I've written about The Melrose Fat Tyre festival on quite a few occasions now. The festival just passed was my third consecutive one and was every bit as good as the first, which is why I keep going back. I mean they do change and switch things up, keeping it fresh, but the vibe always remains the same: chilled out, family focused mountain bike fun.
It should actually be called the Melrose Mountain Bike Annual Family Reunion, because that's what it feels like; family friends that haven't seen each other in a while coming together each year. Maybe there's a new girlfriend or boyfriend but they're all still family.
Some of you are probably wondering what I'm talking about. The Melrose Fat Tyre Festival happens annually in Melrose, South Australia each year. Melrose is a quaint little rural town three hours north of Adelaide and consists of two pubs, a cafe, a petrol station and a weird kind of general store that sells overpriced ice creams. Oh, and there's a bike shop. The bike shop is called Over The Edge and is part of a global chain of destination bike shops (there are also stores in Fruita, Colorado; Hurricane, Utah and Sedona, Arizona). The shop and town sit at the base of Mt Remarkable, which is the at the southern end of the Flinders Ranges. Rich, Kerri and Al run the shop/lounge for most of the year (except when it's too hot to ride) and together with local landowners and the local club, they've built, developed and maintained some 80km of purpose built singletrack.
The best way to describe the town is to imagine Mangaweka with a bike shop. It's got a population of about 100 and when the festival is on that might triple or get close to 400. Mostly Adelaide locals and families make the trip up but you'll also find Kiwis as well as out of state Aussies and one American.
Rich, Kerri and Al together with the local MTB club do keeps things fresh each year and try and evolve the festival and all the changes I've witnessed over my time attending have been positive ones. The biggest and most inspired development for this year was to keep all the after riding activities in the main street. Melrose's main street is always closed regardless, but this year instead of people heading offsite they trucked in a large marquee as well as the flat bed trailer off a big rig to serve as a stage for bands to play on and for people to party under for the night. It worked, with the main street staying alive all through the weekend and truly acting as the hub for the festival.
This sounds cliche, but the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival truly caters for all types of riders and people. For the kids there are skills sessions held with the visiting international rider, in this year's case Kelly, as well as street races, bike powered smoothy making and a bike decorating competition. For everyone else you can choose to go on group rides that cater to all skill levels or you can take part in skills course, even the Over the Edge bike mechanic takes a hands on bike maintenance tutorial. This year there was a two stage enduro/super D event and to top it all off Kelly backflipped into a leech and yabby infested dam.
Each year I say the same thing after the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival: it might not be the biggest, and it might not have the flashest events and riders' names in bright lights, but it has the most heartfelt down to earth vibe I've ever witnessed in mountain biking. It crosses genres and shows mountain biking as a lifestyle, not a sport we do in the weekends. It really is an example of what makes a good festival and is still my favourite event of the year (that's why I keep going back).
And for Kiwis who want to check out Melrose and Adelaide's riding, well things just got a whole bunch easier with JetStar's new direct Auckland to Adelaide flights. If you book ahead of time you can get yourself there for as little as $200 one way like we did. You don't even need to take a bike as OTE rents high end sleds like Ibis Ripleys and Trek Remedys.
As much as we love coming back to South Australia, a bunch of people help make it possible so we'd like to give a massive thank you to South Australia Tourism for making this trip possible, to Rich, Kerri, Troy and Al at Over the Edge Sports for putting on another awesome Fat Tyre Festival. We'd like to thank Britz Campervans for providing the wheels and a giant cupboard for Kelly's stinking clothes as well as the talented Ross Mackay for producing another very cool video. And finally a huge thanks to Angus Sobels (and his amazing family) who is the reason we discovered Melrose and South Australia in the first place!