Mountain biking Travel Guide

AS A COUPLE
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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.

Cycling to Everest

Although Sagarmatha National Park itself continues to ban mountain bikes, it’ll be possible one day – perhaps very soon – to cycle to the gates of Everest. The traditional approach road to Everest, long paved as far as Jiri, now slips and slides at least as far as Bhandar. East of that, the giant Lamjura pass, with its endless stair of a walking trail, would put off all but the most dedicated of mountain bikers. Other, rough roads are steadily approaching from Dharan and the Arun valley, to the southeast, however, and a well-built new road now approaches from the south. Breaking off the East–West Highway 37km east of the Janakpur turn off, this exciting new option threads north through huge and intensely populated hills to the thriving district capitals of Okhaldunga and Salleri, and to tiny Phaplu airstrip – which is just a few hours’ walk south of the Everest walk-in trail at Junbesi. And Junbesi is just the other side of that huge Lamjura pass … Linking any of these routes as a loop, or with the trek north to the high Everest country, would currently require an off-putting amount of portage, but roads are changing fast in Nepal.

Equipment

Since good (and not-so-good) bikes can be rented in Nepal, you’ll probably be better off not bringing a bike from home unless you plan to do a lot of riding. However, clothing and certain accessories are worth taking with you, especially if you can also use them when trekking or rafting.

Bringing a bike from home

Don’t bring a bike unless you have the time, energy and commitment to use it a lot. Airlines (both international and domestic) now generally impose a 25kg weight limit, with extortionate rates for extra kilos, so check the costs and allowances when you book your ticket – and pack light. The specialist mountain-bike shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara offer reassambly and full servicing. When you return home, make sure to clean off mud or soil to avoid problems at customs; a good local operator can wash, service and pack your bike post-tour. Soft bike bags are worth considering; you’ll be expected to deflate the tyres and swivel the handlebars parallel with the frame. Nepali (and Chinese/Tibetan, if you’re cycling that way) customs may want verbal assurance that the bike will be returning with you when you leave the country, but this shouldn’t be a problem and should not cost money. Domestic airlines’ willingness to accept bikes as baggage is always dependent upon available luggage space, so check in early.

Clothes and other equipment

Other than a helmet and water bottle, no special gear is necessary for day-trips, though enthusiasts may want to pack their own saddle, pedals and shoes, and if you’re cycling in and around Kathmandu you’ll definitely want a proper face mask against dust and pollution. Good (expensive) ones are sold in department stores; the cheaper ones only keep out the worst of the dust, not the dangerous particulates. Cycling clothing, shoes and gloves aren’t easily obtainable in Nepal, nor is good waterproof/windproof outerwear. Note that tight Lycra clothing is embarrassing or offensive to many Nepalis, especially when worn by women, so unless you’re sticking to the main Pokhara or Kathmandu trails, consider a pair of comfortable shorts over body-hugging bike gear.

A helmet and water bottle will come with a better rental bike. If renting a cheaper one, you could buy a helmet in a Kathmandu department store and carry your own water bottle – with something for water purification. Panniers and racks can be rented from the better bike shops, and daypacks and waist-packs are sold all over tourist areas. You can pick up bungee cords in any motorcycle accessory or repair shop.

A good lock and cable are essential, especially if bringing a fancy bike from home. Local bike shops sell cheap, less effective locks. Bring bikes inside at night. Puncture-repair places are everywhere on the roads, but travel with your own patch kit, inner tube(s), pump and basic tool kit, especially if riding off-road.

Renting or buying a bike in Nepal

Chinese- and Indian-made bikes are available from streetside vendors for Rs100–200 per day. Superficially, they look the part – some even have suspension – but they’re heavy and often uncomfortable, components are flimsy, maintenance may be poor, and they rarely come with a helmet. If you find such a bike in a fairly new condition, you could get away with a day-trip or overnight loop but they’re not really fit for rough roads. Don’t ride this kind of bike further than you’re prepared to walk back with it.

For hard or long-distance riding you’ll need a real mountain bike, which can be rented from specialist bike shops/tour operators in Kathmandu and Pokhara (but nowhere else). A helmet and basic tool kit should come with the bike. Chinese-made bikes with V-brakes go for around Rs500 a day, but if you’re doing anything more than pootling about it’s worth paying for a Western bike. Prices range from around Rs1000 for an older hard-tail bike to around Rs2000 for a newer one with dual suspension. You’ll be expected to leave a passport or something of value as security. You’ll generally have to pay for damage or above-normal wear and tear. Be sure to reserve these bikes as far ahead as possible, especially during busy times; choice is definitely limited in the peak season.

