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planning - before you go

There’s plenty of people out there. Lots more than you might think.

In fact it’s hard to find any obscure dirt road that some 4WDer isn’t tackling for some adventure away from their city desk, or a local farm hand going off to check a bore, or some miner heading off for imminent prosperity.

Even the Canning Stock Route, one of Australia’s more arduous treks, has 100s of 4WDs hacking up the sand dunes each season.

No matter where you are it’s likely you will see people on the track every day. The more remote, the more likely they are to stop for a chat and express their WTF. Ask if you are OK or need anything.

How about a nice scone and a cuppa?

Get used to accepting a cold beer and some company for as long as it takes to drink it.

If catastrophe befalls, someone will turn up, eventually. Those 4WDs all have HF radios, GPS and every other gadget. If you are injured there’s always the Flying Doctor.

People are surprisingly upbeat and friendly in their surprise. And they thought they were the explorers. Don’t tell them that bikes were riding up that track before cars were even invented.

The funny thing is that with the hard suspension required to get a vehicle over a rough road for them travel is bone rattling, filling removing hard work. Those bumps really shake them around.

It’s so much easier on a bike.

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supported, or on your own

solo bike tour, Hawker on the Mawson Trail, South Australia

There have been a few companies that ran fully supported bike tours to the outback.

ROC, “Remote Outback Cycling” was terrific with, for example, a 45 day Townsville to Broome via the Savannah Way; Gulf to Gulf, cross country from Port Augusta to the Gulf of Carpentaria via the Birdsville Track; and plenty of shorter trips.

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group, the two of us or solo

bike touring, Tanami Track, Northern Territory

Shared experience is what life is about.

Being in a group is fun. You can have a laugh around the fire at night about what mini disasters have happened during the day, or crap on about your close encounter with a large reptile.

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what to expect

bike touring Australia

Heading up the Tanami Track, 850km of unsealed road, a usual topic of conversation with stray 4WDers stopping for a chat was the road conditions ahead.

“Much better the WA side of the border.”

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where to ride

bike touring, Two Peoples Bay, south coast of Western Australia

Where to ride?

Answer: anywhere that there isn’t traffic.

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where to stay

budget accommodation, Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta, South Australia

Sometimes you just have to cough up the cash.

You’re in a big city. It’s finally time to do the laundry. Need to recharge the batteries. Some conversation.

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where to stay for free

free bush camping at Duff Creek, Oodnadatta Track, South Australia

There are hundreds of free official campsite across Australia that are listed in the popular Grey Nomad guides such as Camps 6. Along the main highways they are often every 100km or so. They can have primitive (non flushing) toilets, (but not showers), shaded picnic tables, and plenty of rubbish bins. In the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia they can have 50 caravans corralled up for the night during the migratory season of the Grey Nomads.

Not to be recommended.

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maps or GPS

Hema maps cover the country with maps scaled to show a high enough level of detail for your average bike tourer. They are common enough in newsagencies, camping stores and roadhouses but sometimes the local map can be sold out needing some fossicking to locate.

There are Hema regional maps: Kimberley, Flinders Ranges, Top End etc. These are often annotated with a brief description and history of some of the local features.

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getting to the start

bike touring, Near Burra, Mawson Trail, South Australia

Can you believe that this simple task, getting you and your bike to the starting point for your trip, can take so much effort?

Getting a bike on public transport can be a massive pain. They don’t make it easy for you.

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phones, internet

no easy bike tour, Limestone campsite, Gregory National Park, Northern Territory

Keeping in touch is not so hard these days. Mostly.

Telstra, the old monopoly company has been gradually removing public phones from use now that the mobile (cell) phone blizzard has swept through. If you find one, the most economical phoning is done using a third party phone card: pay 50c to link to the company’s computer, tap in approximately 30 digits and start talking at a cost of about .5c a minute. Yes, that’s 30c an hour, to talk to the USA, at least if you are in one of the biggest 50 cities in Australia. You mean 15 hours talking for $10? Yes, sirree. Once you get beyond those cities you are hit with a surcharge where it’s suddenly 5c a minute, but that’s still the cheaper form of telephone communication. Once you have connected the sound quality is as good as using a standard phone.

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training

off road bike touring, Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park, Western Australia

Training?

Answer: none required.

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costs

bike touring, Menzies, Western Australia

Once you are set up with your bike and equipment there’s three main areas for day to day spending: food, a place to sleep and everything else.

Laying down the cash for food is hard to avoid, ya gotta eat. And you do tend to eat a lot to power those legs through the day.

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