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Feature: Chiru Bikes - can they tame the Tiger??

Pierre Arnaud Le Magnan, owner and founder of Chiru Bikes and a well known elite Mountain biker and adventure racer puts  his new chiru bikes and his wits to the supreme test against the tiger and the dragon, two legendary mountain ranges in north west china in the first ever chiru EPIC and Quest.

In the fall of 2010, Pierre and several other mountain bikers from Hong Kong and the USA travelled to Lijiang Valley and first embarked on the Chiru Epic, a ride lasting several days and following routes that were not well known, and quite dangerous and uncertain. The Chiru Quest followed the Epic as Pierre and his intrepid companions tested their biking mettle against altitude, snow and of course against the mighty Jade Dragon Mountain itself. Read Pierre's first person account or browse the the gallery of his photos. Better yet, sit back, relax and enjoy two incredible video documentaries. Chiru Bikes corporate site: www.chirubikes.com

chiru quest lead

 

CHIRU EPIC 2010: Along the TIGER and around the DRAGON...

by Pierre Arnaud Le Magnan

Let me tell you a legend first : Once upon a time, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain were twins. They had lived on panning in Golden Sand River until one day an evil fiend usurped the river. The brothers were very brave and had a fierce fight with the fiend, Haba died in the fight and Jade Dragon drove off the fiend after wearing out 13 swords. For guarding the people and preventing the return of the fiend, Jade Dragon held the 13 swords in hands day and night. As time passed, the brothers had turned into the two snow mountains, and the 13 swords had become the 13 peaks. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a holy mountain in the Dongba culture of the local Naxi people not only because of the legend, but also because a long time ago, it was a place for young lovers to sacrifice their young lives in honor of true love and to escape from the arranged marriages and feudal ethics.

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My friends and I asked ourselves : “Let’s check out if the 2 brothers would let 4 humble mountain bikers ride in their territory” !! It took a while before we found a date matching everybody’s agenda, and finally we set-off for this epic ride early December 2010.

Locating between 10004'-10016'east longitude and 2703'-2740' north latitude, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. Consisting of 13 peaks, among which Shanzidou is the highest one with an altitude of 5,600 meters (18,360 feet), Jade Dragon Snow Mountain stretches a length of 35 kilometers (22 miles) and a width of 20 kilometers (13 miles). Lying north of the Jade dragon mountain lies Yangtze river ( the longest river in Asia ) and the Tiger leaping gorge which is believed to be the deepest gorge in the world and a compulsory passage to round the jade dragon mountain (An ancient legend says that a tiger used this rock as its stepping stone so it could leap across from one side of the gorge to the other, which is how the gorge got its name.).

It’s been hard to get accurate information about a potential itinerary - we could plan to accomplish this roughly 200 km ride - however we decided to proceed with 20% of our ride unknown hence we would have make navigation decisions on the spot.

Day 1 began with a pleasant ride in the Lijiang Valley - we were supposed to meet a local Naxi women who knows the area well, but we never managed to find her place, so we decided to go on and start riding up-hill on the Jade Dragon mountain south-western shoulder up to Weihai village and lake. Reaching 3,100m we discovered an amazing small lake nestled between mountains and which appeared to be an old volcano crater.

Onwards From Weihai village we would start shifting to the next valley and that’s where things got complicated, the maps we have seen does not show any trails in this area despite satellites pictures showing houses…We missed the dirt trail which was supposed to lead us the furthest in this valley and ending-up in a small hamlet where we met some locals who were very surprised to meet foreigners, on very strange looking bikes no less and asking for a way to get down to the YangTze by bike. She first said “no way” we could go through, then assuming that she thought we could not ride our bikes on single track animal trails, we asked again the question if we could walk down ..Then came the “YES”, she just showed us a wide filed with a little trace and told us to follow this path along the river…getting further down, we were wondering which bank of the stream would lead us to a bigger trail…and here we meet local mens bringing up wooden post with their mules, they told us immediately to cross and use the left side of the valley…After sliding on a rock and falling in the coldest water I have ever been crossing, here we were onto on unridable animal trail !! and while walking down we realized that the other bank of the stream had a very nice and smooth trail winding down the valley, Damn it !! After an hour on this path, we managed to reach a dirt road which would bring us down after a frenzy 45mins downhill ride to the river at 1,700 m elevation. We just had to find a bridge to cross the river to reach Qiaotou lying 25km downstream. We just managed to make it before dark and find an Guest House and a hot shower at this 60 km, 1,200m D+ and 7 hours ride..