Whichever kind of bike you rent, it’s your responsibility to check it over before setting off. Check brakes and pads, test spoke tension (they should all be taut), ensure that tyres have sufficient tread and are properly inflated (check inflation while sitting on the bike), test the chain for tautness, and work the bike through its gears to see that the derailleurs function smoothly. Check that there’s a bell – you’ll be using it a lot.

You may be able to buy a decent used bike from a departing traveller, especially towards the end of the autumn or spring seasons – check mountain-bike shop notice boards in Kathmandu or Pokhara or their websites. Alternatively, you could buy new and sell on yourself: good-quality bikes from manufacturers such as Trek or Commencal can be bought in Kathmandu and Pokhara, at prices similar to home.

Information, books and maps

Bike shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara have up-to-date information on trails and roads, though of course they’re in business mainly to sell tours, and won’t divulge all their secret routes.

There is no dedicated mountain-biking guidebook, but James Giambrione’s Kathmandu Valley Bikes & Hikes gives reasonable if dated coverage of this area. A map is crucial, but shouldn’t be relied upon absolutely – and maps go out of date fast in Nepal. Nepamaps does a 1:50,000 scale Biking Around Kathmandu Valley map, and a 1:75,000 Biking Around Annapurna map, both available in Kathmandu. Coverage of the former extends beyond the valley into the Central Hills, and bike trails are marked, if not always entirely accurately; at the time of writing, the road to Jomosom wasn’t even marked, four years on. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on trekking maps.

Rides around Pokhara

The Pokhara Valley account gives more detail on roads and bikeable destinations in that area. A few recommended itineraries are given below, though you’ll need patience, local advice and good map-reading skills to get the most out of them – hiring a guide is recommended. If you’re planning on biking from Kathmandu to Pokhara, the Prithvi Highway can’t be recommended, because of the volume of trucks and microbuses and other vehicles. It would be better to put your bike on the roof of a bus – or plan an ambitious, multi-day (minimum five days) route via Trisuli Bazaar, Dhading, Gorkha and the Marsyangdi valley.

Phewa Tal loops

A shortish day’s circumnavigation ofPhewa Tal is easily possible, heading out along the north shore and returning via Danda Kot and the World Peace Stupa – the last part takes you downhill along single tracks through the forest, coming out just west of Damside. This loop will take most people around five hours. A more adventurous, slightly longer option heads out across the face of the hillside underneath Sarangkot – but you’ll need a guide to find the mix of 4WD trails and single-track; the longer alternative would be to follow the Sarangkot ridge. To make a really full day-trip, you can extend the loop south of the Peace Stupa down the Seti Nadi.

Sarangkot and beyond

The hilltop viewpoint of Sarangkot makes a great focus for an intermediate-level day-trip or overnight, and one that can be easily done without a guide. From the Bindyabasini temple in the bazaar, follow the paved road 8km westwards to Sarangkot town and lodges, where there’s a junction: the hilltop viewpoint is another 3km along to the right, while the left-hand fork leads towards Naudaada. The first 10km of the Naudaada road contours pleasantly along the south side of the ridge through forest, terraced farmland and villages; at Naudaada you can head back to Pokhara on the busy Baglung Highway. A shorter, but more demanding alternative is to break off the Naudaada road at the saddle of Deurali, then descend steeply on off-road tracks via Kaskiot to Pame, a couple of kilometres west of Pokhara along the lakeshore.

Begnas and Rupa Tal

A fine road, paved only in its earliest sections, follows a ridge between two beautiful lakes, Rupa Tal and Begnas Tal, and then westwards to Besisahar. A network of trails developing in this region can offer one or several days’ riding – enquire at Pokhara bike shops. A fairly tough, long day’s route, involving some carrying, is known as the Begnas Loop: it takes you east of Pokhara (from the Bhadrakali Mandir), along the ridge road past Tiger Mountain Resort to Kalikasthan and Tiwaridanda; from here it’s downhill, heading south on a rough road to Kotbari and Sundari Danda, then back on the partially paved road between Begnas and Rupa Tal. Heading east of Begnas Tal, it’s a 40km three-day rough-road trip through Bhorletar and Sundaari Bazaar on the way to the paved road at Besisahar; from there you could head on up the new road up the Marsyangdi valley (the eastern side of the Annapurna Circuit) or return to Pokhara (with a side trip to Bandipur).

