In March 2020, the first Dragon Trail MTB stage race will take place in Tasmania’s north-east. With 3 days of mountain biking on world-class trails, there is a fair bit of excitement about the event.
Starting in Branxholm and finishing at St Helens, the mountain bike stage race will traverse some of the most talked-about trails in the world. The north-east of Tasmania has been at the centre of attention for a lot of the mountain biking world thanks to the Enduro World Series, but also due to the immense amounts of investment to create world-class trails in a beautiful corner of Tasmania.
And the best thing? It’s not just hype, it’s real. The trails are magical, they flow through the mix of regrowth forest, old mining areas where the forest has claimed back the turned earth, and into old growth forest as well. No one can ride in Derby or surrounds without be impressed by what has been built. And the best thing is the Dragon Trail will take you along some of the best trails – although it won’t be tackling the trails made famous by the Enduro World Series! For more details about the event and understanding what to expect, don’t miss what we published earlier.
But what bike should I take to the Dragon Trail?
That’s the big question isn’t it? Or more realistically, how should you set your bike up? A short travel cross-country bike or ‘new-school’ cross-country or light trail bike is just about perfect for the trails being used at the Dragon Trail.
That said, if you only have a hardtail – that’s fine! But a bike with about 100-120mm of suspension that pedals well will give greater comfort and control for each day. Bonus points if you can firm up or lock out the suspension for smooth climbs. The route isn’t taking in any crazy trails, but even the easier trails in the region have been built so that if you have the skills and equipment, you can find some very fast and technical lines.
If you were itching to go out and buy something new, a Canyon Lux would be a nice racey option, and a Norco Revolver like our team use would be a great choice. The new Trek Top Fuel with a 120mm fork and 115mm of rear travel would be an absolute blast on the singletrack!
This probably isn’t the event to bring your fat bike, singlespeed cyclocross bike, or freeride or downhill bike along to. You just might not enjoy the three days. If you have an enduro bike and you’re fit enough to race in the Enduro World Series – bring that bike. You’ll work on the climbs and love the descents.
What gearing do I need?
Most modern mountain bikes use a wide-range single chainring system, but if you have an older bike with 2x or 3x then you have all the gear range you need. If you’re on an 11-speed system opt for a 32t or 30t chainring, and on 12-speed you can probably confidently run a 34t chainring, or 32t if you know you need help on climbs. Those racing at the pointy end might even run a 36t on the front – I guess we will wait and see!
There aren’t really many places where you’ll spin out if you’re under geared, as the descents are usually pretty twisty. But it’s easy to be over-geared.
Should I buy new carbon wheels?
If you’ve been itching for an excuse to buy fancy new wheels, then yes! Buy, spend and be useful part of the economy.
But otherwise, you probably don’t need fancy new carbon wheels. You do need reliable wheels that run straight and true, that have their full complement of spokes, and with no play in the hubs. The bearings should run smooth. Take a good look over your wheels, spin them in the bike and out of it, holding the ends of the axles in your hands. Is there funny rumbling? If so, your bearings need help. Is it the shape of a taco? Your wheel may in fact be tacoed. Does it sound like you have spokey-dokeys? You probably have a broken spoke. But if you have spokey-dokeys that’s fine, you do you.
If your wheels are fine, and awesome, check for things like lubrication in your freehub, and that your tubeless valve isn’t frozen into the rim thanks to locknut that has been overzealously tightened.
If you’re not sure about any of those, take your wheels (and bike) into your local bike shop for a service. Tell them where you are going, and what you want them to check out. But finish this article first!
What about tyres – what should I take?
That’s the million dollar question – what tyres for Dragon Trail? Or perhaps, what tyre pressure in what tyres for Dragon Trail?
Let’s go for a really broad answer here. You should run a tubeless compatible tyre in a width that will clear your frame and fork with some mud accumulation, and err towards a faster rolling rear tread pattern and something a little more aggressive on the front. Use pressures that support your weight and riding style, whereby you don’t feel squirm when cornering and don’t deflect off small trail features.
Overall width is important, and if you wanted to get really into it you might buy new wheels with a wider internal rim width, to let your tyre really get the most volume out of its size (and weight). But you probably don’t need to go that far.
