Practical consideration for cycling in Aussy desert tracks

Few thoughts of cycling the Birdsville , logistical considerations .

Road conditions on the 530 km section “ Birdsville Track “

Overall the condition of this iconic track is pretty good as a lot of money must go into looking after it . The Tanami crossing for example would be much harder . Corrugations , eventually generated by the road traffic, were present at times but still not too bad in the bigger picture. Some sandy sections , bulldust , and frequent real rough rocky sections over flood plane crossings made for slow progress. Also had some great faster sections through packed clay areas. You see a number of 4×4 users daily and they would help you out if you end up with a real problem or emergency.

Water & weather

The summer temperatures through this area would be savage , but May and my weather window gave me daytimes highs in the mid late 20’s due to a southerly wind pattern . I had capacity for carrying 25 litres water , but in practice only needed to carry about 15 litres , enough for 2 days. Water bores along the route can be used , but the water is pretty aweful, bit salty and highly mineralised. I had a resupply at Clifton Hills station , and again at Mungarannie pub. A station after Coopers Creek kindly gave me some precious rainwater .

The weather , constant cloudless days and fine sunny conditions make central Australia an almost perfect winter climate , but the nights are often very cold so a good quality very warm sleeping bag is an important priority. The flys are really bothersome , and my face net was very handy. They all bugger off at last light so the nights were ok . Don’t be concerned with snakes , over the cooler season you are unlikely to see them. I saw on squashed on the road out of Mt Isa , but nothing else and it gets colder further south .

My crossing took me 2 days longer than I had planned due to strong headwinds for almost the whole crossing , bar one day. If you have an unlimited time window the temptation would be simply to wait for a wind window that gave light winds or at the very least absence of strong southerlies. Becomes a little demoralising bashing into headwinds in this type of expansive desert landscape.

Bike & gear considerations

Flat tyres ( 8 ) due to the presence of thorny species on the road edges and in camping or off road lunch spots were my only issue experienced. I had plenty of patches and glue , so repaired as it happened , and didn’t even use my 2 main spare tubes. Carried a fantastic mini track pump which I would recommend as a key price of kit. I also had a big bag of essential tools , enough to repair broken spokes , remove cassettes , brake discs , repair chain breaks etc. You have no bike shops in and between Mount Isa heading south , until and if you get to Melrose in the Flinders Range ( about 1500 km if you’re a bird , and you’re Not )

The fat tyres on the Surly made for a comfortable shock absorbing ride so front forks were optional on my bike . Would be vital on a 700 c tourer of other normal MTB wheels with 2 “ tyres.

Communications & Safety

I used an Inreach Explorer , a device that works off the iridium satellite network which gave me the ability to stay in touch with Barb via SMS text . Perfect device , not power hungry and a great bit of safety kit and not too expensive , cheaper than a good mobile phone and more versatile than a PLB or a Spot which do not give you 2 way Comms.

I could use my mini iPad to Bluetooth link to the Inreach device for messaging and mapping .

Mimi iPad was used for location and mapping . Useful apps were the Hema Maps app , the Explore Oz app , WikiCamps Au app and the Inreach Garmin Earthmate app.

Arriving in Adelaide CBD Rundle Mall before ditching the trailer with my friend Marten , and cycling the last 40 odd kms up to his , and Henrietta’s abode , was up in the Adelaide hills at Hahndorf . Final tally was in fact about 1500 kms ( not 1400 as per Vimeo vid ) cycling plus the lift Day of 370 km.

My last “real day “on the bike , the day before this was a ride in from Clare , and I used The Reisling Cycle Trail – photos below

Then ran the unpleasant main highway into Gawler and onto to the suburb of Elizabeth where I stayed with friends , Andrew and Wendy Prior. Andrew is an accomplished long distance Aussy cyclists who indulges in some serious rides that I would class as ” self flagellation ” , riding to the limits of physical endurance .

Check out Andrews link above – he is a real ” wordsmith ”

They were great hosts . I caught the metro train into the cbd the following morning before tackling my final challenge , the not insignificant hill climb up to Hahndorf.


  1. A great read, quite a wordsmith yourself, certainly whetted the appetite, think we’ll bring our 29ers over ina few months. When do you guys hit Sydney?..Cheers Andy

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