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Preparing for Bicycle Touring

Grace Newhaven

2008/ August 16

Bicycle Camping check list |Things to avoid on a Bike trip in Australia (in particular) Magpies & Swooping in Springtime | water quality in Australia | Avoiding Rest Areas | Parking brake | Cleaning A Drive Chain On Tour | Mobile Office | Travelling by Bus or plane | maps | mark your panniers | camping trowel | sun burn protection | Tilley Hats | Security bags for strength | carry bag for shopping | wear bright colours | self supporting clothes line | Alcohol : Sherry | Canvas water bucket | Bicycle Kitchen | Send yourself a food parcel | survive electrical storms |

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Parking brake

"....Take a thickish rubber band with you on tour .I hang mine on the handlebar. When you stop, bind up your rear brake lever to your handlebar : the bike will never fall over again as it can't move .You can lean it up against anything . It can also assist in bike security, as no-one is going to push it away in a hurry ...." (Roy Hoogenraad, Timaru NZ )

Update : a recent visitor tells me he makes rubber bands from worn out inner tubes - he says , they work very well for various purposes .....


Cleaning A Drive Chain On Tour

This is a quick, economical & eco-friendly way to improve your bike's performance on tour. It works well at home too !

I have adapted the idea from similar methods described by Sheldon Brown & John Forester.

You will need :

  • three plastic bottles, about 500 ml each, at least two with a wide mouth & screw tops, including the tops themselves ( sports drinks or fruit juice bottles are ideal). You can find these all too easily in roadside litter in most parts of Australia.
  • about 300-500ml of kerosene. This can be found in supermarkets at about A$3.00/litre, or much more cheaply in bulk at some petrol stations.
  • a hook made from a piece of wire, about 200mm. ( useful but not essential)

Method :

1. Obtain the kerosene & establish who will receive the used kerosene ( see point # 11 below). Apply barrier cream, if possible, to your hands.

2. Remove the chain from the bike

3. Place the chain in the wide mouthed bottle and pour in about 150-200 ml of kerosene. This bottle will be "1db"- the First Dirty Bottle

4.Seal & then agitate the bottle. If possible, leave it to soak. Overnight would be good, but not essential.

5. Remove the chain, place it in another wide mouthed bottle " 2db". Be sure that you take any rollers that may have become detached. You may find the hook useful here.

6. Pour fresh kerosene into 2db, agitate as before.

7. Pour the second lot of kerosene from 2db into 1db

8. Repeat steps 6 & 7 with fresh kerosene. Your chain will be getting cleaner & cleaner!

9. When you have exhausted the supply of kerosene, pour all the dirty kerosene into 1db and seal well.

10. Air dry the chain - the hook is useful here - then re-install & lubricate. Clean your hands with cleanser from your own toolkit, or get some elsewhere. Arrange for recycling of 2db etc.

11. Arrange for somewhere to leave 1db well sealed & upright for a few days - the maintenance section of any workshop should oblige. In that time, the kerosene will clarify, as the dirt & grit settles to the bottom. So much so , that if you decant it carefully , you or someone else can....

12. Re-use the kerosene for another cleaning session , and another , and another...


Mobile Office

You will probably collect a fair amount of information both before and during your trip, much of it on paper. You can organise that amount of paper a lot more easily with a compact " mobile office ". This doesn't have to be elaborate, but it will be very useful.

For a cover, we use a light plastic two-hole report folder. These A4 standard sized folders fit well in most rear panniers. You may need to protect it from abrasion or rain damage by carrying it inside a heavier-duty plastic "document post" bag, such as are used by courier services - again these are a standard size for the purpose, and are easy to find.

You can " file" information using plastic document sleeves; or there are small, flat, plastic 2-hole punches designed to fit into diaries.

What should you carry? We find the following useful

  • a copy of your own “trip planner”
  • A simple A4 size page printed as a table of " calling cards" with our postal address, email etc. This can be photocopied onto ordinary paper as necessary at any number of places when you run out of "cards" - without needing computer access.
  • printed list of mailing addresses and telephone numbers. From your computer's adressbook?
  • A photocopied large-scale map of your proposed journey, to facilitate discussion when required.
  • A loose-leaf plastic sheet with pockets for photographs (we carry a few favourite pictures to show people along the way). The same sheets also carry a computer disc quite nicely.
  • Train or bus timetables, tourist information, envelopes & stamps, notepaper etc.
  • A photocopy of any important documents (passport, tickets, credit cards etc) in case you lose the originals.
  • Particularly for long trips, a good weather chart, perhaps a wind pattern chart. A distance chart is also useful.
  • copy of ABC Radio's " Travellers Guide" ( $1.00 from ABC Shops)
  • A favourite bike travelogue or two (perhaps taken from the www in plain text & copied as - preferably - a single page, double sided) to exchange with another bicycle traveller - it makes a pleasant & refreshingly original gift.


