What is the Tour Divide?

The Tour Divide is often attributed as being the originator of modern off-road ultra-endurance cycling events. The Tour Divide effectively follows the Great Divide route, probably one of the most famous off-road hiking/riding routes in the world, travelling the length of the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada in the north to Antelope Wells on the USA/Mexico border in the south.

If you’re not familiar with the route it effectively traverses the mountain range that splits the continental United States into its two parts. If you want to go into the full geographical concept, a divide denotes a ridge of land that separates rivers into the oceans in which they drain, the Pacific on the west and the Atlantic on the east. For the North American Continental Divide, this ridge is better known as the Rocky Mountains.

Riders will roll off the start line in Banff for the start of the 2023 Tour Divide on Friday, June 9th at 8 am. Some will be looking to race the course and the other riders with the hopes of potentially beating the fastest known time. For many however, just completing the 2,750 mile route will be the achievement of a lifetime; such is the legendary status of this epic route.

Tour Divide
Need to Know

Length: Approximately 2750 miles

Start: Banff, Alberta, Canada

Finish: Antelope Wells, New Mexico, USA

Elevation: 149,664ft (45,618m)

FKT (Fastest Known Time): 13 days, 22 hours, and 51 minutes (Mike Hall, 2016)

2022 winner: Sofiane Sehili, 14 days 16 hours 36 minutes

What is the best bike for the Tour Divide?

Gravel or MTB or something in between?

The Tour Divide is most definitely an off-road route and as such the bike you choose has to take on some of the most challenging terrain. What makes it equally difficult is due to the length and varying terrain and conditions what might be the perfect bike setup for the first half isn’t necessarily going to be the perfect bike for the second.

Wide flat handlebars, suspension and big chunky tyres will provide a level of comfort and safety when dealing with huge mountain descents littered with baby head rocks but when it comes to covering the long, flatter sections found in the latter parts of the route you might be wishing for the speed and efficiency of a drop barred gravel bike.

Short of carrying a spare bike you’ll find that most bikes riders of the Tour Divide opt for will feature plenty of customisation to try to limit the compromises that need to be made when choosing your setup.

Looking at the past winners it most definitely seems that a hardtail (front suspension) or rigid mountain bike has been the preferred style of bike for the fastest riders but the past couple of years have seen a resurgence in the ‘monster-cross’ build – when a hardtail mountain bike is set up with gravel bike style drop handlebars. This setup currently looks to offer the best of both worlds but with some compromises to handling and geometry. Of the three Tailfin R&D Division riders taking part in the 2023 Tour Divide, we actually have three different approaches! Justinas Leveika has opted for a monster-cross build, Chris Burkard is going for the rigid mountain bike and Gail Brown is riding a hardtail Scott Scale.

Check out Justinas’ Tour Divide bike check in more detail here.

As usual, it’s definitely worth checking out bikepacking.com’s ‘Rigs of…’ pages to see just what is being ridden in the Tour Divide.

Discover the 2023 Rigs on Bikepacking.com

What is the best kit for the Tour Divide?

The Tour Divide is no different to any off-road ultra-endurance race that takes its riders into the wilderness with regard to kit demands. But there are a few essentials.

  1. Full waterproofs. If last year’s event was anything to go by with its extreme storms then effective waterproofs are lifesavers.
  2. Bear spray. Somewhat alien to a lot of riders outside of North America. Bear spray is without a doubt essential for the first part of the route. It’s also wise to carry something that makes a noise, like a bell to warn wildlife, like bears and mountain lion, that you are coming.
  3. Enough water carriers. Water can be plentiful at the start but as the trail heads further south you will encounter arid high desert regions.
  4. Shoes for hike-a-bike. Leave the carbon-soled disco slippers behind and get something comfy to walk and push in.
  5. The comfiest sleeping setup you can find. With most riders taking well over two weeks to complete the Tour Divide, sleep is essential for completing the route safely.

