and tea all riders were ready to conquer stage two. Race Director Chhimi U. Gurung flagged the riders off at 8:50am. Moments after the race began, participants had to dismount and carry their bikes down a steep slope. After that, it was an easy but technical single track ride till they reach Lili Bhir.

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One of the Nepalese riders, Suroj, pulls out of the race after stage 2 due to abdominal pain - but this gave an opportunity to Jae Chun - as he was able to swap out his bike’s broken fork with Suroj’s and renew his hope to complete the race.

There on, the riders maneuvered their bikes on a tricky stone step trail against the dramatic backdrop of Marsyangdi River till they reached a river crossing at the Syange Bridge. The real battle of the day starts from here - an all uphill 35km jeep track section to Chame (2600m). The faster riders seemingly enjoyed the long uphill sections while the slow riders just had to endure the uphill for longer. Fast or slow, even the strongest riders were wilted by the time they reached Chame. At 2600 meters above sea level, Chame is the first place where riders may begin to feel the effects of altitude and everyone is aware of the risks. In the case of, Jae Chun Woo, with a broken bike on the previous day decided to carry the bike and run the entire 45 km stage. It was a herculean task which took a toll on his health. Tired and exhausted Jae Chun Woo makes it to the finish line around 9 pm after plodding for nearly 11 hours. His only wish when he arrived was to have hot Korean Soup “Ko Tsu Jang.” Wishful thinking! He had to settle for a Himalayan portion Dal-bhat.

Despite Suroj’s injury, Nepalese riders dominated stage 2. Ram Kumar Tamang finished in 4 hours 8 minutes and 8 seconds. Second position was taken by stage one winner Ngawang Dawa Sherpa in 4 hours 14 minutes and 53 seconds. Himal Tamata completed the race in 4 hours 28 minutes and 23 seconds, to earn third place. Singaporean Wilson Low did notably well although his position slipped to 5th position in stage 2. Stage 3 is the most rewarding section for altitude savvy riders as they push themselves up to reach Ghyaru (3700m). The village of Ghyaru was originally named “Yak Ru” - meaning Yak horn. For some reason the village name has been changed but the race is named in honor of this beautiful outpost in the rugged Himalayas. Riders are treated to amazing 360 degree views of the Annapurna, Gangapurna, Chulu, Lamjung and Manaslu mountain ranges. The signature stonewalled fort-like houses give a unique identity to this village and are an indication of its prosperous past. Although situated high up in the mountains, Ghyaru still produces plenty of potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables that are highly sought after in the 12 VDCs (Village Development Committees) that form the district of Manang. After a quick refill of water bottles riders gaze into the single-track trail ahead that thins out into the horizon. Singaporean rider Wilson said it best when he arrived in Manang, “This has to be the best single-track I have ridden anywhere in the world!” All riders arrive by 3pm in the stunningly beautiful Manang (3500m) and congregate at the Bakery shop. It is a luxury to find freshly baked Apple strudel and chocolate cake in the rugged mountains. Early riders dig their teeth into their favorite meal of Yak steak and other delicacies. After the meal they attend to their bikes. Everyone is in relaxed mode as the group is going to spend an extra day here exploring and acclimatizing. The rest day in Manang is anything but relaxing for Korean rider, Seung Beom An as he pulls out from the race citing his leg injury. The only way to send Seung Beom safely back to Kathmandu is via a chopper. Early the next morning, the Nepal Army’s chopper arrives to safely evacuate him to Kathmandu.

