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Wow, what a half-year its been. My blog has been neglected what with the launch of our cycling magazine and we’re already into our sixth issue. Hopefully now the groundwork has been laid, I will be able to get back to this blog but do take a gander at our mag, if you’re into cycling.

http://issuu.com/crankwithprocycle/docs/crank_with_procycle_-_july_15th

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Gary in conversation with yours truly (thanks to Nilesh Dhumal for taking the pic)

Yesterday, I headed down to local bike shop BumsontheSaddle, thrilled at the prospect of meeting the man who invented mountain biking – Gary Fisher.

Gary was in town on a Trek-Firefox tour to promote bicycling in India and I grabbed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pick his brain.

In a freewheeling chat, this is what he had to say on life in the 70s, bike technology and the two-wheeled, engineless machine.

You were part of the Marin County crew which first ‘invented’ the sport of mountain biking and then went on to change the world. Tell us about those exciting times.

Oh we were just a bunch of guys who met by accident. Back in the day, I actually lived in a little house which was actually the outhouse of The Grateful Dead. Used to work with them (and also with Jefferson Airplane). Good times indeed. Some of the guys have gone on to big things while the others still hang out in the neighbourhood. I don’t get to see them very often since I’m always travelling but yeah it was great. We didn’t plan on changing the world. We just found something we liked to do. We slapped fat tyres on old pre WWII frames and customised them to make them go downhill. I built the first one for my old buddy Charlie (Kelly) and soon everybody wanted one. We didn’t plan it, it just sort of happened.

Those were the times of the draft?

Oh yeah man. People did all sorts of things to avoid the draft. Some of them pretended to be cuckoo. Some of them went and tried to get weird diseases. I knew a guy who just didn’t show up. Two years later he was called up and sentenced. His punishment – a year of service in a local school. Not bad at all, huh. The next stop on this tour is Vietnam and it’ll be my first time. I’m very excited about that.

Your most recent area of interest has shifted from the competitive aspect of bicycling to ‘utility’ cycling. Tell us more about that.

Utility cycling is what we need if we’re going to change the world. Once upon a time people were purely recreational cyclists and weren’t too keen on commuting by bicycle. That’s changed a lot. I see a lot of 20 and 30-somethings saying, “Hang on. I don’t want to drive a car and be stuck in traffic. I want to be able to cut down my time in traffic and here’s something I can do.”

What has your experience of urban Indian bicycling been like?

Well I can tell you that its probably a lot better than the US. While there is a lot of chaos in these parts, traffic isn’t very fast moving so there is comparatively less danger to cyclists. I think there is a lot of potential for people to commute by bicycle.

In India we find people less receptive to the ‘green’ argument and more receptive to a cost-benefit proposition (cost of a bike vs. cost of a car + fuel + interest, etc.). In your experience what’s the most compelling argument while trying to get people onto a bike?

I don’t think there’s a single argument actually. We need to help people understand that there are many benefits to biking even beyond making a greener planet and cutting fuel bills. The most compelling bit surrounds that of your health and if that isn’t self-interest then nothing is.

On the subject of bicycles and health.

You know its amazing how unfit people are. The health benefits of cycling are tremendous. In the US, healthcare is incredibly expensive and everybody (except the very wealthy) absolutely has to depend on health insurance. There is way too much pressure on the public healthcare system. Interestingly, the biggest supporters of bike rides and bicycle transport happen to be hospitals. This is because they understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. If you think there’s a large cycling population abroad, it isn’t true. In the US, only 1% of the population regularly rides a bike i.e. more than once a week. This just shows how much progress there is still to be made. People need to know what a difference it can make to their lives. In my case, at my age (62) I still bike a lot. One of the big advantages of this is that it allows me to indulge in whatever food I want to (and I love good food). I can really load up after a bike ride and know it doesn’t affect my health.

Whats your take on the traditional 26er and the advent of new wheel sizes?

