MTBO is big in Britain and Europe. Australia had its first national champs in November 98 and we had ours two years later. Since then we've set up an Australia-New Zealand Challenge (we usually win!) and sent riders to the World Champs. Read on for a plain no-nonsense description.
In a normal MTBO event you have about a dozen control points marked on a map with circles. You have to visit them in order, using the track info to find the best route. Competitors start at intervals, and the fastest to do the course is the winner.
Control points are easy to find, they are all on or beside tracks, it's all about finding the best route and riding it well. The map shows how fast the trails are, and how steep the country is. Courses are designed to be won in an hour or two. Beginner events are sometimes run on easy terrain such as riverbanks. Check out an example map here. The Orienteering Hutt Valley website has more maps to look at. Search for "MTBO".
For some advice on what to expect, we've collected some hints. Some of these will apply to bikers taking up MTBO, others will apply to orienteers getting onto a bike. Once you have read those, print off the example map above, and then read an expert's advice on what he would look for as (s)he navigates round an actual course. If you're still hungry for facts, read the NZ MTBO Rules for the detail. They don't have any legalese like some rules, they are written for the rider.
There's a British variation called Trailquest or MBO Score. Here the map covers a bigger area and you get a fixed amount of time to visit as many controls as you can. The further ones are worth more points, and the time allowed is several hours. The map is something like the standard topo, you may have to guess the ridability of the tracks.
And New Zealand has a long-distance variation, called the Cyclic Saga. It's like a MBO Score but over two days. You get 7 hours on the first day and you must arrive at a given campsite where the organisers have ferried your gear. You get another 6 hours next day to visit more controls and get back to base. It's been running on Banks Peninsula in mid-March since 1995. There's also a one-day 8- or 4-hr version in the Akatarawas near Wellington called the "Ak Attack", it runs in late January.
Where can I try it?Traditional orienteering on foot is quite strong in New Zealand, and some of the 18 clubs have mountainbikers who are putting on MTBO events. The most frequent ones are near Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The long-distance events are more likely to be run by MTB clubs. Anyone is welcome to take part, they will usually have 3 or 4 course length options. Sometimes you will have to pre-enter but mostly it's turn up on the day.
See it on YouTubeSee these Aussie videos. There are differences about riding off-track between different countries, but the sport is essentially the same the world over.