chiru epic lead

Day 2 would be the most challenging, with only 20km, but only on hiking trail and crossing the deepest gorge in the world !! We had no idea about the rideability of the trail, we only knew the trail was pretty narrow at some points overhanging 1,000 m above the river…. It ended up being am eye fest the whole day, the beautiful Jade dragon mountain showed us her best face with a perfect blue sky !! Only we should have remember to concentrate on the trail rather that enjoying the scenary!!! Andrew missed a small technical up-hill and lost balance, fell 7m below the trail in an area which luckily was not 100% vertical… After 2 saltos, he landed on his feet by luck with a good grip on his sole and stopped falling !!! We could not talk for seconds, astonished by what just happened : a Miracle !! We got down to him to make sure everything was fine, just some few bruises…Bike stopped its fall into a huge black sharp rock garden 20 m below the trail, one tyre pinch flat, broken rack, broken horn and few twisted part …15 mins later we were on our way again, still not taking the complete measure of what just happened….We had to carry our bikes up for 1,100m D+, easy when hiking, but with a 13kg backpack and an all mountain bike on your shoulder, it’s another story, specially through the famous 28 Bends that takes you to 2,700m... We managed to ride only 30 to 40% of the track, so just imagine happy we were when we were able to ride our bikes…. Being a bit late on our plan, we had to cut our ride short and head towards Tina’s Guest House which we reach just before dark. Lucky us, hot shower was available and after few local dishes and a few pancakes later, we were all set for a well deserved night, knowing we had to cover around 120 km the next day and find a boat to cross the river…

chiru epic 2

Day 3

That was our earliest start of our 2 days ride, we could not take the chance to finish by night as the temperature drops very quickly below zero deg. C after sunset at 6pm.. We started by a 20 km ride down a road under construction before reaching the ferry river crossing place. We had a bit of hard time to find this place as we expected a dirt road to reach the ferry, but instead it was again an narrow animal track coming down to a quiet part of the river. We had to wait for 1 hour for few villagers and their horses to join us and cross the river. We quickly rode through Daju village and started a 40 km climb with nearly 2,000m of D+, that left us some time to chat with local drivers bringing up heavy loads in their monocylinder mini truck, we were faster than them up-hill !!!. On the way up, I went a bit off track to find a potential shortcut and I manage to find a CHIRU horn, I was pretty happy since we failed to see any CHIRU ( tibetan Antilop ), at least I’ll bring back this little trophy as a souvenir !!.. We eventually reach the 3,300m pass, and as we’ve been told it was all the way down to Lijiang from that point, we were all smile out !!, …but not quite, we had to go down and up in several valleys for another 1,000m D+ before reaching the top of the Lijiang Valley and head downhill.. Can you believe it ?, we had to pedal to maintain a quick downhill pace to fight the strong headwind which is apparently consistant phenomenon in this part of the valley!!
Finally reaching back Rizhome artist residence where our friend and host Alex is expecting us, we enjoyed a classic French winter hot pot and shared all our trip stories still fresh in our memories. Guest of honor that night was Hutch, a 71 Years old American who traveled over 50,000 kms on his bike in China and we had a a long discussion about riding through the big western open scenarys of western China and opened up some suggestions for the next CHIRU EPIC ride…

 

CHIRU QUEST 2010: RIDING THE DRAGON

It all started 2 years ago, when we decided to hike the Jade Dragon Mountain massif with 2 friends. Quickly loosing our guide, we scouted the mountain and were amazed by this area and what it has to offer for a mountain biking trip such as the CHIRU QUEST.

chiru quest 1

The CHIRU QUEST as we have designed it originally is a Hike & Ride format on a remote landmark mountain where riders need to display a wide array of capabilities such as Power and Endurance to hike while carrying the bike and gain altitude before riding down, Excellent riding skills to negotiate open slope and technical trails, Adventure Spirit and skills but also Self Confidence as there is no support nor any Med Evacuation in case of big crash.

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Those type of rides are mainly for the pure enjoyment of the riders, but also a challenge to yourself, hiking-up with a bike on your back is no easy task at this altitude on rugged slope. Only then you can get your reward with a fantastic scenery and atmosphere before plunging on the mountain slopes and redeem your arduous climb into a wild ride, creating your own lines on those virgin slopes, riding on the edge, but never trying to exceed them….remember…no Med Evac….