Travelling By Bus Or Plane

Using a duty free bag for carry-on | making a derailleur bag | one big bag |

Using a duty free bag for carry-on

When you're leaving for a camping trip, it can be difficult to make the 20 Kg weight limit when flying with a bike. Airlines may also have limits on the number of baggage items they will allow in the cabin.

One way to maximise the amount you can carry yourself (and thus evade those limits) is to use a duty free bag for anything heavy and/or bulky: we carry our toolkit ( heavy) ,helmets ( bulky), and pumps ( fragile) in such a bag. In practice, airline staff seem to ignore these bags as you enter the plane. As well, the bags are usefully sturdy in themselves. You don't even need to make a duty-free purchase to get one : they are often discarded in airport lounges, so you can find one quite easily. Note : after September 11, it may be impossible to carry tools onto the aircraft !

Making A Derailleur Bag

John Forester provides a very useful idea for protecting your derailleur - and making your bike less of a nuisance to other travellers - in his book " Effective Cycling". I have not seen this idea on the www, but it is so useful, I will describe it here.

Essentially, the idea is to make a small cloth bag, a dark colour is good, about 20 cm / 8 inches square , or just big enough to fit your derailleur and chain , which you then attach securely as a package to the seat and chain stays. It is necessary to detach the derailleur from its tang (but not from its cable) ; and to remove the chain from the chainrings ( either by un-screwing the tiny bolt in the front changer OR by breaking the chain in the usual way).You then pack chain and changer into the bag - where both are protected from snagging or other damage , and at the same time you have prevented your (oily) chain fouling someone's luggage - maybe your own ! Re-adjustment at the other end of the trip is easier than you might think.

 Ref : Effective Cycling; by John Forester; 1st edition 1976; 6th edition, The MIT Press, 1993; Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England; ISBN 0-262-56070-4

One Big Bag

If you're flying, or even travelling by bus, as a cyclist you will probably have a number of small items - panniers, sleeping bag, tent, bottles etc (unlike your fellow travellers with their one large suitcase etc). Unfortunately, having so many more " moving parts" increases the risk and hassle of making your connection and surviving intact at the other end, as well.

You can reduce this risk by using a simple hold-all to carry all those little packages in one big bag - transparent plastic is cheap & useful. This is much easier to identify, or manage on a carousel or luggage trolley, and there is so much less risk of snagging straps and hooks etc., not to mention the possibility of mis-counting all those smaller bags.

You should still carefully label every individual item inside the big bag, in any case. You should also be careful not to make it too heavy, for the sake of the transport workers - or even for yourself.

With some imagination, you can work out a way to use the bag on your trip, or you can post it to your departure point if you want.


The best bike touring maps in Australia are those produced by the motoring NGO's or "clubs" (NRMA, RACV , RACQ ,RAA etc). These maps are generally regional, on a scale aprox 1: 500 000, and showing local roads, and sometimes even bicycle trails & paths, that are often not included on larger scale maps. These maps are usually available free to club members, on a reciprocal basis, including overseas organisations - for foreigners, it may be enough to show your international drivers license sometimes. The organisations stock these maps at their offices in larger towns, and in some smaller ones the local garage acts as an agency - the garage proprietors may be less strict about seeing a membership card too.

Otherwise, they are very cheap (around A$1.50 each) and excellent value for what they are. If you look after them (a plastic sleeve is a good idea) they will last at least a few weeks, and you can exchange them with other cyclists, or perhaps your home host

 if you're so lucky as to meet one.

If the car-NGO maps (as above) are not available, there are several competing map companies ( Westprint, HEMA, Penguin etc) whose products are accessible at petrol stations & news agencies everywhere. Generally these are at a scale of 1 : 10,000,000 - a bit too big for my taste, but OK if you only want to travel the main highways, as some cyclists do. These will cost around A$12 - 15 each.

Mark Your Panniers

There is always a possible risk of theft in a bike tour, but you can reduce that risk appreciably by marking your panniers with your name and contact details - that way, even if they are stolen (unlikely if you are careful) there's a better chance that they may be returned to you, either because the thief rapidly discards them after helping him/herself to your cards and cash; or because the thief eventually gets caught in possession of your panniers!

