With an earlier and extended calendar spot, guaranteed 23% increased heckling (!) and more ride options than you can poke a suspension fork at, the 2019 BikeSA Dirty Weekend in South Australia is going to be epic!
MBA's James Raison dove deep into arguably Australia’s premier 24-hour event to find out what makes Dirty Weekend such a must-do.
Fill that coffee cup and kick up your cleats... it’s time to talk Dirty!
GENESIS OF 'DIRTY'
Aside from being South Australia’s premier MTB event, and arguably the country's, Dirty Weekend is also the state’s only 24-hour race. It’s grown exponentially since its inaugural running in 2001, and has been held every year since then. That success is a testament to event organisers BikeSA, the sponsors who support the event and the army of volunteers who make it possible every year.
Rider numbers run consistently over 400 across all grades and events each year. Spectators flock in their hundreds too; supporting, heckling and enjoying South Australia’s biggest celebration of big tyred bikes. And when we say celebration, we mean it, as multiple Dirty Weekend solo 24-hour winner Kevin Pullen describes.
“There’s guys out the back side of the course with their own disco going. It’s especially funny when there’s smoke machines, lights and a disco ball going in a forest all through the night. They put on quite a show!”
For 2019, Dirty Weekend has expanded too. There’s been a calendar shift to the final weekend of April (26th-28th) rather than its traditional first weekend of May spot. These new dates mean riders can set up camp from 3pm on ANZAC Day (Thursday the 25th - be sure to book with BikeSA), with the event village open from the Friday night. From the Thursday, trails will also be open and rideable to anyone keen to cut some practice laps and familiarise themselves with the course, allowing both interstate and local competitors the chance to turn their Dirty Weekend experience into a 4-day epic.
The Cudlee Creek Forest sits just a short 35km from Adelaide's CBD. Intertwined within the forest is the Fox Creek Trail network, a dirt playground with a broad spectrum of tracks and trails that cover downhill to cross-country, as well as some learner skills tracks. It’s widely regarded as the best trail network in South Australia.
The Cudlee Creek Forest area is a triumph of rejuvenation. The area, administered by Forestry SA, suffered badly at the hands of the Ash Wednesday bushfires back in 1983. Seeing an opportunity, the team at Destination Trails, headed by founder and trail designer Nick Bowman, got to work. Along with support from Bike SA, the Human Projectiles MTB club and a host of local volunteers, they toiled for years to create and maintain the network, and that dedication can be fully appreciated when out on the bike.
Both the forest and the trails within are dearly beloved by the local MTB community, so much so that car parks quickly fill from early morning each weekend. However, thanks to the large number of trail options, the place never feels crowded. Trails this good and this close to the city are not only hard to find but the perfect place to hold one of the state’s biggest cycling events.
BikeSA have stacked the weekend with ride options:
- 24-hour challenge from 2pm Saturday, 27th April - Solo riders, duos and teams of four.
- 12-hour challenge split into 6-hour stints; 2-8pm Saturday 27th April and 8am to 12pm Sunday 28th April - Solo riders, duos and teams of four.
- Roof Rack City 6-hour challenge starting 8am Sunday, 28th April - Solo, duos.
- 3-hour e-MTB challenge, 3-6pm Saturday 27th April - Solo riders only.
- Schools Challenge Trophy for youth teams of 4, with 6-hour and 12-hour options.
Those who haven’t ridden the Dirty Weekend course can expect a heady mix of challenge, beauty and brutality. The loop is 11km and involves about 200 metres of climbing. If you want to check it out in more detail, have a look at the Strava segment.
We found riding a single lap not overly demanding (depending on fitness levels of course!) but riding as many laps and entering into the true spirit of the event can be a real challenge. Kate Penglase, national solo 24-hour MTB champion and dual Dirty Weekend solo women's 24-hour winner, told us more.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s quite a brutal course! You’re constantly having to work the whole time. There’s no extended climbing so you’re not getting any breaks for that. From a riding perspective, it means that you’re on the whole time.”
It’s not an overly intimidating course from a technical perspective, so even relatively inexperienced riders will find the most of the terrain rideable, with just a few challenging rock sections perhaps forcing them off the bike for a short walk. There’s also no sudden or large drops to catch newer riders out. Experienced carvers, though, will love the diversity of a course that still offers plenty of tests.
Fomer winner Kevin Pullen says it's definitely one for the purists.
“The perfect place to come race if you’re a keen mountain biker because it’s purely a mountain biker’s course. You’d want to spend a fair bit of time on a mountain bike. You wouldn’t want to spend all your time training on a road bike and then compete.”
The variety of the course is also a huge plus-point, as Kate Penglase adds.
“It’s a great course because there’s so much diversity within that one lap. You’ve got rocks, you’ve got tree roots and there’s a few sections of fire trail in there. There’s a couple of points where the view is absolutely spectacular, and that’s one of the reasons I like to keep coming back. At one point of the course you can see the city of Adelaide, particularly at night, and it’s absolutely spectacular. Then when you head around to the other side of the course, you’ve got amazing rolling hills.”
As you make your way round the course, Dirty Weekend provides riders ever-changing environs. The light, the flora and the surfaces change seamlessly before your eyes as you start your lap. round the course. The early section of the lap is spent beneath dense and imposingly tall pines. They create a shadowy, almost eerie atmosphere, with light bursting dramatically between the trunks. The air fills with a fine dust spat off rear tyres, and that dust combined with the dropped pine needles creates a tricky shifting surface. Well-ridden tree roots have been polished smooth over the years, forcing front tyres to earn their keep on downhill sections.
