Tour rookie planning to venture into the outback

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Tour rookie planning to venture into the outback

Postby Moocar » Tue Feb 10, 2009 6:45 pm

Hi everyone! I'm having a mid 20s crisis and have decided to resolve it by going on an adventurous bike tour, Yeah!. I've been researching this forum heaps (which has been incredibly useful), but still have some unanswered questions.

I'm leaving in June. The rough goal is to make it from Sydney to Uluru and back. Originally I was going to go inland to Uluru and then down to Adelaide and back via the great ocean road and south east coast. But after analysing the maps, I've discovered that the only way to Uluru is essentially via Adelaide anyway, so I'd be backtracking a significant part of the trip.

There is however another way, that being through Mt. Isa. I'm wondering if anyone has done any cycling between Sydney and Mt. Isa. I've heard reports that the roads are foul and the ants unbearable, so I'm wondering if the Sydney -> Mt. Isa -> Alice Springs section is doable. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

The other thing I'm tossing up on is whether to do tarp camping. I'm absolutely in love with the idea of a tarp and mossie net/mossie bivvy. However, while I'm in the outback, trees will be hard to come by and hiking poles as replacements are a little bit impractical on a cycling trip! Has anyone camped tarp style in the outback?

In terms of experience, I've never done any touring but I've cycled the Sydney to Gong twice with no issues and I've never owned a car ( = I cycle everywhere).

Ooh, also, is dew generally a problem for bikes these days? I know that my old but faithful norco doesn't deal well with moist conditions at all. This is another reason that tarp camping is appealing to me, since the bike can also fit under the tarp.

Anyway, thanks in advance. Any little pearls of wisdom will be lapped up by yours truly.
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by BNA » Tue Feb 10, 2009 7:23 pm

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Postby Tale » Tue Feb 10, 2009 7:23 pm

1. I hereby encourage you. Nothing I say is meant to discourage you, only to keep you alive and cycling. I haven't cycled the trip you're talking about, but I'm a cyclist who has driven it several times.

2. Mid-20s crisis was how I started cycle touring 13 years ago (around Tassie, around UK, around Europe almost to Russia, then various tours over the years). One thing I found was that as a life-changing experience, it set me on a different path to my friends, and that can be lonely after you return. Greatest thing I ever did though.

3. It's not really via Adelaide, it's via Port Augusta and they're 300km apart. But Adelaide is the best place I've been for cyclists in Australia, don't miss it!

4. Water. You will need to drink many litres of water per day to even stay alive, but you will be on roads where there is no source of water for several days' ride. No taps, no waterholes, no shops, for days, while you sweat lots of it out. So you have to carry enough water for days. You'll need to plan ahead very carefully, with good information about which part of the day to do your cycling, what's ahead and how reliable a source of water it is, let people know where you're going, and have a plan B.

5. I've camped in a swag for a month while helping to build houses on an Aboriginal settlement in the Western Desert (no need for a mozzie net, it's too dry for mozzies). Swags are practical and widely used out there, but they're too big to carry on a bike. As you suggested, your tarp camping idea would suck while going up the Stuart Highway between Port Augusta and Alice Springs, because after a while there's nothing high enough to string it from. Maybe you can get collapsible poles as used in modern tents?

6. Get a bike that can get wet. You'll be living outdoors for weeks and it will inevitably rain, probably when you're out on the road cycling.
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Postby Moocar » Tue Feb 10, 2009 7:48 pm

Thanks Tale. Cheers for the info. Having never been into the centre, this kind of info is invaluable. You've raised some other points that I've been mulling over.

1,2,3. Appreciated, Respect!, fair call :). I should mention my reason for choosing this route isn't suicide, it's my pure love for the desert. I traveled Death Valley, CA a few years ago and have never seen anything like it.

4 Water. Obviously this is one of my biggest issues. I need to find out the longest distance between civilisation (water) so I know how much capacity I need. I'd rather do the trip with 4 panniers, instead of a trailer, but I am concerned about how much water I can physically carry in panniers. Assuming a maximum of 3 days without water (at 100k a day) and 5 litres of water per day, Im looking at carrying 15 litres of water. Which is pretty crazy to distribute in 4 panniers + everything else. Is it feasable, or is a trailer my only option?.

