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early biking history

The first bloke to circumnavigate the Australian continent on a bike was Arthur Richardson.

He warmed up in 1896 by doing the first ride across the Nullabor from Coolgardie to Adelaide taking 31 days. Carrying only a small kit and a water-bag, he followed the telegraph line. He recalled much ‘sweating and swearing’ on sandy roads west of Eucla, and hot winds on the Nullabor (‘about 100ยบ in the shade’) and judged the twenty-four miles (39 km) of sandhills west of Madura station the worst in Australasia.

In 1899 Richardson set out to be the first to ride round Australia. He left Perth on 5 June, heading north, carrying “not more than 25 pounds (11.4 kg) of luggage” and a pistol. Heavy rain slowed his progress in Western Australia, and later in the north, where the black-soil plains were unrideable for several days. He had to push and carry his bicycle through much sand, and encountered ‘hostile blacks’ across the north. He arrived back in Perth on 4 February 1900 after travelling about 11,500 miles (18,500 km).

That’s 253 days by my reckoning at an average of about 42 miles, (73km) a day.

There’s an unhappy ending: many years later Richardson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after first shooting his wife.

Maybe it wasn’t just the long distance cycling that drove him mad.