Some planning is required to turn a 900km route into a planned itinerary with consideration of your sleeping arrangements, food stops, water refills and even toilets. This was my first bikepacking trip so I had to spend time researching the Trail and stalking small towns on GoogleMaps before I felt confident and ready to start this adventure.
In this article I have also discussed the bike and bags setup I used. My choices were based on the bags I was lent and a good setup is refined over multiple trips but you might still find it useful or interesting.
You can find my previous Mawson Trail post covering what I packed here.
BIKE SETUP & BAGS
Here is a summary of my setup for the Mawson:
- Cannondale Super-X Force 1, 40T front, 11-36T rear cassette, and Specialized Power Saddle,
I thought the gearing I used was fine. I could have had a larger range in the rear cassette but that would have been an extra cost. There wasn’t much super-steep stuff (apart from Stone Hut Road) that required that sort of range. Having just ridden some of the Kidman Trail, that had more short steep pinches which would have been more enjoyable with a wider range cassette.
Specialized power isn’t a padded saddle but i find it comfortable for long rides on the road bike and had no issues on the cross bike. A carbon post with some dampening for the corrugated roads would have been nice.
- Bontrager GR1 40mm Tubeless Gravel Tyre, Really impressed with these tyres as we had only one puncture between us. I don’t feel like we needed any more traction (the tyre is quite low profile) or tyre width for the Mawson but we were travelling in dry conditions (no mud).
- BBB Dual Side Access Cages, side access cages were good for the larger drink bottles.
- Apidura 14L Expedition Handlebar Bag with 4.5L Backcountry Accessory Pocket, the 14L was more space than I needed for what I was carrying but it wasn’t a problem as you just roll it up tighter.
- Apidura 14L or 17L (not sure) Backcountry Saddle Pack
- Apidura 1L Backcountry Toptube Pack, I had all the puncture repair stuff in this one.
- 1 x Apidura Backcountry Food Pouch and 1 x BikeBagDude Chaff Bag, for my Summer Rolls and an extra water bottle on the hot days.
When packing, consider the location of items you will need to access more quickly. I made sure my puffy jacket, rain jaket, wind vest, puncture repair, sunscreen/lipbalm, wallet, phone and food were in easy access locations.
Some very good advice I was given was to get the electrical tape out and protect all contact points between bags and bike. I thought I had been thorough in protecting the frame but I still got some ingrained dirt marks. In some areas the tape even began to wear through and mark the frame. Fluro yellow is probably partially a culprit as it shows everything. Alternately, don’t ride expensive carbon bikes while bikepacking!
See photos below of tyre clearance on my frame. Not every CX bike will have sufficient tyre clearance for a 40mm or wider tyre and the width written on the tyre may not reflect the actual measured width when installed on your wheels.
Find specs/reviews for your bike if you want more information about the tyre clearance of your frame. If clearance is an issue I think a narrower tyre (e.g. 38mm) would be fine for the Mawson. Noting that the cost of narrower tyres is reduced rider comfort.
I used a spreadsheet to plan out the days and work out the travel distance between towns, going through google maps and working out what was in each town. I’ve tidied up the sheet to share with you, this link is view only so you will need to save your own copy to make edits.
- The “Trail Stops” tab shows for each town: Where on the Mawson Trail the town is, distance from the previous town, what is available at the town.
- The “Nat Mawson” tab shows my Mawson plan including the accommodation we stayed in.
- The additional tabs are setup to calculate your own Mawson stops by adding each town and it’s KM point along the Mawson route – easy 🙂
When considering the distance you are planning to ride each day, things to take into account other than your fitness:
- Headwinds/Tailwinds, difficult to account for in planning but block headwinds will make your journey much tougher going and kill your average speed. Maybe just plan your days with allowance for bad weather conditions.
- Extreme Heat, any days around 30 or higher, I found our average speed dropped a few kph and we had a lot more short stops, also difficult to plan for but as we hadn’t booked everything in advance we had a longer day before the hottest day to shorten the distance required on the hottest day. That flexibility was good.
- Rain, While this wasn’t something I dealt with, there are photos and videos that show how the Mawson can become impassable or very challenging as the clay mud packs up on the tyres and jams everything.
- Bike load, you’re not going to be travelling nearly as fast as you would on an unloaded bike. There is also going to be a difference in how sluggish your bike feels between a setup for camping or just staying in accommodation. Good reasons to have a trial run / overnighter before the actual event.
- The final section in the flinders from Hawker to Blinman has limited accommodation options so unless you want to do super long days you’re pretty much set with: Hawker –> Rawnsley Park or Wilpena Pound –> Blinman or Parachilna. If you are travelling in busy periods it is worth booking ahead for these stops.
- As of November 2019, the Hallett Hotel doesn’t offer accommodation, so for those who aren’t carrying sleeping bags, that (~125km) section from Burra to Stirling needs some consideration.
- If you’re getting dropped off or picked up in Blinman/Parachilna by Genesis Transport, you will need to plan around their pick up / drop off days.
If you haven’t bikepacked before, you will travel slower than you think you will. Also, many of the hotel kitchens are only open 12-2pm for lunch so it’s good to plan for that. We almost missed lunch service at Craddock Hotel which would have been devastating.
Google Maps is great for researching accommodation within towns (hotels/bnb/caravan parks).
If you’re looking for hut/campsite accommodation (other than caravan parks) the Heyson Trail Website is a great resource for finding huts as there is a lot of overlap between the Heyson and Mawson route. This gps Mawson map also has some of the huts marked on it.
WATER REFILL / TOILETS
Heat and speed will be the main factors in determining how much water you need to carry. We got away with carrying up to 2.75L on the longest stretches. Public toilet tap water is usually drinkable (or not marked otherwise) and most hotels we stopped at were happy to refill our bottles. I initially expected to be quite remote on this trip and not having access to toilets but in the end I found toilets were frequent enough that no bush stops were required, YMMV. Australian Gov does a great job with public toilet access compared to other countries and you can check this map if you get somewhere and cant locate the toilets: https://toiletmap.gov.au/
NAVIGATION ON ROUTE
The signage on the Mawson Trail is extremely good, it is very hard to get lost. With that in mind any cycling computer that can load the route will be fine, I don’t think you need one with StreetMaps. However, you may need to break the 850km route up into smaller sections to stop cycling computers crashing when they load the file (I had this problem with my Garmin 510). The RideWithGPS Phone App can download the Mawson Trail Map as an offline file so you can access it even if you don’t have reception. It requires a paid subscription for that capability but you can use a 1-month free trial if you haven’t used the App before. You could navigate using the phone App if you attach your phone to the handlebars, I found it useful as a reference but didn’t use it for navigation.
TO WRAP UP
I certainly haven’t covered everything and I’m also not an expert. Let me know if you have any other questions that I haven’t covered and I hope you found it useful! This is my last Mawson Trail Post (of this trip).