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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.

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[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.

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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.

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Well, this post has been a long time coming. In fact, I’ve only been pushed to penning it down because I’m so excited about my upgrade that this needs to be put out of the way in order for me to talk about that.

So here goes my review of the stock 2011 KHS Alite 1000. But, putting this down involves a little introduction as to how I found my inner mountain biker.

Part 1 – How it happened

The truth is that I was a man on the roadie-mtb fence. I had a hybrid and it seemed fine. I was enjoying 70km rides with a few fellow urban adventurers and had no plans to pick a side anywhere in the recent future. That was for the first four months that is.

It so happened that my Dad was due to retire some time April last year. I was racking my brain for a good retirement gift when my mum happened to mention that Dad was toying with the idea of an old beat-up bike to potter around on when he retired. This cleared things up in quick time. A bike it had to be. But what sort of bike? A comfortable one! How is this related to my Alite 1000 you ask? Well, allow me to lead up to it.

So, I paid Venky (at Wheelsports) a visit to see what he had to offer. I had seen a couple of Merida Crossways and they seemed like nice hybrids at a decent price and decided to investigate. After 5 mins of inspecting the Crossways, I had made up my mind. These were a real disappointment – not terribly pleasing looks, average specs, ok-ish price and sub-optimal finish.

On turning around though I stopped at the sight of an infinitely more pleasing machine. It was a mountain bike. And it was red! It was the new KHS Alite 150 and it was downright hot. I’d seen pics of the KHS range online and wasn’t overly impressed. In the metal however, it was a different story entirely. They were gorgeous! I checked out the specs and the entire range (150, 300, 500, 1000 and 2000) blew the competition out of the water on every. Understand that this lad had no clue whatsoever what this whole mountain biking thing was all about. The only offroading I’d done involved lugging my Trek 7100 to Sarjapur to join a crew who were recceing the route for the BBCh XC race in 2011. It was tough going that day what with my 700x35c tyres making life in the sand rather difficult.

After an evening talking to Venky, I went back home with a few thoughts to ponder. I figured that the most comfortable ride my Dad could get would actually be a hardtail – front sus and fat tyres taking any possible edge off a commute. Speed wasn’t even a consideration since it would be used for general pottering around and my Dad is in no hurry to get anywhere. Then, to take care of any possible fit issues, and to take into account the fact that my Dad would be riding again after a gap of 40 years, I decided that an adjustable stem wouldn’t be a bad idea. Bounced the idea off Venky and he was happy to oblige. I figured the 150 was just too low-specced for my liking and the 300 hit the price-performance sweet-spot, so the Alite 300 it was.

Adding a twist to the tale, I saw the 2010 Alite 300 lying there which looked even better than its more recent counterpart. It turned out that it was a 15 inch frame which would work well for a lady because of its rather low top-tube. The Better Half’s (TBH from now on) birthday was a month away and I had been seriously considering a bike as a gift. Stumbling across this one was something of a sign which I just couldn’t pass up.

So, after having visited Wheelsports to check out the feasibility of a hybrid, I walked away with not one, but two KHS Alite 300s. Venky was really helpful and was happy to customise one of them for my Dad and hold the other for a month until TBH’s birthday came around (we both like surprises you see). The silver coloured ride was loaded into the car and I drove it down to Madras to show up on my Dad’s first day of retirement with a present he never expected. The black and red beauty showed up in our living room a month later with a red ribbon around the top tube to much astonishment and petting (as one can hardly help stroking beautiful metal).

Over the next couple of months I discovered the joys of bouncing a fork and trying to pop wheelies on a mountain bike that’s a little small for you. In fact, I found myself having so much fun in my basement on TBH’s bike that, in my mind’s eye, the sheen on my snappy (relatively new) Trek 7100 was beginning to dull. We also took the Alite 300 back to Venky a couple of times for a little tweaking. Each time we did, my eye lusted after a ride which usually lay in a corner – Naveen’s Alite 1000. The 2011 Alite 1000 actually has an identical paint job to the 2010 Alite 300 so it actually looked like TBH’s bike’s elder sibling. After much soul searching, and keeping in mind the fact it wouldn’t be great to bust TBH’s new ride, I decided I had to have a hardtail. Again, Venky and Naveen went way beyond any call of duty. I was lent Naveen’s Alite 1000 to ride for a few days to see whether it suited me. I swapped my 7100 with him so he could commute on that while I tried out his bad boy.