The 26er was a complete accident. It was quite simply, the only wheel size onto which we could graft a large cross-section tyre so we could take a bike offroad. The 29er was more a matter of convenience. For a long time we had wanted a larger wheel size which could roll over rocks easily. I remember getting to the top of one of the trails in Colorado and finding rocks so big, we’d have loved to have had a 12 foot wheels to roll over it all (Haha!). The 29er came about simply using wide-section mountain bike tires on a roadbike rim. This year the 650B is the most talked about innovation in bicycles. While its been around for a while, its really taken off now. However, it’ll still take a few years for manufacturers to catch on and start providing components specifically for it. None of these will replace the 26er though and over time, as newer bike sizes and components get introduced, the 26er will sink in cost and become ever more affordable (since it’ll be less fashionable).

Logan Bingelli came third in the Red Bull Rampage this year on a KHS 650B downhill bike. How will this affect demand for 650s?

Yes, he did and it will definitely stir up more interest in it. However, not enough to really constitute proper demand. In the US if there are 15,000 guys on a 26er and 1,500 on a 29er, there will probably be less than 15 on a 650B. It’ll take time for that to change.

Since most of the wheel sizes were developed accidentally (or incidentally) over time in a pre-computerised era, is there now research into what is mathematically an ideal size for various conditions? Can you tell us about it?

Yes indeed there is a lot of research going into it. Can’t really talk about it however (confidential).

You’ve been quoted as saying one of the biggest challenges to mountain biking lies in shifting technology. Why is that? 

Well, when we came up with the mountain bike, the first innovation we came up with was a shifter that was placed on a handlebar. However, there really is a lot of work to be done on the derailleurs themselves. There is tremendous stress on that part of a bike. While this doesn’t matter to some riders who just pick a brand new bike every year or two and to professionals (who have sponsored bikes), it is a very expensive proposition to regular people. It simply costs too much to keep replacing parts of the drivetrain.

We’ve been working with developing electronic shifting systems and, to me, this is the future. People want to enjoy their rides and concentrate on ride quality and not having to worry about shifting is one less distraction on a ride. This will hopefully also lead to more long-lasting drivetrains.

But doesn’t the very concept of ‘long-lasting’ fly in the face of the throw-away-and-replace philosophy which drives most big businesses? I mean, isn’t it contradictory to manufacturers’ philosophy which is to keep people coming back to buy more?

I personally think something should be built to last. I think we will have more people on bikes if we could make it more affordable and less hassle to maintain bikes. I constantly push and challenge the guys at Shimano and SRAM to make quality drivetrains which both perform and last. Its only a matter of time before we get there.

We just had the first UCI-certified mountain biking event in India last weekend, including the first international 4X championship. What will it take to bring competitive mountain biking to India in a big way?

Well I think there are a lot of steps being taken in the right direction. There are more riders around these parts and there’s a lot of international interest in nascent markets such as India. I am pretty sure that competitive mountain biking is going to take off in a big way. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in 5 to 10 years, India plays host to a World Cup Downhill race.

Hummmmmmm………

April, 2009: Walking across the arid rocks in Hampi. The dust billows around me and the boulders radiate heat. We’re headed for Endless Bliss or Little Rock or something of the sort. Can’t remember which – there is an endless expanse of climbing possibility in every direction. I step down off a rock. Pain lances through the sole of my foot and I scream. Lift up my heel and try to pull my chappal off. Can’t! A 3-inch thorn has ensured that its nailed to my foot. Blood drips onto the dust…

Hummmmmmm………

2007: I’m standing in the kitchen of my apartment in London. Pots and pans are strewn all over the place. I open the oven to check the baking tray. I forget I don’t have mitts on and I grab the tray. Burn….

Hummmmmmm………

Any number of times in my life: I walk through a doorway. My arm whacks the frame. Elbow makes contact. Shock rockets up my arm. Its electric. I can’t feel a thing for the next 5 minutes.

Hummmmmmm………

June 2012: I’m coming down the dirt track, taking a curve at Turahalli. I take a tight line. Only air beneath me. Roll, roll, roll….. Get up. Crumple in pain.