For security reasons, I would suggest your first name (only) & telephone number (rather than your address). That way, the crooks don't just duck around to your home straight away, secure in the knowledge that you are likely to be away for a while!

Camping trowel

For bush camping in particular, cyclists on tour should carry a plastic camping trowel, for burying toilet wastes and digging fire pits. These are available at camping stores for around A$5.00. Mine is "Red Snapp'r " Brand from the USA. I am often surprised that visiting cyclists do not think of this issue. To my mind, not having one these days is unthinkably distasteful.


Sun burn protection

On a long tour particularly, your skin will take a pounding from the Australian sun. As you age, your body will be less and less tolerant of that radiation dose. Most people now use "sunscreens" but these are not to everyone's taste for eco-logical reasons (eg in Central Australia, tourists swimming with sun screens now contaminate billabongs that were previously pristine). Greasy screens are also hard to wash off when you have limited water in a bush camp.

Another way, perhaps better, to avoid sunburn is by the use of long sleeved shirts (and pants), but these are not sold in a range of styles suitable for all cyclists. However, it's possible to create "sleeves" for your favorite (short sleeved) shirts simply by taking a long sock and cutting off the foot ! You'll find this is a cheap & effective solution - you can create attractive effects to match or contrast with your original shirt eg red sleeves on a yellow shirt is great.

I find also that a " sun-mask" is a useful alternative to greasy sun-screens. The mask is a simple square (about 60cm x 35 cm or 20" x 13") of bright cotton (yellow is good for visibility) with an elastic strip threaded through the hem on one side & knotted, rather than sown - you will need to adjust it to be comfortable. Click here for a picture of our anti-sunburn head wear.

The mask stays on your face quite well - better than a bandanna, which slides down gradually, especially on bumps. ( I think bandannas were a good idea in the days of horse power , when the " vehicle" was largely self steering, and perhaps more comfortably " suspended" , so you could use your hand frequently to readjust your bandanna.)

If it's a particularly hot day, simply wet the cloth for an evaporative effect that will last for an hour or so - something you just can't do without such a covering.

Another good way to stay cool is to use a small Japanese-style towel as a neckcloth. This both protects against sun-burn, keeps the neck of your shirt clean & easier to wash, and provides the opportunity to use evaporative cooling as described above. In Japan, and elsewhere in Asia, these towels are used by a wide range of workers & athletes - just about anyone who spends much time in the sun. If necessary you could make one from bath towelling material - mine are 35 cm x 80 cm (13 x 30 inches?). Alternatively, you could use a dish towel (like Pol Pot ).

Tilley Hats are ideal for cycling when you don't want to wear a helmet. With a number of ingenious features, they are not cheap, but they are so comfortable and provide excellent sun protection. Available from Adelaide Hatters and other speciality hat shops.

Security bags for strength

It's useful to have a few plastic bags on tour, for waterproofing in particular. However, "ordinary" plastic bags soon wear out, and you need to discard them (pollution). You can avoid this problem by acquiring a stock of " security" bags from your favorite breakfast cereal packet - I find " Wheatbix" are ideal. For some reason, (perhaps related to tamper-proofing) these bags are just about un-tearable. They are great for covering your saddle against rain, or for carrying stuff in your panniers.

Carry Bag For Shopping

I find it useful also to have a strong ( non-disposable) carry bag for shopping. A re-usable bag avoids the need to use of flimsy plastic carry bags when you buy groceries (thus, less pollution).

I made mine myself, from waterproof nylon, a bit bigger than A4 size, with nylon webbing handles.

It is also useful for carrying water, in a wine cask bladder, and as a general utility carrier in camp. It comes in handy when travelling by bus or plane too.

Bright Clothes On The Road

When you're out on the highway, you can make your interaction with motor vehicle drivers much less stressful by wearing something bright. If you are easy to see, most cars will begin to prepare their passing manoeuvre much earlier, and this can only be to your advantage. Your clothes don't need to be lurid, unless you really like to look like an insect ! Some cyclists like fluoro-coloured jackets, but these may not be suitable for secluded camping, or for visiting a thousand year old church either ! "Bright" is not the same as " loud"!

I recommend

1. A yellow or white coloured helmet - avoid dark coloured ones, even if they are currently fashionable

2. a yellow or white shirt - avoid red, which does not show up well in low light. Yellow polo shirts look good anywhere. Consider a " Share the Roads" design , from my own workshop!

3. a flouro/reflective vest - Green Tree Frog brand is good, light weight & effective day or night, rain or shine. You can also put in your pocket when you don't want to be seen eg bush camping !

