The intense cool flash of a helmet light pierces the fading evening glow as a group of riders return from a late afternoon social ride. Pulling up to a pub, a sign ‘Reserved – Bikers’ secures their usual table. And after a feed and a beer, friendly banter and a few tall stories, the Park to Pints riding group bid farewell until the same time next week and go their separate ways into the night.
Welcome to Alice Springs, where the mountain biking is excellent and the locals are friendly, in that welcoming way that only regional towns seem to achieve.
Alice Springs is a very different place. The landscape is a breathtaking, ancient collision of reds, oranges and yellows, and as you’ll see in the pictures below, a lot greener than normal due to recent rains. And the sunsets and sunrises are simply mind-blowing. It’s seriously special.
1. Social Rides with The Dirt Divas and Dudes
The familiar message tone sounds on the phone as a notification comes through on social media – “Gosse Street Park, 5:45 – All Welcome!” It’s from the Dirt Divas and Dudes riding group, who meet each Wednesday to democratically determine where the afternoon ride will take them.
Watch Social Rides With Locals in Alice Springs
It’s an eclectic mix of all-sorts. eMTB riders, ‘flash as’ all mountain steeds and even pannier laden 26″ bikes, are a minor representation of the diverse group that meets with the shared focus of fun on bikes.
Tonight we’re taken along on a must-see tour, which includes a 5km piece of singletrack called Echidna, Atyunpe – an undulating flowy XC style trail that passes through boulder fields, Mulla Mulla’s and ghost gums. Soon we’re onto Bloodwood, Afternoon Delight and Sunset Hill – the last two trails a perfectly fitting way to soak up the warm rays from the golden orb still just hovering above the horizon.
2. All-Mountain Riding
For the more experienced riders, check out Bus (black) – 3.5km: A challenging one-way trail; featuring a climb to a spectacular lookout and a very technical rocky descent. Includes the double black diamond descent ‘Black Slabbath’. Part of the westside trails, the summit of Bus is one of the tallest hills in the area and provides a magnificent view of the Larapinta Valley to the west.
Watch Shredding All-Mountain Trails in Alice Springs
3. Cross Country Trails in Alice
Popular with the cross country riders, is Roadtrain (blue) – 5.5km: Prime singletrack with great views. Roadtrain links the Telegraph Station trails to Hell Line. By crossing the North Stuart Highway and riding next to the train line, it is common to see B-triple road trains, goods trains whose carriages extend for kilometres, and if you’re lucky you might spot The Ghan while riding on this track.
Watch Cross Country Riding in Alice Springs
Then there’s the iconic Larapinta Trail – 3km (shared): A short section of this iconic long-distance walking trail is shared with mountain bikers. Climbing out of the Todd River flood plain, this first section of the Larapinta Trail showcases remnants of the historic overland telegraph line.
4. Mountain Biking With the Family
For a more mellow ride, there is Arrwe [Wallaby] (green and blue) – 5km: The gateway to the Alice Springs trail network providing fun and safe riding for families and entry-level riders. It is enjoyable easy riding with some more challenging options, the trail winds through the desert river landscape that burst with life after rain, and into Mulga and Whitchetty plains and hills, home to abundant native wildlife, such as the Arrwe (wallaby).
Watch Mountain Biking With The Family
Alice Springs – A Place to Seek a Different Experience
Mountain bikers have been riding the Alice since the early ’90s, though it has been the formalisation of the Alice Springs Mountain Bike trail network that has made mountain biking even more accessible. For those living in town, or visitors, the network caters to a wide range of rider ability and riding styles.
Around half a million dollars was spent in formalising the now 100km trail network – known as Alice MTB Trails – comprising of the Eastside and Westside Trails. The two sides of the network are totally different.
On the Eastside, you’ll find undulating trails that contour around ancient outcrops of weathered rock, carrying you down into wooded gullies. On the Westside, riders gain altitude through fields of jagged white quartzite embedded in the red earth, and there are plenty of steep rocky lines and marvellous vistas across the austere Central Australian postcard landscape.
The closeness of the trail network is key to its popularity. Trailheads are a short ride from the town centre and it is easy to feel that you are in the middle of nowhere, despite being ten minutes from somewhere. The constant development of trail signage and the nifty pocket maps available have been a great addition in ensuring the trails are accessible for visitors.
Deep cultural significance
The trail network winds its way through the land of the Arrernte (ahRUNnda) people who know Alice Springs to be Mparntwe (mBUNdwa).
With names like; Arrwe (arrWAH), Apwelantye (aPULLundge), Flying Doctor and Road Train, the living history, cultural significance and a landscape so old that it oozes spirit. These aspects make riding in the Alice so unique and have all been considered in developing a world-class trail network.
