The best way to see Nepal, it has long been said, is to walk. Nowadays, however, mountain biking is a serious alternative. Decent mountain bikes are available to rent in Kathmandu and Pokhara, where you’ll also find good route information and well-organized tours. Even if you’re not planning an extreme off-road Himalayan MTB adventure, renting a bike is worth considering: bikes provide a more intimate experience than a speeding jeep or bus and they get you to places at a more exciting pace than trekking.
Despite Nepal’s Himalayan mystique, it’s not all steep: the Kathmandu Valley’s slopes are generally easy, and the Terai is just plain flat. The longer and more scenic routes do tend to require a high level of fitness, and there are monster ascents (and descents) for those who relish that sort of thing, but there are also plenty of relaxed village-to-village rambles and downhill rides. Mountain bikes are pretty much the only option: even major roads, where you could otherwise get away with a hybrid or robust tourer, have frequent potholes and damaged sections.
The itineraries here are grouped as being out of either Kathmandu or Pokhara, since those are the only places where you can rent a decent mountain bike. They also offer many of the best routes, as tour operators and bike-shop gurus are continually pioneering new off-road rides. On the downside, traffic is becoming a serious problem near cities. In the Kathmandu Valley, especially, what was once a pleasant ride may now be choked and frightening. It’s always best to seek the latest information locally from someone in the know.
The pace of road construction, meanwhile, is producing an exponential increase in the possibilities. Many roads are no longer the one-way spurs they have been until very recently, making it possible to create exciting long loops, or find enticing back-routes between, say Kathmandu and Pokhara, or Trisuli and Gorkha. It would also be quite possible to devise some incredible long-distance itineraries within Nepal, exploring well beyond the bounds of this chapter. If riding further afield than the Pokhara or Kathmandu valleys, seek expert advice (ask in a bike shop), find the most up-to-date map possible – and even then, treat any map with a degree of scepticism. Rough roads become paved, trails turn into rough roads, and roads get longer (or shorter, after a bad monsoon) every season.