Hummmmmmm………

September 2005: I’m walking through the clouds which have tolled up the hill in Mussoorie. Its beautiful, cool and silent and I’m lost in thoughts. A few hours later I curl up into a foetal ball and cry, wishing the world would invent a cure for kidney stones.

Hummmmmmm………

Sweat breaks out on my forehead and drips down into my eyes. I stare at the wall in front of me. Alex tattoos – a poster with a design which I study intently. I watch the lines unfold in a polynesian design. I see designs within the design. I stare at a stain on the wall. I look at my toes and watch them climb up the wall. I breathe deeply.

I do anything to take my mind off the needle buzzing through the skin on the back of my hand. Anything to take my mind off the pain – every kind of pain I’ve ever experienced, all rolled into a series of experiences over the course of 3 inches of skin, bone and nerve. Anything to ensure I don’t jerk my hand away while he works.

Why, oh WHY, did I choose to do something as idiotic as this, on what is considered the most painful part of the body to tattoo?!?!

I look across at The Better Half and I see the same range of emotions cross her face.

I look at the cl0ck.

It reads 7:05. Its just been 5 minutes!

How will I last the whole two hours?

Last ride

Hangin’ out at the top of the rock shortly before…

A few days after the last ride which I wrote about, I headed back to Turahalli to shake off some rust, practice my new downhilling skills and also give my new Marzocchi a chance to open up a bit.

Day 1 went off pretty well and I was really starting to enjoy the freedom that a 140mm fork affords you. A freedom that can only be appreciated if you’re jumping up the chain from a base-level xc fork.

Day 2 saw me without riding buddies and this is usually considered inadvisable particularly when downhilling well out of town. But, me being stubborn and obsessed, I decided to head out by myself, having told a friend that I would be there.

Landed up there and started hitting the run pretty decently. In fact, I was stoked. The lines were unfolding and flowing, my new tires gripped like a mangle and I felt like I was riding a whole new bike. I wasn’t even trying and yet I could feel each run getting quicker. I was starting to pump the fork, jump little rocks and use the sidewalls of the trail as a berm, whenever I could. In short, it was a heckuva rush.

At some point I got a call from a friend saying he’d like to join me there but that it would take some time. I’d already done the usual two or three rides and section-wise practice and was ready to head home in a bit. But, I was feeling pretty good and decided to hang around till he arrived. I rode a bit, then climbed to the top of the run and caught a nap on the rock with a number of kites within striking range.

Life was great!

The friend landed up, we grabbed something to eat which he had brought along and we hit the trail again. Two great rides later, I was ready to pack it in but he, having come that far, wanted to ride another. So I decided to join him. By this time I had clocked about 6 runs and multiple sections which is more than twice what we usually do. But, what with the weather being great and me feeling like life was more flow than ebb, I decided to do one more.

And then I said it,”Last run of that day man. We head home after this.”

He had a somewhat stricken expression on his face but I thought nothing of it.

Locked. Loaded. Roll off the rock. Head on down.

Took the first section well and hit the first bend. Decided to try a new line which was tighter than usual what with me feeling confident on my new tyres and all.

Turned right, into the bend.

Front wheel drops out from under me.

I fall to my right.

Stick out my hand and take the impact on the corner of my right palm.

Tumble and roll. Tumble and roll.

Roll.. Roll…

Winded.

Try to push myself up.

Pain lances through my left arm. I yell.

I try and stand. I manage. But I can’t lift my arm. Something’s wrong. I see a bump in the centre of my forearm. Have to cradle my left arm with my right.

My mate comes up and helps me. He brings both bikes to the base while I walk it down. At the base he rigs up a sling with a spare tube which we have.

Then he loads up the car and drives me home.

Four hours later, its confirmed. I’ve snapped my radius like a twig and dislocated my wrist too. A steel plate goes in and I’m out for 3 months.

I was recounting what had happened to another friend of mine when he stopped me mid-way. He asked,”Did you SAY that it was your last ride?”

