Being an avid long-distance road rider is one thing, but long-distance riding in remote areas is a whole new kettle of fish.
Long-distance adventure rides require a certain amount of preparation and discipline. You don’t want to die out on the Anne Beadell Highway or, even worse, be barred from the bar in a one-pub town. Surviving the outback is much more than selecting the right tyre and checking your chain and sprockets. There’s a certain outback etiquette involved in not losing the plot between sunrise and sunset before you take on the locals at the bar.
How far’s too far?
My mates and I regularly spend weekends in the Great Dividing Range, usually riding about 250-300km each day. Next winter we’re thinking of riding out to Alice Springs to see the Finke Desert Race. How much distance should we plan on covering each day?
Once you get west of the Great Dividing Range, if you ride via Lightning Ridge, Bourke, Wannaaring, Tibooburra and Moomba it’s no more than a three-day ride to Birdsville. Then you’re faced with the Simpson Desert and there are 1100 sand dunes between you and the pub at Mount Dare. The best way to beat the Simpson is to take the Plenty Highway across the top or the Strzelecki and Oodnadatta Tracks around the south.
If you allow for eight hours on the move each day you can cover 600km or more on outback roads. This allows for eight hours at the bar on your arrival and eight hours in the kip. Perfect.
Penny-wise, pound fuelish
On a recent ride out beyond the Black Stump, we found ourselves paying well over $2 per litre for fuel, and if you want PULP – forget it! It’s a rip-off and made the entire adventure depressing. Should others wait?
Think of the poor buggers who pay these prices all the time and put matters into perspective. Out west you’ll pay $6 or more for a coldie, the best part of a tenner for a Bundy & Cola, and, quite often, you can’t find a decent red. After a night on the amber, a half reasonable cab-sav and a couple of nightcaps you’ll have spent enough to cover a thousand klicks – which I guarantee you’ll be flat out doing the next day.
Alternately buy a couple of slabs and spend the week at home watching Days of Our Lives, now that’s really depressing.
Riding in the Outback I’ve often sighted un-signposted tracks that, with my GPS, I reckon could provide a very interesting adventure. How can I find out whether these tracks are open to the public?
It could be quite difficult to explain the intricacies of your GPS to an irate cocky after you’ve just roosted into his backyard and covered the weekly washing in bulldust. Satnav is one thing, but paper maps still have a valuable function when planning a long multi-day adventure. Start with a good, large-scale map such as HEMA to plan your overall route. Working on this scale will highlight how to avoid busier highways and include forestry trails and other points of interest. State forestry maps and local shire council maps are also excellent sources of information. Generally you can assume any roads shown on these maps are gazetted roads, open to the public.
For more detail get the 1:250,000 topographical Natmaps to check out any likely through tracks and, more importantly, the terrain. Bear in mind some of these tracks may no longer exist or, up in the tropics, become so overgrown they’ve become impassable.
Always remember the latest electronic whizbang is no substitute for common sense. If the sign says: ‘Keep your bike out of my property and I’ll keep my bullets out of you’, follow your gut, not your satnav.
Close the f***ing gate!
I realise how critical it is when riding across country to leave the gates as you find them. However when I’m travelling with a group of riders, how do I know the rider in front of me hasn’t left the gate open expecting the last rider (often me) to close it? How do I know whether the gate was open or closed?
Generally, if you have to get off your bike to get through the fenceline, the gate is closed. If you can ride straight on through, it’s open. The golden rule always applies: leave things as you found them.
When adventure riding (as opposed to a guided tour, where the guide might open all gates with the knowledge the sweep will close them) the best way to handle gates is for the rider in the lead to open any closed gates and wait to count the rest of the group through the gate, then close it and follow on.
This method achieves two things. One: everyone in the group can feel confident the rule of the land has been complied with and, two: that all the group has passed a certain point. Helpful if someone goes missing later.
A side benefit is that, in a land of many gates, every rider gets a fair share of clean air.
Recently I went on a three-day ride with a different group than I usually ride with. The cornerman system they used was quite different to the one I’ve always used. Is there a correct system?
The cornerman system is what you all agree on before you depart. The traditional system assumes the lead rider knows where they’re headed, in which case he (or she) will instruct the second rider to wait on the corner and indicate to the following riders which way he (or she) went. Thus all riders other than the lead rider rotate positions throughout the day.
In the group I often ride with, we all know the name of the pub we hope to reach by sunset, but have only the vaguest idea of how we might get there. So, the lead rider stops on the corner and waits for the second rider to arrive and discuss the situation. By the time the entire group has gathered, there’s usually quite a disagreement. Often about how we got there, not necessarily how we should proceed.
However our cornerman system has proven just as effective as the traditional system in ensuring no-one gets lost. Most days anyway.