For the right tyre setup looks something like a Maxxis Rekon in the front and a Rekon Race in the back if the conditions are dry. Or perhaps a Maxxis Ardent Race in the front and an Ikon in the back. Sizing will be anything between 2.2″ and 2.4″. I won’t ride anything without the Maxxis EXO sidewall protection, and I typically run about 23psi in the back and 21psi in the front.
And always update your sealant before any big bike trip!
Do I need a dropper post?
No, you don’t need a dropper post to ride a mountain bike event like the Dragon Trail. But you will probably find a lot of bikes at the event have them on there.
A dropper post is thought of for making it easier to get off the back of the bike in steep terrain. And yes, they help with that for sure! But a dropper post really helps with keeping your weight centred on the bike, and that can be an advantage on shallow slopes as well as steep ones.
Using a dropper post to get the most out of it, and not just dropping it for steep chutes, takes a little while. Using a dropper post extensively also works your quads and glutes a lot more. You are able to pump your bike more through flowing terrain, and that extra load on long descents is noticeable. But so is your speed and the size of the smile on your face.
The descent at the top of the Bay of Fires Trail is a prime example. It’s not super steep, but with so many rollers to pump over or loft off a dropper post can be a key to going a little faster with a bit more certainty.
What about brakes?
Let’s assume most riders will be on disc brakes. Some of the descents are quite long so having a brake system that deals with heat is a plus. Just about any modern disc brake will do that. If you have a retro bike with a closed system, where the fluid heats up and jams the pads against the disc, you might not enjoy the long descents.
Any reputable brake system will be fine, but now is a great time to check that you have a lot of pad life left, and that your rotors are in good shape. By good shape I mean round and true, and not glazed. Ask your mechanic if you’re not sure.
It would make sense to use sintered metal pads. Some riders prefer resin/organic pads for feel, but if there are a couple of wet days in a row, the metal pads will have far greater longevity. Less maintenance is a bonus in any stage race.
As for rotor size, 160mm front and back is probably fine unless you know you’re hard on your brakes, or prefer to come into corners hot and shut it down late. In that case bump it up to 180mm, even if just on the front.
Whether you have a mechanical or hydraulic brake, checking the cable/outer or hose well ahead of the event is an excellent idea. And if your brakes feel spongey and you’re not sure what that means – go and see your mechanic now.
What spares do I need to take on the bike at the Dragon Trail?
This all depends on what you know how to do with them. Most stages will have tech help at 2-3 places on the course, but that could be a long way to walk. You should carry at least:
– One tube
– One patch kit and tyre boot
– A mini pump and CO2, plus a tyre lever
– A quick link to suit your chain
– A multitool with a chainbreaker
That’s a minimum. That doubles up on inflation but if you use a CO2 and need more air – what’s next? A small mini-pump that works is essential for stage races. You could also take a tyre plug kit, a small chain lube, some zip ties, a spare derailleur hanger, gaffa tape, SPD cleat bolts… who knows when to stop?
What should I do to my bike after each stage?
Do a thorough check of your bike after cleaning it (which is a subtle way of suggesting that cleaning is a must-do). Don’t go playing with things you would never play with at home, as that’s a recipe for disaster. But do check bolts are tight, your chain is clean and lubed, double check tyre and shock pressure, and that there are no cuts or thorns in your tyres.
Make sure you still have plenty of pad life left, and check all bearings for lateral movement – there shouldn’t be any!
If it’s all a bit hard, there is a mechanic service thanks to Tune Cycles. Get the details on the event FAQ site.
Is there anything I can do right now to prepare my bike for the Dragon Trail?
Yes, go and see your local bike shop. Always get your bike professionally serviced ahead of a major event. If you’re investing in the entry fee, time off work and travel – why not make sure the bike you plan to ride is going to serve you as well as possible?
You certainly don’t need to have a brand new bike for the Dragon Trail, nor any other mountain bike event, but you do want one that is safe to ride and that will take you to the finish. Tell your mechanic what you’re doing, and they can make recommendations based on your bike’s parts as to what is required.
All in all, any cross-country or trail bike should be fine for the Dragon Trail MTB stage race, but make sure you have some good tyres and brakes, and you know how to look after your bike on the trail, and in-between the stages.