5. The collapsible tent pole option is at the top of my list at the moment.

6. I should mention that my old but faithful Norco will be ditched in favour of a new but hopefully equally faithful touring bike which is still being researched.
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Postby Tale » Tue Feb 10, 2009 8:54 pm

Moocar wrote:I'd rather do the trip with 4 panniers, instead of a trailer, but I am concerned about how much water I can physically carry in panniers. Assuming a maximum of 3 days without water (at 100k a day) and 5 litres of water per day, Im looking at carrying 15 litres of water. Which is pretty crazy to distribute in 4 panniers + everything else. Is it feasable, or is a trailer my only option?.

I remember passing a cyclist who looked Japanese in the middle of nowhere on the Stuart Highway. It was before I had done much cycle touring, but I remember he had water bottles everywhere, and an entire spare tyre strapped to the back rack (loaded touring wears the back tyre fast, but actually carrying another tyre around is pretty keen). He had panniers, no trailer.

I've never used a trailer, but I've never cycled across a desert - the most water I've carried is 6.5 litres (drinking and cooking for a couple of non-desert days). I think I also packed a couple of beers and some olive oil for cooking, plus there was a bottle of camping stove fuel, so if that was all water I'd be getting there - ditch the fleece jumper and walking boots, and I may have had room for all your water.

If it was me, I would have front and rear racks and panniers, three bottle cages on the frame (more if possible), plus 1.5l bottles you can strap on top of whatever's on your back rack, and then think about using pannier space for more water. You can also get bottle cages that go on the back of your saddle, and on your handlebars, but I've no experience with those.

BikingMarco posted about 1.5l water bottles that go in cages.

6. I should mention that my old but faithful Norco will be ditched in favour of a new but hopefully equally faithful touring bike which is still being researched.

I wrote something about mine the other day. It gets left out in the rain on tours. Reliable but overpriced now, so I recommended looking elsewhere. Seems I said Surly and Masi, but Masi doesn't make a touring bike, I meant Fuji (but theirs may have been discontinued).
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Postby il padrone » Tue Feb 10, 2009 9:30 pm

Tale wrote:Seems I said Surly and Masi, but Masi doesn't make a touring bike


Masi Speciale Randonneur :idea:

Looks like a touring bike :wink:. Not really low enough gears, but that's easily changed.
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Postby kiwirobbie » Wed Feb 11, 2009 2:58 pm

having my mid 50s crisis [bet you can't wait for that!]. Last year rode the great ocean road to adelaide better half said lets keep going so headed north. A bit of run down on route rode up thru Barrosa and Clare valleys on to Clare [a nice mtb destination] Wilmington,Quorn,Hawker no problem with food and water to here [this was in june] had a few days walking out of Warnsley park then to Blinman on the Mawson trail via Wilpena not a great selection food at these places. Out thru Parachilna Gorge and to Copley nth of Leigh Creek[good supermarket at LC]. Up to Maree small supermarket but had to buy water carried about 18 litres for two of us to get to William Creek on the Oodnadatta track over 3 days [we aren't the quickest cyclists] that was plenty as we manage to get a couple of litres at Coward springs dont miss this place top spot. William creek only had frozen white bread $6 other than bar food.Also bought water again to get us to Coober Pedy [2day ride toughest part of trip head winds corrugations and soft sand]. From CP to Alice on Stewart Hwy was pretty cruisy could get food in Marla other road houses mainly bar type meals tho all had good water. Helen and both tour on Giant xtc2s with schwalbe marathons [skinny] i pull a bob trailer Helen rear panniers only have a Exped venus 2 tent gets cool out there in the winter and surprising how warm a tent can be. Give the 20s crisis the middle finger,
pack up and go for it you'll never regret it. travel light try to have two uses for everything you take and make sure you have plenty of food and water. i guess you ozzies know how big your country but to us kiwis it hits home when you start pedaling.
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Postby Outback » Wed Feb 11, 2009 5:33 pm

G'day
In June 2008 in cycled toured by myself from Mt Isa down to Boulia (then finishing up in Brisbane) which is the start of the Plenty Hwy which takes you thru to Alice Springs(i take it the route you would like to do?).Isa to Boulia is a one lane sealed road(know as a Development Road)not much better than a off-road outback track.Be prepared to get off it when a road train passes or any other traffic you(rear veiw mirrow wise investment)also spend hours by yourself,which is why you go to the outback!.I enjoy the road big time.Water yes is a issue.i pedaled Isa to Boulia in 4 days carry water for two days at a time and peddalling 80kms a day.I would take a tent it gets cold around that time of year.Plenty Highway i have not peddalled,but i know it is all off road except the last bit into Alice.Doing in June you will meet plenty of four wheel drivers using it as a short cut between Isa and Alice.Google a website Bicycle Fish they have some notes on cycling the Plenty Hwy.I hope this helps
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Postby V17L » Wed Feb 11, 2009 10:12 pm

Inspiring.

Check the prevailing winds for the time of year and the district you are travelling in. www.bom.gov.au will give indications. Also ask the local flying clubs in the areas if your keen. From memory the wind is from the south east at that time of the year, in the centre. Gets cold at night, to zero, at times. Very very little rain. A check with the highways department of the nT will give you an indication of when the plenty highway is graded if you are going that way, it's not that travelled copared to the barkly highway. Mt isa to tennant ck is long, straight and not a lot in between. Flies arn't a problem in the middle of the year as the first cold snap kills them off. The Adelaide to Alice road has roadhouses along the way, after leaving Pt augusta, it goes Pimba, glendambo, coober pedy, cadny park, marla, kulgera, erldunda, stuarts well and then Alice. To get to uluru, you turn off at erldunda, mt ebanesa, curtin springs and then yulara. Alice springs has a cylcing club , try www.alicespringscyclingclub.org.au or something like that.
good luck
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Postby V17L » Wed Feb 11, 2009 10:14 pm

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outback adventure

Postby backroads » Thu Feb 12, 2009 10:38 am

G’day Moocar,

I too am a newby to this long distance touring. My wife thinks it is a mid life crisis and she is probably right. I don’t know, I have seen people travelling down the highways all packed up with their panniers or trailers and I just think to myself “how good is that” and dream of what it would be like.

Well, I have decided am going to give it a go. I am not quite as ambitious as you. I had planned to start of at Dubbo or Parkes and ride across to Broken Hill via the back roads through Condobolin, Lake Cargelligo, Hillston, Ivanhoe and Menindee. I have driven it quite a few times before and the roads are mostly dirt but can be travelled at around 100km in a car, so are reasonably good. Once at Broken Hill I’ll jump on a train back to my starting point. The distance is around 800km of which about 650 will be on dirt.

I am going that way because there is very little traffic and you can simply pull over beside the road and camp. The longest distance between townships is 200km. Water won’t be an issue.

Your trip is another that I have thought of but time is an issue.

I have pondered and research a lot of bike options and think I will go for a hybrid Scott Sportster P2 or P3 with panniers front and rear. I think the Sportster is the best compromise for what I want to do. Reasonably comfortable riding position, front suspension and off road ability. If anyone has an opinion on bike type or the Scott I would like to hear it.

Good luck on your trip.
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Postby BikingMarco » Thu Feb 12, 2009 11:33 am

Hey Mooncar,

sounds like an absolutely awesome trip and a great adventure! And you will meet the friendliest people in the world in these little townships. Haven't done your proposed road on a bicycle yet but did at least some cycling in the dry outback - it's not as bad as many think.
The all important thing is water of course, if you're out there in the summer without shade (because there're no trees to hide under) you will need a lot of it. Probably around 8 litres a day or more (in the summer). There are bottle holders for 1.5 litre bottles in the shops (e.g. Anaconda has them for $19) which I found quite handy, was able to fit three of them on my bike (= 4.5 litres more room in the panniers).
Also the road is sometimes 'littered' with little thorny seeds which puncture your tyre easily. They stick into your tyre in large numbers without you even noticing and a few km later they worked their way through the tube. If you're getting a new bike anyway have a look at punctureproof tyres (e.g. Schwalbe manufactures them), otherwise bringing lots of patches and planning for some extra time repairing the tyres is recommendable.
I personally prefer panniers too. Water will probably take up most of them but you dont need all to much else anyway. It saves you the extra weight of the trailer plus the hassle of having 2 extra wheels to manage.

Such a long tour is much likely to change your life, so dont be surprised to find yourself very unhappy in an office job after you return :D And prepare yourself for the best sunsets and the clearest night skys you'ver ever seen...
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Postby Moocar » Fri Feb 13, 2009 12:09 am

Thanks everyone! You're both inspiring and scaring the bajeezus out of me. But hey, that's why I'm doing this trip, to do something crazy.

In a turn of events, the project I've been working on at work has been pushed forward from the end of May to mid July, which seriously changes things. I need to be back in Sydney by the start of November, so that's 3.5 months to do this trip :(.

I've got a feeling I'll have to train it to Adelaide or Broken Hill and start from there. Or, if I'm feeling more adventurous I could train it to Mt. Isa and either take the Plenty or Barkley Highway to Alice.

Hey Outback, thanks for your info on the Plenty highway. Looks like an amazing ride! I checked out the Bicycle Fish Website (I'd post a link for everyone else but I haven't been given the rights on this forum yet). For anyone else interested in a similar trip to me, I can highly recommend it.

I've been thinking about water alot too. Most of the touring bikes I've looked at (Surly LHT, Kona Sutra, Trek 520) all support 3 water bottle cages on the frame. Then I can easily add two cages to the front rack. Tale, I looked at other water cage mounting options, helped to a great degree by the Long Haul Trucker for Hunger site. It seems that if I go all out, I can get up to about 10 litres on the frame before I have to use up precious pannier space. I may look like a mobile water vendor, but it will all be mine!

Still debating the tarp idea. I must admit, nearly everyone I've talked to has recommended a tent instead, so I may be forced to comply with touring society, but I'll hold off in case there are any other purist nuts out there.
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Postby BikingMarco » Fri Feb 13, 2009 7:45 pm

Isn't it sad to read how work always holds us back?
Even from having a proper mid-20s crisis :D
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Postby Tale » Fri Feb 13, 2009 8:01 pm

BikingMarco wrote:Such a long tour is much likely to change your life, so dont be surprised to find yourself very unhappy in an office job after you return :D

Did you find a cure for that? I still seem to be in an office job.

But my mid-20s crisis was "I quit, cycle cycle cycle, I probably won't even return to this country, here have all my CDs, cycle cycle cycle, temporary job, cycle cycle cycle cycle cycle cycle cycle, might have malaria and sister is getting married in Sydney, fly home, get old office job back 20 months later at twice the salary ... oh, about those CDs ..."
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Postby BikingMarco » Sat Feb 14, 2009 10:22 am

A cure? Keep working in your office job, go for long hours, work on weekends and be just too stuffed to even think about touring :D
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Postby MTBRuss » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:43 pm

Hey Moocar,

Not trying to sway you from any decisions you've already made, but I am a definite convert to the trailer, the Extrawheel trailer in particular. A mate and I rode MTB's from Perth to the Goldy last year, averaged 200km a day, no panniers. The trailers are very aerodynamic, don't load up your rear wheel, and give you some extra flexibility for repairs if it's the same size.

You can easy fit 2 x 6 or 10lt MSR dromedary's either side of the trailer if you have to.

However you choose to do it, best of luck and give those trucks plenty of respect. Cheers, Russ.
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Postby hartleymartin » Sun Mar 08, 2009 9:10 am

Plan your trip so that you have regular stops in country towns, even if they are 3 or 4 days apart. Carry a CB radio, so if you get into trouble, you can contact any passing truckies in the area and get a ride. Water, water water! Take some gear to purify and clean water. Oh, and carry heaps of it yourself, and fill up at every opportunity that presents itself.

Also, go and buy some 1:25,000 topographical maps which cover your route. They will detail the types of roads and landmarks that you will encounter, as well as any hills, water-courses, buildings, homesteads, etc.
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Postby il padrone » Sun Mar 08, 2009 2:38 pm

hartleymartin wrote:Also, go and buy some 1:25,000 topographical maps which cover your route. They will detail the types of roads and landmarks that you will encounter, as well as any hills, water-courses, buildings, homesteads, etc.

1:25000 maps for the outback - Sydney to Uluru :? ? He'd need a 3 tonne ute to carry them all!!

