Life in the saddle

  • Interest in mountain biking has been growing by the day in the country. And Shyam Limbu, co-founder of Gnarly, a mountain biking company, is right on track to take that interest to new heights. His hobby turned into a fiery passion and then into a full-
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Mar 8, 2016-How did you start mountain biking? What got you hooked?

It was in 2010 that I went on my first long-distance bike ride. It was to the valley’s southern rim in Lakhuri Bhanjyang with rockstar Nirakar Yakthumba and crew. The uphill was rather uncalled for as I was neither in shape nor was the bike I was on built for the terrain. After struggling for several hours (which felt like forever), it took me more than half an hour just to regain my breath! The stunning view did little to appease. What I thought was the toughest part of the ride was just the beginning. Little did I know that the clique had plans to descend on technical single tracks. Just by the looks of it, I felt that there was no way a bike could ride on those barely walkable routes. I went for it anyway. I had to walk my bike most of the way down and lost count of the number of times I fell. But it was the very sense of adventure that enticed me to rise to the challenge. And from the next day onwards, I started riding regularly; and hence, I got bitten by the biking bug. And before I knew it, I became a biking guide and a professional racer. Now I’ve made it my profession, and not just a hobby.

How easy is it to make a living out of mountain biking? What challenges do you face?

When I started biking, I never knew I would be in the trade fulltime. With enough practice in Kathmandu’s trails and a proper bike that my wife, Hama, bought for me, I became a mountain biking guide before long and eventually stood on the national downhill race podium. I even got the opportunity to represent Nepal in international races. I currently run Gnarly, a mountain biking company, which I co-founded last year.

My family members and friends always used to ask me: What do you do for a living? The answer was simple—mountain biking. But after a brief pause of confusion and laughter, the question would come back again: What do you do for a living? Biking simply wasn’t—and in many respects, still isn’t—seen as a practical life choice. It’s difficult to convince everyone, but really important to follow your life’s calling. But the fact that I was always surrounded by diehard mountain biking aficionados like Nirakar Yakthumba and Buntay Panday meant getting into biking was inevitable for me.

What does Gnarly do? What is your role in it?

Well, Gnarly was established by mountain bikers for mountain bikers—noob or pro. We have been quite actively engaged in promoting biking tourism as well as establishing an outdoors culture among the youth. We’ve also organised several races over a short course of time, the next one being the Asian Enduro Series taking place this April in Nagarkot. Each race has been a learning opportunity and we’re committed to organising more international as well as local races in Nepal. With Gnarly, I am mostly in charge of designing races, training kids and guiding bike tourists across the country. It has been tough but worth the struggle to live off what I love doing. Because biking is not work for me, it’s all play!

Tell us more about the Asian Enduro Series.

Enduro is a new kind of biking that has gained a lot of popularity within a few years. It’s a mix of downhill and crosscountry riding styles, where focus is put on stamina as well as technical and sprints, and take place across stages. Since there’ve been no Enduro races taken place in Nepal in the past, we’re hoping to introduce the sport in Nepal with the Asian Enduro Series. It will take place in Nagarkot’s hills and will have seven stages. We’ve been quite busy trying to identify and mark trails for the race, as well as find sponsorship. The other countries that host the series are Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s amazing to see the enthusiasm the local riders and bike companies have shown to make this international race possible. Racers from Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Belgium and India have already registered, along with a handful of local riders. So far, everything is looking sharp and Gnarly is ready to make this quite a spectacle.

What is your take on current scene of mountain biking in Nepal? 

Mountain biking is still in its growing stages in Nepal. When I did my first downhill race, I was using a basic bike. But nowadays, you can see high-end mountain bikes in the market, and the number of participants has increased as well. Even the performance of local athletes as well as the quality and number of bike shops in Nepal have seen marked improvement in the last few years. Yak Attack, considered one of the toughest 

mountain biking races in the world, takes places around the Annapurna Circuit. Likewise, races like Tansen Ultra, HOF, Palpa Urban DH, Kathmandu Bike Fest, Nakhipot Urban XC, Asian Enduro Series and a host of other races have created a vibrant and growing race culture. There is a huge potential for mountain biking in Nepal and undoubtedly, it is posed to grow by leaps and bounds.

Where is Gnarly now and where do you want to take it?

We are putting our full weight on the Asian Enduro Series at the moment, and have a few race ideas for the coming months. It is the first international race we’re hosting. Gnarly is intent in putting Nepal on the forefront of racing, and as the Mecca of biking holiday destination in the world. With Gnarly Squadron, an open group for people of all ages and walks of life to practice their bike handling skills, we want to encourage more youth to hop on the bandwagon. This has to start from school level, which is why we’re working on an inter-school bike race. Girls especially need more attention as the orthodox mentality of our society tends to restrict them from outdoors and adventure. It is sad that there is no more than three professional female mountain bikers in Nepal. 

We’ve also been working on training and promoting athletes and seeking sponsorships for upcoming ones. It’s not easy in any way, but by bringing all the bike companies, government bodies and stakeholders together, we’re adamant on taking mountain biking in Nepal to a whole new level.

Published: 08-03-2016 09:49

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