Too Hard to Get There:
Despite what you might think, a flight to Alice Springs is hardly an ordeal. With flight times sitting somewhere between two and three hours from most capital cities you'll barely have enough time to get a full movie in on the way. Most flights arrive at around midday so you can easily get a ride in on the day of arrival to stretch out your legs and explore your surroundings.
- MEL > 2h 55m
- SYD > 3h 20m
- BNE > 3h 20m
- ADL > 2h 10m
- PER > 2h 40m
- DRW > 2h 5m
- HBA > 6h 25m
It's Too Hot:
While there's no arguing that summer temps in Alice are pretty high, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find average daytime temps hovering around the 20's from late autumn to mid-spring. If you're like me and live in a part of the country that gets cold and miserable over winter then the thought of heading somewhere warm and sunny is definitely very appealing!
It's Too Wet:
Alice Springs isn't exactly renowned for its high rainfall, but the summer months can see enough rainfall to make the trails fairly muddy at times. From April to September you're pretty sure to see nothing but sunshine and dry trails so this would be the time to plan your trip.
Everything There Wants to Kill Me:
Alice Springs has snakes, just like pretty much anywhere else in Australia. Western Browns are fairly active in the summer months but you're unlikely to come across them on the trail as they'll normally slither away well before you see them. If you do see one on the trail you'll probably be going slow enough to stop in time, or fast enough to do a sweet bunny hop over it...you do know how to bunny hop right?
If you're lucky you might hear some dingoes if you head out on a night ride, but it's very rare to actually see one. They'll stay out of your way and aren't anything to be concerned about.
There Are No Trails:
The trail network around Alice is nothing short of impressive, with hundreds of km's of trails to explore there is enough variety to keep anyone short of a DH only rider happy (but they're rarely happy if there aren't shuttles running). The undulating terrain around Alice offers up everything from green trails for beginners/families, blue trails for the intermediate crew, and several black diamond trails that will provide a serious technical challenge to even the most experienced riders.
The Telegraph Station or Eastside trails were the first to be officially sanctioned and most of the more accessible trails can be found here. The more recently developed Westside trails offer quite a bit more in the way of terrain and technically challenging riding. The recently built black trail "Black Slabbath" (one of the best trail names ever), is a particular standout. It begins with a techy, rocky climb leading to a super fun descent through rocky outcroppings and a couple of steep, challenging slab sections. If you can clean the whole thing without dabbing, your riding buddies owe you a (jug of) beer.
What are the trails like?
For the most part, the trail surface is quite hardpacked with a loose gravelly cover and plenty of technical rock sections and ledges to negotiate. The sand can be quite deep in places and the edges of the trail are a bit sketchy and unpredictable if you get offline. It's a great place to work on your cornering skills as the loose surface makes for some hairy moments if you get a bit lazy or find yourself distracted by the awesome views.
Check out Outback Cycling for a guided ride if you want to take some of the guesswork out of finding the best trails. You can definitely find a whole bunch of sweet riding on your own, but the best trails aren't signposted or necessarily marked on the official maps. We were guided around by Clarke who is a real pinner and a top bloke, he'll happily tailor the ride to suit the skill level of the group and the type of trails you want to tackle. Local knowledge for the win!
What bike should I take?
It's quite pedally and there's nothing too gnarly out there, so while you can certainly get around fine on a longer travel Enduro bike (we did), you'll probably have a bit more fun on something a bit zippier that'll help you keep your momentum over the janky rocks and short pinches. A 130mm 29er would be pretty much the perfect choice for most trails.
With plenty of sharp rocks and thorns lurking in wait, tubeless tyres with a durable casing are essential if you don't want to spend most of your time fixing flats. Some of the rocks are razor sharp and jut out of the ground at 45-degree angles, making sidewall tears quite a common occurrence. It's definitely not the place to be riding super lightweight XC casing tyres so be sure to fit something with some decent sidewall protection.
Who Would Like Riding Here?
While there is plenty on offer for beginners and families and it's a fantastic place to progress your riding, I think the people who would get the most out of riding in Alice would be intermediate to advanced XC/Trail riders with a decent level of fitness. The undulating landscape really rewards riders who can stay on the gas and keep their momentum going while negotiating the rocky trails as the limited elevation means that you're on the pedals a lot without much opportunity to recover on the descents.
The locals we rode with were all quite strong on the pedals with high levels of technical skills. If you're lacking in either of these departments a winter/Spring training trip to Alice could be just what you need to kick your riding up a notch so that you can come in swinging for the summer season.
Of course, it's not always just about pinning it wherever you go, and those that prefer to take their time and enjoy their surroundings will be rewarded with an array of unique and amazing landscapes with some truly stunning vistas. The golden hour light at dawn and dusk creates an array of constantly changing colours so it's highly recommended that you make the effort to get up early for at least one sunrise ride to truly appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.
So if you feel yourself getting cabin fever during those cold, dark winter months, or if you're just fed up with European backpackers having more experience with the outback than you, I'd highly recommend that you go and give Alice a visit and see what she has to offer. You won't be disappointed!