MTB versus 4X4

Often when I’m riding the MTB far from home, I encounter friendly 4×4’s.  My standard greeting these days is “If you need a tow, just let me know”.  They usually laugh – although some of them take me seriously and ask how a cyclist could tow a heavy motor vehicle.

So when you have to cover tough terrain, which one comes out on top? The Mountain Bike or the 4X4?

MTB Pwns 4x4

Recent injuries have made it impossible for me to ride a bike for a while, so I offered to act as chauffeur for my friends.  They wanted to complete a point to point ride over the mountains, covering about 60 km (about 38 miles).  I agreed to drop them off, then pick them up at the end of the ride.

Some of the intervening terrain was impossible to drive – even in a 4×4, so I would have to drive twice as far as them.  Half of my driving would be on paved roads and highways, the other half was on rough dirt tracks through the D’Aguilar National Park.  To add to the challenge, I’d never driven a 4X4 off-road before, and it wasn’t my vehicle; so I wasn’t going to push the pace very hard.

I left my friends at the bottom of Wirth Road, Laceys Creek.  This tough climb rises almost 500 metres (1640 feet) over 5km (3 miles).  The fastest MTB time on Strava for this climb is just over 40 minutes.  The track isn’t open to motorized vehicles, so to meet the riders at the top of the climb I had to drive 16km around the long way – over three times as far as the MTB route.

To my surprise I arrived at the top of the hill only 2 or 3 minutes before the riders.  This amazed me.  Two fit mountain bikers could ride UP a steep climb over 5km at about one third of the speed of a motor vehicle.

More impressive – these guys weren’t even out of breath.

After exchanging a few pleasantries and a couple of obligatory photos, I left Wayne and Darb to ride off down “Butcher Shop Creek Road”.  My mind boggles at how someone chose these names!

Butcher Shop Creek Road is a 10km (6 mile) descent which drops almost 600 metres (about 2,000 feet) down the other side of the range.  Like Wirth Road it’s closed to motor vehicles, so (once again) I had to go around the long way.  To even things up a little bit, the mountain bikers had to bash through some thick lantana, and rocky creek beds at the bottom of the ride.

While they enjoyed the quick descents and rocky creek crossings, I drove northwards through some rough terrain.  Some of the tracks I drove down had massive water bars.

“This would be awesome on an MTB” I thought to myself as I slowly eased over the humps to avoid bottoming out.

I knew Wayne and Darb would be stopping occasionally to take photos, so I decided to do the same.  This is a beautiful part of the world, whether you’re pedalling through it or driving.

Some of the carpet pythons around here are huge.  I once ran the bike over the tail of a 3 metre giant stretched over the entire track sunning himself.  He reared up in surprise and scared the crap out of the guy on the bike behind me.

Today I managed to get up nice and close to this gorgeous specimen from the safety of my car.  He didn’t seem too worried about me.

While I knew I had a rendezvous with my riding buddies, I wasn’t in a mad rush and took my time to soak up the ambiance at one of the many creek crossings.


Wayne and Darb had a few creek crossings of their own.


They also came across this delightful little camp site in the middle of nowhere “Bob’s Camp, 2008”.  I’m sure Bob had a great time with no one to bother him except the horses.

The riders stopped for a bite to eat on the banks of the Brisbane River.  About the same time, I stopped in a local cafe for a bit to eat as well.  All up I think we both stopped for similar amounts of time.


Our destination was the small town of Toogoolawah, about 90 minutes drive on the highway northwest of Brisbane.  It’s an important place for trail riding as it’s on the “Brisbane Valley Rail Trail” – a 160 km recreational trail built on the remains of an old railway line.

The railway station is still in town, but the train left years ago.  Now, instead, you can see mountain bikers, hikers, and horse riders passing through town on a regular basis.

I arrived in town about 20 minutes before my riding buddies.  I knew they weren’t far behind me because Wayne had my Spot GPS Messenger.  It transmitted his position every ten minutes, so I was able to view his location on a map with reasonable accuracy.

All up, my track log showed I was moving for about 3 hours while driving a total of 120km.  Darb’s track log showed he was moving for about 3.5 hours while riding a total of about 60km.

In fairness to the riders, about half of my drive was on paved roads where I was able to travel around 100 km/h (65 mph).  When you take that into account, I think the mountain bikers did really well.  If all of my journey had been on dirt roads, I think my riding buddies would have beaten me to our destination.

I know it’s not an accurate scientific comparison of the two modes of transport, but I think it demonstrates what we already know:  Mountain Bikes are a really efficient way of moving through rough country.  When ridden by skilled, strong riders, they’re difficult to beat.

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