The Annapurna Circuit

Only the most committed mountain bikers take on the full, trekking-style Annapurna Circuit, carrying their bikes across the high pass of the Thorung La. Some tour companies offer the option of plane, bus and mule transport to the top, followed by an incredible downhill, but it’s expensive. If the complete circuit is beyond most people’s reach, it’s increasingly possible to follow either of its arms upwards, then turn around and descend the same way. The eastern side is the more popular. Attractive roads lead to Besisahar, from where you can now cycle up the Marsyangdi Valley all the way to Manang – though you may find yourself carrying your bike for up to a quarter of the ascent. The trip from Pokhara to Manang usually takes 7–10 days. The western side of the circuit is less varied, at first, though new roads being built will soon offer the possibility of a cut-through from Birethanti to Tatopani, via Ghorepani. Currently, however, it’s 90km from Pokhara to Beni, and then a fairly relentless climb along the mostly unpaved 80km road up the Kali Gandaki from Beni to Jomosom. Above Jomosom, dusty, Tibetan-style and relatively flat roads beckon on towards Muktinath (and, with a special permit, Upper Mustang).

No special bike permits are needed for the Annapurna Circuit, but if you are entering the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACAP) you will need a TIMS card and park entry ticket, just as trekkers do.

The Seti Nadi

Unpaved roads head downstream along the churning Seti Nadi, with dramatic overlooks of the canyon and views of the mountains. The road on the south side of the canyon goes on for many easy, downhill miles, and leads to some more remote trails further to the southeast. One good loop from Pokhara follows a trail south from the main road to Chhorepatan, stopping just short of Kristi Nachana Chaur, then turns east to Nirmal Pokhari; from here, you descend to the Seti, crossing at Dobila, below the huge Fulbari Resort – from where it’s a relatively gentle ride up the Seti towards Lakeside.

To the Terai: Chitwan, Lumbini and the Mahendra Highway

The easiest route to the Terai is along the Prithvi Highway to Mugling and then south from there to Narayangadh, which is only a short hop from Chitwan National Park. It does get heavy traffic, but is mostly downhill and you can pedal it in a day.

A more adventurous and strenuous route follows the winding, scenic Siddhartha Highway southwards to Butwal, via Tansen. This ride requires some long stints in the saddle and several overnight stops. It’s a fast downhill ride from Tansen to Butwal, and from there it’s a flat and easy couple of hours to the Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini. An even more adventurous option would be to head west of Pokhara to Baglung, and from there follow the incredible, switchbacking Tamghas Highway south – either looping round southeastwards via Ridi Bazaar to Tansen (it’s 80km from Tamghas to Tansen via Ridi), or continuing south and west from Tamghas via Sandhikarka, on 90km of rough roads, joining the Mahendra Highway at Gorusinge, 48km west of Butwal (and some 10km north of the Buddhist archeological site of Kapilvastu). West of Butwal, the Mahendra Highway leads through a beautiful dun valley towards the relatively undeveloped far west, the traffic lightening as you go.

Cycling in the Terai

From Hetauda, Kathmandu’s gateway to the Terai, it’s a half-day’s ride west along the busy Mahendra Highway to Chitwan National Park, where there are many flat village trails to explore by bike. Moving on to Pokhara requires travelling via Narayanghat and the Prithvi (Kathmandu–Pokhara) Highway – worryingly busy in the mornings, but nonetheless beautiful, especially between Mugling and Pokhara. Another option is just to put your bike on a bus. Heading east out of Hetauda, the Mahendra Highway is sometimes interestingly rural, sometimes rather urbanized, and always flat. There’s a good network of lovely rural tracks around Janakpur.

Rides in the Kathmandu Valley

Kathmandu is not the best place to be based if you’re planning to do much biking around the valley. For rides toward the south, you’ll make a cleaner escape from the traffic by staying in Patan. The highly rideable eastern valley and rim routes are best explored from Bhaktapur, Nagarkot, Dhulikhel or Panauti.

