I’m not going to lie, I don’t know much about bikes. But I’ve ridden them my entire life starting from the age of 5 with the whole training wheels, grazed elbows and everything. Then riding them to primary school and high school and then at the age of 21 bought myself an adult bike for $600 (a Merida Juliet) so I could ride to the construction sites and TAFE (technical college) to save money during my electrical apprenticeship. Always on pathways. I still most of the time step off my bike to cross the road.
My up and down journey to off-road cycling
The idea of completing the Munda Biddi (1000Km mountain bike track from Perth to Albany) came to me actually about 8 years ago (2009). A friend and I decided to try and do an overnighter section (camping at Carinyah Hut) on Boxing Day. We weren’t prepared for the excessive heat (over 40degC), the loose gravel and the steep inclines and declines of Mundaring Weir. I also managed to go over the handlebars… twice. And I thought….yeah nah.. I’ll stick to hiking.
So it wasn’t until 2016 (age 27), I attempted another “off-road adventure” – riding the 80km Kep Track, Western Australia from Mundaring Weir to Northam with my Border Collie and girlfriend Ash (camping half way on the trail). This re-ignited my love for the Perth Hills and it’s quaint, unique ability to feel like you live in a small country town only 30 minutes from Perth City. So I bought a place in Kalamunda (called Camp Mundy) and started taking the bike out on all the trails in the area.
It wasn’t long before I started discovering people on Instagram who found a unique way of seeing the world – by slogging it out on a bike from country border to border and camping along the way. These cycle-tourers were posting photos from places like the Baja Divide in California, forests in Germany, plains in Mongolia, mountain passes in Kyrgyzstan and what ever you call that beauty that is Patagonia – all these places making their way onto the top of my list. What a life!
Glutton for punishment
I have to prove to myself I can do this. Cycle and camp for weeks at a time. Like enjoy it without destroying myself emotionally and physically. And none other than the Munda Biddi 1000km cycle trail boasting to be one of the longest trails of it’s kind in the world is rolling through my backyard.
So this year, 2017, I started taking my $600 9 year old Merida Hardtail bike on overnight trips on sections of the Munda Biddi with panniers and backpacks. The bike has stood the test of time but I hated carrying panniers, racks and backpacks. There has to be a better way?! That’s when the internet taught me about Bikepacking. Carrying all your gear (ultra-light) within your frame, on your forks and on a pack that sits behind your seat. No more jutting my hip out when I’m hike-a-bike-ing it up a hill.
Choosing a bike
I researched what I liked and who I was following on Instagram was riding what and I walked into the local Surly distributor Cycles Bespoke and spoke to Brad, the local Bikepacking Legend (@ride_the_trail) and I demanded to have a Surly Long Haul Trucker (a steel framed road bike designed for touring). He could of made a sale right there. Easy. No further work required on his behalf. But good-guy Brad couldn’t do it, he reminded me of the Perth Hills terrain (and much of the Munda Biddi terrain) calling it “probably the loosest gravel in the world”. Yeah good point Brad. I LIVE in the hills, I would be using it for my daily fun rides through the bush when not loaded as well. I need something designed to handle gravel-rash causing pebble hell. He gave me my best options and I was left to choose between the The Surly ECR and the Surly Troll. Both had the ability to hold gear on the forks, was designed for being heavily loaded and travel as many kilometres as I could. But the Troll only came in 26inch tyres and the ECR could roll with 27inch or 29inch. The ECR also had “plus” tyres which is a bit skinnier than a fat bike (designed for sand and snow). While thinking about it I did a couple more trips on my Merida and decided I wanted the 27+ tyres to give me the best chance of getting up those hills and being plus tyres, I can ride on sandy grounds too (also a popular terrain Western Australia). Since getting the bike, I’ve managed to ride along sand dunes on the beach so the plus tyres have absolutely exceeded my expectations.
One size DOES NOT fit all
Being in Australia, I couldn’t test drive a Surly ECR (Made in America) so I had to put faith in online reviews and suggestions from Brad. When it finally came it was beautiful big bike (size small because I’m 5’5). It rolled well, it was tough, it could carry all my gear with so many options…but when riding it didn’t feel 100% right. I thought maybe it was because I had to hunch over more than when on my old faithful Merida. Also I couldn’t get a seat that had the same comfort that my Merida had. I tried getting used to it. I took it down to Manjimup in the South West for another overnight training ride on the Munda Biddi. I struggled. The second day it took me 5 hours to do 25km and the track wasn’t anywhere near as brutal as the northern end that I had been on previously. I was continually hopping on and off the bike because my backside hurt so much and I was so exhausted of trying to hold myself off the seat while riding with 15kg of gear. Also my shoulders, neck and lower back hurt. I was over-reaching for the handlebars and it was putting strain on ..well…everything.
When I cruised into Donnelly River where my car was parked, I saw a couple of real cyclists fully loaded with Surly Karate Monkeys (also from Brad) heading in the opposite direction. I rode over and we had a chat. Glenda and Mark had just past the half way point of their End-to-End Munda Biddi ride and gave me lots of advice to prepare myself. The number one thing that stuck in my mind was GO GET A BIKE FIT. They were adamant. A bike fitter will measure you up and then change the bike so it fits your body and make you more efficient. It made sense, if you are going to ride up to 8 hours a day back to back, you want to make sure your bike is ergonomically set up for your body type. I followed their advice and booked a Full Fit with Sven at R&D Speedshop in Claremont which is where they had theirs done.
It’s not cheap but I was there for 4 hours and have a follow up appointment in a couple weeks to go through how it’s been going since the changes. BUT IT IS SO WORTH IT. This bike now fits me like a glove.
GET A BIKE FIT!!!
One of the first things we went through was Sven measured my sit bones with a cool device. You sit on a pressure pad and then it sends an image of the pressure to his iPad. It just looks like two dots on the screen and when I moved slightly, the dots would move around a bit. I had been there 10 minutes and I was already impressed. He explained to me that the width of these dots, which were my “sit bones” was wider than the entire width of the saddle I was currently using. So I would of just been sitting on my…crutch. Painful. He sorted me out with a saddle (Specialized Power Comp) that suits my butt.
He measured a lot of stuff. My flexibility, the length of areas on my body etc. He found that my left femur is longer than my right femur but was also impressed that I already naturally compensate by putting my left foot further forward on the pedals than my right foot.
We talked about niggly bits I had noticed since riding this new bike, my knee, my wrist, my neck, my headaches. He changed a few things around and went through all of it with me dealing with my potentially stupid newbie questions.
The other major thing he changed on my bike was the handlebar stem. This may seem small but it changed the entire feeling of my bike. It made it MY bike. I didn’t have to over-reach. My shoulders, neck and back don’t feel like they are straining to reach my handlebars. I’ve stopped getting headaches after riding. Maybe I have tiny arms? Who knows? Well Sven knows and he fitted by bike to suit.
Get a bike fit.