Why I Like Cycle Touring on My Mountain Bike

Cycling on a forest service road between Forster and Taree NSW

One of our goals cycling up the east coast of Australia has been to avoid the Pacific Coast Highway whenever possible. It’s been a bit of a challenge but, thanks to the fact that I’m riding my aluminum BMC Sport Elite (SE01) mountain bike mounted with the 1.9 inch wide road tires and four panniers* and Eric is riding the Surly Ogre(see earlier post) with road tires , road conditions and surfaces have not had any influence on the route we’ve taken. In the past two days we’ve cycled on washboarded gravel roads, rocky, steep, gutted 4WD roads, pot-holed paved surfaces with no shoulder and chunks of the edge missing, and chip-sealed roads with all the extra lose gravel covering the shoulders where we try to ride.

The shoulder on The Lakes Way is narrow or missing and the traffic was heavy so this is where turned left onto a smaller, less-traveled road.

What my mountain bike lacks in speed on the smooth, paved surfaces, it more than makes up for in handling rough terrain which has been much of our trip for the past 8 months. The last two days are good examples of the varied and less than perfect terrain.
Forester to Taree (65 km)

Our intention was to ride from Forster to Taree on The Lakes Way. Unfortunately, The Lakes Way turned out to be a heavy-traffic, two-lane road with sections of little or no shoulder. After pulling into the gravel on the side of the road several times and bumping along the damaged road’s edge we took our first opportunity to exit this route and turned east on the road to Black Head, Red Head and Diamond Head Beaches. This “paved” in the loosest sense of the word road was better than The Lakes Way only in that it had much less traffic. But, my bike took care of the bumps so I could enjoy the view.

Entering Khappinghat National Park on Old Soldier Road.
Entering Khappinghat National Park on Old Soldier Road.

At North Diamond Beach we turned west onto Old Soldier’s Road which took us through Khappinghat National Park. Cycling through a canopy of trees on a dirt road was a welcome, peaceful change from the busy, tourist traffic of Lakes Way and the rough, pot-holed surface of the road to Diamond Beach.

Not sure if this car is the remnant of serious flooding  in May in NSW or a car accident. Either way, I would not take the dirt roads during heavy rain.
Not sure if this car is the remnant of serious flooding in May in NSW or a car accident. Either way, I would not take the dirt roads during heavy rain.

The final challenge for our bicycles and, at this point, our tired bodies, was the 4WD road at the end of the day just before Old Bar Road and the final approach to Taree. This dirt road would be challenging for the best of 4WD vehicles and dirt bikes. It was also a challenge for our tired legs, but our pack-laden mountain bikes came through with flying colors.

Taree to Laurieton (68 km)

Laurieton Road is one of the worst paved roads we’ve ridden on (except for all the roads in Laos). Our bikes were fine but  nerves from dodging pot-holes, steering off into the gravel so trucks could pass, and cars passing on blind curves or hills made me wonder if our goal of staying off the Pacific Coast Highway and staying on smaller roads was the best decision.

Cycling on the PCH was worth it to eat the delicious homemade scones at Moorland Cottages.
Cycling on the PCH was worth it to eat the delicious homemade scones at Moorland Cottages.

We did cycle for seven kilometers on the Pacific Coast Highway from Coopernook to Moorland to taste the “best homemade scones on the east coast.”  The large, smooth, well-paved six-foot wide shoulder on the PCH really got me to questioning our goal of staying off the highway. Now I’m wondering… Which is safer for cyclists: narrow, shoulderless roads or high-speed freeways with large shoulder? (Research for another post)

Anyway, back to the main reasons I like cycle touring on my mountain bike.  I can choose the roads less traveled like the last 20 kilometers of today’s ride on Diamond Head Road through Crowdy Bay National Park. I may not be fast but I can take the “less-traveled” road.

A beautiful but bumpy ride…
View of North Brother Mountain before entering Laurieton from Diamond Head Raod.

*I already owned this bike before we started the tour. In order to save money and get the most use of of this one-year old bike, we made a few modifications: Old Man Mountain Racks that mount to the axel and road tires. Luckily, I’ve been very happy with this set up.

6 thoughts on “Why I Like Cycle Touring on My Mountain Bike

  1. Penny,
    Do you know how much your bike weighs when loaded? Maybe you don’t want to know. 🙂 Is the weight an issue with the aluminum frame. I read a book by two gals who retired and wrote the book “Bike Across America” about their journey. Interesting story. One bike was like 80lbs and the other 100. Ouch!
    Anyway, I enjoy your blog and live in your home state of Washington. I tour here and in neighboring states. All the best to you both!

    1. Tim,
      We think the bike plus gear weighs around 90 lbs plus or minus 10 lbs for food. We base this upon recent flight information. It can vary depending upon the amount of food. I’m a little different than my husband and try to keep the weight about 40% in the front and 60% in the back. I feel it rides better. He likes more weight in the back. I am conscious about the weight because I broke spokes and have gone through two or three sets of wheel rear bearings probably because the bike is not really set up to handle the weight.
      Speaking of Washington, what are some of your favorite rides? We’re looking forward to having the time do explore more of our beautiful part of the country.

      1. Wow! That’s very impressive, Penny. I would think that Eric must not be having those wheel bearing issues with his Ogre. Is that so? And how is it that you know your bearings need replacing? Noise? Resistance? Perhaps there is a Surly in your future. Hmm?
        My favorite rides are ones that originate at my door. I like not having to drive to a place in order to ride my bike. However, I can’t always do that. So, I try to get one or two others involved to offset the carbon we are using. Silly? Maybe, but I think every little bit helps.
        Ellee Thalheimer has two wonderful touring books called “Cycling Sojourner”. She has done one for Oregon where she lives and one for Washington. They are awesome! I keep chipping away at each of the tours she has presented – Crater Lake/Ashland, next week the Okanogan followed by John Day and the Bend area in quick succession.
        There is a wonderful ride from Vancouver, BC to Seattle that Cascade Bicycle Club puts on called RSVP. I rode up in two days and came back in one. That was fun.The ride out to Point Townsend from the Seattle ferry dock is very cool. Anything with a ferry is really nice. I am looking forward to the Okanogan in a few days as I did a tour from Whitefish, Montana up to Golden and Banff and back down. Just beautiful. I wish the Okanogan tour was longer but the folks I am going with have to get back to work. Ah…to have the summer off! He-he.

  2. We too use mountain bikes equipped with 1.5 inch road tires to tour because of the many different terrain situations while out there. We chose the mtn bike because it gave my wife the best comfortable option with her bad hips. After yrs of her using a mans road bike that she could no longer safely get on and off, she transitioned to the mtn bike. We don’t get there as fast as our roadie friends, but we arrive without sore shoulders and hips for her. Now at 64 we have used these mtn bikes to run for coffee, week long trips in the San Juan Islands and our longest trip down the Northern California coast to San Francisco. Thanks for allowing us to follow along with you in your travels..

    1. I loved reading that you use your mtn bikes in so many ways and that they worked so well on two of my “must do” rides when we get back to the States: the Northern CA coast and the San Juans! I’m glad you explained about the hips and shoulders for your wife. I’m sure other riders will appreciate knowing that.

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