The ranges and hills around Mparntwe tell many creation stories, such as the dreaming story of a battle between two dogs, Akngwelye (a guardian Thylacine) fought off an intruder dog. Signs of the battle and the injuries suffered by both are represented in the quartz and granite outcrops surrounding the town.
The ranges also tell the story of the Yeperenye Caterpillar Dreaming. These caterpillar ancestors came from many places, meeting at Mparntwe, and can still be seen travelling head to tail in the formation of the MacDonnell Ranges.
The history of the early settlement and development of Alice Springs has also been considered, with the main trailhead situated at the Telegraph Station, which is the best-preserved of all twelve relay stations along the overland telegraph line which connected Adelaide to Darwin and onto Java and other parts of the world. Its construction dictated the need for exploration and innovation which have paved the way for many services still in operation today.
The trail Flying Doctor pays homage to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Roadtrain, the modern-day equivalent of what historically would have been a camel.
Exciting future developments in Alice Springs
For those that may have ticked off Alice Springs on their bucket list, time to add another bucket! There are several projects in the pipeline over the next few years, plenty to be excited about, this includes the grand Red Centre Adventure Ride and maybe even a new Helicopter Mountain Bike drop-off service operated by Alice Springs Helicopters.
An ambitious Red Centre Adventure Ride traversing 240km of the West MacDonnell ranges between the Alice Springs Desert Park and Glen Helen is currently in the planning stages. The project would see options for multi-day and shorter rides fully supported or self-guided tours and importantly provide the opportunity for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal communities to be part of the ongoing management and maintenance of the trail.
For quite the breathtaking experience, Alice Springs Helicopters is currently in talks with NT Parks and traditional owners to offer a helicopter drop-off service to some of the trail network’s more remote locations. Stay tuned on this one!
In the more immediate future, the first dirt will be scratched on a new trail linking Emily Gap and Jessie Gap in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges National Park. Approximately 20kms east of the town, the shared use green trail will link two cultural significance sites. The project is the initiative of Traditional Owners who are funding the project with park lease income, partnering with Tricky Tracks, which will provide opportunities for local training and employment.
Engaging with the landscape in a respectful and sustainable way that honours its ancient history and geology is key to ensuring the future success of mountain biking in Alice Springs. Marty Krieg (Chief District Ranger, Central Australia Parks, West) oversaw the process of development. The inclusion of Territory Government, Traditional Owners and user groups has been an essential step in the successful implementation of the Alice Springs MTB trails.
Moving forward with this model is key, as further developments are considered to enable even more sustainable opportunities for mountain biking in the Red Centre.
The passion for club and community engagement
Community Development Officer for AusCycling, Georgina Landy, promotes initiatives that engage people in mountain biking at a club and community level. Working with several primary schools and other youth groups, coaching sessions are offered to develop riding knowledge, enthusiasm and confidence. Georgina hopes that each session is; safe, fun and really empowering.
Enabling others to be their best selves through mountain biking is a key motivator for Georgina and being able to ride in a place like no other.
“The open vistas, the open landscape and such flowy trails….it’s what I love about mountain biking, looking around, seeing, smelling, the connection with place,” she says. Georgina is also a member of the CARR (Central Australian Rough Riders) committee who has a fun and full event schedule for the year. Catering for the social and more serious, regular rides and events are offered, the pinnacle event being the CARR Easter in the Alice (2nd April – 5th April 2021).
Supported by Parks and Wildlife, NT
The upkeep and maintenance of the trail network have been supported keenly by Parks and Wildlife Northern Territory and the Central Australian Rough Riders MTB club (CARR), which has lead to the formation of a dedicated trail crew. This will be further supported by a Trail Maintenance Plan that will see the upkeep of the current trail network and further inclusion of other local trails into the Alice MTB trails network that were not originally formalised.
Perhaps it’s the mountain biking events such as the Easter in the Alice (2 – 5 April 2021) and the Redback MTB event (20-23 August 2021) that has piqued your interest in riding in Alice Springs. Perhaps the social rides with the Dirt Divas and Dudes and joining a Park to Pints ride is more appealing. Do you crave something different with your mountain biking and are inspired to ride through an ancient landscape that has been wandered for millennia.
Whatever it is, come and ride The Alice; there really is something for everyone.
Want to learn more?
Official website for all mountain things biking, and trail information.
Alice Springs MTB Club website.
The fantastic Easter in the Alice event.
The great four-day stage race – The Redback MTB.
Download the brilliant trail map, or pick one up from around town.
Words – James Tudor/Forktail Films
Video – James Tudor/Forktail Films
Photos – James Tudor/Forktail Films, Flow MTB