After a 11 day trek to Everest Base Camp without illness or injuries, I knew I was due for something. So when I felt a slight pop and pain bolt up my left ankle while riding Kathmandu Valley singletrack, I reacted with a sigh and an eye-roll, before crumpling to the ground. Fortunately, my experience with mountain biking in Nepal is much more interesting than how I got my pool-noodle ankle. Let me tell you about my ride and more importantly, the dedicated community of awesome lady mountain bikers I ran into and what they’re doing to empower women in Nepal.
Whenever I have a trip to a new place, I always Google “mountain biking in X-DESTINATION.” For Nepal, I learned about its beautiful multi-day adventures through the Himalayas, why it’s a stop on the Asian Enduro Series, and that for visiting mountain bikers, it’s best enjoyed with a guide who knows the ins-and-outs of getting around the country. It took little convincing for my partner and I to add an extra day after our trek to explore the outer Kathmandu Valley via mountain bikes.
There are a good handful of mountain bike services in Kathmandu but I eventually settled on Himalayan Single Track for having the most informative website, reasonable pricing, and best rental gear selection. Their dedicated efforts to spread the joy of mountain biking and adventure sports to Nepalese women came as an exciting surprise only after I made our reservation.
The part of the ride I got to enjoy was a great mountain bike season opener. Our guide, Roshan, masterfully led us through Kathmandu’s morning traffic to Raniban Forest where we warmed up on a gradual dirt road climb. After reaching a small tea house, he led us up a short, steep nondescript alleyway behind the tea house and boom!— we found ourselves whizzing down some fun trails that overlooked Kathmandu and wove through forest and farmland. Roshan asked us how rowdy we wanted to get, so we chose the steeper and more technical route he knew in that area. Everything was super fun until a few narrow tall-grass steps that I decided to walk. I missed a step and that’s where I had my ankle meltdown. As I always claim, I’m a better biker than walker.
With a little bit of hobbling and a lot of dainty peddling from me, we all made it back to the shop safely in good spirits. There, my day got significantly better. I met Usha Khanal and Roja KC, Nepal’s first female AMGA certified mountain bike guides who you might know from the film Moksha. (I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t yet.) I also got to chat with Jenny Caunt, founder of Himalayan Single Track and Ladies Mountain League. Refreshingly, there were more women working at Himalayan Single Track (4 out of 8, I believe) than I was used to seeing at my local bike shops. From talking to these ladies and some internet sleuthing, I learned more about the shop and its team’s commitment to empowering women in Nepal.
For one, Himalayan Single Track provides the Ladies MTB Library, a collection of well-maintained, modern bikes and gear that any Nepalese lady can borrow for free. The collection is constantly evolving to meet the demands of the local women’s progression. Additionally, the shop regularly hosts women-only rides and skills clinics, which is neat considering other Kathmandu bike shops didn’t seem to offer similar events, even in co-ed format. From looking at Himalayan Single Track’s programming, it’s clear that serving women’s mountain biking needs is a top priority for them, not just an afterthought.
It was a joy to hear Jenny talk about the girls she saw go from their first mountain bike ride to their first race. It was enlightening to learn that a growing number of Nepali women want to race and progress, yet they face the same obstacles that I’ve seen women MTBers in America run into—intimidatingly tight start intervals in enduro, lack of appropriate race categories, difficulty finding development program and other riders with similar goals and motivations. We chatted about several efforts addressing these challenges, from the growing number of women’s-only races to VIDA’s own Rider to Racer program. It was a short chat with Jenny but it felt great to celebrate, commiserate, and brainstorm ideas on how to grow women’s participation in mountain biking and other adventure sports.
I learned a lot on this trip. I learned that Nepal is even more beautiful than any picture of it can impress. It’s breathtaking how it makes you feel small like no where else in the world. Just as inspirational to me as the Himalayan scenery is the small, vibrant group of local women mountain bikers working to grow the sport and community in their country. My experience with Himalayan Single Track taught me that despite differences in environment and culture, women all over the world face similar obstacles to their mountain biking progression. Luckily, they also share the same can-do spirit towards overcoming them. When riding somewhere new, it’s important to learn about and support local efforts to get more women on the trails so that this spirit can multiply and generate better, more sustainable solutions. Because ultimately, making mountain biking more accessible for women, no matter the location, means more women finding confidence and fulfilling their passions, resulting in a better world for everyone. It’s simple. Simpler than walking down tall, grassy steps at least.