1000 Miles of Outback Australia by Pushbike

In 2000 we embarked on what would become a nearly 13,000 mile bike tour of eleven months around and into the middle of the continent of Australia. That was 16 years ago. We returned to cycle and visit wonderful friends we made during that year. We began by finishing a dirt track diagonal crossing of the outback center. On that first adventure we rode a 700 kilometer dirt track called the Plenty Highway to Alice Springs.

Great Central Road 1 Alice to Laverton

This trip we rode The Great Central Road outback track (one of Australia’s longest) across The Great Victoria Desert in the direction of Perth. 1600 kilometers of dirt with very little in the way of services, food or water, we thought would take three weeks. It took five.

Our last trip included a two week crossing of The Great Himalayan Range on the Manali/Leh route; no water issues but some altitudes well over 17,000 feet, (one over 18,000) long bad-road passes and cold. Both required considerable planning (mostly by Claire) and daily unknowns of weather, shelter and food. This one was a bit easier on Bob’s knees and single bikes solved Claire’s concerns about his sometimes aggressive captaining in India. For a good read, pictures and videos of that trip go to:

Khardung La and S. India


Australia 2016: The Great Central Road

As soon as we left the airplane in Alice (August 4, our 26th anniversary) Claire asked, “Do you know which way is north?” It was mid-day, and I pointed at the sun. Yup. So far we haven’t felt that funny upside-down which way is which feeling that we got the first time we landed in Cairns in 2000. But June was much nearer the solstice and closer to the equator. I immediately noticed the bird calls. All seemed familiar, but I couldn’t put a name on any of them. Sixteen years is a long time.

Claire has been busy planning our food for the next 1780 kilometers (I know it got longer since my first post): eight bags of average four kilograms each, sent Australia Post to four locations along the route. They will arrive by weekly air service to remote stations or Aboriginal communities. The weight of this undertaking is beginning to sink in, but so is the excitement and anticipation. It’s always like this, chaos has to play a part in life lived large.

Building up the bikes

The jet lag has seemed mild, but is lingering longer this trip; maybe it’s age. I didn’t have trouble putting the bikes together, though doing two is harder than doing one tandem. I was really scared when I could see that the disc brake rotor on my rear wheel was bent. I would spin the wheel holding the skewers while looking at a plain background and could see a major wobble. I could imagine waiting weeks for replacement parts and major cost putting it on the wheel since I don’t know how to do that, and if I did, wouldn’t have the special tool. Soooooo. I attacked it with both hands, trying hard to bend (will) it true. It took about a half-hour, but it worked. I’m amazed. I also had to do it to Claire’s front wheel. We’ve also done some modifications to allow us to haul three to four days of water, we hope. Claire made bags to carry two 1.5L of water on her handlebars, and a frame triangle bag for more water, and I managed to modify fork racks to use only one braze on instead of three by using zip ties; I can only hope it works, but I have a fistful of zip ties for repairs, just in case. There was a method to my madness of ordering 36 spoke wheels, heavy but strong enough to carry a lot of weight on very bad dirt roads.

Ritchie Ascent Breakaways

The Ritchie Ascent Breakaways are not, I repeat, not easy to either break down, or build up. Don’t expect to fly someplace remote (like Alice) and ride off into the sunset after a few minutes out of the suitcase. However we are preparing for something of an expidition, so that counted for part of the time. Just take the online video with a grain of salt; the actors were not jet lagged, and must have practiced a hundred times. Give yourself a couple of hours for a basic build. You must: put the handlebars back on, bottle cages, rack(s) pedals and don’t forget to grease the seatpost, if you want to get the bike apart at the end of your trip. Oh, and over the phone a representative at Ritchey suggested we remove the disc brake rotors, with a special tool I would have to find and buy, and learn to use, one day before departure. They were very helpful, I just wish the video would deal with disc brakes, and be a little more realistic. I was very lucky I could fix the bent rotors. I did opt to not buy-up to the hard case, but I’m not sure the bike would have fit in one, and might not have been that much more protection anyway because the discs are right in the middle of the softest part of a hard case, and the gorilla who jumped on mine would find a way.

We have ridden the bikes unloaded on bitumen, gravel roads and single-track, and they perform well. It takes a while to get accustomed to the steel-is-real weight, but we are travelers, not racers, so that soon fades. I will be interested to experience the feel on bad road, heavily loaded. I’ll report back. (We are not sponsored).

We have no idea how often we will be able to post, but it could be a week, or even two. Even here in Alice Springs, 800k at least from any larger town, I have trouble uploading the smallest photos, sooooo it can only get better, someday.

Outback Communication

We do have a Telstra phone, but the towers will thin rapidly as we cycle southwest, with perhaps only one in the 1200 kms proper of the Great Central Road, and those tiny screens are for 140 characters, not real writing.
So don’t be impatient with us, this is long-form living, not up-to-the-second news of our latest meal, celebrity sighting, sunrise video. Sign up in the right column to get email notifications, and you can forget about us until we ping your phone, tablet etc.
All the best to you. Wish us well, and join us when you can.


Breakky Visitor


1000 Miles of Outback Australia by Pushbike — 5 Comments

  1. Thank you Bob and Claire for writing this beautiful blog.
    We’re about to start riding (on bikes) the Great Central Road – from Laverton (Perth) to Yulara and then on towards Townsville on the Plenty Highway. Not easy as you’ve described but so much looking forward. Your stories make me want to leave tomorrow instead of mid April..

  2. We loved the Plenty on our year long trip around and into the middle of Australia. You’ll find that here also. We started in Cairns and got on to the Plenty via the Urendangi cutoff. You should find the Plenty much easier than the Great Central, but still very remote feeling. You might want to read that section of our year also though we were going the opposite direction and it was like 19 years ago! Oz has changed a lot since that first trip, but we’re still besotted. Will you be posting?

  3. Thanks Bob! We’ll be using Twitter for infrequent updates of our trip: @zwerffietser
    That means wandering cyclist in Dutch :-).

  4. Hi Claire and Bob. Thank you for sharing! I loved the pictures and descriptions. Your interaction with the young woman in Laverton was both heart-wrenching and uplifting. We camped next to you in Wetmore CG during the eclipse. I hope all is well with you both. Do you have an adventure planned for this year?

  5. I had a total knee replacement seven weeks ago. Not knowing how that would go we didn’t plan anything. Its going extremely well, I’m able to bike, even up to 3,000 ft. elevation gain yesterday, and 103 miles a couple of weeks ago. I have cataract surgery in two days, and may do another medical check up later since we are in Tucson at least through July. After that we’re not sure, maybe some motorhome travel in the Four Corners, with bikes of course. You probably remember Mark and Sandy Doumas who shared our campground. We biked with them Saturday. Hope all is well with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *