Downhill cycling is not your evening stroll. It is one of the riskiest adventure sports demanding utmost stamina, concentration and investment besides approval from your wife. Living catches up with three inspirational current and former downhill champions who have represented Nepal in various international downhill meets.
Height: 5’ 6
Weight: 62 kg
DH Bike: Commencal Meta AM, National DH Rider in year 2013, Director of Switchback MTB
Bruised arms and shin besides a dented helmet gives away his profession. Former national downhill champion Shyam Limbu is also now preoccupied with organizing racing events and training young female cyclists, and equally determined to get back on the podium.
For Limbu, downhill was a pure stroke of luck. “My passion in the sport dates back to my days as the Manager of Life Cycle Resort, Hetauda,” shares Limbu. “After seeing all the biking action at the resort, I was inspired to follow suit and purchased my first mountain bike, a Chain Jomson, in 2009.” He feels lucky to have ridden with riders like Nirakar Yakthumba and Buntay Panday, who paved his path to professional downhill biking. But it was not until a couple of years later that, upon taking a nasty fall on Hattiban’s trail, he would be encouraged to purchase a full-fledged downhill bike: a Commencal Meta AM.
“It’s funny how people tend to think that just by buying a fancy bike you can become a professional rider. It took me countless training hours, never mind crashes upon crashes, to accomplish what little I have till now.” Nonetheless, within four months of hard training on his new Commencal, Limbu bagged fourth position in the Chain DH Championship in 2011, and eventually mastered his trade to become a part of the national cycling team in 2013.
It’s obvious that Limbu is living his dream job. “I get to travel to places on my bicycle, my favorite fix being Lubra Valley near Manang. The bumpy trails are fabulous for all-mountain bikes with just the right section of climb and a ton of downhill sections crisscrossing through surreal desert landscape.” Limbu cautions that proper stamina, fitness and skill is required to enjoy downhill rides. “Though my wife and friends have been very supportive in my pursuit of downhill biking, it’s funny how they shut their eyes when I make a jump or a drop!” Limbu chuckles. Many have a hard time comprehending how riding bicycles can help you earn a living, but it was a matter of zeal and commitment that led Limbu to turn a hobby into a full-time profession.
“There have been ups and downs in life. But whose hasn’t?” says a belligerent Limbu. “I haven’t had the time and resources to sustain my biking lately as I’m mainly focused on guiding, coaching and organizing events. But I plan to change that and reclaim my downhill lifestyle and a state of mind very soon!”
Suraj “Buntay” Panday
Height: 5’ 11
Weight: 75 kg
DH Bike: Commencal Meta SX
National DH Rider in year 2009, Director of Life Cycle Nepal
The most passionate downhill rider in town Suraj “Buntay” Pandey is also the first ever downhill champion of Nepal. Every weekend and opportunity finds Buntay driving off to serene hill tops on his fearsome Animal, a modified red Hilux, to decimate steep trails on a Commencal Meta MX bike.
Buntay has only one lamentation: downhill biking didn’t start in Nepal early enough. Having studied and lived abroad for more than a decade, Buntay came back to Nepal in mid-2000 and has since been involved rigorously in the downhill scene. “When I first came here, downhill biking had only just started,” Buntay recalls. “After tagging along with enthusiasts, I was immediately bitten by the bug. I managed to squeeze in time for my hobby which eventually grew on me, and I found myself racing professionally.” Buntay won the first national Downhill Championship and went on to represent Nepal in Asian Downhill Championship in South Korea.
The loving husband and a father of two, doubles as the CEO of IT company Finaccess, perfectly exemplifying how work, family and an undying passion can be balanced. I am grateful to my family members who are very supportive of my passion and their blessing has taken me this far. “My wife and kids come to events to watch me race and that certainly gives my confidence a boost,” says Buntay. “I like to work hard and play hard, and play for me is mostly mountain biking.” Not to mention, weekends see him driving off with fellow young downhill riders within the valley and to other exotic locations. “I need a robust machine to ferry me to the top of the trails, and my Hilux does just that,” Buntay shares. “It climbs the steepest and rockiest of trails, even the ascent to the scarcely inhabited Icchakamana by Phisling, one of my favorite biking spots, is a breeze for the Animal.”
As Nepal gains its due reputation as a mountain biking Mecca, Buntay says he is more eager to support young promising riders in the sport. “That’s why I love riding with them, so I can share my knowledge and learn from them too!” No wonder, downhill riders love his company and admire his support. “From all my years of riding, I can tell you it’s important to train well and not get ahead of yourself. Take it slow and you’ll definitely excel.” Buntay’s passion, enthusiasm and achievement in the sport clearly give out the message to newcomers that age is, in fact, just a number.
