The Desert Challenge was first run in 1987 when mountain bikes were in their infancy. Rigid forks, toe clips (or not) and relatively narrow tyres were the order of the day.
MTBs and gear improved with suspension, clipless pedals, better tyres and camelbaks. Riders developed new ‘sand riding’ skills and many were able to successfully cross the desert in front of the sweep.
The depth of sand on the track and dunes changes from year to year. A ‘bad’ year could see most of the field swept due to slow going in deep sand. Maximum flotation has always been the aim to enable greater sand riding capability.
Whilst a standard mountain bike with wider tyres is all that is required for the race, the Fat Bike has been a game changer with survival more likely (i.e finishing 100%) and the stronger riders being more competitive to the finish. Whilst the Fat Bike is an advantage in the dunes, a standard mountain bike will dominate on the gibber plains and inside Birdsville track.