Shivapuri National Park

Shivapuri National Park, which afforests Kathmandu Valley’s northern rim, offers some superb possibilities. The scarcely used network of dirt roads begins right at the Budhanilkantha entrance. The road to the left snakes generally westwards for at least 15km, at which point the hill resort of Kakani is only about 2km further east along the ridge by a trail with some challengingly technical sections (some carrying required). This ride is more enjoyable from Kakani to Budhanilkantha. For a shorter loop starting and ending in Budhanilkantha, ride to the Tokha Hospital and then descend along a steep, sandy road.

The road to the right (east) of the Budhanilkantha gate contours and climbs out of the valley, passing the monastery of Nagi Gompa and reaching the watershed’s easternmost point at Jhule after about 20km. From Jhule you can bike southwards to Nagarkot, or make a jarring, stone-paved descent to the valley floor at Sankhu, a ride of 45 to 60 minutes. Alternatively, you can stay on the park road for another 8km beyond Jhule, rounding the Shivapuri ridge and reaching Chisapani, a village on the main Helambu trekking trail, from where you can cycle the long way to Nagarkot. Along this route, accommodation is available in Mulkharka, Chisopani, Chauki Danda and, of course, Nagarkot.

Nagarjun Ban variations

Nagarjun Ban, an annexe of Shivapuri National Park, offers wilderness-style riding under a beautiful canopy of trees – though there have been a few attacks on tourists, so solo riders are usually prohibited for safety reasons. Seek local advice before committing to the following rides through the park.

Entering via the southern gate, you embark on a challenging 18km ascent on a jeep trail; the last 2km increases in gradient to reach a final elevation of 2096m. The return trip to the north gate is an additional 12km via a less established trail.

A marvellous section of trail leads to Nagarjun’s western entrance from Sitapaila, a village west of Swayambhunath. Contouring high above the Mahesh Khola, this sometimes narrow single-track provides excellent riding for intermediate and advanced riders. The road beyond Ichangu Narayan, a temple northwest of Swayambhunath, links with this trail beyond the village of Baralgaun. Once in the forest park, keep to your left and you’ll come out at the northern gate, on the main road to Kakani.

Another way to get to or from Nagarjun is via Tokha, a well-preserved village reached by trail from the Ring Road at Gongabu. From Tokha you can proceed in a north-northwest arc along excellent undulating dirt trails and through traditional villages all the way to the southern gate. Even if you skip Nagarjun, this is a great day on the bike, and can be extended all the way east through to Budhanilkantha (roughly 1hr 30min from the southern gate).

The Lele Valley

The Bungamati, Chapagaun and Godavari roads provide the backbones for some easy loops through the southern valley (see The square). For something a bit harder and longer, head east from Chapagaun past the Bajra Barahi temple (this track eventually meets the paved Godavari road), then strike south on a smaller road that crosses a steep, forested ridge and enters the Lele Valley. From there, you can choose from a number of trails heading south into little-visited hill country. Just south of Tika Bhairab, a rough road ascends to more than 2000m at Tinpani Bhanjyang before descending via Bhattedanda and Makwanpurgadhi to Hetauda and the Terai. Conditions are highly variable, however, and there’s no bridge over the Bagmati, so you won’t be able to get right through during the monsoon.

The Lakuri Bhanjyang

The 30km road connecting Patan with Panauti is a superb intermediate-level ride that can be done in either direction. From Patan, ride out of town on the road past Sundhara and the Eastern Stupa. The first section to Lubhu, a brick-making and hand-loom centre 6km beyond the Ring Road, is busy and uninteresting, but the pavement soon peters out and the road climbs as a jeep track before commencing a serious 500m switchback ascent to the Lakuri Bhanjyang. On a clear day, the view of the valley and mountains is splendid. The second half of the ride is a sweet descent through the rural valley of the Bebar Khola and its scattered Tamang, Chhetri and finally Newar settlements to Panauti, where you can spend the night. From there you can link up with Dhulikhel and Namobuddha area rides, on paved or dirt roads.

Around Nagarkot

From Nagarkot the options before you are almost unlimited. Rough roads and trails radiate in all directions: northwest to Sankhu; southwest to Changu Narayan; south to Nala and Banepa; east to Hiuwapati, Sipaghat and Panchkhal; and north to Chisopani and the Helambu trails. However, there are endless forks, many of which lead to dead ends or treacherous descents, so don’t bike alone.

Unless you’re a very strong rider, the ascent to Nagarkot will probably be all you care to do in a day, and in any case you’ll want to spend the night for the views the next morning. Most bike tour operators run popular two-day trips, including transportation up, an overnight stay, and the amazing descent back to the Kathmandu Valley, taking more pleasant back roads.

Dhulikel, Namobuddha and Panauti

Dhulikel is the traditional starting point of a very popular circuit to the Buddhist stupa of Namobuddha and (optionally) on to the Newar town of Panauti. Panauti is perhaps the better starting point nowadays, given the increasing urbanization around Dhulikhel. There is also the so-called Namobuddha circuit, which offers several hours of biking.

The Arniko Highway to the Tibet border

The Arniko Highway from Kathmandu to the Tibet border at Kodari is an adventurous three- to five-day round-trip. The road gets much quieter and better for cycling after heavy traffic turns off at Dhulikhel for the southward road to Sindhuli, Bardibas and the Terai – so consider approaching via Nagarkot, Nala or across the Lakuri Bhanjyang. From Dhulikhel, the Arniko Highway descends 600m and then ascends more than 800m to the border. You can make a fascinating side trip by making uphill off the main highway to Palanchowk, the gateway to further rides down to the Sun Koshi River.

If you want to cross the border on a bike, you’ll have to join a tour. Some companies offer adventurous excursions into and back out of Tibet, notably the so-called “Longest Downhill”, an eleven-day round-trip from Kathmandu that allows you to spend time in Lhasa before you begin the epic drop from Yarle Shungla (Tibet) to Dolaghat (Nepal) – 4380m over 157km.

Trisuli, Kakani and Nuwakot

The Trisuli Road heads northwestwards out of the Kathmandu valley, skirting the hill station of Kakani before plunging nearly 1500m to Trisuli Bazaar and the subtropical valley of the Trisuli River. Kakani is usually considered an overnight ride, since it has (limited) accommodation and mountain views that are best seen in the morning. A tough alternative route to Trisuli avoids the main vehicle road altogether, taking you steeply up through the northwestern side of Shivapuri National Park, over the watershed, then along flatter or descending sections of rough track for about 30km, before a tough final 500m ascent to Nuwakot, perched above Trisuli Bazaar. From Trisuli, rural roads and tracks extend for miles in several directions: east to the historic forts of Nuwakot and beyond, south and then east up the Tadi Khola, west up the lovely Samari Khola towards Gorkha, and north up to the Langtang trailheads.

The Tribhuwan Rajpath

The spectacular and little-used Tribhuwan Rajpath racks up a total elevation gain of more than 1700m from Kathmandu to a cloud-forested pass through the Mahabharat Lek, before descending an even more dizzying 2300m to the Terai.

For a classic two-days-plus loop out of Kathmandu, make for Daman a mountain viewpoint just below the pass. It’s a very long day’s ride up the Rajpath, taking between six and nine hours in the saddle, almost all of it climbing. Even if you’re an expert you’ll want to skip the first traffic-choked, oil-slicked 26km – put your bike on a bus as far as Naubise, where the Rajpath branches off from the main Kathmandu–Pokhara highway. After overnighting in Daman, you can return via Markhu, the Kulekhani Reservoir and Pharping in the southern Kathmandu Valley.

Dakshinkali, Pharping and the Kulekhani Reservoir

The sealed Dakshinkali road strings together some fascinating cultural sights and while the ride out is largely uphill, it’s gradual. The return, of course, is a fine descent. You can explore further – potentially as far as the Terai – on one of two roads (see Cycling in the Terai). The major route, now used by jeeps almost year-round, heads south from the Dakshinkali gate, making for Hetauda – 60km in all from Kathmandu.

The slightly longer and rougher road is better for bikers. It heads broadly west and uphill from Pharping, making for the dam on the Kulekhani Reservoir. From here you can take the road north along the eastern shore to Markhu (1600m), a small, newly built village (with lodges) at the reservoir’s northern extremity. From Markhu, a rough spur road heads northeast for Thankot, on the Prithvi Highway; a longer but better-graded route heads 13km northwest on a good, pine-shaded road to join the Tribhuwan Rajpath 15km north of Daman. From the dam, you can also climb a 1920m pass on the Mahabharat Lek range and head down a steep valley to the historic but now pleasantly sidelined town of Bhimphedi (where there’s more accommodation); from Bhimphedi, a paved road descends to join the Tribhuwan Rajpath at Bhainse, some 8km north of Hetauda, in the Terai.

