All about touring, whether you are a local or visiting from overseas.
I am intending to ride the Mawson Trail heading north from Adelaide in May, on route to Darwin. As I will have a fully loaded touring bike, was wondering what sections most suitable to ride. Am middle aged but reasonably fit and looking to ride off bitumen whenever the more scenic option. Another factor is the cost of the full official map set if certain sections un rideable. First timer here, appreciate your advice.
There are some sections in particular between Blinmen and Wilpena that is truly beautiful. However there are other sections which is really suitable for MTB only. I was riding my MTB with pannier there are some sections that I found horrible while other parts were great.
I did cycle between Riverton and Adelaide but did cycle some of Mawson trail between Riverton and Quorn. I did cycle most of it between Blinman and Quorn. Scenery is amazing but I will say I enjoyed just as much cycling on bitumen roads compared to some of the goat track that is the Mawson Trail
The rail trail between Riverton and Clare is the best section I cycled.
The trail does sometimes zig zag in places when you could go a more direct route. For example you could cycle from Clare to Spalding directly rather than go via Burra and Hallet. Both Burra and Hallet are nice towns just didn't enjoy the path the Mawson trail took.
I would also recommend Horrocks pass to Port Augusta and back up to Pichi Richi pass or even time it so you have a ride on the tourist train from Port August to Quorn.
In May 2012, I cycled from Port Pirie via Gladstone, Melrose, Port Augusta to Quorn before getting a bus to Parachilna. From there I cycle to Gawler using some of the Mawson trail via Blinman, Wilpena, Quorn, Carrieton, Peterborough, Terowie, Jamestown, Spalding, Hallet, Burra, Clare and Riverton. It took me 16 days from Parachilna to Gawler with one rest day in Wilpena.
Feel free to ask any question
The Wilpena to Blinman section was without a doubt the best two days on the trail for us, but possibly a bit tough in places for a touring bike, unless you're used to some rough tracks. Most of the Mawson is vehicular tracks of varying quality. The section from Riverton to Auburn and on to Clare is a railtrail, easy riding. Clare to Burra is generally a good gravel road and Burra is great to visit. Burra to Mt Bryan East and Hallet, and on to Spalding is all vehicular roads and some rough or challenging sections, plus a fairly remote area along Dusthole Creek, but this is all worth doing for the night at the old Mt Bryan East School (locked door, but the code for this is given in the maps/guide for the Heysen Trail*), the view from Dares Hill and a chance to visit the restored chidhood home of Hubert Wilkins, Australian polar explorer. Hallet to Splading crosses a few ridges through farmlands with some steep descents. The South Australian mid-north rural landscapes are iconic and the townships are really peaceful, charming places.
North of Spalding we followed the Bundaleer water aqueduct trail (an area prone to bindii thorns), then missed the turn-off into the Wirabarra Forest. We took the main gravel road through the Wirabarra and followed mainly sealed roads to Gladstone, Laura and Melrose. Rain set in so we didn't rejoin the Mawson until after Quorn. Be wary of riding the trail anytime within 3-4 days after any rain - the surface of the outback tracks can go to glue. We rode MTB touring bikes with 26x2.0 tyres. Tyres of 1.5" or more would be desirable for a comfortable, stress-free ride (700C tyres of 38mm or 40mm ideally).
* It is the postcode for Mt Bryan East I believe
Riding bikes in traffic - what seems dangerous is usually safe; what seems safe is often more dangerous.
I used the official maps. They were helpful because you got gradients of the trail, distances measured and also town maps with camping spots included. I have all 9 maps if you want them let me know?
The railtrail between Riverton and Clare was the best part of the trail. The rest I would recommend wide tyres. A lot of the trail is corrugated bumpy. I found between Wilpena and Blinman the scenery spectacularly but when having to cross dry creek! the sand would just stop me. I did get sick of the zig zag nature of the trail and in some section followed the more direct main road. Often you would end up in a farmers paddock while the bitumen road ran parrell.
Sorry if I sound negative, I loved the challenge of the trail, especially in the flinders ranges but after a week of the trail I got sick of it. I didn't follow the trail all the time.
I am planning to ride the trail this April -- do you think I will need to carry much water at any stage? If those maps are still available, I'd be happy to buy them from you.
There's not much water between Quorn and Hawker and then between Hawker and almost Wilpena. Or, for that matter, Wilpena and Blinman.
So it's worth working out whether you will be able to do big day's rides to avoid carrying bulk water. The days are getting shorter around then.
Contrary to some others who have taken shortcuts by riding on the sealed roads, I think it's worth following the trail, I found I preferred those dusty tracks than trundling down a road, after all you can do that anywhere. I contemplated taking the easier road but ended up not doing that unless I was lost. In the end I reconciled myself to just experiencing the track as set up by the people who no doubt argued over each kilometre. I reckon they got it right.
There's generally reasons why it takes it's eccentric route, often to get great views, as in the back roads from Burra to Hallett.