The lap then passes through lush, verdant ferns as riders thunder down quick and narrow single-track. Fronds briefly kiss churning legs, as riders whip their way around the top of the valley. These sections are refreshingly open and exposed, providing relief from the earlier darker parts of the course. At night, you can event catch glimpses of Adelaide sparkling in the distance.
The course then turns to hard-packed dirt sections lined by tall grass that either glows gold or shimmers cool green depending on the time of year. Clustered berms give riders some fast corners to rail, giving them the chance to playfully spray dirt off their rear wheel at watching spectators.
The greenery then gets more dense as the course drops to its lowest point before riders begin the gradual climb back to the start of the lap.
Uphill sections are diverse, with some tight switchbacks to navigate in some parts and straight grinds to battle in others. Fox Creek is known for punchiness, rewarding riders' timely bursts of power.
Each completed lap brings a fresh burst of applause (and good-natured heckles) as intrepid riders push through the start/finish line next to the event village. The atmosphere created by the fans is truly unique, as Kate Penglase told us.
“What amazes me is that people stay up, even people that aren’t riding, for that whole 24-hour period. So you’ll be riding through at 3am or 4am in the morning and you’ve still got people there yelling support. At some 24-hour events you’ll find that other than the odd support person, the entire event village just shuts down. Dirty Weekend keeps that going for the whole 24-hour period, so I have very fond memories of that part of the track.”
The event owes a great deal of its success not only to the quality of the course but also this good-natured, jovial atmosphere. As 24-hour events become rarer, the success of Dirty Weekend should be embraced. As organisers look to attract both local and interstate competitors in the coming years, the 'Dirty' is sure to go from strength to strength.
Spectators are spoilt for choice inside Cudlee Creek Forest for the event, with numerous food options, coffee and beer trucks keeping energy and stoke levels high. Expect to see plenty of demo bike tents in the Village too, allowing for the chance to drool over a potential new weapon for next year's event... or maybe something to make your mates jealous! Masseurs will be on hand to soothe those aching muscles, and support will also be provided for those inevitable mechanical mishaps that come with riding endurance events. The Scouts big screen will also scroll live results and screen MTB videos, plus live music will be pumping through the night to motivate riders.
Spectators who bring their bikes but who aren't taking part can still access several trails in the Fox Creek complex not on the official course. All of the black runs to the east of the track will be open to get gnarly, and there’s plenty of blue and green runs to the northern end as well. For the youngsters, there’s a freshly-constructed 'Dirt Skool' mini pump/skills track and a small downhill trail adjacent to the Croft Road car park entry to practice getting loose. We gave the pump track several runs when we did our photo shoot and, well, it’s totally badass! Expect plenty of adults to tip it down when nobody's watching.
AROUND AND ABOUT...
It’s easy to forget how close Cudlee Creek is to Adelaide, because as soon as you enter the forest, the big city feels a million miles away. Beyond the event complex, though, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding area over the course of the weekend.
There’s the Anderson Hill Cellar Door restaurant, just a stone's throw from the Croft Road car park. We can personally vouch for their pizza, wine and coffee having dropped in more than a few times during our trips out to Fox Creek. The raised verandah and lush grassy areas are also a perfect place to refuel and rest those cooked legs.
The wider region is also packed with interesting things to see and do. The hills and towns east of Adelaide are a well-known cycling heaven, with the Tour Down Under peloton flying through each year.
It’s foodie heaven too, with the nearby towns of Lobethal, Woodside, Balhannah and Oakbank all full of cute cafes and delicious eateries. Plus, the unique town of Hahndorf, settled in the 19th century by Lutheran migrants, is just a short 25-minute drive from Cudlee Creek Forest.
Those wanting to build a cycling holiday around Dirty Weekend have numerous options at their disposal. Other MTB parks right on the city fringe include the Eagle MTB Park, Craigburn Farm, Sturt Gorge, O’Halloran Hill and Shepherds Hill. There’s amazing fire track riding in the Cleland Conservation Park and Black Hill area too. And if that's still not enough to satisfy your mountain-biking hunger, ambitious riders can take on the legendary Mawson Trail, which starts in the Adelaide suburbs, running through Fox Creek on its 900km journey up to the stunning Flinders Ranges.
Thanks to its accessible terrain, the Dirty Weekend course is a great leveller, giving every class of mountain bike and mountain bike rider a shot at competing. We think a short-travel dualie is undoubtedly the ideal setup, but you’ll see a huge variety of other rigs rolling round the course, tailored to exaggerate the strengths of their riders. Every wheel diameter, frame material, tyre width, chainring option and even decade of mountain bike is represented across all of the categories.
One equipment choice that shouldn't be overlooked, though, is a good set of lights. You need a solid can full of lumens on the bars, and another on the helmet, to navigate the darkest corners of the track if you’re planning to tackle the course after sundown. Navigating the often tight turns requires plenty of illumination to allow you to confidently make it through unscathed.
Registrations for Dirty Weekend are now open and will close at 5pm on Wednesday, 24th April. Pricing, event guides and all information to help you start your planning is available on the BikeSA Dirty Weekend website. And don't forget, if you want to set up camp early on the Thursday, don't forget to register with BikeSA ahead of the event.
So time to start testing legs, checking equipment and rustling up some friends for what will be an incredible weekend. As for us, we’re off to make some enquiries about that forest nightclub. Fern mojito anyone?