What to ride, skills needed, training.

In July 2017, Darius Waser (a young visitor from Germany) rode the entire Trail in 13 days. He was riding a $50 bike (with no suspension) and had strapped two 20 litre plastic buckets to his bike to act as panniers. After a new back wheel on the way, he made it to Albany. You do not need an expensive bike and high tech gear to ride the Trail, but good equipment will be more reliable, make the ride easier, more comfortable and faster, and may add to your enjoyment.

I think the ideal bike for the Munda Biddi Trail is:

  • A good quality mountain bike with front suspension (preferably air), ideally 29" but 26" or 27.5" is fine.
  • Wide, knobbly off road tyres (a "Fat bike" is not necessary) at a suitable pressure. Ideal for handling the pea gavel
  • A good quality rear rack with weather proof panniers, a bike trailer or bike packing bags.
  • Two or three chain rings ( 20~27 speed). The newer bikes have 1 chain ring with 10 speeds, but I think you may lose some lower gears that are ideal for climbing steep hills while carrying luggage.

I like soft tails (dual suspension) but it must be good quality with lockout so you do not waste energy bouncing the rear end up and down when pedaling on the flat. However, hard tails are perfectly acceptable and generally less expensive. Avoid department store bikes- I don't think they are up to the task. When picking a mountain bike for the Trail remember "Cheap, strong or light- pick any two". Preferably ride a bike you are familiar with- try a few day rides fully loaded first before tackling a multi day ride. Feel free to do the ride on a penny farthing or a unicycle if you wish- it will just be a lot slower and much harder work. I would love to see your photos from your trip! See my "What to Bring List" for what I carry.

I estimate the Trail is made up of:
50% form i.e. old rail trail, characterised as gentle slopes and curves, with solid or soft surface
35% gravel roads - mainly map 7 and 8
8% sealed back roads - mainly map 4 and 9
4% single track (narrow, often windy)
3% rough 4 wheel drive track, very sandy or deep pea gravel - mainly on map 1 and 2.
The bike you will ride should be able to handle it all. And you get the occasional fallen tree you may need to cross (after storms you may see more than usual, but DPaW and the Trail volunteers do a pretty good job of cleaning them up).

You do not "need" a fat bike to ride the Munda Biddi Trail. I would not recommend one due to the extra weight, but the choice is yours. They would be of benefit in the sandy (mainly map 8) or very gravelly sections (mainly map 1 & 2), but these are relatively short parts of the Trail. Similarly, I am not a fan of cyclocross type bikes i.e. drop handle bars, 700c wheels (racing bike sized). I think the handle bars and tyres are too narrow to cope with the sand and loose gravel. Yes, I know some people have ridden the Trail on both these style bikes, but I think the best all rounder is a 29" hard tail MTB!

I prefer tubed tyres over tubeless. I rarely get flats on the Trail anyway, and a tube is relatively easy to replace, so I am happy with that level of technology and cost. The tubeless tyres need a high volume of air to quickly reseat the bead, and the usual way is with gas cylinders. But once you run out of those, you are in trouble.

Riding to the Trail on the road, I will keep my tyre pressures up around 40PSI, but drop them to about 25-30PSI on the Trail. This allows the tyre to spread out more for extra traction. But do not go too low, or you may get pinch flats.

Pedals wise, I ride with Shimano SPD mountain bike cleats and mtb shoes. I use these cleats on both my mtb and road bike - I find they are easier to use than road cleats. My cleat settings are reasonably loose on my mtb- just in case I need to unclip quickly! I reckon flat pedals would be fine as well - it will be your personal preference.

Here is a video of my wife on her first overnight trip on the Munda Biddi Trail. I recorded it in October 2015 from Collie to Logue Brook Dam, overnighting at Yarri campsite. It really showcases the beautiful trails and bush near Collie. She was riding a " comfort bike " (fitted with suspension seat post and forks, comfort saddle and a more relaxed geometry which is an upright position for easier mounting and dismounting the bike) with knobbly tyres . She  could ride the easier parts of the old rail trails of the Munda Biddi without much experience. She rode 70 km from lunchtime on Saturday to lunchtime on Sunday - a great achievement. She was riding without luggage though, and this bike would be a bit slower on the steep hills and pea gravel of Map 1 and 2.