I nodded.

He sighed.

This careless journeyman had broken the first rule of DH, thereby tempting Downhill fate.

So here it is, so that none of you will have to pay the price I did.

Never, EVER, say its your last ride.

If you do, it just might be. 

You may think it, but you may never say it. 

Another thing worth avoiding, which is less myth and more common-sense – try not to ride alone, no matter how tempted you are.

If you desperately want to ride, put ego (and even self-respect) aside and nag someone and everyone until you have a buddy to ride with. More so, if you’re doing something as dangerous as downhilling in a remote location.

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Remember when you were a kid? How you loved running around and playing in random places? How you would get covered in dirt? How rain was an excuse to jump in puddles and get covered in slush? How it all felt so carefree and happy?

Remember?

Well good for you. ‘Cos I have no memories of that at all. I always hated getting wet in rain, hated squelchy socks, hated muddy shoes. In fact, I have no clue what all the fuss about getting wet in the rain and jumping in puddles is all about.

Correction – I had no clue what that was all about.

In the lead-up to the last BBCh XC race, a trail had to be chosen and marked (naturally). So, ditching my favourite Turahalli one overcast morning, I made my way to Sarjapur to meet the lads outside Decathlon. Having had a good ol’ piss-up the previous night, I woke up late and frantically rushed to make the 7 a.m. deadline. Of course, experience should’ve taught me that being late is never a problem with a certain crew.

I was nearly there when a couple of phone calls were exchanged and I found out that the rest hadn’t even left BOTS. As it turns out, Rohan overslept, Modi was late and Karan somehow ran out of petrol on the way there.

By the time we assembled and hit the trail, it was 8.

The first stretch of the trail was nice, uneven and slightly technical even though it was just hardpack. We knew this would somewhat thin the herd. After that, we hit the long stretch next to the tracks. Halfway down this was a huge ‘puddle’. Only way around this was to carry your bike up the railway track rise and set it down after. We got our first taste of muddy shoes here. And it wouldn’t be the last.

Kalkat rode up front on his R15. It actually did a pretty decent job through all the mud. Of course, the man did take pleasure in thoroughly ploughing up all the mud so we poor mtbeers would slip and slide (and fall) our way through it.

Half a kilometre later, I took my first toss. And it felt utterly ridiculous. I wasn’t even riding. I had stopped at a massive muddy section, got off the bike and took a step forward, carefully planting my leg on ‘solid’ ground. It moved. I slipped, regained my balance and slipped again, landing smack dab in the muck with my bike on top of me. It was one of those kiddie movie moments when a guy slips and slides across the ice only to flip and fall hard. Ridiculous, embarrassing and so funny that even I saw the humour in it and spent the next few minutes laughing at myself.

Lesson learnt – stay on the bike at all times. Your tyres are more trustworthy than your damn feet!

In about half an hour, everyone had taken slips and falls and legs and arms were muddied galore.

Then we reached a mini-lake which stretched a good 30 meters down the trail. Since Karan was the most enthu of the lot, we let him try it. Try swimming it that is. Within 5 pedal strokes, he was off his bike in squelching mud and water which reached halfway to his knee.

This stretch was thereby christened ‘Karan’s Crossing’

Someway down the trail we hit a massive mucky section which looked rather vile. Stepping into some green ooze wasn’t really an option. So, we threw down some branches and leaves and decided to try a crossing. And I am happy to report that I was the only one who made it across. Of course, the lads did threaten to throw me in once I got to the other side but that’s a different story.

Many kilometres and two hours later, we hit the road again. We had long since abandoned any pretence at trying to be clean. Bikes were covered in muck and riders even more so.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling the water in my shoes, the mud on my face, the crap clogging my drivetrain, the wet clothes and the soggy socks.

Somewhere along the way, I started aiming at mud and trying to hit water. I started having fun.

It was a gloriously, filthy experience and I was happy as a pig in shit!

I now finally know what it is to be grubby and love it – a few decades late but well worth the wait.

