Cycling from Adelaide to Melbourne: Prep Work

When Rich came to me a few months ago with the idea of cycling over 900 kilometers between Adelaide, in South Australia and Melbourne, in Victoria I thought he was crazy. The Racing the Planet ultramarathons we have been doing are one thing. They’re controlled, the routes are all planned out by a team of organizers, camp is ready and waiting for you each night, someone provides you with water both for drinking and for cooking, highly trained medics are there to aid you in case of injury, roads are cleared of traffic and danger, there are safe places to rest if you are too tired to keep pushing on for a few moments, and a large group of people going through the process with you, forming an unshakeable sense of comradery.

Bike touring as just the two of us was going to be a whole different beast. There would be no support team. If we got into an accident we’d have to be prepared to take care of one another and our injuries potentially without help. We would be constantly battling traffic, with risk of getting mowed down by a truck, caravan, or car if they didn’t see us while turning a corner. If it rained, our wheels could slip off road or we might be forced to abandon cycling for the day. Depending on where we were, if we had to stop we could be left without food and proper shelter. All of our supplies, including tent, first aid kit, clothing, and electronics would be dragged behind us or tied onto our bikes making balance difficult. We would not be able to carry our gear in backpacks. If the wind came at us from either ahead or our sides it would make forward progress exceedingly difficult.

Yes, it could be a fantastic adventure, us two cruising through beautiful countryside, but it could easily escalate into a nightmare, or just really dull hard work.

Problem is, in our relationship, crazy often trumps smart. We tend to hope for the best, prepare for the worst and just go with it. Thankfully, more often than not we find that our (my) worries are unwarranted and the end result is really quite amazing. So, with a bit of hesitation, I signed on and Rich, being the organizational mastermind that he is, got planning.

Organization

Regardless of how long the trip was going to take or from where we’d begin and end, we needed to find a way to transport our bikes. We had decided that this trip was going to be self-supported, so that there would be neither a van nor car waiting for us to either bring us and our bikes to Adelaide or back to Melbourne. The obvious solution would have been to fly, however that would be quite pricey and we’d have to sort out a way to safely transfer the bikes. We’d need to have a bike box that could be stowed on board. This of course led to the problem of what to do with a bike box once we arrived in Adelaide or the issue of buying new bike boxes in Adelaide. Bike boxes are not cheap either. The ones we already have cost us nearly $300 each, and I didn’t want to stash the bikes in some cardboard and bubble wrap, just in case baggage handlers decided to not take the “Fragile” stickers we’d undoubtedly plaster on them, seriously.

What we did discover was that there are a series of long distance trains through Australia. One such train, The Overland, travels between Melbourne and Adelaide. Bicycles are welcomed on board free of charge (but included in the overall baggage allocation) as long as there is room for them (they advise that you call ahead to confirm space). The bikes would be loaded on to the train without a box, fully assembled (normally you have to remove the handlebars, seats, pedals, and wheels from the bike frame to fit it into a bike box). The train staff would then lock them in a secure place. This service therefore eliminated the need for something to store the bikes in during travel. The only real set back with this would be timing. Flights normally take about 50 minutes between the two cities. The train would take ten hours. Not appealing, but we were going to have to suck it up.

Which direction we’d be traveling in was up to debate. Should we tackle the hills of the Great Ocean Road that begins near Melbourne first and get them out of the way? Should we start in Adelaide so that we could finish at home instead of having to wait around for or potentially miss the train? Should we end in Adelaide so that it gives us a strict time limit of when we needed to be finished (no lolli-gagging on this trip)!?

Personally, I wanted to end in Melbourne. I didn’t quite fancy the idea of finishing up a cycling trip that long and then having to wait around for a ten hour train ride. I wanted to be able to sleep and recover for as long as I wanted afterwards.

Rich however is much more practically minded than myself, and he went for the scientific approach to deciding what would work best for us. After gauging seasonal wind currents, Rich discovered that it would be much more practical for us to begin in Adelaide and end in Melbourne. (Yes!!!) Wind currents around south eastern Australia during the spring months (September – November) are generally westerly. This meant, at least theoretically, that more often than not as we move east from Adelaide we’d have the winds at out back, shoving us along. Were we to ride in the other direction it was very likely that we would spend the entirety of the trip pushing against the wind.

Then came the issue of how to carry all our gear. We had initially and incorrectly assumed that we’d be able to install racks on the backs of our bikes. This would keep the weight off our backs and over the back tires. It certainly seemed like the easiest and simplest solution. However, what we weren’t thinking of was the fact that we have road bikes made of carbon fiber, which though incredibly strong (carbon fiber is often used in airplanes) does not respond well to point stresses. The frames of our bikes are essentially made of cloth woven out of carbon fibers, with an epoxy coating. Though each of the individual fibers are immensely tough, the bond holding all the fibers together is considerably weaker. If you put a lot of stress or weight in any single point, you’re only adding stress to a few of the fibers, which could significantly weaken the bond holding the fibers as a whole together. This weakened bond could in turn lead to the entire carbon fiber weave unfurling. Once the weave has been damaged a carbon fiber bike is unrideable from a safety perspective.