Height: 5’ 9
Weight: 70 kg
DH Bike: Intense Carbine
National DH Rider in year 2014, Director of El Yak MTB
After ranking 2nd in National Downhill Championship 2014 (despite sustaining a crushing back injury a few months prior to that), Mangal Lama shook the industry by becoming the only professional cyclist to race in the national cross-country and the national downhill teams.
Lama’s biking journey is nothing less than humbling, right from his bicycle mechanic days in 2006. Earning a meager Rs. 500 month, barely enough to last even a week, he climbed up ranks to become an assistant biking guide by the end of the year. Determined, Lama followed a rigorous training regimen that quickly paid off when he started making podium finishing in races. It came quick, but it certainly didn’t come easy. “I remember setting out on long bike rides with hardly any money. I had to survive on cheura (beaten rice) most of the early training days,” Lama remembers nostalgically. “There were times when I puked from overtraining. I was even knocked out cold and I bled from my ears when a truck ran me over.” But his deep-rooted passion in mountain biking was what kept him going. And before he knew it, Lama was selected for the national cross-country team that took him to more international races than he can count.
Nonetheless, downhill came much later, and as a matter of fact, with more bang than he bargained for. After watching Downhill Championships in 2012 in Hattiban, Lama says he was obsessed on becoming a professional downhill biker. Trading his cross-country bikes for a more advanced dual-suspension Intense Carbine, his downhill chapter began and as with his cross-country journey, was catapulted to the top in no time. In 2014, he went on to rank second in the National Championship despite sustaining a severe back injury. “My wife is fine with my profession. That’s probably because she doesn’t know the risks involved,” says Lama. “I make up stories about the occasional cuts and bruises I come back home with,” he laughs.
Lama harbors a formidable intensity of a downhill rider and an impeccable stamina of a cross-country cyclist, which has made him an urban legend of sorts in the biking community. Now with a hefty and deserved sponsorship lined up, he looks forward to set many more downhill trails in Nepal and abroad on fire. And ranking second in last month’s Himachal Downhill Race in Manali, India, he is just at the start of what is assured to be a bright future.
Palpa Urban Downhill Race
The picturesque hill town of Tansen, Palpa - just six hours drive west of Kathmandu - is gearing up to host a mountain biking spectacle never before seen in Nepal’s history. Organized by Switchback MTB, Palpa Urban Downhill Championship is a downhill showdown like none other. Adrenaline and thrill will take over the otherwise restive and calm town. The 2.4km route takes participants through the fresh greenery of Srinagar all the way down to the market through narrow alleys, rocky steps, tight turns and everything in this historic town.
“While downhill races have formerly only taken place in natural trails of either Shivapuri and Hattiban in Kathmandu, urban downhills take the course through inhabited town with steps, paved descents and cobbled alleyways - all of which make for an amazing experience!” maintains organizer Shyam Limbu from Switchback MTB.
Besides professional Nepalese cyclists, as many as a dozen international riders are flying in from Thailand, India, Australia, Bhutan and other countries to race in Palpa Urban DH. “The course has been meticulously designed by downhill riders in conjunction with Nepal Cycling Association,” adds Limbu. “Safety has been given priority and we definitely hope this event will propel mountain biking scene in Nepal.”
Though participation is exclusive to professional riders with previous race experience, the Palpa Urban DH welcomes non-cyclist and recreational spectators to witness the urban downhill event. Various hiking, sightseeing and cross-country cycling packages to discover the beautiful Tansen city (including the lovely Rani Mahal) are on offer. Accommodation will be either in Palpali Chhen, Srinagar Hotel or tented camps with barbeque parties for relaxing evenings. Make this the perfect excuse to escape the city and set off on a weekend out with near and dear ones to Tansen! Shuttle service from Kathmandu to Pokhara and back will be provided for convenience.
Organized with a vision to develop cycling as a healthy and mainstream recreational sport, Palpa Urban DH also seeks to promote domestic and international tourism in Tansen. Switchback welcomes all professional cyclists as well as families and friends to witness this phenomenal race. Limbu ecstatically states, “Switchback will definitely keep the mountain biking community and Tansen on its toes with Palpa Urban DH Race. Rest assured, the event will blow your mind!”
For more information, log on to: www.switchbacknepal.com