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A mountain bike challenge with a difference – the Simpson Desert Bike Ride

                         Crikey it’s a Megasaurarse

“It’s been called “Satan’s Velodrome” and for many competitors it has certainly been hell. And yet they return, again and again, from throughout Australia and around the world, for those five days of the year when this unique location plays host to this extraordinary cycling event,” say organisers of the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge.

The Simpson Desert Bike Challenge, Australia

The Simpson Desert Bike Challenge

The race dates this year are the 27th September – 1st October, but don’t expect nice, cool Springtime weater.

In 2008 Wayne Chapman wrote “In February of this year I made the decision to enter the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge. (a silly idea I know… but something that I’ve wanted to do since I first read about it in 1988). I then had 8 months of on and (mostly) off, very sporadic “training” and suddenly I was standing at the start line at Purnie Bore on the western side of the Simpson Desert. What followed was far beyond anything that I could ever have imagined.

If someone had told me heading into this that some of the dunes were 17 meters high (days 2 and 3), that there would be a 100kph sandstorm/headwind (day 4), that the same day would hit a blistering 52degrees, and that the “average” riding temperature would be 38+ degrees…

I’d never have gone. But now that I did… I’m heading back in 2009.

The level of friendship and comraderie that this events brings out in the riders, support crews and officials is amazing.

He was back in 2010 too…  And that’s what this race is all about.

Simpson Desert Bike Challenge

This is the 25th time that this race is being staged. Normally it is held on the Rig Road, starting at Purni Bore, South Australia, on the western edge of the Simpson Desert, but in 2010, due to unprecedented rainfall in Central Australia, the low-lying areas of the Simpson Desert resembled a swamp and the race had to be swiftly moved to another setting, this time in the Great Victoria Desert. The Anne Beadell Highway was chosen for the route which gave racers the false impression that it was going to be a bit of a ride in the park sort-of race, nice fast stone track, etc. How wrong they were! The pounding their bodies, bikes and support crews took had to be seen to be believed…

Simpson Desert Bike Challenge

Collateral damage at the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge!

This year it’s back to Purni Bore. At 6am on Tuesday 27th September the first of nine stages will begin. The riders will head off along the ‘Rig Road’ which is a narrow clay capped track originally constructed for oil exploration in the 60’s, but it is fast deteriorating as time, weather and 4WD traffic take its toll. It is generally extremely corrugated, with stretches of deep sand and numerous washaways.

The first 4 days have an 80 km morning stage followed by a 50 km afternoon stage. The final 80 km stage on day 5 ends outside a classic Aussie icon – the Birdsville Hotel in the tiny outback town of Birdsville which is 20 km into the State of Queensland.

The total distance of around 590 km takes in some 700 sand dunes, salt lakes, vast cattle stations, gibber plains (otherwise known as desert pavement which is a desert surface that is covered with closely packed, interlocking angular or rounded rock fragments) and even a potential creek crossing. The course is weather dependent and subject to alteration.

There is no water at all between Purnie Bore and Birdsville.

Riders must maintain an average of 12 kph to stay ahead of the pursuing sweep vehicle. If caught by the sweep, riders are transported by vehicle to the end of that stage and receive a time penalty. Riders can then restart the next stage as normal. Compulsory water stops are located approximately every 20 km in the morning and at 15 km, 30 km and 40 km in the afternoon. It is mandatory to stop and collect water at every Water Stop.

Advice from the organisers: “To get through the race, you need a fit body, a good quality mountain bike and an enthusiastic support crew!”

As with so many of these types of events, the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge is for a good cause – or several good causes. The race is a not-for-profit event which was originally created as a fundraiser. It has supported the Paraquad Association, the Paraplegic Benefit Fund and now the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

“Fundraising from all the riders has just clocked over 20K! What a fantastic effort for the RFDS,” says Adam Simpson on Fb. All in the name of charity, he raises the bar another notch…

Entries for this race closed on 31st August – remember that for next year! You can enter this race by filling in their online entry form.

photos courtesy of


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