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Mountain Bike Orienteering

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What is MTB-O?

Note: Mountain Bike Links at end

MTB-O is a sport which combines mountain bike racing and foot orienteering and is related to Rogaining and Adventure Racing. MTB-O started in France in the early 1990s and soon spread across Europe. It was introduced in South Australia in the mid 90s.The inaugural World Championships were held in France in 2002 with Australia hosting the second World Champs in 2004. World Champs are now held every year and Australia has enjoyed considerable success winning gold, silver and bronze medals.

In MTB-O events competitors navigate on a bike between controls (check points) using a specially prepared map. Riders must stay on mapped tracks only and these range from well formed dirt roads through to cross country single track. As well as the need to know where you are and where you’re going competitors also have to make choices about what route to take. Do you go the shorter distance over the hill or the longer route around the hill where you can travel quicker? In “point to point” or “specific order” events riders must visit controls in a designated order and the rider who visits all controls in the least time is the winner (this is the format that will be used for the Championships). In score events the controls are given point values and the event is for a specified time. Riders choose which controls they visit with the winner collecting the most points in the set time.

So a successful MTB-O ride involves not simply pedalling hard but also the exercise of map reading skills and astute decision-making. An MTB-O is a test of not only physical but also mental prowess; a cycle competition where both your legs and brain do the talking.

Grab your bike and join other adventurous people in the new challenge of mountain bike orienteering.

What are the rules?

A complete set of rules can be found on the Orienteering SA website in the Event Management Section but the main rules are as follows:

  • You must ride on mapped tracks or designated clear areas only. You are not allowed to make new tracks or take short cuts through the bush.
  • You and your bike must stay together at all times and your control card or device must be attached to your bike.
  • You must wear a helmet at all times before, during and after the event whilst on your bike.
  • You must carry water with you.
  • You must obey normal road rules and ensure your bike is in safe working order.

When and where are events held?

Look under the MTB-O events schedule to find out the latest news on events. Usually events are held with one hours drive of Adelaide on weekends in local forest areas such as Mount Crawford or Kuitpo Forest.

Signs are usually placed near the event location to guide you to the parking area. They are either words, or an "orienteering flag" symbol in orange and white:

Who can participate?

Riders of any age are welcome to participate. Participants may ride solo or in pairs or groups. Participants can enjoy the event as a recreational ride or treat it as a competitive race. Mountain bike orienteering offers fun for everyone, from inquisitive juniors, to kamikaze elites and the young at heart veterans. There generally are 3 or 4 different length courses available at each event. Even if you get "geographically embarrassed" it will be fun finding your way back on course.

 What is the map?

The maps used at events are specially prepared are usually at a scale of  1: 15,000 - 1:25,000. Maps show all tracks and indicate which tracks are the fastest choices. Maps also include detail such as indications of the vegetation type and show coutours to help you judge how steep a track may be. You can carry the map in your hand or preferably use a plastic map holder mounted to the handlebars of your bike. There are several commercially available map boards however map boards can be borrowed from the organisers at the events.  Reading a map at 30 or 40 kms per hour, especially when going downhill, is a skill that takes some practice! In reality most mapreading is done while riding slowly and the map board will help to make it easier.

What equipment do I need?

A mountain bike in good working order with two effective brakes, something to carry water, a helmet and suitable clothing. A map board and compass are a good idea but apart from those items you only need pretty much what you would normally have when cycling. Not all riders carry a compass but it may be useful to help you get your directions. Review of Mapboards

Home made Mapboard

How do I enter an event?

At most events you can enter on the day. However some championship events will require you to pre-enter using Eventor. More detailed information about specific events is available in the Event section of the website

Do I need to be a club member to take part?

No - MTB-O events are open to entry for anyone. Many people who regularly attend events are members of orienteering clubs and enjoy the benefits of the magazine and reduced entry fees at events. If you are not a member you need create a Casual Registration in our online Event Management system Eventor - see the section on how to create a Casual Registration on this page "Join Now"

What do I do when I arrive at the event

When you arrive at an event you will need to choose a course and then register your entry. If you are unsure of the procedure, just ask the person at the registration who will arrange for an orienteer to assist you by explaining the course options and guiding you through the entry procedures. There will be information displayed indicating the procedure.

Courses and Event Formats

The length of the course varies from 6-30kms depending on which course you decide you would like to do. There is a course to suit every riders level of fiteness and experience. There are classes for men, women, pairs and groups.

On the map, a red triangle marks the course start, with control positions being indicated by red circles. The finish is marked by a double red circle (often near to the start). There are several different formats which are used for events.

A Line Course consists of controls numbered consecutively from 1 onwards, and you must visit the controls in this specified order.

A Score Course does not require you to visit the controls in any particular order and there are several variations of score courses.

Some score courses have a set time limit, and controls are allocated varying "scores". The aim is to get as high a pointscore as possible in the time limit set. In a Spanish Score you must visit all the checkpoints on your course, but you can visit them in any order, with the fastest time winning.

