By Mark Chipperfield
Each June the tiny Outback settlement of Melrose (pop. 406) is invaded by hundreds of lycra-clad mountain bike enthusiasts who are here to compete in the famous Fat Tyre Festival – the largest sporting event in the Flinders Ranges.
During Festival time the entire township is in party mode as competitors and their supporters from around Australia take over every available camping site, bunkhouse bed, motel room and B&B.
This southern Flinders Ranges is widely recognised as having some of the best terrain in Australia for mountain biking.
The region boasts several world-renown MTB tracks, including the popular Mawson, Bartagunyah and Orroroo trails.
The Melrose district itself offers riders some 75 kilometres of single track crisscrossing a variety of terrain, such as grassy paddocks, rocky outcrops and dry riverbeds fringed by ancient river gums.
As the title suggests the Fat Tyre Festival, now in its 15th year, is not a race in the pattern of the Santos Tour Down Under but an all-weekend celebration of mountain biking.
The event is open to riders of all ages and skill levels.
There are events for dedicated off-road specialists looking for the most technical downhill run to BMX riders who want to put on a jump display for the crowd.
The festival includes plenty of non-race attractions such as skills clinics, guided rides, bike maintenance classes, live music, street parties, giveaways and kids activities, such as treasure hunts, magic shows and talent contests.
There’s even a yoga-themed mountain bike adventure for those who like to combine their outdoor adventure with a little spirituality.
Organisers open many private roads and farm tracks for the event, so there are plenty of thrills and spills for hard-core mountain bikers too.
Held over the June long weekend the Fat Tyre Festival is now firmly established on the local calendar and is especially popular with families who enjoy camping and a spot of outdoor adventure.
Accommodation is limited so if you are thinking of attending, book early. Registrations open each March prior to the festival.
Riders who are unable to make it to Melrose on the June long weekend might consider taking part in the 6/18 Hour Event held each September.This consists of a series of male and female mountain bike races held over six or 18 hours, depending on your fitness and skills.
Some races are held at night. All riders must bring their own support crew.