Self supporting clothes line

You will need to hang wet washing while you're on tour. But it's sometimes not easy to find somewhere convenient to hang your washing line. Plus, there's always the risk of forgetting your washing when you leave.

An easy way round these problems is to tie a length of hoochie cord around the rear and/or sides of your tent - it's cheap and very convenient. And you won't forget your washing. You can buy the cord in camping shops, around $0.20c / metre.


If you want to carry alcohol on your bush camping bike trip, you'll find beer is heavy & gets unpalatably warm soon after you buy it - plus you have the disposal of the glass bottles to consider. Wine is expensive, and has a limited shelf life after you open it.

Well, one answer is the humble Australian sherry - at around A$10.00/litre it's cheap, doesn't go off, and used in moderation, a bottle lasts me at least a week. It's useful to save weight & the risk of broken glass, by decanting from the glass bottle into a pair of plastic 375 ml. juice bottles (which pack better than a single 750ml one). I prefer the "cream" variety myself, but you can also experiment to see which one you like.

Canvas water bucket

Jim Hershey, of Glendora, California writes : "…Whenever I am on a tour, I carry a canvas water bucket. It folds flat when on the road. I use it to wash clothes, dishes and me. Set it in the sun with a make-shift cover... Hot water in a couple hours. Drench the bucket in water, submerge favorite beverages, hang from tree. In no time, chilled drinks through evaporation (Provided humidity is low) Puts out camp fire now! [ it's a good idea to bury a camp fire , too - Editor ><> ].Don't leave home without it….."










Rest Areas

& Why I Always Camp Elsewhere

Grace Newhaven 2002/ Mar 18

Many independent travellers in rural & remote Australia, given the choice, prefer to camp overnight in designated roadside "Rest areas ", rather than in [impromptu] bush campsites. In this respect, most cyclists seem to have the same idea : that rest areas are in some way more convenient and pleasant than bush camping.

I believe - quite strongly - that this is not so ( especially for cyclists) , and will explain why below.

Rest Areas seem to have the following attractions:

In my own travels though, I have noticed that "Rest Areas" have the following dis-attractions:

This is all different for "Bush Camp" sites

In most parts of Australia, overnight bush camping on public land is not only legally permitted but also widely accepted as part of rural life. Unless you use fire stupidly or otherwise create a disturbance, you are most unlikely to be challenged by anyone.

"Public land" is – in general – any land beyond the speed limit signs at the edges of urban areas or towns. In practice, you can usually camp easily & legally in the area between the road and the fence ( if there is one) outside any urban area.

Where there is no fence, feel free to settle down for the night.

It is – of course - entirely different to camp on private land or National Park reserves, where you should always seek explicit permission.

Try bush camping for yourself, it's part of the Australian ethos – and this may be one of the safest countries to experience the freedom of the outdoors !

Grace Newhaven / Adelaide / 2002 March 18 | Revised 2007/Dec 31










The Quality of Drinking Water in Australia

Introduction | Background | Tap Water | Bore Water | Tank Water | Surface Water


The issue of drinking water quality is - sometimes unconsciously - one of great interest to most bicycle travellers in Australia; but objective information is not easy to find , and there is much misunderstanding on the matter, especially on the part of foreign visitors, but also among some Australians too.

This article is an attempt to explain


Australia is often cited in mainstream tourist literature as the " driest continent on earth" and this is probably true -- for travelling cyclists, the practical result of that situation is of some greater importance than it might be to people using motorised transport : if the car driver doesn't like the water at Place "A", he can just put his foot down for an hour or so till he arrives at Place "B", where he can find a shop and have a Coca-Cola ! Not so for the cyclist....

It's worth remembering too, that people who do not themselves ride bicycles usually have no idea of the importance of drinking water, and their knowledge of the water availability even in their own local area may be abysmal compared to that of a cyclist. For that reason, it's best to seek and respect local advice, but to regard it with caution at the same time.

There are several different sources of drinking water generally available, depending on local circumstances - I present them here in the order in which you are likely to meet them yourself:

1.   Tap water or " town water" is available in most settlements across Australia, drawn from surface or underground sources, and is almost always "safe" to drink anywhere, ie it is almost always treated (sometimes heavily) for any possible biological contamination. However, both that treatment itself, as well as the water's original mineral content, may render the tap water dis-tasteful, especially when used straight ( ie other than as coffee or tea etc ) . This is generally not the case in large urban centres , particularly those on the coast, which can afford the expense of locating and connecting to water sources of good quality . However, in many inland places, the tap water can taste excessively salty, or may have an unpleasant odour, smelling of sulphur. This is especially so of Western Queensland, and South Australia.

