They won’t cover the meaning of life, but hopefully these will answer some of the questions you have about being a bicycle tourist
What (or who) is a bicycle tourist?
Many of the travelling blogs that we read talk about cycling around the world or across a nation. But I found that in striving for this type of goal, I forget about the small discoveries along the way. Now I take the time to read the historical markers, or take a side road to some sign-posted point of interest. There are still have time constraints on my rides, but I no longer set daily targets. If I linger longer than expected in one place, then I will take a shorter route to my final destination so that I still arrive on time.So to answer the initial question. In my mind, a Bicycle Tourist is someone who (obviously) likes to travel by bicycle but is not so focussed on the distance or destination as their immediate surroundings. They take time to soak up the experience without striving to create records or personal bests. A bicycle tourist may take five days to cover a hundred kilometres and be thrilled at the achievement where every day has been filled with micro-adventures or discoveries.
How far should I ride each day?
There really are no set guidelines on this. How far you ride is going to depend on your level of fitness, the weight of the gear being carried, is the terrain flat or mountainous, are the roads in good or poor condition and even how much traffic is there with you. Then there are all those little distractions that as a tourist, you are going to want to investigate. My advice would be to plan for a low daily average of say 50km and if you ride 80km over a few days, then you can add in another distraction or two; or have a day off the bike. As an example, in 2015 I rode 1700 kilometres from Canberra back to Adelaide along the River Murray in 21 days, an average of 81 kilometres a day and I now wish I had taken it slower. To meet timelines and outside commitments, I often had to push on regardless and I know I missed a lot along the way.
How fit do I need to be?
If you are in overall good health, with a reasonable level of fitness, then you should be able to comfortably take up a touring lifestyle. You won’t be putting yourself through a punishing regime such as our Tour Down Under, but you will fine yourself peddling for 6-8 hours a day and so long as your goals are sensible, you should be fine. It is a good idea to consult your doctor and heed their advice of course. As a recommendation, if you are not cycling regularly already, you should set out to ride a few hours every day for a month before setting out on your adventure. After the first few days, you will find that riding becomes much more natural. Remember that you have nothing to prove to anyone, even yourself and if the going gets tough, get off and walk a while or have a power nap. Steep hills are my nemesis and there have been many, many occasions where my bike has become a wheeled walking stick. Walking has also freed up my riding muscles and after this change of exercise, riding has often been more comfortable.
How much water will I need?
A good and very important question. Here in Australia, you are quite likely to find yourself riding in remote areas during times when the temperatures can exceed 45 degrees celsius. You should never count on being able to top up on fresh water from taps etc and need to carry enough water to get you from one confirmed source to the next with some to spare. My summer measure is 1 litre for every 15 kilometres ridden and in cooler times, this will stretch to 1 litre per 30 kilometres. That is my consumable water, on top of that I will carry between 2 and 5 litres in the panniers as an emergency supply.
Is it safe to cycle Australia on my own?
It most certainly is! In fact you are quite likely to meet other cycle tourists on your travels and some routes, such as across the Nullarbor, are so popular as to be classed as not cycling alone. Our roads are generally good, even those that don’t have great shoulders and we have a culture of trying to help. Be prepared for people to offer places to stay, stop and make sure you have enough water and generally ask you a million questions. We are a huge country with a relatively small population scattered around the eastern and southern coastlines and it is only once you are in the more remote centre that you will be truly alone but you will never feel unsafe so long as you ride on the left of the road.
Where can I set up my tent?
If you are looking for some amenities, then most towns will be able to provide options from basic sites around the local showgrounds to fully maintained caravan parks. For bush camping, you will be spoiled for choice. With 913,000 kilometres of roads of which 353,000 kilometres are paved and the other 560,000 kilometres unpaved, you will not have any trouble finding a piece of dirt for your tent. When bush camping I like to take to a side road, or at least be out of sight of passing traffic. That said though, I have never been hassled when camped in more obvious locations. Be aware though that it is illegal to camp within many town limits and so if you want to camp illegally, you will need to be discrete and be prepared for a request to move on.
Are there any dangerous animals in Australia?
Generally we don’t think of Australia as having dangerous creatures. We have crocodiles and sharks but there are no large land based creatures that will carry us away at night, not even the much maligned dingo! However we do have the world’s most deadly snakes (land and sea) as well as some spiders, octopus and jellyfish that should be avoided at all costs. But they are the facts, the reality is that our snakes are only dangerous if cornered, they won’t come looking for you. Be wary of long grass and if you see a snake, move away calmly and it will do the same. Don’t ever swim in our tropical rivers just in case there is a crocodile waiting for the lunch cart and the sea based threats will probably never be seen. Feel free to be sensible and enjoy a swim from one of our golden beaches.
What is mobile phone coverage like?
In populated areas it is generally very good if you are using one of the major carriers such as Telstra, Optus or Vodaphone. Other, smaller providers may vary depending on location. Once you are away from the major cities coverage will vary immensely and much of the country is not covered at all. As a guide, reception around small towns will be 10-15 kilometres with no-reception areas stretching (at times) for hundreds of kilometres between them. Refer to this article from phonejammer.com.au for more detail and map.
What should I do if I breakdown and can’t fix the issue?
The first thing is not to panic. Take a moment to find a shady spot and make a cup of tea. Then with a cuppa in hand, calmly assess your options. Becoming stressed in an emergency situation will drain your energy and impede your judgement, so taking the time to relax can be incredibly important. Can you substitute a part from somewhere else on the bike or make temporary repairs with tape, wire or a hose clamp? I have even heard of cases where a bike trailer have broken beyond repair and has to be abandoned. If you can’t get back on the road again, then start thinking long term. Find shade near the road, set up the tent and take stock of your food and water supplies. Plan out a rationing regime, reduce sun exposure and activity and watch for signs of dehydration. Above all, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR BIKE, you and your tent will be easier to find than just you on your own. There are very few roads in Australia that don’t see a traveler every few days, so sitting and waiting is your safest option.
Will my gear be OK if left unattended?
Generally I would say yes. We Australians are an honest bunch of folk but as with every culture, there are exceptions and you will have to assess each situation on its merits. On many occasions I have been camped in a town and left my campsite to go and do some shopping or have something to eat. On another, I was ten kilometres from my car and totally exhausted after a day on the Old Eyre Highway so I set up camp in a roadside rest area, had a quick sleep and then leaving the campsite looking as though I was nearby, rode back to my car and drove back to pick up my gear. I think the goal here is to be sensible. I have left thousands of dollars worth of gear unattended at times and never had a problem but that does not mean that the next time will not be the exception. If you have to leave equipment, hide it as best as possible or at least make it look as though you are not far away or even inside the tent sleeping. You may also be able to ask another traveller to keep and eye on your stash while you are away.
If asked, what would you say is the one thing you don’t like about cycling alone?
This is easy; packing up camp in the morning. This is probably the only time I think that I want to stay just where I am. I don’t mind the rain, heat or (mostly) the flies, but as I start to squeeze everything back into its allotted position in the panniers, I have a fleeting wish that I didn’t have to go through this process today. It is possibly due to sheer laziness, packing up is a lot of work, but the feeling passes quickly and is completely forgotten once I am back on the road.