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The Munda Biddi Trail: cycling 1,000km end to end

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling the first leg of WA's Munda Biddi Trail. Cycle Traveller

When Ron Colman became one of the first 26 riders ever to cycle the world's longest mountain bike trail – Western Australia's Munda Biddi Trail – from end to end when it opened in April, it was much more than just a personal achievement: it was the culmination and celebration of his seven years' hard work in planning and building the epic path through the forest. Ron, the chairman of the Munda Biddi Trail Foundation, led a group of riders over 1,000km to celebrate the official opening of the complete route. The entire project took 12 years to complete and when Ron pedalled past the finish line, he was able to take a deep satisfied breath and say to himself, “Yep, it's open for business.”

The Munda Biddi Trail stretches through a natural corridor of bushland from Albany on the south coast of Western Australia to Mundaring northeast of Perth. It was purpose built for mountain bikes and includes sleeping shelters along the way. Cycle Traveller spoke to Ron to find out what it's like to ride the entire Munda Biddi and what he recommends for prospective riders.

Munda Biddi Trail Map. Cycle TravellerCT: How does the scenery change over the course of the 1,000km ride?

RC: It changes significantly. When you start out on the south coast in Albany, Denmark and Walpole and around that area, you're in a coastal environment, so the rugged granite south coast or that coastal bush hinterland area. Then it goes inland into southwest bush; it's not huge forest trees but it's thick bush, and then you go into the deep Karri Karri forest where you are in amongst trees that are 40-50 metres high. As you go further north, the trees open out and you come into the dry Jarrah forest where you're riding along the Darling Scarp. You're right on the edge of the escarpment at about 350 metres high and if you look out over the coast about 30-40km away you can see the ocean. There are certain stops where we had that. During that you're in and out of the Margaret River Valley. It changes quite a lot.

CT: And how do the trail conditions change over that distance?

RC: A lot of the trail is old railway formations on a nice grade on gravel roads, fire trails etc. The southern sections are newer where it is a very good purpose-built trail. We've had to use a little bit of bitumen road in the south because we don't have the tracks or access to land because there's a lot of private land. And then there are single trails to connect those up. So you've got this combination where you might ride some bitumen in some southern sections combined with single track and fire trails. Once you get north of Dwellingup, you get on some of the older parts of the trail, which are about 10-years old now, and some of that is a little rutted and there are a couple of big valleys that you come in and out of. There are some hills on that section where you have to be very careful, if not walk your bike. Even some of our riders took the option to push down some of the hills and walk up others. Now that some of these sections are 10-11 years old, we can now go back and realign and fix them up. It's not impassable, you just have to be cautious. You do need a level of experience to ride this. If you want to do the whole lot as an end-to-end, you will need to have your wits about you and a degree of experience with off-road riding. It's not like a downhill mountain bike track where there are obstacles and logs that you have to jump over, it's more being able to ride and negotiate rocks and lumps in the track and being able to ride downhill through rocky sections in the steeper parts. The bit that makes the top part of the trail unique is what we call pea gravel. There are sections where there's loose gravel and you need to be able to ride confidently through it so it's more a case of being able to have the right tyre pressure and pedalling at a fast cadence to keep the momentum up.

Mountina biking on the Munda Biddi Trail. Cycle TravellerCT: How was the pace of riding and how long would you recommend cyclists allow to complete the trail?

RC: We had a 21-day event and we rode for 19 of those and had two rest days in Pemberton and Collie. I'd actually say you're better off taking a full four weeks – 28 days. We had a couple of big days where we rode 70-80km. For every kilometre that you do on this trail off road, it's equivalent to 2km on a bitumen road. So those 70-80km days were like 140-160km days on the road. You're on your bike for seven or so hours. You spend a lot of time riding and basically by the end of that 19 days, everyone was pretty tired and fatigued. It's not so much the fitness element of it; it's actually a fatigue factor of getting back on your bike day in day out and riding about 55km, which was our average. We were actually a bit constrained for time. We did it and we did it well. When we finished, everybody had lost weight and everybody had put in a real solid effort.

CT: Did you have a favourite part along the trail?

RC: I did. Part of the new section just to the east of Walpole is The Valley of the Giants, which is a Karri Karri forest. And there's the treetop walk. We actually come in the back through the Mount Frankland National Park and then go into The Valley of the Giants. We're riding through backlots of the Karri forest that the public don't generally have access to. There's very few roads. At one stage there's one big hill before you get into the Valley of the Giants and we all ended up pushing our bikes up this hill, but we were pushing it through the forest surrounded by 40-metre high Karri trees which was phenomenal. That whole section between the Valley of the Giants and Walpole was great. It's brilliant country.

CT: How often did you come across towns and services and how easy was it to get out to them?

Older section of the Munda Biddi. Cycle TravellerRC: The whole trail was set up that basically you come into a town every second, if not third, night. The trail actually comes right into the towns and the idea is that you can go out for two to three days, camp for a few days and then come into a town, get a hot meal, get a clean bed, have a hot shower and then head on. There are a few bike shops on the way and we're trying to encourage local areas to get more people carrying spare parts.

CT: What sort of bike should you ride?

RC: You do need a mountain bike. What you'll need is a hardtail mountain bike, not a duel suspension. You need at least a middle-of-the-road, front suspension, hardtail decent quality bike. The reality is you can expect to spend at least $1,000, if not up to $2,000, for a decent bike. What you pay for your bike is the ride you get. So you can do it on a cheaper bike, but it's going to be harder.

CT: Do you need to take a tent with you or are the shelters sufficient?