[This is a story which I did for freeridermag.in which was published in their May edition. You can download the entire issue here. Due to whatever editorial considerations, it didn’t quite get published the way I expected, with the images intended for it. This post will contain the story and the images shot for it, as originally planned. The rider in most of the pictures is Nilesh ‘Nelly’ Dhumal]

Stand up on the pedals and feel the rush as you roll six-and-a-half feet down the rock and lean into a long left-handed curve. You want to crank harder but the dry, dusty track has you wary as you stick that left leg out for balance. Switchback left and head straight for the crack in the rocks.

 

As you squeeze through, you realise you’re going too fast. Your brain screams, “STOP!” You battle the reflex that makes you want to grab those hair-trigger brakes and, instead, gently tease it with a finger. Take the switchback to the right and the urge to stare at what’s immediately in front of your wheel is overwhelming as you dodge rocks and struggle to keep from skidding through a rut. The trail banks right around a massive rock. You fight the sand which threatens to fling you headfirst into a little stone – a stone so inch-perfectly placed to split your skull that it has to be work of some diabolical entity.

Slip and slide your way around the rock and you’re greeted by the welcome sight of a long straight sloping upwards to a crest. Excited at finally regaining control over your fate, you crank away and burst over the top only to be brought down to earth. The trail banks hard right and then left immediately. You overshoot. If you’re lucky, you slow down enough to take the second turnoff.

 Blitz down the long, pebble-strewn straight at breakneck speed and shred your way up a short rise to hit the last of the straights – dusty, sandy and deceptively easy.

Stay off the brakes and grimly pray you sussed the right pressure for the tyres to be able to do their job.

Hit the bottom at full pelt, jink left, take the chicken line and hang on. The trail dips and lifts as it slingshots you straight towards an obstinate outcrop.

Something’s wrong! Pedal spin’s shifted your left foot off kilter. You’re moving too quick to shift back and that rock is coming up fast. Bank right!

Too late.

First line missed. Your rear brake sends you into a sketchy skid as you make the second line. Barrel down the last stretch still balancing the bike with one good leg, dodge the tree and as you come around the last curve, a smile begins to spread.

You’ve made it.

Without a fall.

And you were pretty quick too.

Wham!

Only wind beneath your feet.

Faceplant!

You bite the dust with sickening crunch and lie there in the swirling dust trying to breathe. Trying to figure out where your bike is. It’s done a couple of flips and lies forlornly in the dust, ten feet away. You hope like hell you haven’t broken anything – on you and your ride. As you painfully pick yourself up, people come running up – walkers, bird-watchers and random strangers. They all wear a curious mixture of expressions on their faces – concern (for soundness of body), amusement (at obvious unsoundness of mind) and bewilderment (over what would possess someone to do something this idiotic).

The diabolical entity which is the life-force of Turahalli looks on and smiles – a hard lesson taught.

Note to self: It ain’t over until the wheels stop spinning!

In the sport of downhill mountain biking, tragedy lurks behind the most innocuous-looking corner. Just ask the two who broke their collar bones at last year’s downhill race at Turahalli – one a noob (in practice), the other – the man who came in second only to take a toss while having a little fun after.

You trudge home with your bruised baby in tow, sights squarely fixed on the next ride.

Turahalli – yesterday, today and tomorrow

Sometime in April of 2009, I stepped out of the house in the wee hours of the morning to make what seemed like a loooooong trip out of the city. I was accompanying a couple of climbers to a place locally famous for great bouldering action.

Spread over a number of little hills, Turahalli turned out to be a reserve forest filled with rocks off all shapes and sizes each of which was being sized-up by a motley crew, all with the same gleam in their eyes – climbers eyeballing the day’s challenges.

Somewhere around the same time, a young man from a related tribe spun his crank down Kanakpura way on a quest of his own. As he made his way towards the outskirts of Bangalore, Nilesh ‘Nelly’ Dhumal kept asking puzzled locals if they knew of a hill with a mandir on top. Why a hill with a mandir? Well, he knew something known only to members of his tribe. And when he finally passed a curve in the road and spotted the hill, he knew he had been right. For as only members of the Indian downhill mountain biking tribe know, where a mandir sits on top of a hill, there awaits a course begging to be shredded.