Taking this into consideration any racks could potentially cause substantial damage to our bikes. The racks would be directly over one or two points of the bike for the entirety of the trip. The stress from the rack clamp on the carbon fiber frame, plus the weight of the gear we were carrying, would be too much for the bike to take.

Not being able to take racks on our bikes left us with two options: get new bikes or get a bike trailer. I would have loved to have been able to get new, proper touring bikes that would have been able to support the weight of the rack. With new touring bikes we wouldn’t have to worry about racks as much; anything we’d get would be made of a few sheets of metal rather than a weave of material. Unfortunately, getting new bikes was a far from cost-effective solution.

We instead had to go for a trailer. As trailers are not cheap we chose to only purchase one (our cheaply made pet trailer only cost a bit over US$100, well-constructed trailers can cost $500), so Rich unfortunately was going to get stuck carrying all of the weight. Additionally, having a trailer is generally a massive pain. In the best of times, when going downhill or on flats, a trailer is barely noticeable. However, as soon as you hit a bit of an incline you have the trailer and the weight of whatever is in it acting against you. As the trailer stands on its own two wheels, it will want to go wherever it can roll easiest. So, if Rich was going up a hill, he’d not only be pushing himself up, but pulling the weight of a trailer trying to move in the opposite direction as well. Two pedals up, one glide down.

A trailer though would work in place of a rack because the trailer would be attached simply to the axel of the back wheel, rather than to a seat post or part of the carbon fiber frame. The point stress would be placed on a sturdy piece of metal that wouldn’t crack when the weight got too much. It was the peace of mind we needed in order to complete the ride.

Rich was going to have a tough trip, with legs of steel to show for it at the end.

Rich and our Trailer

Rich and our trailer

The Route

Having decided which direction to travel in and how we were going to do it, Rich now had the job of sorting out where we’d travel to each day, how far we’d be going, and how much elevation we’d be undertaking. Some of these decisions were made relatively easy by the fact that in many areas of South Australia and Victoria you could travel well over 50 kilometers before you came across a town. It could take even longer to find a town that had anything more than a house or two. Our minimum requirements for each location we stopped in was that there be a campsite with facilities (there are multiple campsites in Australia without power and toilets), and access to a pub or grocery store where we could have dinner each night or at least gather supplies.

Using Google Maps as our resource, Rich put together the below itinerary.

Day Start Point End Point Distance (km) Elevation Gain (m) Elevation Loss (m)
1 Adelaide Strathalbyn 58.8 764 -737
2 Strathalbyn Meningie 93.7 65 -132
3 Meningie Salt Creek 60.6 66 -66
4 Salt Creek Kingston SE 85.1 0 0
5 Kingston SE Beachport 88.4 35 -33
6 Beachport Mount Gambier 87.3 132 -95
7 Mount Gambier Portland 107 355 -380
8 Portland Port Fairy 71.9 63 -70
9 Port Fairy Port Campbell 113 458 -461
10 Port Campbell Apollo Bay 78.6 1186 -1189
11 Apollo Bay Torquay 91.2 770 -769
Totals 935.6 3894 -3932

Reasonable enough right? Our longest day would be 113 kilometers, and most of the time the route would be quite flat, saving Rich’s legs as he battled the trailer.

We chose to take what would have been the final day of Torquay to Melbourne out pretty early in the planning process. Traffic between Torquay and Melbourne any day of the week could be a nightmare, and neither of us were keen on riding home along a busy highway. Additionally, by ending in Torquay we’d get to finish with a great view of a really beautiful beach, in the town that we hope to one day settle down in.

As we would be starting the trip on a Sunday (trains from Melbourne to Adelaide run on Saturdays) and we did not want to ride along the Great Ocean Road (a popular tourist route starting before Port Campbell and ending in Torquay) on a weekend due to crowds, we were essentially giving ourselves 13 days to complete the trip. We would cycle for eleven days, leaving ourselves two rest days to do whatever we wanted with. I was keen to take days off while we were in Kingston SE and in Port Campbell. Neither Rich nor I had actively trained on our bikes before this trip, so I wanted the day off in Kingston SE which is a reasonably sized town to recover from the previous few days, and then in Port Campbell, so that we’d have reasonably fresh legs for the climb up and towards Apollo Bay.

Only thing to do now was to pack up, and go. For the next two weeks, we’ll be discussing our experiences out on the open road. We hope you read along.

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