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He struggled to reach Thorong Phedi in a little more than 6 hours. Once at the lodge, he is attended to by the race doctor. His questionable health condition is of primary concern to the organizers and fellow racers. Woo’s oxygen saturation level is below 35% and he is showing other signs of exhaustion and AMS. While the doctor administers oxygen and stabilizes his condition, the organizers are busy trying to relay communication back to Kathmandu for another helicopter evacuation to bring Woo back to safety. Preparation and planning pay off as Woo is now inhaling oxygen via an oxygen mask and lies in a semi awake state, under observation much of the night. Fortunately, communication was established with the Nepal Army HQ for a Heli evacuation at first light the next morning. At 4am, while the rest of the racers start the final assault on the Thorong-La pass, doctor Abhijit, helper Suresh and Woo wait for the chopper to arrive at the Phedi. Touching down at daybreak on the makeshift stone helipad, Woo is loaded into the chopper with the rotors still in full motion. Pilots do not switch off the engine in high altitude, thin air, rescue missions. Within moments, Woo and the doctor were airlifted from Phedi. Back in Kathmandu, Woo is brought to Grande International Hospital and released on his own recognizance after 24 hours of observation. A short excursion to Lake Gangapurna invigorates the mind and keeps the legs in good shape for the more competitive climbing that is yet to come. Mingling with other trekkers and doctors from Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) is a perfect social activity for the rest day in Manang. Conversations are dominated by the mention of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Visitors to Thorong-la start to show early signs of AMS in Manang. A few trekkers we met had been taking rest for several days at the advice of HRA doctors to overcome AMS. Everyone is reminded to take lots of fluids and rest well to aid their bodies to adjust to the mountains and avoid altitude sickness. But there is little rest for the support crew who plan to trek up to Yak Kharka ahead of the racers and reach Thorong Phedi before the riders arrive the following day. It is indeed a good plan as the riders will reach Phedi and complete the stage within two hours - versus nearly 7 hours for those on foot. Stage four starts by 9 am with 10 remaining riders. Dawa, Ram Kumar and Tamata are still in the lead and complete the stage well within 2 hours. The other riders complete the higher altitude section within 5 hours with the exception of Jae Chun Woo. He showed clear signs of fatigue, looked pale, and was no doubt beyond his limits from pushing too hard to carry his bike the day before.

On the steep approach to Thorong-La, riders are fighting to carry their bikes on their backs and negotiate slippery icy tracks in total darkness. With just their head lamp to guide them, they could see nothing beyond a few meters. The darkness shielded them, in some way, from the elements of fear related to the sheer depth of the crevasses or the precipitous drops they would have to negotiate to reach the summit of Thorong-la at 5416 meters. After hours of agonizing pain and endurance, riders make it to the summit one after the other and briefly pose for photos before quickly descending the pass towards Muktinath. One could not fail to notice the rider’s delight at the prospect of riding the downhill trail to Kagbeni - a 2700m descent - making it the ultimate 100% rideable downhill trail on earth. Those who were able to stay mounted on the saddle covering the steepest downhill section, made it to Kagbeni remarkably quick. Ngawang Dawa Sherpa arrived Kagbeni from Thorong Phedi in 2 hours and 35 minutes some 14 minutes ahead of Ram Kumar Tamang. This is indeed a remarkable record, and we will watch closely to see if it is broken in subsequent races. At the end of stage 5, we could see the majority of racers were able to meet the challenge - but the winner’s podium is small and those achievements are unparalleled. We saw Ngawang Dawa Sherpa, a high altitude marathon runner took the first place position beating Ram Kumar Tamang of the Nepal Army by a mere 4 minutes in overall timing. Himal Tamata and Rajiv Chand, both representing the Nepal Army finished in third and fourth positions respectively. FR MTB MAG | 51


The arrival in Kagbeni marked the end of the competitive racing stages of the Yak Ru challenge. Participants seemed relieved but not yet relaxed, until they arrive at Tatopani where a hot spring awaits their aching bodies. Racers entered the non-competitive, fun group ride of 60km on mostly Jeep tracks and the rocky river bed of the Kaligandaki. Riders took leisurely refueling and photo stops along the way anticipating a dip in the hot water pool. Their desire is perfectly understandable as most have not showered in days- just one of the many physical challenges they had to overcome. The 60 km windy and dusty section is covered by our riders without much difficulty. As each one checks in to the guest house their stories are punctuated with the sound of beer bottles opening. Everyone is heard making plans for next years’ race and how differently they plan to approach it next time. Few riders made their boisterous and confident pronouncement to return for Yak Ru 2015 on this day itself. Maybe it is soaking in the hot water that made them quickly forget the hardship they just endured while crossing the pass with their bikes on their back. Up in the Pass some of them were cursing like drunken sailors and muttering words like “I will never do this again.” But here in the celebratory moment of completion and camaraderie it is only the glory of meeting the challenge and exceeding individual limits that anyone wants to remember.

