Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Navigation

The Trail is well marked with thousands of trail markers like those shown below.  The reality is that over time these markers are. going to disappear. They will get vandalised, burnt, bent or just obscured by bushes. Missing one where there is a branch off point can be critical so it is essential to have some other form of navigation. This can be either map or electronic, preferably both. Electronic devices are great, but with batteries that can run out or a touch screen that does not like water one still needs a paper map.

Bent Trail Marker with Likely Culprit in Background
Maps

There are a series of 9 Maps produced and supplied by the Department of Environment and Conservation. They can be ordered direct on (08) 9334 0333. They are also available from various Bike Shops and Visitor Centres at the towns on the route. It can be easiest to get them on line from the Munda Biddi Foundation Web Site . They are printed on special plasticied paper so they can be used in the rain and are pretty well essential for anyone wanting to ride a significant section.





When I walked the Bibbulmun Hiking Trail I found that it was quite easy to follow. With this experience I left the first Town on my bike with the map in my pannier and headed out along the Munda Biddi trail. Quite confidant that I could just follow the track signs and just use the map if I got really lost. On 3 occasions I managed to miss crucial signs and I did ride a few extra kilometers before I realised that things were not quite right.

I now attach the map to my handlebars so I can refer to it constantly. Having the map stuck in my back panniers was a recipe for disaster. Not wanting to constantly stop to fish it out I tended to ride on hoping I could find my way using the Markers only. It did not work.

Map and Odometer on My Handlebars
GPS Devices

Thanks to the US military system of GPS salellites we have this marvelous system of getting our position with wondrous accuracy through the array of electronic devices that have sprung up in the last few years.

Specialised Devices

Companies like Garmin and Magallen have produced wonderful specialised devices designed to work on your bike. If you can justify their cost they are the best to use because they are designed for the purpose to function in all weather conditions. I have not had much experience of them so I can't really offer much advice.

Mobile Phones and Tablets

The degree of sophistication of these devices is changing the world as we know it. With thousands of "apps" available for every conceivable purpose they can do wondrous things. Even though there is no mobile phone coverage for the whole of the trail the GPS still works everywhere and they can be used in the offline mode.

I have a Google Nexus with a 7 in screen which I have found very useful for general cycling use. Cycling around Malaysia and Thailand I found it invaluable. The WiFi only model costs only about $200. Its and Google Android based machine and the Apple equivalent does pretty much the same. 

 There are a host of free apps which one can use with these which one can use with either an Apple or Google machine to navigate the trail. I never mounted mine on the handlebars, but kept it in my handlebar bag so I could pop it out when I needed and check my location.

Note that if its raining, a few drops of water on the touch screen makes it pretty unusable so one needs to have a mini umbrella with it to keep it dry. 

Google Maps

My jaw continually drops at the capability of this system which Google have developed over the years. It's not specifically made for outdoor or sporting use but it is very comprehensive massing system. To upload the map details for your area, you do not need to be online. I found that if you viewed the map area while connected to the internet, it will suck the data up into the memory buffer so that I could use it for the rest of the section between towns. 

Battery life is limited, and what will drain it most is the use of the LED screen. This did give me a few days of use so long as I did not use it too much for other purposes like reading books or playing games. 

EveryTrail

There is an absolute host of other apps out there designed for outdoor use. I found it hard to pick a winner. If someone has mapped a trail or path that one is trying to follow it makes it easy to load the trail into one's device and follow it. 

Some are more orientated towards performance cycling and others towards recreation. I did find that DEC had mad a few maps using EveryTrail in my area and decided to focus on this app.



Friday, 18 October 2013

What Wears and Breaks

The route is pretty rugged and something on your bike is likely to break something on the way. You will most likely want to avoid being stuck in some remote location with a bike you cant ride. To ride any significant portion of the trail, either you need to be able to do repairs, or you need to be with someone who can.

The most reliable bike shops that will carry a reasonable range of spares and do good repairs are at Mundaring, Collie and Albany plus perhaps at Manjimup. In Denmark there are 3 of us doing repairs but no one has enough business to carry a really good range of spares. The camping shop carries a few spares, but not much.

Tubes

The track is not particularly prone to giving bikes punctures. Its best to carry 1 or 2 spare tubes plus a repair outfit. You can also reduce your chance of getting a puncture in a number of ways.

