Trip report: the Tasmanian Trail

Posted on May 15 2016

In which Chris relates his experiences of riding the length (height?) of Tasmania, getting quite muddy in the process. Split into two sections: The Trip and The Gear.

The Trip

I was heading down to Tasmania to do some hiking, and so I thought, why not also ride the Tasmanian Trail? I'd heard about it from shop mechanic Ollie, who'd done it a couple of years ago. It sounded pretty rough in parts but on the whole, a worthwhile trip.

I mentioned this to Noel McFarlane (designer of Vivente World Randonneur touring bikes, and serial bicycle tourist) and he declared that he was interested. Better yet, his farm in Sheffield was a mere hundred metres from the Trail!

Noel was flying back from somewhere or other, so I began the trail in Dover by myself.

After a gradual climb up a forestry road, it got pretty sandy for a while. Fortunately I was running 47mm Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres with a bunch of tread, so I had a rollicking good time on the soft suface.

The sand presented a small challenge but then I hit this ridiculous gravel service road that must have had a gradient of about 15%. Fist-sized pieces of loose gravel foiled my attempts to get up it on the bike, and I just barely made it pushing the bike.

However once it flattened off I picked up a bit of speed and everything was a bit more fun. This fallen tree made the road impassable to cars, so I had the place to myself.

I rolled down into Judbury and met up with Noel, and we camped on the sporting field. We mixed it up and stayed in pubs some nights, which is a luxury I'm unaccustomed to when bike touring - but a hot shower certainly makes the next day's riding more pleasant.

The next day began with another uphill (something of a trend...) through some more choice forest roads, with not a car to be seen (and no logging trucks either, fortunately).

It got fairly muddy.

A bit of background: the Trail is planned out in sections of roughly 30km, most of which start and end in a town. That means you can generally expect to have either lunch or dinner (or sometimes both!) at a pub, or top up your supplies. With such regular fuel stops, you don't need to carry much, which is just as well because in between towns the Trail finds the hilliest and most remote mountain road, and you don't want to be carrying any more than necessary. Of course, every climb is rewarded with a descent...

Here's Noel enjoying a particularly juicy downhill.

The surface of the trail varied wildly, with some sections deeply rutted from the passage of 4WDs, but generally there wasn't much bike-walking required (though we did skip 2 sections of the trail that weren't recommended for cyclists). This is representative of some of the muddier sections:

We rode from the south to the north, reversing the usual direction of travel (the guidebook describes the route as if you're riding southwards). However we came to the conclusion that our direction was better, as the southern slopes of many hills were tarred while their northern counterparts would be dirt, and it's easier to climb on the pavement and descend on dirt than the reverse. Particularly when it's quite steep (if you can't read the sign below, it says "14%").

At the time of our trip, Tasmania was affected by a severe drought. The Derwent Valley area has been particularly affected, and we were surprised to see dusty brown fields that wouldn't be out of place in western NSW.

In Bushy Park, we arrived for the first day of the hops harvest, so the campground was busier than usual (as were the hops trucks that ran through the night, yet again confirming the place of earplugs on my packing list). For someone who had only a rough idea of what hops was, it was pretty cool to smell the flowers and be instantly transported to a brewery.

One of the privileges of riding the Trail is taking routes through private property, like this old farmland that's now a nature reserve.

Sometimes the trail petered out, but we had no trouble navigating using our phones. We were relying on a trusty GPS file (that I'd spent many evenings painstakingly tracing from satellite imagery and the rough maps provided in the guidebook), and there were only a couple of times when we found it to be inaccurate.

On the other side of the reserve we found a couple of fellow travelling cyclists, and when one mentioned that her brakes were rubbing on her wheel, Noel couldn't resist the opportunity to offer some mechanical assistance. They were riding around Tasmania, taking buses to skip the sections they didn't want to ride - it sounded like a pretty nice way to explore (but with the amount of gear they were carrying, they were restricted to good quality roads).

We took a bit of a detour through this state forest (ahem... we missed the turnoff) but when the scenery's this good who can complain?

Oh yeah - river crossings. There were a few of them. The first time we tried to keep our feet and the bicycles dry...

...but after a couple we gave up on both.

On the road to Bracknell we met the first person we'd seen using the Trail - he was riding south with considerably more gear than us! We only saw two other cyclists the week we were on the road (a couple in Bracknell) which we found surprising, but the logbooks suggested that this was fairly representative of the small numbers using the Trail. Why aren't more people riding it? Probably because they don't know it exists!

The ride up Myrtle Gully was particularly rewarding, though there were some hazards to navigate. Needless to say there was no vehicular traffic on this road.

The view from the top, off the Cluan Tiers, showed us some of the land we'd passed over, with views further to the Central Highlands (from which we descended at great speed earlier that morning).

One of the true highlights of the trip (for me) was the opportunity for roadside fruit picking. The apples were crisp, and I usually had a couple stashed in my frame bag for later. We even found some peaches at one point, but unfortunately we were either too early for blackberries or the herbicide spraying had been particularly effective.

Our ride on the Trail ended at Noel's farm in Sheffield, near the foot of Mt Roland. From there it was a shortish ride to Devonport airport, and back on the plane to Sydney.

For those interested, here's our itinerary:

Day 1: Dover to Judbury
Day 2: Judbury to Bushy Park
Day 3: Bushy Park to Ouse
Day 4: Ouse to Miena
Day 5: Rest day holed up in our motel room due to wind and driving rain
Day 6: Miena to Bracknell
Day 7: Bracknell to Sheffield

This included two three-section days (3 and 7) which were about 100km each - fairly draining, to be sure, but the prospects for quality food and accommodation informed our haste.

The gear

Working in a bicycle shop I'm a bit of a gear nut, so for the benefit of like-minded individuals, here's a review of all the stuff I took.

The bike (Vivente World Randonneur Anatolia) was excellent. No complaints at all. Comfortable, handled well, no mechanical issues at all despite the mud. I'd definitely recommend hydraulic brakes as otherwise your hands will get very sore! The gear range (24-36-48 on the front, 11-32 on the rear) was easy enough - our limiting factor was traction. My choice of tyres (47mm Schwalbe Smart Sams) was better than Noel's (35mm Marathon Mondials), mostly because it gave me better purchase on the loose surfaces that we often encountered on the uphills. Next time I'd probably leave the kickstand on...

The luggage (Apidura bikepacking setup with seat, handlebar, full frame and top-tube bags) held up very well. It stayed on the bike, didn't jiggle around too much, and held just enough stuff while being very lightweight. The distribution of weight in the centre of the bike meant that I was confident bombing down the steep dirt sections, whereas Noel (who was using a more conventional rack and pannier setup) had to take it more slowly. I gave up on the velcro divider in the full frame bag as it kept coming adrift, but I freely admit that I stuffed too many roadside apples into the top section.

The navigation setup (smartphone on a QuadLock mount with Sinewave Revolution charger) was a revelation - I'll never use paper maps again! With a GPS plot of the route and maps downloaded offline before the trip, it was a cinch to just follow the line on the screen.

If you like hills and dirt, you should probably ride the Tasmanian Trail.

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