Guidelines on planning MTBO courses can be found in the "Course Planning" documents on this page - https://www.sa.orienteering.asn.au/about-us/technical-information

Entry at the event and procedures

After you have decided on your course you will need to fill in your details on a registration form and control card. Sometimes the registration form is a tear-off end of your control card.

At many MTB-O events, pre-marked maps are provided to entrants who register and pay in advance. These pre-entries usually close one weeks prior to the event but there will always be some "enter on day" courses available as well. If you are pre-entering an event, you will fill in your registration information at home, and the organisers will have your control card ready for you when you arrive at the event.

Registration information is most important as it provides the organiser with a record of all the participants in the event and is used as a check that you have returned safely.

You carry your control card on the course to record your visit to the controls using the numbered boxes. It can be handy to take a piece of string to attach your control card to your bike, or a zip tie can work well too.

Having completed the registration information, proceed to the registration table and pay the entry fee. There you will receive a copy of the map and the "control descriptions" for your course (sometimes the control descriptions are on a board at the control card table for you to copy onto your control card).

The Start Procedure

If you are uncertain about any aspect of the event, please ask for help before you set off. You should check that you have the following items, and will not lose them during the event: Bike helmet Map, control card & control descriptions Whistle (recommended) Compass (if needed)

At the start, report to the starter to have a start time allocated and written on your control card. Competitors on the same course are usually separated by two minutes at the start to minimise following. Once the starter calls your time or the clock sounds its long beep you may start.

What do I do when I am on the Course?

As soon as you are ready, navigate to your first control. The first control should be taken particularly carefully, as you are not yet "into" the map and the way features are shown. Orient your map so that it is lined up with the ground using the track and your compass. Try to match mapped features with what you see around you and vice versa. Be aware of the distance you are travelling.

MTB-O courses are entirely on tracks and you must never take your bike off the marked tracks. Control markers will be located beside tracks so you won't need to leave the track to punch the control. In an MTB event, you must visit each control marker with your bike; you can't leave your bike and go to a control on foot.

At a Control

There are several different methods used for indicating the control, depending on the size of the event and its location. At most events a flag with pin punches will be used, either hung from an adjacent tree or a metal stand. At smaller events different markers can be used (including plates with number and code or even flower pots!). In some events it may be necessary to carry a pen or pencil to note the code on the marker being used. Whatever marker system is being used a sample will be displayed at registration.

           Check that the identifying number on the marker matches that on your control descriptions. If you are sure it is your next control, use the pin punch to mark the corresponding square on your control card (or write in the code letter).

A pin punch is a bit like a stapler, with a number of pins which will leave a unique pattern of holes when you "punch" your control card. Insert your control card between the top and bottom of the pin punch, making sure the correct box on the control card will be marked, then press down firmly to "punch" your card.

Move away from the control a short distance and plan your route to the next control so others can punch their card.

If You Think You Are Lost

It is extremely rare for someone to be totally lost at an MTB-O event. It is more likely for you to be unsure of your exact position but to be somewhere relatively near the control. First try to relocate yourself. Use obvious features such as track junctions, hilltops or creeks if available, or go back to your previous control. You can ask someone for help - this is permitted for beginners though not for experienced orienteers!

If you are still "geographically embarrassed" head for a major road and follow it back to the start, or wait at any control you find for a competitor or the event officials to come and collect it! Only use the emergency whistle signal if really lost (or injured), as others are expected to abandon their course to assist you if they hear this signal (six blasts at ten second intervals, a minute pause then repeat).

The Finish

As you pass the finish (marked with a finish banner or often the same point as the start at small events) your time is recorded and written on your control card, which is collected from you. Your control card is checked to see that the correct controls have been visited and is then matched up with your result and registration card sections to ensure that all competitors have returned.

Always hand in your card when you return even if you have not completed the course. Courses close at a time predetermined by the event organisers (usually 2 to 3 hours after the last start) and you must return to the finish before then and hand in your card to avoid an unnecessary search.

What do I do after the event

Keep your map to study and perhaps draw in the way you went and look for better route choices. You may like to discuss your event with a more experienced orienteer at the after event and compare your route choice with others.

If you have enjoyed a few events you should consider joining a club. This will ensure you receive Club and Association Newsletters with details of coming events, results and general items on our sport. It will also provide you with opportunities for training and social activities (and someone to travel with to more distant events?) and often a cheaper entry fee at events. 

How hard is it to navigate?

The navigation required at events is similar to that of reading a street directory. As you get practice and familiar with reading the maps you will find your ability to make good route choices will improve.

Can I enter the Australian Championships as my first MTB-O?

Why not? As well as the normal age classes there will be non-championship classes and a recreation class available on all days which will be suitable for beginners. The championships will have people there on the day to help new riders and it will be an excellent opportunity to talk with fellow competitors and introduce yourself to this friendly sport. We welcome all entries and look forward to seeing you at an event in the near future!

 MTB-O & other Mountain Bike Links





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