Route-finding and timing

Little English is spoken in the rural areas that are best for riding, so it’s good to learn how to ask directions in Nepali.

Don’t point when asking directions, as many people will say yes out of courtesy, even if they don’t know – it’s better to put your hands in your pockets and ask “Which way to?” Do this several times to be sure you’ve got the right answer. Don’t ask how far it is to a given destination – rather, ask how long it takes to get there. The answer will be a rough walking time in hours; you’ll somehow have to convert that to riding time. With so many gradients and variable road conditions, distances on the map bear little relation to actual time.

Tours and cycling independently

Like trekking, mountain biking can be done independently or as part of a tour – which can simply mean teaming up with a guide and perhaps a couple of other clients for a day or more. With mountain biking, the specialized equipment involved and the difficulty of route-finding makes tours an attractive option.

Cycling independently

Cycling independently takes a certain pioneering spirit and a greater tolerance for discomfort. It’s up to you to rent or bring your own equipment and to arrange food and accommodation; if starting from Kathmandu, you’ll need to organize transport out of the city or else put up with some ugly traffic. You’ll definitely make mistakes finding your own way, which might mean spending more time than you’d intended, getting lost or having to backtrack, or spending more time on trafficky paved roads and less time on trails. However, you’ll have more direct contact with local people than you would with a group.

Day-trips in the Kathmandu and Pokhara valleys are the easiest to do on your own, since you can rent bikes in both cities. Though you probably won’t find the more obscure trails, you’ll no doubt stumble upon others. If you’re riding long-distance without vehicle support, you’ll have to tote your own gear and may find yourself spending nights in primitive lodges where little English is spoken. This will be par for the course if you’re on a long tour of the subcontinent, though, and the going is certainly easier in Nepal than in India: the roads, for the most part, are less busy, and there’s less staring, hassling and risk of theft.

Organized tours

An organized bike tour will save lots of pre-departure time and headaches, and maximize the chances that all will go more or less according to plan. The itinerary will be well planned, avoiding the dead ends and wrong turns that inevitably come with a self-organized trip. Decent bikes and all the necessary gear will be provided, and guides will take care of maintenance and on-the-spot repairs. Guides can also show you trails you’d never find on your own, keep you off (dangerous) paved roads and help interpret Nepali culture. On longer tours, a “sag wagon” will tote heavy gear, provide emergency backup, and whisk you past the busier or less interesting stretches of road.

A one-day guided trip will typically cost around $35–50, including bike hire, while longer excursions including vehicle support and accommodation work out at more like $120 per day. Generally, you get what you pay for – and it’s worth checking exactly what you’re getting. Many overseas companies offer mountain-bike tours, but almost all are actually organized by a few operators in Kathmandu, and you can save money by booking directly with them. They usually require a minimum of four people for vehicle-supported tours, but shorter customized trips can be organized for just one or two people. Pokhara also has some good mountain-bike shops which double as tour operators.

When to go

If you have a choice, go for October to December, when there’s not much rain and visibility is good. It gets gradually cooler but never gets very cold at biking elevations – in fact, even in December and January the days can be sunny and even warm anywhere up to about 3000m, though snow may occasionally be encountered as low as 2000m.

December and January are also the most comfortable months for cycling in Pokhara and the Terai. The shortening days are a factor, though: by December you’ll need to be off the roads or trails by 4.30pm or so.

From January to March the days lengthen and grow warmer. This too is a good time for biking. In April, May and the first part of June, the weather keeps getting hotter, the road conditions dustier, the air hazier – and afternoon showers become more common. On the plus side, you can take advantage of long daylight hours. The monsoon (mid-June to late Sept) is hot and damp; the mountains are usually hidden by clouds, and the trails are wet or muddy. This is prime riding time in Tibet and Mustang, however, both of which are shielded from the rains by the Himalayas.

Another seasonal consideration is the race calendar. Events run by different mountain-bike companies are held throughout the year, but some have a serious international profile. Yak Attack, organized by Dawn Till Dusk, usually takes place in early March, and takes serious competitors from Kathmandu west via Nuwakot and Gorkha (off the main roads) towards an incredible crossing of the Thorung La pass, in the Annapurna range. The Trans Nepal race, in December, follows a 5-day route on 4WD trails from Kathmandu to Pokhara.

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Rough Guides Editors
8/29/2020
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