Ultra Africa: Josh Reid's Atlas Mountain Race

For his latest challenge, Josh Reid took on the Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco. The British adventurer had to overcome snow, deep sand, and a stunning yet harsh environment to complete the 1333km bikepacking route on his Anthem Advanced Pro 29 mountain bike. This is his story of how it went. 

Josh Reid rides his Anthem Advanced Pro 29 in Africa.

The Atlas Mountain Race travels through harsh desert and mountain terrain.

The Atlas Mountain Race is a 1333km unsupported bikepacking race in Morocco. This year the route started in Marrakesh, crossed over the Atlas Mountains toward the Sahara Desert, then covered the whole Anti-Atlas mountain range and doubled back over the Atlas Mountains to finish in the old fishing port of Essaouira. The race started February 3 and the last riders finished on February 11.

Riders are unsupported, so they have to buy food, maintain their bike, and sort their own accommodations—which is usually just a sleeping bag beside the trail. Luckily, I'm used to looking after myself on long rides. This was my second time doing an overseas ultra-long-distance bike challenge. Last year I sped across Europe on the similarly self-supported Transcontinental Race, and in 2019 I embarked on an adventure riding all the way home to the U.K. from China.

Josh Reid rides his Anthem Advanced Pro 29 at the Altas Mountain Race in Africa.

It took Josh 7 days, 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete the journey through Morocco.

I’ve often been asked why not do a more relaxed bikepacking trip on the same route? Why do I have to race it? Actually, I enjoy both. It’s nice to be able to rest at night, ride during the day, and then halt for cafe stops and talk with locals.

But a race is just a different experience. You don’t do these events to be in a comfortable place. There’s nothing like pushing your limits to see how far you can go—along with all the other riders in the same situation as you.

On a fixed route such as the Atlas Mountain Race you bump into other racers throughout the event. I find that it’s as much about the people you meet along the way as the journey itself. Racing attracts like-minded individuals. It’s a solitary effort, but one that’s often intertwined with others as you cross paths. That makes it a shared yet singular experience for all the participants.

To get to the Atlas Mountain Race from the U.K., I could have flown. But where's the fun in that? Instead, I travelled overland by train and also took two ferries. From the U.K., I took the Brittany Ferries mini-cruise to Spain, and then covered the rest of the distance to Morocco overland by train and one last ferry.

Train travel is easy with a folding bike, but not so easy with a full-sized one like the Anthem Advanced Pro 29 mountain bike I had with me. Most of the trip I sat with it, squashed into the galley ends so I would never be more than a few inches away from my pride and joy.  I mollycoddled it all the way to the Spanish port of Algeciras, where I then caught the final ferry across the sea to Morocco.

From there, feeling the strong African sun on my skin, I took the last two trains of the trip from Tangier to Marrakesh.  I arrived with enough time to have a few days of rest before the race began.

The Anthem Advanced Pro 29 bike that Josh Reid rode at the Altas Mountain Race in Africa.

Josh chose the Anthem Advanced Pro 29 for its light, durable frame and FlexPoint Pro suspension.

The full journey from the U.K. had taken the best part of six days. Sure, it would have been easier, cheaper and quicker to have flown, but taking two ferries and a bunch of trains meant I'd already had an adventure before the race even began.

Participants in the Atlas Mountain Race all ride the same route, mostly on gravel or singletrack trails. At times, the distances between resupply points are vast.

Starting in Marrakesh, we climbed to the highest point of the race at 2,540m (8,333ft) within the first 100km (62 miles). I didn’t have the best preparation in the lead-up to the event, having had Covid at Christmas and a chest infection in the weeks prior.

We reached the summit in the early hours of the morning. The cold, dry air affected many riders, including myself. In the subsequent days I coughed up blood and struggled to breathe, even on the easiest gradients.

There was more hike-a-bike than I was banking on.  We had a long hike downhill over the top of the first pass in fairly deep snow in the early hours of the morning. And after that it was a slow stomp through the desert that felt like it took several hours.

My accommodations throughout the race were a fifty-fifty split between hotels and the roadside. The route had three checkpoints before reaching the finish. At each checkpoint you’d get your brevet card stamped and try to refuel before making moves to the next.

Josh Reid crosses a river with his Anthem Advanced Pro 29 at the Altas Mountain Race in Africa.

From endless rocky climbs to sand and river crossings, riders faced every challenge imaginable.

The thing that kept me going was the singletrack and the scenery—around every corner there was something jaw-dropping.

I gained a lot from this race, meeting some incredible people and riding my bike through some spectacular scenery.

Even though the race didn't really go the way I had hoped, it was a great way to plunge into off-road ultra-racing. I was very happy to make it round and complete the route in 7 days, 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Josh Reid at the finish of the Atlas Mountain Race in Africa.

A completed passport is proof of the long journey through the Sahara and over the Atlas Mountains.

For more information on the Atlas Mountain Race, click here.

And for more of Josh’s adventures, you can follow him on Instagram and YouTube.