Electric bike adventures in Nepal
In May this year, our e-bike dealer in Pyrmont, Jake Southall of Sydney Electric Bicycles invited one of the Glow Worm mob to test out some electric conversion kits on mountain bikes in the hilliest place in the world - the Nepalese Himalaya. This crazy proposition was taken up by me with some apprehension. After all not only is the terrain more killer than Koscuiszko, the electricity supply is intermittent at best. Nonetheless the lure of adventure overwhelmed all rational doubts and the three of us (Jake's good friend Nick came along) set off with our oversized luggage containing a mountain bike each, minus a wheel, to Kathmandu.
We had arranged for three different kits to be sent to Kathmandu by each of the three different manufacturers. Thankfully Peter of HMB Adventures kindly agreed to receive the kits and allowed us to use his well-equipped workshop. However fitting three different kits that we hadn't packed ourselves to three different mountain bikes proved no mean feat, and it was 2 days before our bikes were fully ready to ride, equipped with the amazingly strong Freeload pannier racks (a great Kiwi invention for dual suspension mountainbikes), and 100% waterproof Ortlieb pannier bags. In addition we had a GoPro helmet camera, a seatpost mounted camera, and an iPhone handlebar mount to catch plenty of exciting footage. The kits we were testing out were the Canadian BionX, with regenerative braking capabilities, the new Daahub kit by Wisper, and of course the legendary eZeebike conversion kit.
Out first leg was the highway from Kathmandu to Pokhara and HMB Adventures organised two trusty young guides on a motorbike to make sure things went smoothly on that 3-day chaotic and treacherous route. Ironically, for all its chaos and busyness, I felt no more danger on this highway than on a a typical Sydney road. The drivers in trucks and cars are used to having a mix of different vehicles (scooters, motorbikes, bicycles) on the road weaving around each other, and don't have a sense of exclusive entitlement to the road. At first we felt like the constant beeping was aimed at us, but then grew used to the fact that beeping is simply a way of warning other drivers and riders of one's own presence. None of the truck drivers showed impatience at cyclists ahead of them, or tried anything stupid or dangerous around us.
The weather was far hotter than we imagined. We moved slowly and steadily along the highway taking sugar-water stops when needed. On our second night we finished a 70km ride with an enormous ascent - 600 metres over 8 kilometres. In the midday heat with the weight we were carrying we felt that this would be the ultimate test of our conversionkits and bikes. Amazingly nothing went wrong with any of the kits, and no one ran out of batteries! Unfortunately about 1.5kms from the top I ran out of my first battery and needed rescuing as my second battery had gone up ahead with the guides on the motorbike. We were rewarded by the beauty of our destination - Bandipur, a car-free oasis where in the morning we caught our first glimpse of the Himalayan peaks.
In Pokhara we rested and took in the lake scenery and a stunning view of the Fishtail, a striking peak that is forbidden to climb. Our next destination was Jomsom, which we reached in a small plane filled with Indian pilgrims. We managed to stuff the bikes into the tiny luggage hold, and enjoyed the most thrilling plane ride any of us had experienced. Jomsom is 2700metres up and we were feeling a bit short of breath. The next day we were feeling fresh and started a big climb to Muktinarth, where there is a famous temple. The ride was steep and windy and we were thankful for our electric motors. Most of all we were thankful for our sunglasses which saved our eyes from the windswept dust blowing in our faces. We passed some idyllic villages with solar cookers and mud architecture before reaching Muktinarth, 3700 metres up. The next day we gave our bikes a rest and went on foot to a pass with spectacular views, unfortunately shrouded in cloud at this time.
Our favourite day was the epic descent from Muktinarth, at 3700 metres, to Tatopanni (hot springs) at 900 metres. The weather was perfect and the view of the majestic Himalaya followed us the whole way. Fortunately this was a strike day, which meant no vehicles except bicycles were allowed on the road! The change in landscape as we changed altitude was amazing, ranging from dry dusty and treeless mountains to lush valleys with bamboo and waterfalls, finally ending in hot springs where all our muscle soreness miraculously disappeared. This road was the ultimate test of out bikes, with constant bumping over rocky tracks, river crossings and sand. Again, our electric kits powered on without a hitch, with our problems being all mechanical (flat tyres, bent disc rotors, nuts and bolts rattling loose, broken gear cables, brake bleeds, and all things you might expect when exposing your bike to unfair levels of abuse).
Riding back into Pokhara was also a strike day, which may be a nuisance for some people but for the young people it's like a celebration. Now they can come out and play soccer, cricket or simply hang out in the streets without having to worry about giving way to the endless cars. In fact it's not just young people, whole families are out enjoying the freedom and fresh air of a car-free day. The atmosphere is like a festival. It's amazing that we give up the possibility of our cities being like this everyday, just for the sake of our cars.
We took a bus back to Kathmandu, and immediately escaped the city for one last 3-day ride on our trusty electric bikes. I won't bore you with how fun it was going through Nagarkot and almost reaching the Tibetan Border but for the mud, but suffice to say our trip was a success. Despite my initial concerns about charging our batteries, we were able to charge without problem every night (power cutouts are routine, but the power always came on for long enough to charge at night). Even though we left our bikes in a downpour one night, and rode through mud and rivers, the only waterproofing problem we encountered was with the Cycle Analyst, a proprietary item we were provided with to record distances and battery use etc. Unfortunately we had to ditch the Analyst due to water ingress, but our kits were unharmed.
This was the first trip of its kind in Nepal, and we would like to thank all the helpful people atHMB Adventures for their open-mindedness toward the project. Also thanks to Jake from SEBfor organising the crazy trip, and Nick for his foolish but well-rewarded faith in us and our electric bikes. Last but not least a big thanks to BionX, Daahub and eZeebike for logistical support in freighting the kits and batteries to the ends of the earth. We hope that we have demonstrated that if electric bikes can be used in the Himalaya, they can most certainly be used without a problem in the city!