RC: The huts generally have enough room for about 26 people, so you can forgo the tent and just go the sleeping bag and Therm-a-rest (sleeping mat). And then when you get to a town every second or third day you can stay in a bed and breakfast or a chalet in a caravan park.

CT: You rode the trail in April. How was the weather at that time of year and when would you recommend people ride the trail?

Bridge on the Munda Biddi Trail. Cycle Traveller

RC: The concept for us was to start in Albany and ride north. April being a cooler month, we expected to get about four or five days of rain. As it turned out, we got about a day and a half which qualified as rain in that 21 days, so we actually got very good riding weather and it wasn't too hot at all, around the late 20 degree celcius. May would also work. You have to consider that at that time of year you're going to get a couple of wet days. Bushfires and heat are an issue in summer (November to January). If you're there in the heat of summer, it's hot, it's dry, there may not be a lot of water available in the rainwater tanks at the campsites when you get there and it's not good riding conditions. I know there are people who do it at that time of year, but it's not what I recommend. I would be recommending you target the end of March through to the end of May and then start again late August through to about mid October. In the first part of the year I would be riding from Albany to Perth and in the second part of the year I would be riding Perth to Albany because heading that way over 28 days, the weather is getting better.

CT: Is there any way cyclists can know how much water is in the tanks before they get to their destination?

RC: No, it very much comes down to watching the local rainfall at that campsite and how many riders have been before you. Don't count on getting all your water supply from the rainwater tanks. You've got to carry water with you. That ends up becoming quite a significant amount of weight you've got to take with you. With a bit of cooking included, every person needs at least five litres of water per day. If you're riding in summer, I'd be taking more water.

CT: What are the sleeping shelters like?

RC: These are galvanized steel-framed colourbond sheets. They are set up with a central corridor open end to end and then you have sleeping floors, basically a level area on a ladder up to a second mezzanine level. So you can have people on the lower floor and people on the first floor. You can sleep anywhere from between a dozen up to 26 people. The size of the shelter depends on proximity to a town. The bigger huts are where you're about two nights away from a town, whereas if you're a short distance between towns, the hut will be smaller assuming some people stay in the towns. There are picnic tables and chairs set up for eating and there is a section off to the side for bike storage and then you have a separate bush toilet.

Sleeping hut on the Munda Biddi. Cycle Traveller

CT: Are there any other recommendations you would make for potential riders?

RC: You will need the maps of the trail to know where you are and also check our website for any of the current diversions; fire danger areas, logging areas, mining areas, etc. Try to travel as light as possible. Aim for about 40-45km a day and take a few rest days. One other thing: make sure you've got plenty of butt cream for saddle sores and all those chaffing bits.

You can purchase the official trail maps and check updates on the Munda Biddi Trail Foundation's website. Supporting the Foundation ensures the continued maintenance of this world-class trail.

Images from top: 1. Ron Colman, centre, on the first leg of the Munda Biddi Epic 1000 opening ride. 2. Map of the trail. 3 & 4. Cycling on the trail. 5. Elevated platform along marshland. 6. Inside a sleeping hut. All images courtesy of the Munda Biddi Trail Foundation.

Comments

Bill's picture

This trail looks incredible! Well done to Ron Colman and WA. This is a great gift to Australia. It's so important that our country has great trails to ride and the ability to ride for days without traffic through a natural landscape is priceless. I look forward to getting to WA to ride this trail one day. As they say, build it and they shall come!

Interested as to why duel suspension bikes are not recommended? I would think for long distances the extra comfort would be appreciated :)

Alia Parker's picture

I'm sure you could ride a duel suspension bike. They advise against them more from a logistical point of view ... ie., you can mount a rack on a hard tail and carry more gear (tents, cooking, food etc.). If you want to ride a duelie, you'll need to travel extra light, but you could use a bikepacking setup like this: http://cycletraveller.com.au/australia/gear/ultralight-setup-for-bikepacking.

Hey I'm Dylan kinda new to mountain biking so any replys/info would be much appreciated. I have a giant uphill series(that's all I know lol), I currently live in dwellingup and have had some good rides around marrinup. I've been really interested in some good trails/downhill trails but I've heard it's been logged/cleared. If anyone knows any info or lives close by or would even be keen to go for a ride and teach me a but that would be awesome. But my main question is how long it would take to do a trip to collie? or even just a day trip on the Munda bidi would be cool. Anyway thanks a lot and I hope I get some replys I'm still just a young fella just getting into it

Great job guys, good to see something like this in oz. The world's longest not sure i have ridden the great divide from Canada to Mexico 4500km mtb trail that would be the longest i think.
great job will be over soon to ride it.

Alia Parker's picture

I've also ridden the U.S. Great Divide trail (it's awesome!). My first thought was the same as yours, however, after speaking to Ron I found out they're both claiming to be the longest in a slightly different sense. The Great Divide is the longest mountain bike "route", and it uses existing infrastructure (secondary roads and forestry roads), whereas, the Munda Biddi is a trail that was built specifically for cyclist (it merges with roads in some parts, but is predominantly a purpose-built off-road bike trail). So it claims to be the longest "custom-built trail" in the world.

Good job ! Regardless the weather conditions, do you think rinding the trail in june/july is a good option. I'll be in Australia with my kids for a bike tour in june/july 2016.

Alia Parker's picture

Hi Oliver, I think June/July is a good time to ride the trail. It's winter, so it may get a little cold, especially the further south you go. But you can always rug up in the cold, so winter in the Australian bush is generally preferable to scorching summer heat and potential bush fires. Ron recommends Spring and Autumn as being the loveliest times to ride the trail, but there's absolutely no reason to avoid it in winter.

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