The very first day I took it home, I was mucking around in the basement parking area. I’d never used disc brakes on a bicycle before so I had no idea what I was dealing with. I grabbed the front brake and ended up doing a stoppie which threw me over the bars! My left knee painfully whacked the bar and that was that. I spent the next week or so limping around with my knee swollen. My obsession with the bike though, would brook no opposition and I ended up doing a 15km ride where I ended up pedalling with basically one leg.

I could stand it no longer. I had to have it!

Venky, as is his wont, gave me a fabulous deal and I rode the 15kms home with my new bike.

That was in June 2011.

Over the last ten months I have ridden the bike almost exclusively offroad. I have ridden XC around Sarjapur, Turahalli and Airport road and taken many a (painful) toss on it while attempting the downhill track at Turahalli.

There are things I love about it and some things I hate about it but, in its entirety, it has helped me understand the kind of riding I enjoy and the kind I don’t. I’ll get into those details in my next post.

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As dawn broke over the hill, Turahalli’s resident Coucal was somewhat startled to find that his usually tranquil living room had been turned into something akin to an arena. Wraiths in colours to rival his plumage jinked and jived their way through dappled sunlight at breakneck speed, occasionally interspersed with howls of rage and pain accompanied by the sound of breaking foliage.

Race Two of the 2012 Bangalore Bicycle Championship saw competitors abandoning their anorexic companions in favour of rather more substance, for the cross-country (XC) challenge.

The course had just about everything in it – an open dirt track leading to a stony field which then opened up into a bit of singletrack before riders were confronted with a deceptively short climb. Those who had run the course before knew the perils of being stuck in a pack when confronted by this. Not that it mattered in the slightest though considering they comprised the favourites anyway. The first five broke away in no time and Darren powered his way up the climb with Nelly, Bharath and Craig in hot pursuit. Behind them, Naveen and Sriram fought their way clear of the crowd only just in time.

Then came the hordes.

It was quickly apparent who had actually gotten his knobbies dirty and who had kept them plastered to tarmac. Weight too far forward and rear wheels spun out of control. Too far back and forks lifted. Granny gears on the incline when caught in the queue (for indeed that is what it was reduced to) made it difficult, if not impossible, to shift up quickly. Metal screamed, chains groaned, rubber slipped, spun and riders came to a standstill, only to find out just how awkward it is to get moving again when up against an incline, with no grip, in the wrong gear and your rear wheel playing footsie with the bike behind you.

For quicker riders caught in the melee, the knowledge that the lead pack was opening up a huge gap made life much worse.

Once riders made it up the hill, they followed the trail as it wound around the hill through a dusty construction site with plenty of space to overtake. As the leaders rocketed through the dust, they picked up more speed and entered a sparsely wooded area where they dodged through the trees (where our poor Coucal sat mute spectator).  Breaking through the scrub, the trail suddenly dipped and then rose as riders had to bank right on a long curve with a 15 foot drop on the side. Drama played out here in spades. Darren whipped around the curve without batting an eyelash and hammered his way through. Nelly flew up the bank without pause in thought (as befits one of the best mountain bikers in the country) until confronted with a rather grumpy rock. Going as fast as he was (some 35+ km/h), he did the only thing possible – bunny hop. Boom! Hissssssssssssss.. The Coucal burst through the trees in a panic. Snakebite claimed another victim and it was time for the long walk home.

The course then hit the most exciting section – a lovely 1 km stretch through a grove of trees with a downward slope and plenty of space to overtake. Headlong flight along this section though, came at a rider’s peril. Those who ride the trail regularly will bear witness to the challenges posed by a mix of dappled sunlight, the gradient, undulations in the terrain and quick curves around trees. A rider going fast would be on right on top of a dip, rise and curve around a tree before he could react. Dented helmets and bruised egos attested to the immutability (and immovability) of those trees.

Riders burst out of the trees to barrel down ruts for some 50 odd metres before taking a switchback which led back to the start.

And yet another lap of pain.

For one morning, Turahalli witnessed every twist in every possible plot. A derailleur hanger snapping off after a bike was subjected to two crashes in a lap. A mangled handlebar and stem as its rider literally flew off the dip preceding the long bank. A bruised face stemming from a difference of opinion with a tree. A yellow jersey dodging through the flora as its wearer ran the course after suffering a broken rim – a show of team solidarity. Many long slow walks of shame back to the start with busted bikes in tow. Curses and abuse as the race leaders shredded their way through blisteringly fast curves to be confronted with slow riders too stunned to react in getting off the racing line. A solitary road bike cocking a roadie snook at the MTB plebians.

A day of spills.

A day of thrills.

A day well spent.

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