  • Thorn Proof Tubes- Super thick tubes which thorns are less likely to penetrate.
  • Kevlar Tyres - Tyres made partially with a Kevlar layer so that its more difficult for anything to penetrate and puncture the tube.
  • Self Sealing Tubes - These are tubes with some rubbery fluid inside which solidifies into any puncture to seal the hole. 
I am fairly adept at fixing punctures so I just carry a spare tube which I repair it in the evening. If I ever get two punctures in a day then I will have to curse at finding the puncture and possibly repairing it in the rain on the side of the track.


Disk Pads

Particularly in spring or winter there car be a lot of mud and water to go through. The mud acts a bit like grinding paste and then break pads don't last long. They are not difficult to change, and not too heavy to carry so its worth taking a spare pair along. Make sure you have the right ones for your particular brake system.
This can be where a performance bike with sensitive brakes has a disadvantage. The linings may be softer and the mechanism more highly leveraged is great for sensitivity and control but not so much for reliability and endurance.


Touring bikes and hybrids usually have V brakes with brake shoes rather than pads. They suffer from the disadvantage that they can overheat on some of the downhills. So that may mean that you have to take it slower and take more breaks.

Derailleur Hangers and Derailleurs

There are 100 km of track to maintain and with a limited budget, its not easy to keep it all free of forest litter (branches and sticks). It just takes one of these to kick up into your rear Derailleur and (in order of likelihood) you can break: -
  • The Derailleur Hanger
  • The Chain
  • The Derailleur 
  • Spokes
There is not much one can do to prevent this apart from being careful. Avoid heavy pedaling going through sticks and get prepared to stop completely at any scent of trouble.

If you want to avoid this danger completely and still have gears you can consider getting one of the German multispeed hubs instead. They can cost over $2000. Then all the gearing mechanism is contained within the hub so there is no derailleur to break.  

Usually it will not be more than the hanger that breaks This is a small aluminium item which attaches to the frame so that the Derailleur can be screwed on. Years ago they used to be a part of the frame itself, but today they are made from aluminium. This is probably so that they can break before too much other damage is done.

Unfortunately in their wisdom there is no standardization and bicycle manufacturers have not been talking to each other. So each manufacturer can have a dozen varieties for various models of bikes they have produced. If you have some strange bike it can be hell out there finding the right hanger for your bike. If you visit the web site http://derailleurhanger.com from Colorado (USA) you can see the full range of hangers that there are in the world. So if your bike is a bit exotic it could be difficult getting a spare hanger and unfortunately they are not cheap! 

A solution to this problem can be to carry an emergency hanger. If you have one of these with you you might also be able to help some other poor character out some time. Usually they are over $20, but I managed to get one on Ebay for around $12. Beware that they do not necessarily fit all bikes so you need to check it works on your particular model.

An Emergency Hanger - Should Fit your Bike
And if all else fails, it can be best to remove your derailleur altogether, shorten the chain and turn you bike into a single speed model. With some difficulty this will get you to the next town. To do this you will need to carry and know how to use a chain breaker. 

Broken Spokes

The two main reasons that spokes can break are: -

  • Some kind of accident, stick in wheel.
  • Fatigue
Spokes don't last forever. They are what transfer the torque from your derailleur to your tyres and they take a lot of stress. And if you have disk brakes they take on even more stress. So they get metal fatigue and will usually first break near the rear hub. And the awkward thing is that it is most frequently on the right side next to the gears. Then to change a spoke you will also have to remove the cassette which requires special tools.

Apart from carrying all the tools you can consider including some FibreFix emergency Kevlar spokes in your luggage. http://www.fiberfixspoke.com . These clever little things allow you to insert a temporary spoke without even taking the wheel off.



The good news is that its not too bad riding with a couple of broken spokes. You will find that more can break as you ride, but it takes a while. The wheel gets a bit of a buckle, but if you have disk brakes they will still work OK. Using disk breaks on a rear wheel with bust spokes will stress the wheel even more, so keep off the rear brakes.

Bear in mind that if you do get a couple of broken spokes from fatigue, you can get them fixed but the rest will be on their way and you are likely to get some more breakages in the near future. Not so good if you are about to do 1000 km on the track.




Walpole to Denmark

Business at my Denmark hostel was very quiet here a few days ago so so I got all my gear together and prepared to do the sections between here and Walpole. I transported my bike to Walpole and headed off in wonderful spring weather.

