How to Ride the GDMBR (Great Divide Mountain Bike Route) or Race the Tour Divide on the Course

If you like bikes and watch cycling stuff on YouTube, you’re bound to stumble across content from Ryan Van Duzer.

It was late one night and I saw a video about riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) “Solo” in 2020. It was a long video at just over an hour. But I watched it all.

On a work night.

That was dumb. But it was so worth it. 

The scenery was epic. The course was well planned, supported and populated where it was needed. And it seemed really quiet. 

That was appealing. I’ve added this ride, and maybe the race, to my bucket list.

Let’s learn more.

How Do You Race the GDMBR & Who Can Race It?

The GDMBR does have a race associated with it, called the Tour Divide. The Tour Divide is an event that takes place annually and follows a route roughly the same as the GDMBR itself, beginning in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and finishing in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, where the US/Mexico border is.

If you’re interested in racing or riding this route, there are few logistics to familiarize yourself with first!

Do You Have to Qualify?

There are no qualification requirements for the Tour Divide, as it is a standalone race. Anyone can participate in the race, so long as they do so within the two weeks that the race takes place.

Who Controls the Race?

Regarding who controls the race, the answer is yourself because it is not an organized race. This means that aside from the event’s two-week duration, all the management is in your hands, which gives you a lot more freedom than some other races.

You can go at your own pace to reach the finish line, so long as you arrive within the allotted period.

Can Anyone Ride the Route?

Anyone can ride the GDMBR at any time or participate in the Tour Divide when it happens. As mentioned previously, there are no qualification requirements. As long as you have a bike and some way of reaching the route, you can ride it.

Of course, you’re advised to do so only if you think you can handle it, as the route is no pushover even for experienced riders due to its extreme length.

Do You Have to Pay (Entry Fees)?

There are no entry fees for the GDMBR or the Tour Divide race. Both are free. However, this does not mean that you won’t have to spend a decent amount of money.

Keep in mind that the route begins in the north and ends in the south of the country. The travel expenses to reach the route will vary depending on where you live.

There’s also the cost of gear and supplies (which I will get into later) that you will need to consider ahead of time. As such, you might want to map out some kind of budget for the ride.

Before You Race

Now that you know how you race the GDMBR and who can race it, let’s explore some additional preparation steps.

Do Your Homework!

Whether you race in the Tour Divide or ride the GDMBR at your own pace, 70% of the journey comes before starting the actual ride.

Preparation is a part of any ride, but its importance is far more significant when riding the GDMBR because of the sheer distance you will be traveling. The route is 3,087 miles from start to finish, 90% unpaved, and has large amounts of changing elevations along the way.

Most maps show it has over 200,000 feet of elevation!

Those aspects already make for a challenging route, to say the least, and when you add all types of different weather conditions on top of them, you’ve got yourself one wildly unpredictable ride ahead.

Still, being as prepared as possible will pay off in the long run, so I’ll cover the most important things you’ll want to do before you set out on the ride.

Consider Taking More or Less

The distance of the GDMBR is naturally going to leave you exposed to a whole host of conditions that you will need to contend with. 

For example, prepare for extreme heat since the race typically takes place in early June. You won’t just experience one type of heat either. Since the route travels from north to south, you’ll likely ride through areas of dry heat and humid heat.

In contrast, going during a colder month of the year means that freezing temperatures may be one of your primary concerns.

Regardless of what weather winds up being a factor in your ride, you’re going to have to seriously consider what to bring.

A happy medium is essential to avoid overpacking and making the course more difficult for yourself.

So, How Do You Decide What’s Necessary and What’s Not?

Start with the essentials: toiletries, electronics, food/utensils, drinks, water supply, sleeping gear, rations, etc.

Even if you don’t wind up using them all, having them is a brilliant idea as it is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Next, consider what weather you’ll be dealing with and your level of tolerance for it.

Some riders can handle being chilly for long periods while riding. If you’re the same way and plan on riding the GDMBR when it’s cold, then opt for multiple layers instead of one heavy coat.

In general, you should pick all your clothing based on comfort and effectiveness. Also, be sure to bring at least a few extra shirts, pants, and underwear since you never know if or when you’ll need a spare change of clothes.

Plus, your bike is your only mode of transportation, so you want to have the tools on hand to fix any problem that might occur.

Additionally, knowing where you will be able to resupply on the route will play a significant role in how difficult things will be as the ride progresses. You can find what kinds of resources you’ll have access to along the way in the numerous maps provided by the Adventure Cycling Association.

Taking the time to map out where you can acquire supplies during the route in advance is a time-consuming yet fantastic idea. It will allow you to adjust how many items you pack initially. It’ll also let you know how long you will be riding before you get a chance to resupply your inventory.

Ensure Everything Works

Be it gear or the bike itself, make sure everything you plan to pack is in good working condition.

For instance, consider getting a new pump if your current one is old or unreliable. It can be the same type of pump or a different model. The main concern is simply having equipment you can depend on for the 14 or so days you’ll be riding.

Again, there are multiple points along the GMBDR where you can resupply. However, if something vital breaks before reaching your planned pitstop location, you will be out of luck.

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