Facing Fears and Overcoming Mental Blocks on the Tour Divide MTB Race

The Tour Divide is an annual self-supported mountain bike race which follows the continental divide from Banff in Canada, down to the Mexican border. Josh Ibbett completed his first Tour Divide race in 2019, and here he gives us an insight into what the experience was like. 

What lead you to the point where riding 2700 miles (over 4000km) along the continental divide seemed like a good idea?

It’s been 10 years in the making. I first became aware of long-distance racing and bikepacking around 2008 when I read about a mountain bike race down the length of America. Over time my rides and races got longer and longer, and before I knew it I was regularly competing in long-distance, unsupported races. The Tour Divide was the race that drew me into this world — so I had to ride it one day.

This was your “rookie” Tour Divide. What was your biggest trepidation before you set off, and how did it play out on the trail?

The biggest fear is always the unknown. I know I can ride day after day, but the intimidating part was taking on the course. Not knowing where I was going, what the high mountains would be like, what the weather conditions would be; that was the hardest thing to deal with mentally.

How would you describe the experience in three words? (Cruel question, I know!)

Really long ride.

If there is one lesson that you learned from the ride, what is it and how will you apply it to your life/riding going forward?

It’s probably not as bad as you think it is, so just keep going.

Moving onto your gear (for the bike nerds out there), I read your steed was a Mason progressive cycles InSearchOf – an SRAM force 1x setup with a 36t chainring. Wheels were custom hunt gravel x wide rims laced into a son dyno hub. How’d that work out for you – anything you’d change, anything you LOVED?

The bike was great and pretty well suited to the job. There were a few changes that I’d make, some kind of front suspension would help with fatigue over the rougher tracks and I’d fit slightly easier gears just to help save a bit of energy on the steeper climbs. But apart from that, I wouldn’t change anything.

What were the best and worst bits of the experience?

The worst bit was knowing that my head was holding me back at times, but the best was feeling incredibly strong in the last few days.

Having completed what most people would describe as the ultimate bikepacking adventure, you seem like a good person to ask for advice. So, any tips for those of us just getting into bikepacking?

Just get out the door and start your first ride. That’s the hardest part. Once you get out there the lessons are easy to learn and it’s never as hard as you feared.

I know you rode the Ridgeway as part of your training, but are there any other local rides that you recommend (either for a “proper” adventure or just a doddle on a weekend afternoon)?

There is always an adventure to be had on the doorstep. The UK has a fantastic network of cycle routes and paths that are often super obvious. I like to pick a destination and select bike touring as my sport type, and see what happens. It’s usually a great mix of quiet roads, cycle paths, and tracks.

And finally, what on earth is next for Josh Ibbett?! Any more big rides in the pipeline? Or maybe there’s something else nagging at you to be done/attempted?

I suspect I will end up in Banff around the second Friday of June 2020. I’m not finished with the Tour Divide and need to go and have another crack at it, and this time ride to my full potential.

Any parting shots? Things you want the world to know about you/cycling/training/adventure/life?

There’s always time for an adventure, you just have to make it.

On that note, we close the interview and give you a chance to find your own adventure for this weekend. You can follow Josh Ibbett on komoot here .

Want to read more about bikepacking and MTB?

Get inspiration for a family-friendly bikepacking adventure in Spain here

Think you’d like to attempt a Transalp on an e-bike? Read this Pioneer story.