Walpole to Booner Mundak Shelter

Here is my EveryTrail Map of the route detailed on Map8. If you want to use this map on an Ipad/Iphone or Android device you can download this map for free and use it for navigation.


This section is quite arduous! It is great scenery as it follows the Frankland river through the valley of the Giants, but as it does so it also has some very steep inclines and declines as the trail cross the many tributaries feeding into the main watercourse. I was really glad to have my Tektro hydraulic brakes working well. Things got a lot easier after the track took a turn and headed due north toward the shelter. So I was glad when I did finally make it to the shelter feeling pretty tired. It requires some fitness for this section.
Overlooking the Frankland River

Sappers Bridge where The Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun Trails cross.


Mother Emu was looking very protective of her 5 chicks so I kept very clear.


Booner Mundak Shelter

Booner Mundak to Jinung Beigabup Shelter



Not such a hard ride but my legs were pretty fatigued from the previous day. This section if almost all back roads and farm road, but its very pretty. Lots of evidence of flooding in the wet weather that we had had in August. Then in September after my ride DEC had to close the trail completely and divert it to the highway. Lots of Great Views overlooking Mount Franklin.

Lots of Back Roads and Farm Roads

Here is a water crossing that will not be good when its floods.

Jinung Beigabup Shelter
Jinung Beigabup Shelter to Denmark


I had had beautiful weather through the first part of the ride coming from Walpole but in the afternoon the drizzle started and it I could feel the cold front driving the temperature down. My home in Denmark was only a few kilometers away if I took the shortcut down the Scotsdale Road. Here are some pictures of when I rode this section previously.

This is probably the only section that takes in coastal scenery. Normally the very sandy soils in the dunes make it very difficult to construct a bicycle track along the coast. There is a great section with some very expensive construction between Lights Beach and and Madfish Bay which has made this possible in this section.

 The last 12km of the route between Lights Beach and the Denmark Visitor Centre is along bituminous roads which is not so exciting for MTB riders. The Shire of Denmark do have plans to extend the route along the coast to Ocean Beach which we hope does not take too long in happening.
Lights Beach Lookout

Constructed Bridge

Short Diversion to Waterfull Beach

Elephant Cove near Greens Pool

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Panniers Bags and Pannier Racks

If you want to ride the trail unsupported (camping at the shelters) you will need to carry about 20kg of gear for your overnight stay on the back of your bike. For this you will need a sturdy rack and the bags (panniers) that hang off it. Parts of the track are quite rough so it needs to be sturdy. Here is a picture of the Toppeak rack I bought for my 29in bike. Note that it has lower extenders so that it clears the disk brakes. They bolt onto the frame quite easily.



Pannier Anchor Points

You may see near that in the frame near the rear wheel axle there may be threaded holes. One or two on each side. There may also be 2 more in the frame closer to the saddle.

If your bike does or does not have these will determine what kind of rack you can use. The lightweight higher performance bicycles often don't have them. The only solutions to this are: -

  • Use a trailer or :-
  • Get a Thule "Pack and Pedal Sport Rack". These are quite recent products which I have yet to see or use, but they would seem to be the only solution to fitting a rack on a performance MTB.

Pannier Bags

There are many available. I originally bought a cheap pair of Tioga Rear Panniers, but found them a bit of a hassle on the trail. They are strapped to the rack using hooks and stretchable shock cord. Over rough terrain they tended to slowly come loose. I also noticed on a couple of guys that came down the trail from Perth that by the time they got here the stitching was coming loose and they had had some difficulties with them.

So I have bought myself a pair of Ortlieb Panniers for my next trip. They are German made with a great reputation and are pretty much a classic for touring cycle rider. Waterproof with a roll top, lets see how they stand up to the rigours of the Munda Biddi.


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Greens Pool Loop

Not everyone wants to ride the whole 1000km in one trip. The trail is also the backbone for many routes in the South of the Western Australia. I have started mapping some of our local trails using an IPhone (and Android) application called EveryTrail. For about $4 you can download it to your device and use it to follow my trails and many others in the region.



My First trail I have call the "Greens Pool Loop". It starts at the Denmark Visitor Centre and heads to William Bay National Park Via the coast at Lights Beach. Its about a 36km loop circuit which could take a couple of hours riding plus time for stops. It needs moderate fitness level. The surface is firm all the way and could be done on any hybrid or mountain bike.

The local shire have committed to extending the trail along to Wilson Head which will make this the most spectacular part of the whole 1000km trail. Enjoy your ride!