 

We spent a day in LIJIANG, a world heritage site and the closest city to the Jade Dragon Mountain culminating at 5,800m. This area is the land of the ethnic Naxi people ( 1 of the 24 ethnic group of Yunan ), and the mountains surrounding the city host 50% of the 13,000 plant species of Yunan and also a lot of wildlife….We stayed at our friend Alex’s place, an artist residence where we ate good French food, fresh croissant every morning, we could not be happier. It was also a good opportunity to meet some of the foreigners

 

Getting to the mountain was pretty easy, myself and my 2 friends in charge of the pictures and Video ( Fai and Julien ) had to cycle 20km from Lijiang to get to the village at 2,500m elevation where trails start from and hire horses to bring up our camping gear. It was a pretty easy trail to reach the little meadow at 3,500 m where we’ve decided to set camp. Weather was pretty nice and we managed to set camp before dark and set a fire to cook some of the mutton sticks, dryed ham and fresh goat cheese we had bought at the market on the very morning. Temperature would very quickly drop at night below 0 Deg. and the fire became very quickly the center of all attention, dry and dead wood were pretty rare near our camp site and we had also to hike down few kilometers to fetch water and boil it for the coming days on the mountain..needless to say we did not have enough and we were quite happy to find snow the next day to drink from.

I did not remember how amazing the sky is during a clear night at 3,500m without any pollution, It’s been a long time I haven’t seen so many stars!!

 

The night was fresh, and despite the -15 deg sleeping bag which kept me warm, I did not sleep much, and I was pretty happy to get moving out of my bag as the sun hits our campsite area. It was time for a hot coffee before we the ascent, but to our misfortune our only lighter broke down, damn !! I dismantled it and managed to get just a sparkle from it before it exploded to my face !!! Ouch, that was a good wake-up !!! Then we quickly went on with the preparations for the equipment needed to go to the top, we knew snow was starting around 4,000 m altitude, so we went for the full gear as quite a lot of clouds were starting to alterate our blue sky and temperature was staying pretty low….SO it was a 6kg back pack + a 14 kg bike that I will have to carry to the top..

 

Start of the climb was a succession of steep switchback rocky trail, and we had plenty of time to observe several eagles playing with the wind and soaring around us. . Then se started to climb through a very steep narrow trail where we almost had to use our hands, having a bike on your back is not the best way in those conditions. Then trail disappeared and we had to find our way through the frozen slope, following animal tracks…Now walking in the snow, we found to our surprise that it was pretty packed and we managed to stay on top and keep dry.

 

Reaching 4,200m, the weather conditions worsen and with a cold wind howling , making us loose balance while walking on the ridge. Temperature was now near -15 deg., all layers were on, Lack of oxygene and steep rock slope made our last ascent section pretty slow and harduous.

 

We eventually reached our objective after 4 hours of ascent at 4,500m , it was now time to discover the joy of riding downhill in the snow !!! Snow was great for riding, not too soft, not too hard, but it was still a challenge to stay on the bike on 40 Deg. gradient slopes !! My rear wheel wiped out and I found myself sliding with my bike for 30 m !!

Luckily, not stones coming out from snow in this area, so it was more a fun fall than a painful one !!

Back on the bike, slaloming between rocks, I was starting to enjoy myself when my front wheel went through a soft patch of snow which sent me OTB at lightning speed !! Again fresh snow was acting as a cushion, Lucky Me !!

 

Leaving the snow, it was a 400m D- scree slope awaiting me !! 40 deg gradient + very loose gravels was not a piece of cake to ride, but sitting on the rear wheel and trying to keep a minimum speed to ride was the good receipe to clear it, and it was finally a fun section !!!!

 

Reaching 3,700m, trails with big loose rocks made the ride down to the bottom closer to what we are used to ride, and it’s been pure joy down to the bottom with some faster section downthere in the pine tree forest…

 

It was great riding the latest CHIRU Spectrum, perfect combination of 160mm fork travel and 150mm rear travel all mountain carbon frame, Light yet very rigid !! it really delivered and it was a definitely the perfect choice for this type of ride ! Good credit as well to the latest HUTCHINSON COUGAR 2.4 tyres which worked very well under the various demanding conditions .

 

 

 

 

 

As the holiday season hits full swing many folks will be indulging in Hong Kong’s 2nd favorite sport which is shopping – we all know that MTB is #1. But before you plunk down your hard earned money on a top-end bike perhaps it’s worthwhile to reconsider bikes towards the bottom of the range? Steve Coward did. Steve owns and operates CrossCountryHK, a local MTB skills training and guiding company. Here are his insights on budget bikes.