Kohima: A day after Kiren Rijiju, Union minister of state (IC) for youth affairs and sports, said that Nagaland has the potential to become a hub for adventure activities, during the Hornbill Festival, mountain biking (MTB) enthusiasts from Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya and United Kingdom (UK) came together to compete at the ‘King of the Hills Series: Stage 1’, which was held at Jakhama Village, 17 km from Kohima.
Organised by the Nagaland Mountain Biking Association, the ‘Kohima Xtreme Downhill Challenge’ had 18 participants on Sunday, competing ‘downhill’ for a stretch of 1 km. The competition was held under two categories — ‘hard tail’ and ‘full suspension’.
Speaking with EastMojo, Atuba Longkumer, an organiser, said: “Mountain biking has different categories, the one which we are doing now is ‘downhill’ — which is more like a race for professional riders. If anybody wants to take up mountain biking, they can start with cross-country and as they level up their skills, they can go into enduro or downhill.”
“Mountain biking touches all aspects of our life. As a sport, it is good for health, environment and promotes tourism also. When more riders come to our land, we are able to promote our land,” Longkumer added.
He added that the competition, being organised on public demand was sponsored by various entrepreneurs and biking companies. He expressed hope that with governmental assistance in the future, the competition will be organised at a bigger scale. He further added that the stage 2 ‘Mokokchung Xtreme Downhill Challenge’ will be held at Ungma under Mokokchung district on December 11.
Ismamul Howk, winner of the Hard tail category, who hails from Guwahati, told EastMojo that has been racing since 2015 and that it was his fourth year participating in Nagaland.
“Apart from the previous years, this year the track is too good. Since the time ‘downhill’ started in Northeast, we had the aim to grow the community. In doing so, the level and standard of the riders remained the same. But in this race, the standard is raised to an all-new level and very well organised,” Howk said.
Hopeful for the growing bikers community, he said: “Downhill is all based on mental preparation. It requires a lot of practice. When you are riding steep down, you don’t have to think if you’re going to brake or not, it has to be a muscle memory which comes with practice. So the challenge here in the Northeast is – we don’t have proper tracks. If we get to practise each and every day, then probably we can become the best and compete with the other country racers too. The racing scene in India just started, so hopefully if we practise well and everything goes on smoothly, we will also have a good position in the near future.” He further added that seeing the younger bikers perform better than him is so gratifying.
Ridor Niangti, 17, from Shillong, who began racing since 2012, said: “I take this sport as a passion. It runs in the family as almost everyone in my family is a race. It’s in the blood.”
When asked if it was worth participating at a racing event in Nagaland, he said: “Back home, the events are not that good and the [mountain bikers] community is very weak. But here in Nagaland, the community is quite strong — it’s good. For them to take up the responsibility of organising races, it’s hats off.”
“The adrenaline you get is what keeps us mountain bikers going. We are breaking bones, falling down and so on, but we enjoy them,” said the young biker who wishes to become a professional rider.
For Ollie Hemstock, who came all the way from the United Kingdom, it was his ninth visit to the state and the fifth time racing. “I like to come over here to try and support the people. The community is really strong, we are just getting started so it’s absolutely worth coming,” he said.
Talking about the sport, he said, “Downhill is really hard because you get just one, single attempt. It is a bit tactical but the biggest battle is with yourself because you have to make it to the bottom without crashing, and also try to get to be the fastest. So it’s a unique sport.”
“You don’t have to have a special bike. Any bike will do — just start riding. You don’t have to invest huge amount of money, just find any bike, go out with your mates and enjoy it” he said encouraging younger biking enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, for Kevingorei Kerha, who hails from Jakhama, he found interest in the sport through his friends who were also biking. Although four years into the sport, the 19-year-old said that his parents are often worried about him playing the dangerous sport, but there is no stopping for the passionate biker.
“As we begin to experience the sport, we become used to it and become more comfortable,” he said.
In the competition, the participants were made to collect points at each stage. The ultimate ‘King of the Hills’ title will be awarded to the overall fastest rider, regardless of category, across both races and stage. Each downhill stage is a point-to-point format race involving a course of between 1 km and 1.5 km.
The downhill courses followed a descending route and comprised of varied terrain sections: narrow and broad tracks, field paths and rocky tracks, jumps, drops with a mixture of fast and technical sections.
While promoting the adventure sport, the emphasis of the course is to test the riders’ technical skills and their physical ability.
In the ‘full suspension’, Ismamul Howk (1.16.86) won the category, followed by Menguozo Benny Metha (1.19.85) and Taitus CH Marak (1.27.57) in second and third, respectively. In the ‘hard tail’ category, Ridor B Niangti (1.26.93) won the category, flanked by Bommo Riba (1.28.96) and Shalo Kent (1.29.77) in second and third spots, respectively.
The competition witnessed participation from bikers between the age of 15 and 36 years, with Gumtuing being the youngest. For both stages, the prize pool amounts to Rs 96,000 along with other merchandise.