Cairns is sweating with mountain bike fever, and the Reef to Reef Stage Race at the end of August brought the community together for four days of frothy trails. We wanted to know what all the fuss was about, so headed up north to get the lowdown (and escape the winter chill!).

What if you could combine your secret love for the grind with those post-ride vibes and have it all under the guise of a tropical holiday? The Reef to Reef MTB Stage Race in Cairns does just that. It’s all about exploring the region’s bike trails by day and celebrating as a community by night. It’s an event that pulls punters from all over Australia and the classic laid-back culture of this Queensland community leaves you wanting more.

Since when is there mountain biking in Cairns?

It might surprise you, but Cairns has been a mountain biking town since around 1990 when the scene was a bit renegade and the trails that thousands ride today were cut into the landscape, often on accidental overnight trips by a few legendary locals – locals that would go on to build world-class trails all over Australia.



One of these locals is Glen Jacobs, who’s not just a legend around Cairns but all over Australia in the mountain biking community. Glen is the Director of World Trails and has been a key figure in the development of Australian mountain biking destinations and a pioneer for the downhill trails we know and love across the country.

‘Trails are a big deal and I grew up around trails my whole life. I always tell people there’s no surf, there’s no snow. So the next thing is the mountains,’ Glen said.

It wasn’t until the mid-90s that Cairns was put on the map as a mountain biking event destination. Not just any events – world cups. Mountain biking brings towns to life and Cairns is no exception. The city has hosted several world-class level events over the past few decades, including the upcoming Crankworx, so it’s little wonder that the local community is excited to see what’s next in store for the region.

Cairns has the bones to be the best in Australia, it already has the support services of tour, hire and retail to supply an influx of frothers and has a huge range of other activities for days off the trail.

But it’s not just gnarly world-class downhill trails on offer. The Cairns region caters for all levels of rider and has over 700km of trails to explore.

The Cairns Reef to Reef MTB Stage Race

The Reef to Reef, a four-day stage race that covers a little over 150km, is a great way to get a taste of what the Cairns mountain biking network has to offer.

Reef to Reef not only showcases the trails, including some not usually open to the general public, but allows riders to be immersed in the Cairns biking community as you get to know the locals, share stories over a few beers at the end of the day and even get some tips on local trails you can explore after the race.


A stage race works by spreading out a long distance over a few days and a series of destinations across a region. Each day is a different stage, no one stage is the same but every day ends with a party, good vibes, refreshments and plenty of banter.

The Reef to Reef is a pretty casual vibe and you’re more likely to be looking to beat your mates than try and be the fastest overall on the day – not that there isn’t some serious talent at these events! Think of it as a Saturday out at your local trails, on repeat with a more accurate timing system than Strava.

The Reef to Reef takes place around August each year in the winter months where nearly every day is sunny and a lot drier in Tropical North Queensland than in the cold and damp southern states. You didn’t need to ask us twice to ditch the woolly socks and head north to see just how a tropical stage race plays out.

Photo by Tourism and Events Queensland

This year, the first day was a short 19km loop at the iconic Smithfield Mountain Bike Park, where previous world cups have been held and where the upcoming Crankworx event will be.

Day two stepped up the distance with 40km in the saddle. Out at Davies Creek, a little west of the beachfront, riders experienced that quintessential country Queensland feel as they transitioned between the coastal rainforest and rural setting. This ride really started to showcase the variety in trails of the region.

Day three started at Mount Molloy and was the longest day of the race. This day saw a lot more descending than the previous day’s climbing and the scenery kept riders distracted as they travelled through rainforest, crossed creeks and took in some phenomenal views.

The final day saw riders hit the famous Bump Track – word is this track sees the most injuries out of any of the trails – it’s easy to get a bit sendy and carried away on this one! With the little bit of juice they had left in the tank, everyone sprinted to the finish line (or was it those post-race beers?).

While not a gruelling amount of vertical metres to slog out, riders who sign up for the Reef to Reef are still in the saddle for four days, so you need a reasonable level of bike fitness and intermediate riding ability to join in.

MTB Builds Community

Reef to Reef isn’t just about the suffer fest, it’s what mountain biking is about at its core – bringing people together, building community and exploring the landscape through pedal power.



The event pulls mates from all over the country together to banter across 150km once a year. It brings new people to the region who’ll come back again and again (especially if they’re escaping the cold winter from down south) and it gives the local community an opportunity to share their love of their local trails and the stoke that a day out on the bike brings.

‘Community, it’s what you do. You could ask the same question of the Gold Coast, people that surf. That’s just part of their life and mountain biking is part of everybody’s life here. So everybody’s got an emotional attachment to it and the mountains,’ said Glen.



It’s events like these that showcase towns like Cairns for more than just the typical tourist drawcard, like the Reef.

Cairns is changing from a transient town to a city where people are putting down roots and building a connection to the mountains. They’re pulled here with the vision to build an adventurous lifestyle, and that might just have something to do with the efforts of the MTB community!

Thanks to locals like Glen Jacobs and support from Tourism Tropical North Queensland and government organisations further expansion and development of the trails is on the cards – it’s only going to get bigger and better!

The Cairns mountain biking community wants you to visit Cairns and feel it for yourself. They want to tell you about their favourite trails, share with you the history and tales of the town, and they want this frothy community to continue to grow.

So fire up the group chat and get planning! You’ll be kicking yourself next winter if your bike becomes an expensive garage ornament instead of taking you on an adventure filled with sun, beers, banter and a little type 2 fun!


Photos by @rideism