The final group ride takes the riders from Tatopani to Beni in just under two hours. At Beni Bazaar our bus awaits to take the group and gear to the lovely lake town of Pokhara where we are planning to indulge ourselves in some modern world luxuries such as a massage, sauna and relax by the pool. A three hour drive via Kusma -Baglung highway brings us back to good old Pokhara and the comfort of the resort hotel Mount Kailash. The final day, still feeling excited with the successful conclusion of the race, we await the arrival of our chief guest, the Chief of Army Staff General Guarav SBJ Rana. General Rana, who is an avid mountain biker himself and an advocate of “Go Green” campaigns, agreed to grace the Yak Ru – Annapurna Challenge ’14 prize presentation ceremony in Pokhara despite landing in Kathmandu just a day before from his overseas visit. His love and commitment to the development of mountain biking sports in Nepal is evident and genuine. He graced the event and mingled with the riders and organizers listening to their stories with much interest - and perhaps a degree of envy. Many from around the world have followed this race with great anticipation, from start to finish - and now it is over. Those who came and completed will carry that achievement with them forever. For those who did not make it, rest assured that the organizers are working to again exceed expectations at Yak Ru – Annapurna challenge ’15 scheduled for 02 – 11 April 2015. FR MTB MAG | 52


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It was a real thriller of a final at Swatch

The Brit has not been as present on podium this season as he was last year, in Prime Line Munich. Dark thunder fact Swatch Prime Line is second major clouds loomed over Munich’s Olympic FMB World Tour podium of the season Park as finals were about to begin. and everyone is stoked to see him back MUNICH (Germany) - Once the crowd on form. had gathered to witness the action, the Sam let his street skills shine in Munich, weather gods were kind and cleared using the loop to pull a stunning flair. the sky. Right on point, the 16 qualified A 720 on the final jump was the riders dropped in, in heats of 4, pulling sweetest moment of his second place everything out the bag to make into run. “Swatch Prime Line Munich was the finals. In the end, Frenchman Louis absolutely perfect: super weather, Reboul grabbed the top spot on the super atmosphere, super public”, said podium, leaving Swatch Proteam rider the happy Sam Pilgrim. “It was so much Sam Pilgrim (GBR) and Tomas Lemoine fun and it is simply cool to be on the (FRA) with second and third. podium again.” The third surprise of the day was delivered by Tomas Lemoine. Straight from the start, Louis Reboul N0 one expected to see the French looked comfortable and confident on rider on the podium. Obviously the the course at the first Swatch Prime flowy, sloped dirt jump course fit the Line Munich. The French rider nailed young athlete. He fought his way qualifying on Friday as the first athlete through the heat mode, leaving big to ride the full loop. A feature he later names and favourites behind him to repeated in his winning run to earn grab bronze. those valuable extra points. Pinning the full circle alone didn’t bag him the Prize money for best trick was bagged victory, his run was packed with the f by a rider, who has dominated the inest bangers including, a backflip podium this year: Thomas Genon. He tabletop, 360-invert, the full loop, impressed judges and spectators with 360-flatspin, flip whip and a cannonball his dialled 360 barspin to tailwhip. to tuck no-hand. Swatch Prime Line Munich has made its With such big guns on the starting list, way into the history books with a conno one really had Louis Reboul on the test premiere of a full loop and amazed radar for the win but he came, he rode the cheering crowd with a unique heat and conquered in style! modus, where groups of four riders competed against each other to enter Another highlight was the return of the the finals. reigning FMB World Tour Champion, Sam Pilgrim (GBR). FR MTB MAG | 54


Rider: Iggy | Photo: Swaati Langeh | BigRush.in

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Profile for Freerider Mountain Bike Magazine

Freerider Mountain Bike Magazine #22  

Issue #22 - July 2014

Freerider Mountain Bike Magazine #22  

Issue #22 - July 2014

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