An interview with Tour Divide expert Jay Petervay

Jay Petervary is synonymous with the Tour Divide having raced and won multiple times. Not only has he developed an unparalleled level of understanding and experience to shape how he approaches the race but he also provides guidance and coaching for some of the latest crop of contenders. We sat down with Jay to find out a little more of his Tour Divide experiences.

How many times have you ridden the ‘official’ TD race?

I’ve raced down the Divide 7 times total. “Officially” I rode the Tour Divide race while leaving with the Grand Depart, 5 times. 2 of those times we left from the US border, not Banff. Once because the Canadian section didn’t exist yet and the second was due to Covid.

2. What is your fastest finish time?

I’m terrible at knowing any time, on any route, regardless of how I did. When I looked it up it said 14 days, 12 hours, 3 minutes.

3. Which year/edition are you most happy with? What stands out as making it better than the rest?

Gosh, they were all so special for their own reasons. That said, the 2021 Covid Edition felt pretty special. I’m not sure if it was the pure joy of getting out after all the restrictions for so long or if it was because I helped instigate that edition and we rode the original Great Divide route, before Tour Divide. I’m sure it was both but I just really enjoyed myself “playing the game”. While it’s always physical, I was thinking through the strategy more, and having someone to play that game against was what really kept it fun. And it all worked out in the end for me which was pretty satisfying.

4. What parts of the route do you most look forward to riding?

I can find beauty in all the parts. It really depends on my mood and what condition I am in as well as which part of the day it is. I know the route so well I know what to expect and it’s easy for me to predict where I’ll be at any given time. I guess since I live on the route I do look forward to getting to and through Idaho. When I start to get to Idaho I get a spiritual feeling that last until I get deeper into Wyoming. I just know that part of the country so well and spend time in it all year long.

5. Are there any sections you don’t look forward to?

No, not really. I used to not look forward to the Gila in New Mexico but I finally had a good experience through it. After doing the route so many times it’s funny how that is. I think it is natural to hesitate and expect similar experiences from the past but at this point, I’ve had good and challenging experiences on all of them! So, I just expect the best experience in each section nowadays.

6. What is the best place you ever managed to camp?

After sleeping on the route for over 100 days there are many great places to camp but unfortunately, that’s not what I look for when it’s time to grab some zzz’s….

7. and the worst?

Ah, yes, this is more like it. From a couple of feet off the side of the trail, to behind commercial buildings, to next to dumpsters (while using boxes to stay warm), to the beautiful grass park that was actually a dog park!

8. What’s your normal feed strategy? Normal food/hot food or convenience store?

It’s pretty easy to eat on the route and modern-day convenience stores are more like small grocery stores. The strategy is I eat a lot, a lot of normal food. Just like everyday life, I try to have breakfast, lunch and dinner but x2 on all of them. I bring some snack/sweet type food but I like to bring sandwiches, cheeseburgers, french fries, pancakes, etc with me on the trail. As I’ve gotten older my body is much more efficient and I don’t get worried about food or water. I can go many, many, hours without both and it doesn’t worry me a bit.

9.  Tent or bivi?

This year? Neither.

10. What temperature rating and style of sleep system do you use?

I had a system custom-made a bunch of years ago that I really like. It consists of a heavier puff jacket and a skirt. They are filled with synthetic insulation so I can be careless and it’s warmer. It’s not the lightest because you’ll freeze and at this point in my life, I get cold quickly. I haven’t used a sleeping pad while racing for nearly 10 years.

11. What are the essentials you would recommend anyone to carry?

A proper rain kit is crucial. And I mean full kit – gloves and socks too. I think we all know what a basic kit consists of but it really comes down to what works for you. As I said I won’t use the micro puff jackets but I see all others recommend them. So, with that being said, again, get and know what works for you! 

12. What do you think is the perfect bike for Tour Divide?

I don’t think it’s been created yet. Time will tell… : )