Plan well ahead
Now all the Covid travel restrictions have eased, eight of us are intending to ride coast to coast from Melbourne to Broome. Some of the locations we intend to visit have limited accommodation, how far in advance should we book ahead?
Booking all the way through has the advantage of setting an objective and a schedule, but maintaining flexibility also has its advantages. A group of eight riders will double the population of some remote locations, so if Telstra or the local council road crew are in town you won’t get a bed, be lucky to get a feed and have to fight for a place at the bar. My recommendation would be to book a minimum of three nights ahead and never depart a pub before you’ve confirmed that night’s accommodation.
After a four-day ride over Easter I returned home quite saddle sore. I really love my bike, yet I cringe at the thought of an upcoming three-week ride to Darwin and back. Any suggestions?
Prevention is better than cure and there are a number of ways to prevent numb bum, chafing and other more unsightly ailments. Some people go to the extreme of having their bike’s seat completely rebuilt to fit their quoit. The cost can be quite prohibitive, but can you put a price on long-distance comfort?
Other riders swear by luridly-coloured but nicely padded lycra pants designed for cyclists, but you may feel a little apprehensive using the facilities at the Big Rig Truck Stop. If you take this option, basic black may be better.
Once I actually met a bloke who rode the entire way from Townsville to Cape York and back without sitting down – extraordinary. You’d be amazed how much comfort a small patch of sheepskin can provide, both during the day and at night – used as a pillow and other less utilitarian purposes. More upmarket, a fitted lambswool seat cover is the epitome of style and comfort.
Share and share alike
I’ve just returned from a two-week adventure with a group that insisted everyone contribute to a kitty from which all expenses – accommodation, fuel, food and alcohol – were paid. I couldn’t help but notice that a couple of the guys were drinking and eating far more expensive things than many others. Can I bring these inequities to the group’s attention, or do I just swallow the fact that 1290 Super Adventures use more fuel than my DR650?
It’s just terrible when you just know you’re paying for someone else’s fun and they don’t appreciate it. This is a tough one. If that’s the lay of the land and how it’s been in the group since the dawn of time, and you’ve been invited in, then you can’t say anything.
If you’re a founding member, or near enough, speak up! A better option of course is to tuck into the mixed grill and a bottle of of the good stuff, and finish off with a top-shelf cognac.
It takes a lot to make me grumpy but there was a lot of smirking when I had to take a test to renew my licence when I turned 85. Now my doctor has suggested that people of my age shouldn’t be gallivanting about the desert on motorbikes. What’s your view?
Maybe you could tone down the gallivanting just a little bit, but remember, you don’t stop riding because you get old. You get old because you stop riding!
Back it up
A few friends and I are planning to ride the length of the Great Dividing Range, sticking as closely as possible to the Bicentennial Trail, from Healesville in Victoria to Cooktown in Queensland. We have different opinions on whether a support vehicle is necessary. There’s some rough country in there, what do you think?
You’ll face some savage ascents and descents, particularly in the Victorian Alps, plus quite a few rocky creek crossings and one wide, but not too deep, river. You’ll need to bypass certain sections, but in over 5000kms you’re bound to get cold and wet, no matter what the time of year. You’ll need chain oil, foam filter oil, a tyre repair kit and possibly a few spare levers. However, you’ll have no need to carry extra fuel and no need at all for a support vehicle.
Unlike being on the Tanami Track or the Anne Beadell Highway you will never be more than an hour’s ride from civilisation with lots of servos, eateries, laundrettes and bike shops.
Regardless of fuel tank capacity, some bikes manage over 70km on reserve. Others half that. What’s a good safety margin to rely on one the fuel light comes on?
In perfect conditions it will be approximately 53.7kms. That’s at sea level with no wind and an ambient temperature of 18ºC at a constant 65.33km/h. This will invariably leave you 11km short of the pub and a long wait before your presence is missed and someone returns with fuel.
Well before any remote adventure ride, you should establish your bike’s fuel consumption – including reserve – in remote riding conditions. For example, I know I can squeeze almost 27 litres in to a 26-litre Acerbis long-range tank. At an average speed of 105km/h, I’m assured of a 440-455kms range. Where possible I always use 98 RON or 95 RON which provides at least five percent better fuel consumption. If your tank is half full anywhere west of the Great Dividing Range and you happen upon a servo selling 98 RON, make it a habit of always topping up.
Out back, whenever there’s a hint of dust in the air, my mate always insists we clean the air filters before we clean the dust from our throats. Don’t you think this a little anal?
Having, somewhat negligently in one instance, dusted two motors riding in the Northern Territory I’ve become multi-skilled. While I’m already covered in dust it’s no problem to check and clean the air filter while simultaneously washing the dust down with a cold one. Whenever possible I use mineral turps if the filter requires washing, but will use petrol in a pinch. It’s also better to oil the drive chain while you’re still hot and dirty and the chain is still warm.