If you have fatter tyres on your tourer you shouldn't have too many issues on the track, I met someone riding it on a single speed tourer, she just pushed if it was too steep.
Riding bikes in traffic - what seems dangerous is usually safe; what seems safe is often more dangerous.
Probably good advice when it is dry. If it has been raining the Mud on the Mawson is as good as it gets for sticky mud. Tyre size won't help you.
Thanks for your comments. I am duly cautioned by others about mud, so if it rains, I'll take to the bitumen. I can see a way to carry 9 litres of water -- do you think that should be enough for the dry bits? That would loosely translate as 3 litres per day for two days, with another 3 litres that night camping. I'm starting to feel thirsty even writing this!
How do people carry such a large quantity of water without a trailer or extra wheel? I reckon I could put a two litre square tub in each side of the rear panniers, 1 litre strapped behind the seat post, 2 litres total using both sides of the down tube, then another 2 one litre bottles strapped to the top of the tubus swing frame. Frame geometry is such that the seat tube is next to useless -- I could just fit a 600 ml bottle in there -- that will do for the metho for my optimus stove.
I am not really interested in big days in the saddle -- on a fully laden touring bike on country roads, 80 kms feels about right, so I imagine this might translate to 50-60 off-road (I'm guessing -- this will be my first off-road tour). I will be using my merida 500 mtb, with tubus swing racks on the front. Has anyone tried them? They are rated to 15 kg, but to my eyes seem alarmingly flexy where the frames support the back of the panniers. Tubus appear to have stopped making racks for a sprung front -- I wonder whether this reflects lack of demand, stronger competition, or a series of warranty claims.
Actually narrower tyres were better. On that day ('orrible it was) a friend riding with us had narrower 1.5" tyres on wide MTB forks with no mudguards and he got through. 2" tyres with mudguards and my wheels were locking up solidly
Three litres per day is not enough. On a warm day you could esasily go through that much just in drinking bidons (do not try the Mawson Trail in summer). Camping requires even more. In the outback for waterless runs we used two 10L waterbags plus 3L in bidons, EACH. That was 23L for 3-4 days. It was enough for the three nights on the Mereenie Loop but the morning's 25km run into Kings Canyon was done bone dry.
Ideally you would be best with an Extrawheel. However my mate Rob had his 20L in two bags, inside his rear panniers.
thanks il padrone. I haven't got my maps yet -- how many days in a row without being able to count on water supply? I guessed two max, drinking 3 litres during the day, and needing another three litres for the night between the two waterless days -- total nine litres. But if it's three days, by my arithmetic, I would need another 6 litres (3 + 3). And mild weather. And no complications, since I'll be travelling solo.
Was your friend at all worried about whether his racks would break? It's a very heavy load, compounded by bumpy tracks.
His bike is the one closest to the camera. Worried about rack failure ?? No, he's had this problem in the past with Topeak alloy racks, but now has Tubus Cargo on the rear and OMM low-rider on the front. Strong stuff.
Weight? Yes it was a lot. 23L of water = 23kgs alone. Plus food, plus camping gear. I estimate we were each carrying something over 60kgs of payload. But the roads were fairly flat (mind you that sand ridge ahead had a short climb of over 10%), and the Tubus Cargo is rated to carry up to 40kgs.
Riding the Mawson Trail we never went for more than two days without access to water of some sort. Even if it's just a very crappy creek, use the creek water for cooking and washing (boiled for >3 mins it will be fine) and save the good water for drinking.
Hey, what about some perspective here folks.
Much of the Mawson is on yellow clay style roads with gravel which isn't particularly sticky in the wet, or on formed roads, gravel, which there is no problem in the wet. The bit from Wilpena to Blinman is pretty flinty from recollection, like the stretch along the Bundaleer Channel. So, it's not as if it's a bog hole for even much of the way.
The red clay is a different proposition, it's ridiculously claggy. But from my recollection it is only found in a short section north of Hawker, that Mernmerna Hill part, which is less than 15 km long and which it is possible to get off as Pete did when he got severely clagged. Even when it's dry that part is particularly soft, I was getting through at about 6km/hour. By the time you get off the short section of sealed road and onto Moralana Scenic loop the mud has gone.
There's odd bits where there could be sticky black clay as well but these a very short, ie, 100m or so.
So you have a 900km trail, and there is a potential issue on about 15km of it, if you have bad luck the mud can be real as Pete found out, but it's not the end of the world, you just take a short detour and you get on the sealed Hawker to Parachilna road.
I think the OP's question was "could you take a touring bike on the Mawson?"
The answer: sure,
I guess that one issue might be that if it pisses down it's best just to ride straight on the Parachilna road and avoid the area around Mernmerna Hill through to Chigwidden Dam.
Last edited by GJ_Coop on Fri Mar 14, 2014 6:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I don't know what people who generally tour on a touring bike have as their standard tyre width, maybe it's 28 or 32mm.
I wouldn't recommend riding the Mawson with 28mm tyres. I'd recommend something fatter.
