Test your mettle with five of the toughest mountain bike races from around the world

Riders at the La Ruta mountain bike race
(Image credit: La Ruta)

The world’s toughest events take the bravest of riders across hundreds of miles, traversing dust-covered plains, up thousand-meter-high mountains, through dense jungle, over snow, and into water, with even the most hardened professional riders finding themselves pushed to their limits when taking part. 

Here are five of the most grueling and hardcore mountain bike events from around the world, never to be underestimated with some having stringent entry criteria, these beauties will challenge every ounce of your mental and physical strength.

Mountain bike riders racing the Crocodile Trophy in Australia

You may encounter the infamous razor-toothed reptile at Croc Trophy (Image credit: Crocodile Trophy)

Crocodile Trophy, Australia

For 26 years the Crocodile Trophy has challenged racers from all over the World to compete in an ultra-endurance mountain bike race and makes The Croc Trophy one of the oldest and possibly most iconic mountain bike stage races in the world.

The Crocodile Trophy takes nine days to complete and its hot, North Queensland temperatures can be around the 30 mark with hotter days being upward of 40 degrees Celsius. Throw in a lack of shade and you’re talking about serious sun exposure, so don't forget your sun protection and water, and bring plenty of it.

Mountain bike riders racing in the outback of Australia in Crocodile Trophy in Australia

The Crocodile Trophy takes nine days to complete and its hot, very hot (Image credit: Crocodile Trophy)

The race itself is over seven stages and around 600km with over 10,000 meters of climbing, all in the baking heat of the Australian Outback. It is unquestionably one of the world's hardest races, and that’s before any unexpected encounters with the infamous razor-toothed reptile.

The 2023 event is from 5th-11th November with entries starting at AUD 2,850. To register and more information check out Crocodile Trophy.

Rider pushing in the snow at the Iditarod mountain bike race

Fat tire bikes are required for this winter mountain bike Alaskan monster (Image credit: ITI)

Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000, Alaska

Racing a mountain bike self-supported in freezing temperatures in remote and inhospitable wintery conditions may not seem particularly attractive to most, but if it does appeal then this is the race for you. The Iditarod Invitational takes place over 1,000km of the Alaskan wilderness in around 30 frozen days and nights and is a test of resilience as much as a race to the finish. 

The Iditarod Trail Invitational has built its reputation on notoriously inhospitable conditions and minimal outside support. To even gain a place you must have completed the shorter ITI 350 race and demonstrate a mastery of winter survival skills, navigation, and self-reliance for the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness you will experience.

The northern lights in Alaska at an Iditarod MTB rece check point

The Aurora Borealis is a guaranteed highlight at Iditarod (Image credit: IDT)

Participants must carry all the supplies they need, but they can stop at remote villages on the route and use supplies that they've forwarded to the villages before the race. Despite the extremities of this Alaskan monster, Iditarod is incredibly popular with limited places available. The 2023 race already has a waiting list open with more information available at Iditarod Trail Invitational.

Mountain bike rider on The Yak Attack mountain bike race in Nepal

Yak Attack covers some of the most brutal terrain on earth (Image credit: The Yak Attack)

Yak Attack, Nepal

Altitude, temperature extremes, harsh living conditions, and very tough terrain make the Yak Attack one of the hardest mountain bike races around. Taking place in the mighty Himalayas, comprising of eight days, covering 280km, and with a total altitude gain of over 9,000 meters, this race throws every obstacle under the sun at the adventurous mountain bike riders daring to take it on.

Climbing to its highest point at 5416 meters above sea level, Yak Attack is, without doubt, the highest mountain bike race on Earth, and also has the highest timed enduro mountain bike stage from 5416 meters down to 2800 meters in just 8km of mind-blowing descent.

Riders on The Yak Attack mountain bike race in Nepal

Yak Attack is considered the highest mountain bike race in the world (Image credit: The Yak Attack)

The 2023 edition will follow a similar format to 2022, flowy single track and epic descents with the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop. Three very unique loops around Besi Sahar, Manang, and Kagenbi will bring eight epic days of the most exciting and intense racing you are likely to ever experience.

If you’re up for a challenge, Yak Attack is from 17th - 29th November and entries start at $2,495. To submit an application and learn more visit The Yak Attack.

La Ruta promises intense competition

Mountain bike riders racing at La Ruta (Image credit: La Ruta)

La Ruta, Costa Rica

Born in 1993, La Ruta in Costa Rica is the world's first multi-stage mountain bike race created by Mountain Bike Hall of Fame Inductee Roman Urbina. La Ruta has crossed the North American continent from the Pacific to the Atlantic on 28 occasions and for its 29th edition, the route is reversed. 

Departing from the hot and fertile Caribbean lowlands on the Atlantic coast and passing through 20 microclimates before reaching the Pacific after three days of intense mountain bike racing. 

Mountain bike rider in the jungle of Costa Rica at La Ruta

Sweltering jungle humidity awaits riders at La Ruta (Image credit: La Ruta)

This is one of the most difficult events an athlete can enter, between its sea-level start and finish, the 275km route crosses five mountain ranges forcing you to climb an elevation gain of 12,000 meters. You will go from the sweltering humidity of the rainforest to frozen volcano peaks and experience one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. 

With a prize purse of $12,500 for both male and female racers La Ruta attracts mountain bike racers from across the world, the competition is fierce and so is the scramble for places. Currently sold out, anyone wishing to join a waiting list can do so at La Ruta

Mountain bikers at Iron Bike Italy

There is over 24,000 meters of climbing at Iron Bike (Image credit: Iron Bike)

Iron Bike, Italy

Iron Bike claims to be the world’s hardest mountain bike race and the numbers back this up, eight days, 700km, and 26,000 meters of elevation. Iron Bike is a bucket list ticker for any mountain biking stage-racing masochist.

Famed for its amazing Italian Alps scenery and race organization this mountain bike adventure has a high attrition rate, with only 50 percent of participants lasting the full week, with the descents being just as demanding as the 26,000 meters of climbing (just mentioning that again!)

Mountain bikers climbing at Iron Bike

The Italian Alps hosts the Iron Bike mountain bike race (Image credit: Iron Bike)

This is not a challenge that novices should even consider taking on with many finishers reporting that they have been unable to walk for days afterward. At least they can bathe in the glory of having conquered one of mountain biking sternest events.

Iron Bike is set for the 22nd to 29th of July and is limited to just 110 participants with places going fast you can grab a spot at Iron Bike

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm