It has been suggested that Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO) is the same as Foot Orienteering with the exception of an added mountain bike for travel.

It is NOT, and I want to challenge that notion.

I think of MTB Orienteering more like a MOUNTAIN BIKE race that just so happens to have Orienteering! It is a subtle yet important difference that will drastically impact your race turnout. Mountain Bike Orienteering and Foot Orienteering seem to “at-a-glance” be similar.

However, Foot Orienteering cultures are very different. Just because you have the same essential mechanics does not make you alike. Are Baseball and Cricket alike? They both have bats, balls, and bases. Yet to ignore this difference is to alienate your potential participant and cause them to go elsewhere. That is no way to build a sport! And it is a certain recipe for poor race day turnout. Consider the following for a moment:

Size Matters: Mountain Bikers versus Orienteers
The Mountain Bike community has over 2-million enthusiasts nationwide (and growing) — out of which hundreds of thousands participate in mountain bike races every year. Orienteering could only WISH to touch those numbers! Don’t believe us? Go to your neighborhood bookstore and count how many magazines are dedicated to mountain bikes… now count all the orienteering ones. Ever tried to get registered for a local mountain bike race — especially a popular one or one that is part of a series — at the last minute? Good luck! When was the last time your orienteering Foot-O was sold out? Some Foot Orienteers don’t even show up for a race until the course is just about to close! Try that at your next mountain bike race. Nuff said.

Stability Matters: Established Industries versus New Kid on the Block
Ever tried to organize an MTBO event on the same day as a major MTB event nearby? Chances are if a mountain biker has a choice, the market trends show that they will choose an ordinary MTB race over the orienteering one 9 out of 10 times (even considering Adventure Races which are becoming more popular than classic Foot Orienteering). Why? MTB races are better funded, better sponsored, and probably have pizza too! Ever been to an orienteering race with pizza?? Us neither. This makes an MTBO race the odd-man when a Foot Orienteering style of race production is used. An MTBO event just cannot go head-to-head with an MTB event. It needs its own space and its own time to become familiar to potential racers if it is to succeed. Simply put, an MTBO race needs to be on a non-MTB race day to even get a shot at a decent turnout.

Organization Matters: Consistency versus Ad Hoc
Mountain Bike racers are advertised months in advance. This means they have not only had the benefit of last year’s advertising, but the garden variety mountain biker has most likely been aware of that race since before the season even started! So when Orienteering clubs try to throw something together at the last minute, they tend to forget to consider the market influences that will impact their event — that is if they follow through and hold the MTBO race in the first place. Several clubs last year planned MTBO events but then either never advertised them successfully or just couldn’t get the event off the ground, to begin with. If an MTB event organizer ever announced an event and then pulled out, you could beat real money that MTB racers would steer clear of that race in the following years. This means that Orienteering Clubs and MTBO Event Organizers need to plan their events months in advance and then actually hold the event. Rain or shine. 15 racers or 150 racers. And then try it again in the following year. This is how mountain biking built their market base — one race at a time! MTBO needs to do the same thing only not on the fly and not 2-weeks before the event. If your race is not getting to the riders at least 6-months in advance, you are already losing the fight. Turn to the back of any mountain biking magazine — see any MTBO races advertised there? No? WHY NOT??

The unmistakable popularity of mountain bike racing is the draw MTBO event organizers need to use to increase turnout. By going after the mountain bike market above and beyond the orienteering market, you not only expand your exposure to potential racers, but you just might help MTBO take off in America after all! So break yourself of this paradigm that Mountain Bike Orienteering is Orienteering with mountain bikes. IT IS NOT! Mountain Bike Orienteering “is” Mountain Bike Racing “with” Orienteering. Once you and others begin to embrace that subtle difference — that is not all that subtle when you start to unravel it — it is then that MTBO will begin to flourish in America!

Now go tell your friends!

Posted by Tommy Dauntless

Dauntless has been mountain bike racing, adventure racing, and orienteering for over 20+ years and has been building and directing mountain bike races for the better part of two decades. He was the first race director to design and direct MTBO races in the United States in 2010, and help launch the entire Orienteering USA effort to send athletes to the World MTBO Championships. His love for MTBO comes from competing in MTBO in Australia and wanted to bring the sport of MTBO to America.