Maybe you meant 1:250,000? The series is a bit out of date generally, but a much more practical size for cycle touring. Realisticly, it's not going to be possible to carry detailed maps for the whole of this route. You may need to carry main road maps for much of it, then have some topographic maps for any difficult sections.

Local knowledge is a big help, from other drivers, truckies, station owners etc. But always take it with a certain grain of salt, especiallywhen commenting on whether you could ride a road on your bike. Many people in cars have no understanding of what you can do on a bike - either in distance or in the type of terrain and road surface you can travel over. I've had it both ways:

"Oh, I wouldn't ride a bike along that road. You'll never get through" - 30km of delightful gravel road 8)

"That back road is much flatter then the hill on the highway" - 30kms of good quiet sealed road, but with three steep climbs compared to a highway with one climb we could have avoided by taking a short gravel road diversion :roll:
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Postby Moocar » Sun Mar 08, 2009 6:19 pm

Right! So I've done quite a bit of planning and thinking since my last post. I've just bought pretty much all my camping supplies and tested them at a weekend camping trip down at Jervis Bay. Here's the configuration of camping stuff that I went with:

- 3*2m Tarp + BugBivvy. I can set the tarp up during the day to protect me from the midday sun, and then use it to protect me from wind/the small chance of any rain at night time and cover the bike as well. The bug bivvy will protect me from any nasties at night. Tarp + Bugbivvy = 1kg!! Oh and if there are no trees around I'm gonna turn the bike upside down and use the tires as a ridge line, mwahahaha!

- MSR Whisperlite stove so that I can burn White Gas, kero, unleaded or diesel (important since petrol will be one of the only options for fuel other than building a fire).

- 2 * 10 litre MSR dromedaries for water + about 5 litres in bottles to fit in water cages on the bike frame. Great configuration since the dromedaries won't take up space when I'm in water rich areas.

- Steripen water purifier + solar panel charger. These babies are great, they'll purify pretty much any water and not leave a ridiculous after taste or discolour the water bottles. The solar panel means I can recharge the batteries in 2 days of sun. Apparently I can expect about 35 litres of water purification on one charge. So all good!

- Food. Will more of an issue than I'd anticipated. A mate of mine has a food dehydrator, so I'm thinking of cooking alot of my food before I leave then getting family to send the dehydrated results to post offices 'post restante' along the way. I like that as I'd be able to cook decent meals instead of relying on truck stop trash.

Now the route. This is still in planning, but I like the remoteness of it, I feel I'd really see the outback in all its glory, avoid too much traffic, and bottom line, I'd really challenge myself!! It would start in mid July and I'd hope to be back in Sydney by November.

Start in Mt. Isa. Ride 300k down the Diamantina Development Road (1 lane sealed) to Boulia. Then 800k west on the Plenty Highway to Alice Springs. This will probably be the biggest test of the trip. Apparently, there are basically only 2 or three 'townships' but I can only expect the very basics of supplies. Other than that it's the odd cattle station. It's an unsealed road the whole way and apparently it gets affect by some serious corrugations and bull dust. Alright, Bring it!!!!

After that i'd head down to Uluru, and then back onto the Stuart Highway where I'd turn off onto the Oodnadatta track (major unsealed road) which I'd take through Oodnadatta, William Creek, Maree, Leigh Creek, Hawker, Port Augusta. Thanks for the tips on that kiwirobbie. After that I have to get to Sydney. I'd like to continue inland, but I'm guessing it would be September/ October by now so Summer conditions start to become a problem. So Port Augusta to Sydney is a bit of an unknown.

Thanks for the trailer advice MTBRuss, I'll certainly give it some thinking. I've already bought my panniers.

In terms of maps, yeah I'll try and get detailed topographical ones for the Plenty and Oodnadatta tracks, but in moderation ;).

Also, I haven't bought my bike yet, but it's getting to crunch time. I've been leaning towards a modified Surly LHT. But I've gotta admit, I'm pretty worried about how it can perform on atleast 1500km of unsealed road. Has anyone got input here? Should I instead be going for a MTB modified for touring? Or can a bike like the LHT by modified to handle those conditions?