Munda Biddi Trail riders seem to fall into two groups. The first is the "light and fast" riders who use expensive, ultra light gear in their bike packing equipment, and will often "double hut" (riding double the suggested daily distance), with daily rides reaching 100km. Bike packing is a blend of of mountain biking and minimalist camping. It evolved from riders with full-on mountain bikes whose bike frames didn't have eyelets for racks and panniers wanting to spend a couple of days on MTB trails (think US and Canada). So they developed large tail bags, handle bar bags, in-frame storage and back packs to carry their ultra light camping equipment. These set ups have even distribution and lower over all weight, so often bike handling is unaffected. These are excellent options for short trips, although you still need to consider careful what you can carry and where it will fit. As the Munda Biddi is not a trail that requires anything more than a XC (Cross country bike), this type of equipment is not essential. A XC bike with a rack and panniers, or a bike trailer, would be cheaper and have more storage space. The only section a trailer or panniers feels too hard is the zig zags near Collie, Manjimup and Pemberton - I usually walk these anyway.

The larger group is the riders who use more spacious panniers or trailers on their bike, use ordinary camping gear, and will carry extra items that keeps them comfortable when in the huts and tend to ride the recommended daily distance of 30-50km. They are also out to enjoy the experience of the ride, rather than just complete it. On longer tours, it is less about the distance covered every day, and and a bit more about a little bit of comfort with bedding, clothes etc. I would call these riders "comfortable and steady" - I think "heavy and slow" is a little bit offensive! I consider myself a  "comfortable and steady" rider, especially as I stop a lot to take photos and video. I think Darius with his 20 litre bucket panniers fits into this category!

I have two mountain bikes - a hard tail that can use panniers or the bike trailer, and a soft tail that can use the bike trailer only. On a shorter ride, especially if I am catching the train to/from the Trail, I take the hard tail with panniers. I have done an overnighter with a small back pack and handle bar bag, but aimed to travel light and fast. For longer trips I always take the bike trailer, with preferably the soft tail, but occasionally with the hard tail. For a day ride without luggage, it is the soft tail with a Camel back type water hydration pack everytime.

I love my bike trailers. I now have the Extra Wheel bike trailers as well as the BoB trailers.  I prefer the BoB Ibex as it has 75 mm of rear suspension, so if you adjust it correctly for the load it follows you down the roughest hill without bouncing around. I also have the BoB Yak, with a rigid rear end, which is fine for 99% of the Munda Biddi (just go slow on the rough down hills as it will bounce around abit). My Extrawheel is a trailer with a 28" wheel - this goes over obstacles far better than the BoB's 16" wheel. It is also lighter than the BoB. All of the trailer's narrow profiles and single-wheel design works well on narrow trails, and they handle amazingly well. On the flat, you hardly notice the weight, which is similar when cornering, because the weight is kept low. Even up hills, the extra weight intially seems to give you a push, but once momentum is lost the extra weight is... well, a drag. The only time I really notice trailers is when slow speed manovuring. To transfer a bike trailer to another bike, you only need to change your rear wheel quick release axle (as long as it is a 5mm skewer).

There is a cheap Chinese copy of the Yak trailer that weighs about 26kgs! ( a BoB Yak weighs 6kgs, and the Ibex 8kg), and plenty of other cheap bike trailers on eBay, of which I have had no experience with. But I am not prepared to risk a break down at a remote site when the BoB and Extrawheel trailers have been used by bike travellers world wide for years. Buy one or hire from me if you need one. See online shop for details.

See an Extrawheel bike trailer in action below:

Bike Trailer versus panniers versus Bike Packing

Bike trailers

Pros Cons
Waterproof Heavier up hills
Carry lots Can carry too much
Low centre of gravity Awkward on trains
Less weight on rear wheel Harder over obstacles
 Easily to hook up  
 Can fit to soft tails  

Panniers

Pros Cons
Lighter Maybe not as waterproof
Easier access All weight on rear wheel
May have extra pockets Higher centre of gravity
Plenty of space on rack  Hard to fit to soft tail
Easier on trains  

Bike Packing

Pros Cons
Lightest Must pack minimally
Easiest on trains More customised than other options
Suit soft tails More expensive than panniers
 Perfect for overnighters Not generally available in bike shops
 Does not affect bike handling  May need to carry a back pack

How to load - heavy items at the bottom, lighter items at top. Items required during the day on top, items required at night at the bottom. The aim is to get weight low - it makes balance better and cornering safer. Don't use occy straps, try fasty straps. Use back up securing method e.g. use a fasty strap to hold your sleeping bag on your rack, but tie the sleeping bag drawstring to the rack so the bag cannot fall off silently if the strap comes loose.