It's funny that your memories of the track are about the mud, I've spent 6 weeks on the Mawson and never had an issue although I did have more than enough damp days.
On the other hand I went through the northern areas when it wasn't raining and did not find any water in the creeks from Quorn north to Blinman. There was nothing at Warren Gorge, the Kanyaka Waterhole was stagnant and I slept in Wirreanda Creek it was so dry. There was a small amount of flowing water in Willochra Creek but it was completely salty.
So there was no useable water in any of the creeks.
Most people I know, who tour on 700C and are happy riding gravel back roads, are riding 32, or more likely 35mm tyres. I would rate 28mm as too narrow for the sorts of rough tracks that constitute the Mawson Trail.
The mud we struck was really only one or two places. One area north of Melrose we stuck to the main road as it had been wet, but friends took the Mawson Trail along farm roads and struck really slippery mud - bad enough to take an offered lift by a farmer in his ute. The other place was at Mernmerna Hill. But that was SOOO bad it was truly memorable. You are correct that much of the Mawson Trail is quite good all-weather farm roads or tracks that will usually be fine in the wet.
Many places along the trail we camped in town caravan parks, or near towns and could carry water for the night. There were a few places we camped bush, and either had enough water or found a creek. Near Dusthole Creek we camped bush and the creek was muddy, sheep-hoof pocked, but we just used it for washing up. At Mt Bryan East we stayed in the old school with water on tap. In the Wirrabarra we did a stealth camp with no water but had enough, I think collected from a nearby picnic ground. Warren Gorge had some water in the creek. North of the Warren Gorge we camped beside a creek (Willochra?) and there was useable water, and then between Wilpena and Blinman we camped at the Middlesight Water Hut and I seem to recall it had a tank (?).... or maybe we carried water from the Bunyeroo Gorge. The year we toured through we did manage to break the 13 year drought.
A bit late, but here is a bit of a write up and some photo's of our trip on the Mawson. We loved it, especially the Flinders part of it.
I am considering riding the Mawson trail south to north solo over a maximum 9 days next year (maps just ordered) and was initially looking to carry gear in a Viscasha, Large SweetRoll + Large pocket and Medium Tangle bag (might be able to also wear a small daypack with bladder by then; at the moment shoulder straps and my relatively freshly plated collarbone don't agree).
After reading up various ride reports I am concerned I won't be able to carry enough water at the Northern end of the trail. For those that have ridden the Mawson trail will this be an issue? If so I have just considered an Extrawheel with panniers, though am concerned this will be then overkill and I'll cart more gear than needed! Otherwise with panniers on the Extrawheel I might be able to leave one or more of the other bags off? The trail doesn't read as overly technical so the Extrawheel might be the go anyway?
Am I being overambitious or even missing the point of traveling the trail by trying to knock off 100+km per day for this ride given most take 12+ days?
Our rigs that we rode up the Mawson.... and beyond to Arkaroola and Oodnadatta. The Extrawheel was handy, but more for food and water on the Oodnadatta. It tracked extremely well on dirt, though I do think it will perform better on a well-loaded bike than on a bike with no other luggage.
Nine days won't get you very far along the Mawson. It is something like 800kms so you'd need to average almost 100kms per day and take no rest days. You'll miss lots
We had a few rest days, what with visiting the wine districts and a few wet weather days. I think the full journey (a good 30% of it not on the trail but on tarmac) took us 3 weeks.
Thanks for the feedback. I was planning on potentially riding 100km days with no rest days... Looking at riding it with a minimal ultralight set up which will need to fit in ~ 40 litres carrying capacity if I can ride the Mawson without an Extrawheel. Thinking if I cover more ground each day I will pass somewhere I can top up water supplies every day?
I will be trialing 100km days by riding the Goldfields trail over two days later this year. Main difference though is I won't need to carry much water or possibly cooking gear as I can top up water and food as I pass through Daylesford and Castlemaine...
Have you ridden 100km days before?
Reason I ask is that I planned a similar assault on the munda biddi earlier this year and failed miserably (lightweight bike packing setup etc etc). I had done 100km days but not off road and just couldn't make it (not to mention the weather was scorching). I wish I had just planned a leisurely section of the trail, and it sounds like that might be the go for you too? No point destroying yourself just to say you've done the whole trail. I've read travelled in the Flinders Ranges by car and is absolutely beautiful, but can be very harsh too. Good luck if you decide to go ahead with it!
Not on dirt petie... I've done many consecutive days over greater distances in the mountains or Europe and USA (reported in my blog linked below) so I feel I could theoretically ride that distance every day. But is why I will first tackle some local rides such as the Goldfields Trail and the dirt roads behind Kinglake and Marysville first to test my legs and equipment.
In regards to equipment, I did more research over the weekend and noted some additional methods to carrying extra water with a bike packing set up - cage clamped to each from fork leg plus possibly attached under the down tube. These plus side release cages for the frame mounts below the frame bag means I should be able to carry enough to get me through without the need for an Extrawheel.
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