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Bryan Thorp: ups and downs of cycling Australia's coast

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling on the Great Ocean Road. Bryan Thorp. Cycle Traveller

For a country that is the flattest continent on earth, it sure has a lot of hills, as Canadian Bryan Thorp has discovered as he circumnavigates the Australian coast on his bicycle. Far from the rocky mountain peaks of British Columbia, the Australian coastline from Adelaide around to Sydney may not rate much in the elevation stakes, but its undulating nature, coastal winds and, at times, steep grades – all while lugging packed panniers – ensure a degree challenge.

“The road from Orbost to Cann River was a roller coaster ALL the way with some long pulls of at least a kilometre long. There were practically no flat parts,” Bryan says in his journal. “Payback came descending into Cann River, of course, and I enjoyed the two separate, long descents!”

Bryan is now just over one-month into his ride, which is being fuelled in a large part by oats and chocolate milk. The aim is to stick as close to the coastline as possible and make his way anti-clockwise around the continent, covering at the very least 15,500km, but possibly as much as 16,500km. He is currently putting in some saddle time up the east coast of NSW and estimates it will take roughly six months to make his way back around to Adelaide.

Bryan Thorp about to embark on his circumnavigation of Australia. Cycle TravellerThe bike “Nellie”

Bicycle: Custom built Naked Rohloff Tourer
Tubing: Chromoly steel
Brakes: Avid mechanical disc, front and rear
Stem and fork: custom hand made
Gearing: Rohloff hub
Racks: Tubus Tara and Cargo (front and rear)
Saddle: Brooks B-17
Grips: Ergon GC3
Crank & chainring: White Industries ENO
Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Plus

The journey

The ride is a personal challenge for Bryan, who was practically riding straight out of the womb, In 2009 he cycled from one end of Canada to the other and was looking for his next challenge.

“I certainly don't want to sound flippant, but riding cross-Canada was not really that difficult. I really think that anyone can do it, given the desire and time,” he says. “Anyhow, the other cyclist that I was chatting to, a New Zealander, suggested an intriguing challenge in the land 'downunder': a circumnavigation of Australia. Hmmm, thinking to myself, that'd be about twice as far as cross-Canada, but there'd be some long unserviced distances and the weather might be 'interesting'.”

So the challenge was on, and it certainly has been a challenge so far, as his journal notes show on Day 23 between Tathra and Narooma, NSW: “After the ride out of Eden yesterday that did me in – hills and fatigue – I was seriously thinking of getting back onto the Princes Highway and going to Bega. I thought about why I'm doing this ride (for the challenge, primarily) and decided that I have to 'man up' and continue along the Sapphire Coast Drive rather than taking the easy way out (Princes Highway). Although riding the Princes Highway may be physically easier, it's stressful in other ways (fast traffic close by, boring scenery, yada yada).”

Kangaroos crossing. Cycling around Australia. Bryan Thorp. Cycle TravellerThe persistence paid off because that day Bryan had his best day of riding of the trip thus far.

The coastal route has been a visually rewarding one for Bryan, who has not only enjoyed the rugged landscape of the Great Ocean Road and the green rolling hills of the south coast of NSW, but also the small-town Australian architecture along the way.

But while Australia has its many charms, it also has its pitfalls for cyclists. As a foreigner in a new land, Bryan has also made some observations that local cyclists only know too well: poor road shoulders, if any, and ad hoc bicycle lane design in many areas, such as car parking lanes marked as bicycle lanes. In the end, it all adds to the challenge.

You can follow Bryan's adventures as he continues his ride around Australia on his very detailed blog at Australia 2013 – a ride around the block.

Images from top: All images courtesy of Bryan Thorp. 1. Along the Great Ocean Road. 2. Bryan about to set off on his adventure. 3. Watch for kangaroos. 4. East of Aldinga.

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