Taking a bend in front of the mandir which began it all

The next time I went bouldering at Turahalli, I was presented with the somewhat curious spectacle of three helmeted men lugging bikes up the hill while a fourth dragged rocks off the trail. Word had gotten out and Tribe MTB had begun their infiltration of Climber Central.

Riding with the man who opened up Turahalli to mountain bikers, one learns to view things in a different light. You learn to memorise the course, begin turning before you actually see your destination, work up the nerve to take a few drops and keep coming back after a faceplant (as I did). It’s been a while since that first sight of the hill with the mandir and, over time, Nelly’s come to know it well enough to roll ol’ Faith(ful) back down the hill in the dark, riding the trail from memory.

Nelly riding his Giant Faith down Turahalli at sundown

Turahalli is now a favoured venue for the offroad races of the hugely-popular Bangalore Bicycle Championship, hosting XC, downhill and even cyclocross races. Last year’s downhill races saw participants from across the country shooting it out on the slopes. The last XC race which took place barely two months ago saw a monstrous turnout.

Riders breaking free of the melee on the first rise at the BBCH XC race

Weekends see Turahalli thronged by riders of all levels, from noobs eager to get out of town and experience a break from their humdrum lives to experts trying to build jumps, take drops and up the ante in general. When Tribe MTB Chieftain Nelly calls out to the Bangalore Bikers Club to enlist help to build a trail, people enthusiastically respond and pitch in. The downhill line has metamorphosised over the years. Erosion has smoothed some of it, the forest rangers have blocked them with rocks, plants have grown and things have shifted, ramps have been built and mud cleared. Each new change throws up a new challenge and keeps the rider sharp.

But, every story has to have a darker side. Multi-storey apartments are beginning to form the backdrop of the trail and in the not-too-distant future, Turahalli might become something of an island in a concrete sea.

Downhilling with multi-storey buildings in the background

This isn’t the first time Turahalli has been under threat however. Climbers talk about how Turahalli was under threat more than a decade ago from land-grabbers. In a bid to save what was then an arid land, fast-growing trees were planted and the area was declared a reserve forest. These trees now form neat rows and a beautiful green cover – the same trees through which bikers now fly in headlong pursuit of a rush.

The government is toying with the suggestion of making it a park but this isn’t the greatest of news for us as it’s hard to imagine a rider shredding his way through a trail dotted with lost lovers.

For the moment though, Turahalli’s trails continue to provide endless days of great riding, climbing and other outdoor activities. The local biking community is hard at work building some great ramps and opening up new lines for this year’s downhill championships. So, if you’re in search of a rush and like to live life on the (t)rails, come on down to Turahalli this July and put your body where your mouth is.

So here goes my review of my first mountain bike. Personally, I think its a travesty to buy a mountain bike and then relegate it to road duty (unless for the reason mentioned in my last post – a gift to a Dad). My bike has seen almost exclusive offroad duty. The only roads it rides are those which take me to its natural habitat. I’ve ridden XC, for which it was intended and DH, for which it was not. Here’s how it breaks down.

