If you’re seeking a new bike riding adventure or challenge, why not give mountain bike orienteering a try? It’s open for all ages, is a great way to make friends and most importantly – have fun!
It’s based on riding skill, map reading ability and decision making in order to be the quickest through a course, or the highest point scorer. There are numerous orienteering clubs around NSW, and Newcastle is the most active in “MTBO”, as it is known. Events are held across the year.
We caught up with Hamish, who switched to mountain bike orienteering to give himself the extra challenge over normal mountain biking.
“The name is self-explanatory – it's the same as orienteering, just on a bike. There are two types of events – a line course and a score course. For a line course, you have to visit control points in a specific order and the quickest time wins. For score courses, the aim is to reach as many control points as possible in a certain time frame,” explained Hamish.
With each event based on timing, there is something to suit everyone. A sprint event is 20-30 minutes, a middle is 45 minutes-1 hour and a long is 1.5-2 hours.
At the start of the race everyone is given a map to study. It can be clipped onto a map board attached to the handlebars so riders can cycle with both hands. Map boards can spin around to keep them aligned with the current track.
Controls are orange-and-white flags with an electronic unit attached. Riders have a timing stick on their finger and insert it into the unit at each control. When finished, riders get a printout of their split times, and they get to keep the map as a souvenir.
“It’s about speed, but it’s also about the ability to pick the fastest route. When the course is set, there are always multiple options to reach a destination, usually a shorter hillier route or a longer flat route.”
“Mountain bike orienteering is also a sport of multitasking. You’re trying to read the map while you’re riding, figure out the fastest route plus pay attention to what obstacles are in front of your bike. It’s definitely mentally and physically challenging. The more tired you get, the harder it becomes and the more mistakes you can make. That is when things get interesting in a race.”
To get involved, you need basic mountain bike skills. All the courses are set on white-blue-green on the international trail ratings scale, and riders can not deviate from the marked route, so no cross country allowed. Courses are set in different grades depending on the rider’s ability and age.
“Many older people, both men and women up to their 70s are competing in mountain bike orienteering these days. Riding is kinder on the knees than regular orienteering, but just as physically and mentally satisfying for them.”
Mountain bike orienteering is a close knit community but welcomes any newcomers to give it a try. You can visit the NSW mountain bike orienteering web page here.
You don’t need to be a member of a club to participate, and you don’t need to pre-register – but first-timers should contact the host club or organiser beforehand to let them know they are coming. You can go solo or with a buddy or as a family.