This month Brodie sat down with Ricky Thackray, recently having moved from Western Australia to Victoria at the behest of his wife to further her career. Ricky has represented Australia at the World MTBO Champs in 2012, 2013, 2016, 2018 and 2019 and has taken out several Australian titles, although has yet to win a National middle-distance title despite winning the discipline consistently in all states. Weird huh?
Hey Ricky, good to sit down and have a chat with our first featured MTBO athlete. Can you tell us a bit about your orienteering journey and how you have got to where you are now?
I first started navigating in the funny sport of rogaining way back in 1993 and racked up an impressive number of events both in WA and interstate over the next 25 years. Although I tried a couple of orienteering events as ‘training’ in the early 2000s, it wasn’t until 2008 that I really got into it as a proper sport. In the intervening years I was introduced to adventure racing and loved the MTB aspect of that, which got me looking into anything MTB related and this led to MTBO in 2004/05. I had a crack at the Nationals in WA in 2006 and although that was a disaster for me (I still hadn’t learned to navigate properly on the bike), I didn’t give up and continued at it, slowly gaining confidence in WA events until I travelled to Daylesford in 2010 for the nationals where I got annihilated by the likes of Adrian Jackson, Alex Randall and Steve Cusworth, among others. That motivated me to get much better and I quickly improved over the next couple of years to make the national team at my second attempt, in 2012. I’ve not looked back since (except when riding in the wrong direction).
Now I know you dabble in both foot and mountain bike orienteering, for you what are the main differences? Which do you like better?
Aside from the obvious ‘bike vs running’ style, the main difference is in reading of the map. Foot orienteering is far more technical and requires very close attention to the map whereas MTBO involves being able to quickly read and interpret track grades and multiple route options to gauge which choice you think is going to be the fastest (as well as trying not to crash when reading the map on the bike) while still pushing hard. I like MTBO better because it combines my love of bike riding with the mental skill of map reading. Everyone should know how to read a map.
Interesting to hear the key differences, sounds like we could get a few more “foot” orienteers having a go themselves! So what is the best way to get involved in MTBO? Where should someone who’s interested start?
Get a decent MTB and go for a few rides to get the hang of riding off road. Come along to an event and ask around for advice on navigation and map reading. There’ll be someone around to offer assistance and I’m more than willing to show newcomers the basics of the sport. Most states have events in either score or line format depending on the time of year so you can either ride a set course or ‘choose your own adventure’.
Sounds great, I might have to get around to giving it a crack! Alright, lets move into some quickfire questions:
Top tip for success in MTBO?
Learn to make decisions while moving. Having to stop at every control or junction to get your bearings is time consuming and impacts flow. Also don’t be afraid to use a compass – I have mine on my wrist for quick reference to direction.
Which is better, Western Australia or Victoria?
For event types and number (outside of Covid years), Victoria. For weather, the laidback lifestyle and places to ride my bike where I don’t feel like I’m going to get crushed (and the roads aren’t total trash), WA is far superior.
Sprint orienteering vs. Forest orienteering?
I much prefer sprint orienteering because I’m so much better at it than in the bush but I like bush for the mental challenge of trying not to make significant errors (something I quite often fail at).
Where is the most interesting place you have orienteered?
I ran amongst some very big rocks in Poland that were very interesting and steep! My most memorable MTBO experience was the World middle champs in Denmark in 2019 (at this stage my last year of international competition – thanks Covid!), which featured a very technical single-track challenge with intense concentration required.
Favourite pre-race food?
Whatever, I don’t really have a race diet. I try not to go too ‘heavy’ right before a race. Perhaps if I had a strict race diet I may ride faster. Best post-race food would have to be choc milk.
Plans for the future?
To represent Australia at the world level for a few more years before I gracefully retire from Elite competition (or will I?) I’m already twice the age of many elite European riders but I enjoy the quality and variety of competition over there.
Thanks Ricky for your time today, where can people go to follow your progress:
I have a training log on AttackPoint that sometimes makes for interesting reading although quite often rants on a bit, particularly about Melbourne weather https://www.attackpoint.org/log.jsp/user_4380