Frame

Its very hard to quantify frame quality unless you really are a balls-to-the-wall dirt jumper or an industry-insider and expert. If you’re the former, I guess you judge a frame’s build quality by how quickly it breaks down on you (or not). If you’re the latter then you know how much the manufacturer has compromised on the frame build quality (or not) in the interest of slashing prices. Yes, yes I know there’s ride quality, responsiveness on the trails, absorption of buzz and blah blah but I’m just talking about strength of the material for the moment. Can you or any journeyman mountain biker really separate the performance of the material of one alloy frame from another? I sure as hell can’t. So I’ll leave that aside by saying its made of double-butted 6061 aluminium which is generally supposed to be pretty strong for the kind of riding prescribed for this frame (XC). I will slip this one in though – one of the aforesaid industry-insiders I’ve chatted with seems to feel that this frame is comparable to the Trek 6000 series (which means it punches wayyyy over its price tag). I love the hexagonal profile of the top tube as it gives it character. Whether this improves performance, only an engineer will be able to tell you. The frame is similar to its elder sibling (the Alite 2000) in design but is slightly more compact with a shorter TT. KHS bike sizes come in odd numbers – 15, 17, 19 inches. This was a little awkward for me as I land on the cusp of two sizes – 17 and 19. After a lot of reading and advice and trying out Naveen’s 17-inch as well as the 19-inch frame of the 150 and 300, I decided to plump for the 17. One particular piece of advice I got actually helped me make up my mind – you can make a smaller bike feel larger (by playing around with the stem length and angle, the seatpost and bars) but you can’t make a large bike feel smaller. Plus, mucking around with TBH’s 15-inch was just so much fun that I had to go with a smaller one. And yes, in this case its completely true, bigger definitely does not necessarily mean better. I love how agile and nimble the 17 feels. Im still working on the fit though. I found that the stock stem made the reach too short and gave me an upright posture. I wanted something more aggressive. So we fitted a 110mm stem which was flipped to increase cockpit area. This made it a really aggressive fit which works fantastically on XC. On the DH though, it was a nightmare. I kept going OTB (over-the-bars) and realised this was because my centre of gravity was wayyyyy too far forward. I realised I needed two different solutions for different terrains. More on this later. Suffice it to say, this frame feels fantastically nimble and sporty – more so than any of the competition that I’ve tried out, including bikes which cost nearly double. Comparing it to the bikes in the same price range (at the time), such as the Trek 4300 for example is just downright unfair. Its also built like a tank. Considering how many times I’ve flipped it on the DH at Turahalli, it has nary a mark to show for it. Excellent paint job albeit the fact you might find a blemish or two beneath the surface in the form of a slight rise in the paint.

Drivetrain

With a Deore Shadow RD, Alivio FD, shifters and crank arm and Mega 9 crank, the drivetrain is pretty much unbeatable for anything anywhere near its price range (MRP of Rs.30,000 at the time). And its really all one really needs in terms of smooth shifting. Durability? Only time will tell. One thing I do know is that I for one didn’t feel any mind-blowing difference between these and the Acera on my hybrid. Which goes to show that there really is something to the claim that any level derailleur   will perform well if tuned correctly.

Wheels

WTB SX24 rims are decent budget rims. Superb looking with an all-black theme, matched with black spokes and little red nipples – a nice detail to go with the black and red theme of the bike. The hubs are no-name OEM kit which have done pretty well considering they’ve gone tumbling down the hill a few times. Only once did the rim (front) actually bend and a truing set it straight. Love how light they are and they roll easy and fast (which says something for the anonymous hubs). A slight downside is that you are stuck to presta tubes thanks to these rims and they are not only more expensive but are also in short supply on occasion. So you might want to stock up on a few before you hit those trails.

Brakes

Bengal Helix 3 hydraulic brakes – LOVE these! They grip and bite like an enraged dog and don’t require any time at all to bed in. They stop on a dime and seem to perform better than the Hayes hydraulics on the 1000’s elder sibling. The fact that they come in a red anodised theme only serves to sex things up even more. A lovely little touch which shows these guys have really thought things through is the little plastic bit which is fixed to the cable just above the calipers (visible only in the full-bike pic – sorry). What does it do? When transporting bikes without the wheels one usually has to scrabble around for a bit of plastic or something to wedge in place so the pads don’t stick together. Well, in this case, that plastic bit is always there so you don’t have to save up pieces of credit cards in future – simply pull it off and stick it between the pads and take it off when re-attaching the wheel. Methinks those of you who’ve been through the pain of having to bleed your brakes for something this asinine, will appreciate the gesture.

