Atlas Mountain Race 2023, a race in which getting the right bike seems impossible
The very tough race that will take place between today and the 11th through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, offers such a variety of terrain that choosing the right bike to face this adventure is not an easy task. From gravel bikes to full suspension mountain bikes, any bike with off-road capabilities becomes a possible tool for the 208 cyclists who are already waiting in Marrakesh in the hours before the start of the race.
Which bike to choose for an ultra-distance challenge in remote territories?
More than 1,300 kilometers, 20,200 meters of accumulated elevation gain and in non-stop format in less than 8 days. This is the letter of introduction of the Atlas Mountain Race, an ultra-distance event that will take place between today and February 11th, crossing, as its name suggests, the most remote places of the Atlas Mountains.
As usual in this type of ultradistance races, the competition is carried out in self-sufficiency format, i.e., participants must carry everything they may need along the route and to solve any incident they may suffer. Only at the three checkpoints along the route can they have some assistance.
In between, stretches of more than 100 kilometers totally unpopulated where getting food or water is a fantasy.
Many factors come into play when choosing a bike for such an adventure. We are talking about a long-distance race where the carrying capacity of the gravel bikes and their greater ease of rolling become an ally. However, the very tough terrain of the Atlas Mountain Race, with rocky sections, complicated descents and high percentage climbs are more conducive to a mountain bike.
Taking a look at the bikes presented by the participants, the truth is that we find everything, in most cases with generous balloon tyres to try to deal in the best possible way with the rough terrain of the Moroccan race.
In the two editions of the Atlas Mountain Race, the winners have used mountain bikes with 29" wheels. In 2020 the Frenchman Sofiane Sehili with the peculiarity of a completely rigid configuration, perhaps the perfect balance between the usual configuration of mountain bikes and gravel bikes. Its advantages include a more comfortable riding position compared to gravel bikes and the ability to fit larger tyres, although not too much, as the distance requires the use of rolling tyres that allow covering kilometers with as little ballast as possible.
In that first edition, a large part of the race was led by the former professional based in Girona, Christian Meier, who chose a gravel bike for the Atlas Mountain Race, with generous balloon tyres to deal with the rough terrain of Morocco.
In the 2022 edition, the victory went to the also French Marin de Saint-Exupéry, although, in his case, he opted for a more conventional configuration with suspension fork. Both took just under 4 days to complete the more than 1,000 kilometers of this African adventure.
There are even those who prefer to prioritize comfort, choosing XC full suspension bikes, such as the Orbea Oiz used by the second classified in the 2022 edition, the German Jochen Böhringer, although this type of bike limited him when it came to transporting what he needed.
The ability to carry different types of bikepacking bags and racks is essential when choosing the bike to use in a race like the Atlas Mountain Race. Even if the top finishers manage to complete the race in less than 4 days, most of the participants will take a few days more, which requires carrying more equipment, food or hydration capacity.
To deal with the load limitations determined by the geometries or sizes of some bikes, it is curious to see how many participants of this 2023 edition mount the Tailfin racks that we talked about a few days ago, compatible with virtually any bike on the market thanks to its ingenious fastening system on the rear wheel lock, also adding a plus of stability in the steep terrain through which the race takes place.
In any case, reviewing the bikes of the edition that starts today, the 29'' rigid mountain bikes take the lead in the choice of the participants against other options such as full or gravel machines. Of course, with a varied selection of tyres, drivetrains or transport bags that is already within the realm of personal choice and the forecasts of each participant.