Skip to content

RIDE REPORT: 2019 Myrtleford Alpine Rally | Features

August’s Myrtleford Alpine Rally certainly lived up to its name. In the week leading up to the ninth running of the event, I kept one eye trained on the weather forecast.


The Victorian Alps were set to get nearly one metre of snow as a massive storm made its way across the southeast of the country.

This would mean rain for Myrtleford and potentially snowfalls on the higher parts of the course. I called organiser Chris “Bonarch” Bonnaci two days before and he assured me that it would be a cracker of a day … well he would say that, wouldn’t he? I was doubtful, but the show had to go on.

I arrived in Myrtleford on the Friday night to find the small town bustling. Cars with ski racks or bike trailers filled the streets and the local pub, the Buffalo, was packed to the rafters. I met Chris there and, once again, he assured me that the tracks would be perfect. This was despite the fact that the Great Alpine Road was closed due to heavy snow and the wild weather continued.

Morning broke and I jumped in the ute and headed out to event HQ at the Gapstead Recreation Reserve. Surprisingly, the skies were pretty clear and it looked as though the rain might hold off. But, given conditions during the week, it still didn’t fill me with confidence. And that’s not to mention the below-zero temperature.

By the time I got to the track at 7am, the car park was already filled to the brim and riders were already gearing up. The organised-trailride crowd is certainly an eager bunch. Bacon and egg sangas were the order of the day for breakfast and a couple of fire bins helped combat the icy chill.

For this year, the big H had come on board to support the event and the bright red Honda truck and a fleet of shiny new CRF450LXs were among the star attractions in the event area. They were also offering test rides on a purpose-built demo loop.

The Alpine Rally attracts a variety of characters, from straight-up beginners, to weekend warriors to the who’s who of the dirtbike industry. But the one common theme was that everyone was itching to start their engines and hit the trails.

I teamed up with Chad Talbot, the brains behind Chad’s Offroad Setups. He knows the area like the back of his hand and offered to show me the best photo and video opportunities.

After a riders’ briefing, riders raced back to their bikes, barely able to contain their excitement. Chad and I sneaked off ahead of the pack and found a spot to take a few photos of the first riders. Before long, the eclectic mix of two-stroke and four-stroke sounds started to rattle the trees and, one by one, bikes flashed passed. The Alpine Rally is not a race, but you wouldn’t know it watching the front-runners; they were on the gas.

We jumped back on the bikes and hit the trails. The rain had held off and, much to my surprise, the tracks were near perfect. It was classic Victorian conditions; the rain had made it a little muddy and challenging, but the ground had soaked up the water just enough to provide adequate grip. Bonarch wasn’t kidding! As I flowed through the trees, I thought to myself that I haven’t had this much fun in singletrack for yonks.

That was until my front brake gave way. It wasn’t my first rodeo with front-brake failure so I nursed the bike to our next stop, where I discovered that the adjuster had rattled loose. I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t something more serious and pushed on.

With full stopping power, I returned to enjoying the ride and the lack of rain. Despite the great conditions, many of the beginner riders were having trouble in some sections. The tracks were still quite slippery, and logs, bog holes and hillclimbs had brought a few people undone.

The other end of the stick was people like the guy who passed me on the outside of a corner, sideways and wide open, on a bloody KTM 950 Adventure! Maybe Chris Birch. Like I said, this ride attracts all sorts.

About midway through the 80-odd-kilometre loop, we reached a long climb up to a ridgeline along the highest part of the course. The temperature dropped considerably and a blanket of thick fog rolled in. To top it off, there was a light snow fall. Yes, they don’t call this the Alpine Rally for nothing.

Riding along the fire road, I spotted a bike parked sideways across the track. I actually hit the bike on my way through, and was a bit annoyed that someone had put their bike there with such low visibility. The rider explained that he was directing people up a hillclimb which was just ahead. I couldn’t see the climb through the fog, but as I rode off he yelled ‘keep to the right!’

