Must-Ride: Alice Springs, NT

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Like most people, when we first heard whispers of world class riding in the arid heart of Australia, we were dismissive, but curiosity got the better of us and we’re glad it did. We took the three hour flight from Sydney, leaving behind a miserable winter, and found ourselves in the most unique, ideal mountain biking environment that Australia has to offer.

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It’s not extraordinary that mountain biking exists in Alice (desert towns the world over have healthy mountain bike scenes, just look at Moab or Fruita), but what is incredible is the quality and sheer quantity of trails around town. There must be literally hundreds of kilometres of riding out there, if you know where to look. Previously you needed a local’s helping had to get around the trails of Alice, but thankfully finding desert gold getting easier, with the recent formalisation of trails around Telegraph Station seeing proper signage at trailheads and junctions for the first time. From these professionally built trails, it’s easy to link up rides further afield, with singletrack worming its way across the the landscape at all points of the compass.

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Given Alice’s population base, it’s impressive just how active the local club is. The Central Australian Rough Riders are a hyperactive bunch; when they’re not working with land owners to secure trails, they’re running events or petitioning MTBA to get their town onto the National Series Calendar. It takes serious determination to lure complacent east coast riders away from home, but the Rough Riders’ Easter in the Alice Muster event now attracts mountain bikers from across the country, and next year the event will be combined with a round of the Marathon National Series too, which should open even more eyes to what’s on offer in Alice.

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The accessibility of the riding around Alice is a key part of its appeal. The only transport you need to worry about is getting from the airport into town, after which it’s no more than a 10-minute ride to the trails in any direction. Accommodation providers get it too, and an increasing number of hotels and apartments are billing themselves as mountain bike friendly; we stayed at the Alice on Todd apartments, where bikes are so welcome we’re surprised they didn’t get given their own beds.

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Weather wise, there are parts of the year when mountain biking is pretty much off the cards – you wouldn’t want to be on the trails much after sunrise in the peak of summer – but Alice is at its best when large parts of the country are at their worst. Throughout winter you can bet the bank on 28-degree days, cloudless blue skies and the most spectacularly clear nights imaginable. Even though the middle of the day is prime for riding, you’d be mad not to get up early for at least one sunrise, it’s magical watching the ridge lines change from the cool grey of the pre-dawn to an absolute explosion of reds and oranges as the first sun rays hit. Time your trip right and you might even catch the desert in bloom. Seeing the wild flowers come to life in the desert is a pretty amazing experience.

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While at first glance the terrain around Alice all looks pretty similar, once you’re into the trails, it’s a different story. Riding in the desert throws up constantly changing terrain and surfaces too; the trails are an evolving, engaging mix of rock, quartz, sand, shale. Dodging potential side-wall slicers and floating over high-speed sandy patches becomes part of the fun. Luckily the almost complete absence of scrub means you’ve got visibility for miles, so you can always let it run and you’re rarely caught out.

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If we had to put our finger on what makes Alice Springs riding so appealing to us, it’s that it offers an experience that is uniquely Australian. The baking desert is one of the elements that characterises Australia – it’s the ying to the yang of the surf and beaches – but it’s the last place many of us explore, especially not on our bikes. One of mountain biking’s charms is the places it takes us and what it allows us to see, and we promise you, you’ll never have seen mountain biking in quite that same way as Alice delivers it. Check it out.

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