2.   Bottled water is available in Australia everywhere money has a value ( ie where there are shops. Sometimes, however, in remote areas, there are no shops for hundreds of kilometres). Bottled water is roughly around the same price as petrol/gasoline! It is as safe and pleasant to drink here, as it is anywhere else in the world.

3.   Bore water , drawn from deep underground, is the standby of many inland communities & homesteads, which do not have access to enough surface water or rainfall for all the many water needs of modern life. In inland Australia, the principal use is for watering farm animals ; indeed , it's only bore water that makes farming possible in much of Australia. Bore water generally comes from heavy-duty industrial taps, which you will soon recognise. Bore water is usually "safe" to drink, but varies considerably in palatability from " good" to " awful" ( depending on the underlying geology ). It is very difficult to find any reliable, or objective, information regarding the drinking quality of bore water at any particular location - the best one can do is to listen to anecdotes. Even then, local people in remote communities will often provide contradictory information to visitors - some locals have become habituated to their local water supply, others will try to avoid it by using tank water ( see following). It remains true that, in some places, bore water can induce diarrhoea in visitors - a disabling condition for any traveller and particularly for cyclists.

4.    Tank water is collected from rainwater run-off from the roofs of buildings, and stored in metal or plastic tanks. In the frontier period, tanks were sometimes the only water source for much of the year. In the present era, tanks supplement surface water, and rainwater is reserved almost exclusively for drinking, and sometimes for potted plants and washing clothes. It is often surprising, to people unused to a tank system, that the collected water usually has a low-to-zero contamination level : atmospheric pollution of rainwater, while common in the Northern hemisphere, is negligible in Australia where the travelling cyclist is likely to be, because of our low population density, at least in rural and remote Australia ( this is despite Australia's high percapita pollution generation - second only to that of the US! ) In general, one can rely on the water in tanks if the local people do - the newer or better maintained the tank, the better the water is likely to be; tanks that appear neglected may be more risky.

Good sources of tank water are schools, railway stations, Town Halls, police stations, sometimes churches and telecommunications outposts. If you need water from a farm house or other private property, it's polite to ask - and remember that a family may be dependent on the water in the tank, so be sure not to waste any while you're filling up. (It would be a nice gesture to offer to pay in places where it's very dry !) In all cases, be sparing with your use of this scarce resource. On the other hand, run a little water to clear the tap of possible spiders nesting there; and observe the appearance of the water in your bottle before drinking to guard against large contaminants, which are always an unlikely but real possibility.

(Several times in recent months, I have been surprised that visiting foreign cyclists have apparently not noticed the many rain water tanks attached to buildings across much of rural Australia - some have no idea of the problem at all. It seems not to occur to these visitors that there might be a reason why local people make such an investment! So much for the cyclist's supposed insight into environmental differences..... )

For what it's worth, I have seen a similar rain water collection system in Thailand, presumably for the reasons explained above. Rain water harvesting is an important issue in many third world countries.

5.    Surface Water is not reliable in many parts of Australia, either in quantity or quality. In general, it's not worth the risk, nor is it necessary except in severe emergencies : it's better to risk Giardia than to risk death by thirst.

In general then, I would recommend that travelling cyclists

A) try to obtain rain water whenever possible ; and

B) apply a taste test to any water you will be carrying in remote areas, in case you need to change it for something better.


Happy drinking !

Grace Newhaven , 2002 / April 8










 Things to Avoid on A Bike Trip in Australia



Replace with ...

dark-coloured helmets

Too hard for drivers to see you against a black road

White or Yellow helmet

(or helmet cover)

cotton clothes

Too heavy

Hard to keep clean

Too long to dry

dangerous (when wet & cold )

Synthetics are :

lighter, easier to wash, much better when you're sweating.

Maybe a silk shirt for "best" occasions

cotton towel

too heavy,

too bulky,

too hard to dry

use a synthetic – a car chamois is good & cheap, too

smelly sleeping bag

use a liner

silk is best : light & comfortable, quick drying

milk (in liquid form)

heavy, expensive, inconvenient to carry

Powdered milk :

cheap, easy to carry & convenient

canned food

heavy ; creates waste

dry pasta etc

large, rigid water containers

bulky, inconvenient

wine cask bladder

(collapsible & cheap)

squishy Aussie bread

expensive mush, doesn't travel well

wholemeal biscuits ( eg RyeVita, Vitawheat etc)












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Links to other "Tip sites"

Vilmar Tavares - USA -

Phil Milazzo -

Ken Kifer's Tips


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