What is the Tour Divide? (Everything You Need to Know)

What is the tour divide?
Listen - What is the Tour Divide? (Everything You Need to Know)

I thought my bike trip was impressive – until I learned what the Tour Divide was.

The Tour Divide is a self-supported race down the Great Divide trail, and it takes my epic bike adventure and makes it look like a cute, little, weekend excursion. 

In this post, I’ll prove to you there are even sicker human beings than me who are willing to take bikepacking to a whole new level. We’ll go over everything you need to know about the Tour Divide race – when it is, where it takes place – then check back in to see if this challenge is right for you.

The ultimate bikepacking checklist

What is the Tour Divide?

The Tour Divide is an annual bike race that takes place on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Racers begin in Canada, and then work their way down the Rocky Mountains until they cross the finish line in New Mexico. 

The Tour Divide is an ultra-distance race that tests the mental and physical endurance of its riders. Racers climb mountains, span treacherous terrain, and expose themselves to unpredictable elements at every turn.  

For mountain bikers, it’s considered to be an all-time classic. It’s the world’s longest off-pavement cycling trail and each year top cyclists compete for record-breaking times. If you’re considering participating in this race, know that you’ll be up against some of the best like Ulrich Bartholmös and Lael Wilcox – I don’t know who those people are either, but they sound really fast.  

What are the rules?

For the most updated version of the rules, you can check out the Tour Divide’s website

But, here are the basics:

  • Riders can participate at any time, in either direction to qualify for the “General Classification.”
  • Riders are self-supported and self-timed. You are expected to time yourself in one continuous block from start to finish.
  • Riders must restock on their own along the way. Outside assistance is prohibited. 
  • Riders must ride 100% of the trail route – except for a few approved deviations.  

Before you book your flight to Banff, the fine print is that there is no pre-race meeting or kickoff. There are no checkpoints or officials, so riders must police themselves. Riders are responsible for their own safety – there are no communication mechanisms provided at any time. The idea is that you are completely on your own, start to finish, supporting yourself entirely along the way. 

How long is the Tour Divide?

The Tour Divide is 2,745 miles long. It starts at little green dot in Canada, and ends at that red dot on the U.S./Mexico border. 

There are seven sections to this trail: Canada, Roosville to Helena, Helena to Colter Bay, Colter Bay to Rawlins, Rawlins to Salida, Salida to Grants, and Grants to Antelope Wells.

How long does the Tour Divide take to complete?

According to the Tour Divide’s website, the average racer takes about three weeks to complete the race. That’s with no detours, no off days, and minimal potty breaks.

The course record, however, is 12 and a half days. You read that right. Nearly 2,700 miles were conquered in less than a fortnight (great word by the way). If I saw that guy on the trail, he would look like a cloud of dust that I would swallow on my way up the hill. 

For the average bear, it takes about two months to complete the Great Divide trail. There’s even a book that lays out a day-by-day journey – I highly recommend it whether you’re racing or not. It’s packed with tips about the terrain, weather, and where to get amazing food in each town.  

When does the Tour Divide start?

The Tour Divide typically begins in June. While there is no “official” start date, what is known as the “Great Depart” usually kicks off around the second week of June at both ends of the trail. This year, the Great Depart will take place on June 14th, 2024. 

June and July are typically the best time to ride the Great Divide. The weather is warm and there’s less rain than in other seasons. I started my journey in August, and while I was fortunate with the weather, I would have preferred to have started a bit sooner.

Where does the Tour Divide start and end?

The Tour Divide has two starting points: Banff, Alberta, and Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Riders have their choice of either riding north to south, or south to north. 

Most riders start in Banff and end up in Antelope Wells. It’s easier to predict the weather and the conditions get progressively harder over time – good for riders who need a few weeks to get their footing. 

With that said, I was told the south-to-north ride was actually quite pleasant. You start in the hot, dry desert, but end up in the Canadian Rockies where water is plentiful and there’s lots to see and do. If you opt for this route, just know that the weather will get colder as time goes on so be sure to add some extra layers along the way – and bear spray.

Best of Luck! 

The Tour Divide is a monster. If this post didn’t scare you off, kudos to you because surviving this trail was enough for me. I couldn’t imagine digging in for three weeks and churning out over 100 miles a day on those roads. If that’s what you’re into, more power to you. I’ll just be rooting you on from the sidelines. 

Email - CTA - LeadOffer1

Leave a Comment