The Weather - North and South

Its 1000km along the trail, but only 400km by road from Perth to Albany. That means that the trail does a fair bit of winding around the various small towns on the way. Australia's population is very concentrated around the capital cities so as you leave Mundaring (near Perth) its a fair distance between towns. For that reason it was necessary to place shelters at about 50km intervals along the track.

Being 400 km apart, there are various climatic conditions you need to consider when deciding where and when to ride. Perth can get really hot in summer (January-February) and in the South it can get cold and wet in winter (July-August). So these can be times worth avoiding. I now close my hostel in Denmark for these 2 winter months as there are not enough people around.



Note that these are average maximum and minimum temperatures. Its not uncommon for the Perth hills to have over 45 degree days in summer. I remember a 47 degree day and only the tough want to cycle in that temperature.  Likewise, I sometimes doubt the sanity of Bibbulmun Track walkers coming through Denmark in July-August when the days are short, and its cold and miserable. In winter, if you don't have the right gear for what you are doing it can be very unpleasant and in fact dangerous.

One also needs to take into account that the south gets a lot more rain. Its a lot greener down here and we have lovely tall forests but its no fun when the rain keeps dripping on you. Nevertheless we can have some lovely winter days down here which can make for great day rides. Here is the comparison of the number of days of rainfall between Perth and Manjimup.




Friday, 14 June 2013

Choosing a Bike

Don't Get Cheap Rubbish

Its amazing that the Chinese manage to produce a bicycle for such low prices. If you go to somewhere like K-Mart you can get an MTB for $100-$200. But if you take one of these on this trail they are likely to break pretty quickly. The spokes, frame, gears or something will quite likely break and you can be stuck in the middle of the bush walking home. They are not for this type of terrain. Maybe for a day ride it can be OK, but for trying to ride a rugged section over any distance its not worth it.

There are quite a few reputable brands which make sturdy bikes with good components. Trek, Giant, Avanti, Merida. I have seen a reasonable 26" Trek MTB with cable disk brakes and 18 gears for around $420 which would be adequate. It does need a low "Granny" gear so that you can handle the steep climbs. Even with a reputable brand its worth paying extra for something with good components. It will last longer before it needs repairing and save you money in the longer term.

A good touring bike without front suspension will also do the trick. If it is using front panniers the weight on the front forks could be pretty cumbersome on some of the difficult sections.


Unsupported Riders

What do you need for an unsupported rider?
  • A hard tail mountain bike with fat tyres. 26in or 29in wheels with at least 2.1 in tyres.
  • Lots of gears, particularly a low granny gear for the steep climbs.
  • A hard tailed (no rear suspension) bike with anchor points to be able to fit a strong pannier rack. The alternative is to use a trailer.
Panier Anchor Point

The last requirement is worth discussion, because many of the performance lightweight aluminium or carbon fibre mountain bikes do not have anchor points to fit a pannier rack. If you do already have one of these, you may need to use a trailer, or buy a Thule Pack and Pedal Sport Rack.

Thule Pannier Rack


The Frame Needs to Fit You

There are various sizes of frames. You may be able to push the saddle up to a height that makes it high enough for your legs, but its easy to end up with backache from a frame that's too small. Buying from a shop that has expertise on bike sizing is a good idea.

Competitive road and triathlon cyclist will actually get a frame tailor made to fit their personal body dimensions and it does make a difference. Here is a good sizing chart that will help you pick your frame and maybe even be able to check that the bike shop are on the ball.

Panniers or a Trailer?

Trailers are great for touring cyclists as they are convenient and do not effect the balance of the bike. The Northern sections of the track are pretty rugged and the trailer can be quite an impediment. It makes a longer vehicle for getting around corners and there is also an extra wheel that can fall off the track. The trailer itself adds extra weight to tow.

My preference is for panniers. If you have a bike without anchor points you may find it best to buy or hire a trailer.

 Riders that I have met coming through Denmark, using a trailer have found them rather awkward on difficult sections of the track. The Thule Rack is great, but expensive and it may be better just to buy a cheaper 26 in mountain bike for the trail than to get your lightweight performance bike kitted out for touring.

Consider Hiring Gear

There is no point buying panniers, a trailer or a whole bike so it can just sit collecting dust in the shed for months afterwards. Simply having your old bike serviced could cost more than hiring. There are a few places that will provide well serviced equipment and afterwards you can just give it back.