Alice Springs is easy to spot on the map of Australia – it’s smack bang in the middle! So while it’s equidistant to every beach in Australia as some locals like to say, the mountain biking in Alice Springs is completely different to what you normally find on the east coast, where most of us are based.
Sure, mountain biking is just mountain biking. Turn here, pedal here, shift when it gets too hard or easy… but the terrain, the climate, and even how the trails are built all require something a little different, if you want to get the most out of your trip. Here are some tips for mountain bike success in Alice Springs.
Dial in your bike for Alice Springs
A clean bike is a happy bike, but that’s barely half of it. Make sure your bike has been well serviced before heading out to Alice Springs for The Redback.
But what does that mean exactly? You want to ask for more than a check over. Tell your local shop where you’re heading, and if they’re not familiar with the event, take them through the stages. Make a calculation of how many hours you will be racing, add in some extra riding, and let them know about the sand and the sharp rocks.
In short, like any bike race, don’t take anything that is worn out. A few weeks out is a good time to get your suspension serviced, as while the trails in Alice Springs are awesome – they’re not super smooth so supple suspension is a must-have.
While Alice Springs’ mountain bike trails are pretty flat, they are littered with pinch climbs. A single chainring setup is probably ideal, but make sure you have the range from your cassette. Shimano’s 11-46 11-speed cassette is a great choice if you’re on Shimano’s 1×11 group sets. That said, if you’re on a double chainring drivetrain you might enjoy winding it up at the start of stage one!
As we have stated, the ground in Alice Springs is hard. There’s rocks on rocks, with more rocks underneath them. Plus there are thorns. It all works to make a drifty, grippy fun, but it’s not the place to take paper-thin tyres.
Locals suggest reinforced tyres, specifically UST Tubeless tyres, with sealant, with some sealant in your spare tubes too. As if you need to use them, chances are your tyres have lots of tiny thorns already so putting a tube in means automatic punctures – unless there is sealant in the tube. Makes sense!
But – on the MarathonMTB.com Team we’ve had success with the Maxxis Ikon EXO 3C TR 29×2.2″ tyre – probably our most used tyre to date. Infact, The team has had four overall race victories on Maxxis Ikons in Alice Springs, plus four other podium finishes overall.
We tested many of the Maxxis tyre range in 2017 and would look at running Maxxis Ardent Race front and rear too, as the larger bag size might offer a little more comfort on the long day, and more grip and fun on the other days! An Ardent Race on the front with an Ikon on the back is proving very popular.
“The Ardent Race was barely any slower in our testing,” says Imogen Smith, “so for me it makes sense to run one on the front to make up for this weakness in the Ikon pattern.”
There’s a good chance you can leave your wet chain lube at home for Alice Springs – but a wax based lube might be your best friend. The dry environment means you want something that runs clean, and doesn’t hold dust or sand. Ride Mechanic Bike Mix is the lube of choice for our team, but any wax or heavy dry lube should be ideal. Wash, wipe and re-apply each evening.
If you’re tossing up on whether to take a hardtail or full-suspension bike, ask yourself if you’re vying for the race win or not. No? Take the full-suspension. Yes? Take the full-suspension bike. But if you just love riding your hardtail, take that. Take the bike you love riding singletrack on, but understand that Alice can get pretty rough at times. Riders like James Downing take a hardtail to Alice Springs every time they visit!
Preparing yourself for Alice Springs
With three days of racing, and a packed social schedule, how should you be preparing your body for Easter in the Alice? First of all, make sure you understand the demands of each stage. Some are 300m long at The Redback, others will take a bit longer than that!
Taking the stages into account, you have some bigger days and easier days. Easy, right? But how do you train for that? Bear in mind this is all mountain biking, and it is hot. As there are no huge hills, there are no really long descents. So you’re working a lot more, either pedalling, or negotiating technical and tight descents.
This isn’t the place to give you a training programme, although you can contact our coaches Justin Morris or Imogen Smith for that. But you need to be capable of riding your mountain bike offroad for 4 days straight. Aim to be able to do both days on the weekend back-to-back, riding trails without Instagram or chat breaks for 3 hours each day. This will bring up any potential issues with how you eat or drink on the bike, and anything with your position. Did your hands or anything go numb? It could be worth getting a bike fit. Were you unable to drink easily from your bottle? Maybe look at a Camelbak.
We’ve got some tips on how to train for a marathon, and if you can do that for stage one, then chances are you will get through the next two stages as well.
As The Redback falls in August, then it’s unlikely to be crazy hot, but managing yourself in the heat will play a role. As it’s likely warmer than wherever you have been so far in winter. Plan out your hydration needs (try our tips) and pack enough bottles or Camelbaks depending on what you are using, so you can stock the feedzones.
Once you’re off the bike, make sure you keep drinking fluids to replace what was lost. Find some shade, keep drinking, and make sure your body temperature goes down. Even if you don’t feel like it – make sure you eat! With two days to go you’ll need to rehydrate and refuel – we suggest having a snack bag that you leave at the start/finish if you’re particular about what you like to eat or drink. And leave some more suncream in there too, as chances are you’ll get stuck talking to friends old or new post-stage.