Tyres

Kenda Small Block 8s – hate these! Hate, hate, HATE! Ok, let me be objective here (even though I hate ’em). This year these tyres seem to be all the rage and can be found on most mid-priced mountain bikes. They dont come cheap either, costing a whopping 2.8k each! They take a very high psi (up to 80), are folding tyres (so super light) and roll very very easily. They were designed for hardpack and are supposed to be truly grippy and fast on said terrain. Ok, so I have no doubt ol’ John Tomac knew what he was about when these were designed but he sure as hell hadn’t travelled to India, let alone ridden here. The Small Block 8s simply weren’t designed for the kind of dusty, thorn-ridden terrain we have in these parts. On the XC trails I ride around Bangalore, they pick up more punctures than a whore does STDs! Riding them with tyre liners (Mr. Tuffy – BUY!) makes life a little better but then this somewhat negates one of their major selling points – the weight (or lack thereof). On the DH in these parts they suck donkey balls! Period! To get any kind of purchase, you need to run less than 30 psi (which is ridiculously low for a puncture-prone, paper-thin folding tyre) and you’re still scrabbling around like Wiley Coyote on a ledge. Granted they were meant for fast XC, but they aren’t ideal for that application (in these parts) either. If you like to ride your bike in the terrain it was designed for (hint: it does not involve tarmac), do yourself a favour when you buy the bike and swap them for something better – Kenda Nevegals if possible or even Schwalbe Blackjacks. Even if you can’t swap, pay for an upgrade. I would even plump for the Kenda Klaws which cost about a third as much as these high-maintenance thorn-dogs! Bottom line? The Kenda Small Block 8s are a dream-come-true for all those Indian mountain biker riders who keep their rides on on the road. Did I mention I hate ’em (you decide which)?

Fork

This seems to be the most controversial part of a really well-kitted out hardtail. The RST Omega seems like a great fork at this level, on paper. Its got a hydraulic lockout, is pretty solid and takes a beating. However, its a very very stiffly sprung fork. On the wrong side of 75 kilos myself, I find it hard to extact more than 50mm of travel out of its stated 100. Even on a really hard hit it won’t go beyond 80mm and this is at zero preload. The advantage of this is that it really does handle great on the XC. The lateral stiffness it gives you only adds to the agility of the frame and its great fun. But, if you want it to travel, it won’t. Try what you might, it simply won’t. If you’re a light rider, this’ll really be a problem. If you’re 80 plus kilos, it will definitely work in your favour unlike the spongy forks which come with most of the competition. It will certainly teach you how to work your body over tough terrain and is ok for anyone who rides a lot on roads. If you’re in the US, you can try and open it up and experiment with different springs but, unlike other brands and models, there don’t appear to be aftermarket parts available for the RST Omega. As it happens, Bike Radar did a nice review of the bike where they reported the same thing but they do mention that this does tend to vary among different pieces. Take a look at the comments below the article and you’ll notice that a chap from KHS has said they supplied a fresh bunch of forks which were softer sprung, after reading the article. It could be that there are other bikes floating around out there with very different responses from the same model. One way or another, this may be one major piece of kit that you could consider upgrading, to match the rest of this bike.

Saddle

WTB Speed V – great saddle! Its a rather wide saddle so rather kind to the generous backside. While large, it isn’t overly plush so its got good support for the sit bones. Its also got a cutout design which provides relief to them crown jewels on the long rides. A nice little touch to round things off are the rough (and tough) sides which allow you to lean them of handy trees and rocks without worrying about ripping it. If you plan on some downhilling though, its width might hinder your ability to get back and behind it.

So whats the bottom line on the 2011 KHS Alite 1000?

I love the bike! Love love love it. I’m in the process of upgrading a few components but its heart will remain. I think it was the best possible bike available for the money in 2011. The younger avatar now costs 6000 more (and that isn’t even MRP) and though it comes with a Rockshox fork, the frame is the same as the lesser siblings, which wasn’t the case in 2011. The head angle is also slightly different (less slack) and Im not sure how this will affect handling. With the new import rates, get ready to pay even more for it in the second half of the year.