Cheers again everyone!
Last edited by Moocar on Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby il padrone » Sun Mar 08, 2009 9:56 pm

Have you seen this web site? Bicycle Fish? Very good info about outback touring.

As regards the Surly LHT, I'd rate it very highly for expedition touring, generally a better rig than a mass-market MTB (eg. it has all the braze-ons you will ever need, longer rear stays for pannier/heel clearance).

If you get the smaller frame size (<56cm?) it will be a 26" wheel size and you can run whatever MTB tyres you want. If you really need a larger frame size maybe you can contact Surly and get them to do a 26" wheel version. Otherwise consider other local framebuilders eg. Saints at St Kilda Cycles in Melbourne.
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Postby Kalgrm » Sun Mar 08, 2009 10:06 pm

I know nothing about the LHT, but does it provide enough frame clearance to run 29er MTB tyres? Could be the best of both worlds if that's the case.

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Postby Moocar » Mon Mar 09, 2009 10:29 am

Yep, bicycle fish is my friend.

I'd be going for a 54cm surly which means 26" wheels. These can support up to 2.1" tires.

I had a chat to Cheeky Transport in Newtown the other day. They said they would be getting a Salsa Fargo in soon. Looks pretty fun actually. 6 water cage mount points! 29" MTB tires up to 2.4", or 700c down to 35mm. There would definitely be some room for swapping tires around.
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Postby pbekkerh » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:53 pm

Hello Moocar
I have a xx year crisis every year ;o)

On march 17., I'm taking this route: Adelaide-Oodnadatta track-Alice Springs(Uluru by bike or bus?)-Barkly HWY(if Plenty is still closed)-Townsville and if no problems, I'll use my reserve time for diving the Reef :o))

As I'm flying over there from Denmark, I have to get the luggage as light as possible, or they'll fleece me in overweight payment. But i am still thinking about taking my extrawheel trailer as my water mule. One thing is max. 2-300km between water points, ON THE BIKE, but if it breaks down, you'll WALK out. I'm planning on 20 liters on the worst stretches after taking local advice. Passing cars could help with water, I just don't like to be dependent on that.
Why do you take a multiburner ? I expect to be able to find small gas threaded cartridges all over, especially plan to buy in Snowys in Adelaide and in Alice. Am I wrong?
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Postby hartleymartin » Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:04 am

Think about getting a fuel stove - one that you can burn methylated spirits, kerosene or petrol in. (Petrol is rather more volatile than the first two and would be a last resort). You can pick up these three fuels just about everywhere in Australia.
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Postby Moocar » Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:29 am

Hey pbekkerh! Welcome to the crazy house :D. Sounds like you're essentially doing a large part of my trip in reverse. If you keep a blog or something, would be great to read about your travels.

In terms of water, I'm going to take 2 10L water bags + about 4 litres in water bottles. On certain stretches of the Oodnedatta and Plenty these will be completely full. And I reckon that's a must when your talking about that distance between water points. I've been looking at the extra wheel as a water mule, and it is mighty tempting, however I'm still leaning to a different configuration, where I still have front + rear panniers, but I place the water bags on top of the front and rear racks so that the weight is evenly distributed. Otherwise, I'd be attempting to put both of the water bags both on the back wheel which is an instant 20kg on one wheel! Not the greatest thing for stability. Does anyone know just how much wear and tear that puts on the bike in comparison to just putting all the water on the extra wheel?

For fuel, you can't rely on gas canisters. As you said, you'll be able to pick them up in Adelaide and Alice, but that's about it. And when you consider that it could be 2 - 3 weeks between those places, well, thats alot of gas cannisters. Also, once the cannister is spent, you still have a rather large object hanging around that you need to somehow dispose of.

The way I'm looking at it, I'll be cooking the old fashioned way, with a fire! When I'm in the salt flats or there isn't any wood fuel around, I'll revert to my fuel stove in which I'll burn white gas as much as possible. White gas is available from petrol stations if you're lucky. If I run out of white gas, I'll revert to unleaded.

What bike are you bringing out here? I'm still trying to figure out what touring bikes can handle thousands of kilometres of track and unsealed road. (and the Salsa Fargo is looking extremely tempting).
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Moocar
 
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Joined: Tue Feb 10, 2009 6:21 pm
Location: Wollongong, Australia

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