Because trailers were not easily available in Australia, I now import and sell the Extrawheel trailers here. Extrawheel and BoB bike trailers can now be hired from me in Bayswater (see more here ) and through Munda Biddi Shuttle Services. In Albany you can use www.bikesforthetrail.com/bftt .

Please note: This page is a general discussion on what I suggest you need in a bike for the Munda Biddi Trail. It is not a forum for technical discussions - there are plenty of pages for that already on the Web. I cannot answer technical questions, as I do not know.

Skills You Need to Have:

The mountain bike skill level needed to ride the Munda Biddi Trail is fairly low - most of it is not challenging by MTB standards. You'll want basic skills, which aren't very complicated and can be found in MTB books, videos, online or from other cyclists. I assume you have these basic skills already - if not, get them and practice them (try day rides on the Trail if you are a local). Be aware that when riding with panniers or a trailer, your bike's handling characteristic will change, and you need to allow for that. Try a practice ride with a full load first.

You will need to ride pea gravel on mainly on map 1 and 2. Riding it is not fun. It is generally firm in Winter and Spring, and softer in Autumn and Summer. If you are a local, I suggest riding map 1 over a long weekend, then ride map 2 over another long weekend, then you can ride map 3 onwards. Or you maybe able to break Map 1 and 2 into day rides (eg four day rides will cover most of the first two maps - Mundaring to Brookton Highway, Brookton Highway to Jarrahadale, Jarrahdale to Dandalup Dam, and finally the Dam to Dwellingup).

When riding down hill on pea gravel, your bike will weave around all over the place. Adopt the "attack" position by standing on the pedals whilst they are in a level position. Standing up lowers the centre of gravity and lets you easily move about the bike for cornering and negotiating rough sections.

Bring your elbows up and forward rather than allowing them to drop by your side as this allows you shift riding position easily and offers greater stability over the handlebars.

Keep your knees and elbows bent but relaxed. This allows them to absorb rougher parts of the trail rather than transmitting the shocks to your body.  This will also keep your tyres stuck to the ground to maintain traction.

By moving forward and backwards you are able to put different amounts of weight on the front and rear wheels. When riding with your weight slightly towards the rear, the front wheel may feel a touch lighter and the suspension will extend a little - this is ideal for rough downhill sections. Whilst leaning forward slightly it will feel a little heavier and the fork will compress a bit more.

Get used to riding in the attack position on descents or any section of trail you feel you need more control of the bike. Stay seated on climbs and long flat sections. Use smoother sections to practice moving your weight slightly forward and back to see how it feels. Move your whole upper body together not just your hips or shoulders on their own.

Wide knobbly tyres help get traction in pea gravel or loose sand, and lower tyre pressures helps as well, but be aware that this may cause pinch flats.

If you can master all the skills in this 5 minute video, you have covered most of the skills you need for the Munda Biddi or similar rides:

Training

You will need reasonable fitness to ride the Munda Biddi Trail. If you are unsure, try a 50 km ride on gravel roads, up and down some hills with a fully loaded bike as a trial - do you think you can do that ride every day for up to three weeks? The best way to train for a multiday ride towing 20+ kg of luggage on gravelly roads is to actual ride like that. Riding your road bike to work, with a couple of rides on the weekends does help, but it doesn't fully prepare you. I know this from experince. Before my last 14 day ride, I was riding my road bike 300km a week (12~14 hours a week) in training, but it was still very tough when I hit the trail, riding 50 -100 km a day (about 50 hrs a week), towing a trailer with 20kg on it. Most of us with jobs and family can't fit much more riding in, so plan on shorter days at the start of your ride and maybe lengthen your days as the ride progresses.

Bottom fitness is not a topic that comes up in most polite conversations. But on a multi day ride, your bottom will suffer. Take some "chamois" cream. Even experienced, regular riders will find that continual riding on the Munda Biddi Trail will be enough to cause painful rubbing, especially when mixed with sweat. Trust me - you will need it.  If you cannot get chamois cream on the trail, Sudocrem is available at most chemists and will help.

This page is the property of Follow My Ride, a website detailing off road cycle tracks near Perth and in Western Australia.