How to… race the Tour Divide

Continuing our series of ‘How to’s…’, this one is so hot off the press it is practically on fire.

The Tour Divide event organisers describe this challenge as’Simple: Race the rooftop of North America by riding a bike self-supported along all 2,745 miles of Adventure Cycling Association’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route’. Simple!

We have caught up with a man who very recently set off (on the 10th of June) from Canada on the race to the Mexican border… again.

Who are you?

Aidan Harding, 32, from London. Work is complicated: Guiding road cycling for Adventure Cafe; Coaching and guiding mountain biking for Astounding Adventures/Singletrack School; Software development for Kitchwa Coders.

What was the event or challenge and when did you do it?

The Tour Divide – a 2,745 off-road mountain bike race from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. No stages, no support.

I rode the race in June 2010 and am doing it again now in June 2011.

How fit and/or experienced do I need to be?

The route exists and maps are available for people who want to tour it at any time. Completing the Divide is challenging as a tour, but may not require vast amounts of training.

The race is another matter, though. It has no qualification criteria, but to take part in the spirit of the event, you need to put in a considerable effort in training and preparation. The leaders average over 150 miles a day with no rest days.

While the trail is not very technically demanding or steep, it does cross vast spaces and involve large elevation changes every day.

At either pace, it is important to be comfortable with back country travel e.g. finding/treating water, dealing with bears, camping etc.

What training methods would you recommend?

You can’t really train by doing the distances involved in the race. Going out for long days in the saddle as you would for a 100 mile mountain bike race are sufficient. Finalising your packing system to carry equipment on the bike and riding with that weight is also important.

What kit would you recommend?

29er mountain bikes are pretty much universal in the race. I prefer rigid forks to save weight and complexity. There’s huge variety to choose from but I rode a Singular Swift in 2010 and will be on a Singular Pegasus in 2011.

Camping-wise: No stove because they are enough crossings with civilisation to get cooked food from restaurants most days. A lightweight tent or bivy bag to sleep in. All the details beyond that are pretty much down to personal preference.

What were the highs and lows for you during the event?

In 2010, there are no questions about the low point. Racer David Blumenthal was killed in a collision with a car. He had a young family and even for those of us who had only known him for a few days, that cast a long shadow.

It was hard to know whether to keep going and, if it would have helped to stop, I would have done so in a heartbeat. Instead, there were just long stretches of lonely trails to think about the loss of a fine man.

The high points came about from people, and the lack of them. Meeting other racers and sharing a meal time with them, and meeting the local people in some pretty isolated communities – there is a great sense of community being out there.

And then when you’re completely alone, riding into the sunset with the knowledge that you can sleep wherever you feel like it – that’s a very liberating thing. Especially when you wake up to be surrounded by beautiful silent countryside.

All in, how much would it cost me to do this?

Assuming that you have most of the equipment, the biggest cost is the time off work. There is no entry fee for the race, and you often camp out to make the best use of daylight.

It would be wise to make sure you have access to plenty of money in case you do need hotels or bike repairs but $1000 could cover the 3 weeks or so that you’re on the trail.

The acid test: Are you keeping the health and fitness up, and do you plan to do anything like this again?!

Riding long distances in odd places has become a bit of a way-of-life for me, so I’ll definitely be doing similar things in the future!

Best of luck Aiden, we will be following your progress closely!

If, like Aiden you would like to compete in the Tour Divide, visit their site here. The 2011 race updates can be found here.

The Tour Divide takes place across N. America, a hot-bed of mad adventures like this! Click here to see our page on cycle and bike holidays, and here to seemuchbetter accommodations and holidays in N. America.

Photo credits, from top right to bottom; Forest Baker,, John Foster,, Marshall Bird, Forest Baker