I rolled on the gas and kept to the right. Suddenly the fog cleared and I found myself in a scene more akin to a war movie. The hill was filled with fallen riders and an army of sweeps helping people to the top. The hill was infested with mud, rocks and erosion mounds. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop,” I chanted to myself out loud, as I weaved my way through the riders, trying desperately to keep momentum and balance.

Somehow I made it to the top unscathed and I looked back down to see the carnage I had just avoided. As the Blizzard of Oz raged up on the top of Mt Hotham, the snow continued to fall on this ridge as riders struggled up the slippery slope. You never really know it until you get back and crack open a beer, but this is what trailriding is all about. I followed Chad back through the remainder of the loop and we arrived back at HQ at midday.

The rain had arrived by this stage and the air was bitterly cold.

A second loop was an option, but many had opted to call it a day. In the carpark, weary and freezing riders were loading up bikes and putting on warm clothes. Trying to get a spot at the fire bin was impossible and people were queuing at the food tent to get a snag or a burger.

Soon enough, cars began filing out of the reserve. Only a handful of riders had gone back out, so the organisers closed the loop and began the laborious task of packing up. It was a shame that the weather had dampened what had been an awesome morning. I felt sorry for the hard-working crew.

The festivities had come to a premature end. Or at least I thought they had.

I cruised back to Myrtleford, had a long hot shower and a snooze, before making my way down to the Myrtleford Football Club for the presentation. Given the mass exodus at lunchtime, I was expecting a small turnout. But as I walked through the doors, I was surprised to see the place full with people. The drinks were flowing; kids were running amok, and riders relayed tales of the day’s riding. It was a great atmosphere.

The auction and the bike raffle (a brand new CRF450LX, if you don’t mind) were a hit as always. The MC for the night had the crowd in the palm of his hand, like a professional stand-up comedian. While the winner wasn’t on hand to collect his prize, his mates put him on loudspeaker and revved the nuts off his new ride. It turns out he had just bought a KTM, and when he finally collected the Honda, Bonacci put him in a headlock and demanded the keys back.

Following the raffle, everyone headed over to the Buffalo to continue the party. The pub was packed; you couldn’t swing a cat in there. It seemed as if the whole town had come.

As I watched the shenanigans unfold and downed my own beer, something occurred to me. Even though the ride was cut short by the weather, and the carpark was empty by mid-afternoon, people still stayed in town to take part in the presentation and after-party.

When it’s all said and done, an event like the Myrtleford Alpine Rally is more than just a trailride. It is a coming-together of like-minded people in celebration of everything we love about motorcycles. It’s not just about the riding; it’s about the people you meet and the places you go.

People keep coming back each year, not only for the epic trails, but also for the community feeling. One interstate rider told Bonarch: “You guys make us feel like we’re locals.” And that’s what the Alpine Rally does so well; they make everyone feel included.

On top of all that, the ride is a big financial boost for the town and also a fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Like I said, it’s about more than just the riding.

As more evidence of the ride’s community atmosphere, one participant had his bike stolen the day before. Bonarch joked that they offered him a hat as consolation, but word quickly spread about the guy’s misfortune and, through the power of social media, the bike was located.

This was my fifth Alpine Rally and I’m certain that it gets better every year. Like that interstate rider, the event makes me feel like a local. It’s great to see familiar faces returning each year. It’s like a family reunion.

Instead of going home the following morning, I made my way up to Mt Hotham, albeit with a bit of a hangover, to hit the slopes. My bike was strapped on the back of the ute and I got a few raised eyebrows as I drove through the snow and parked in the popular ski resort. Dirtbike one day, snowboard the next; how good is the Alpine Rally? Not even the weather can stop it. See you next year.

The facts

• An attendance of 300-plus riders
• Honda Australia provided seven demo bikes
• Coverage on ABC Radio and Channel Nine
• Handwarmers provided for the riders
• Unbelievable support from local community
• A few minor injuries, but nothing serious
• $11,000 raised for Make-A-Wish
• $600,000 generated over nine years