The suggested trail was the Munda Biddi, a roughly 1000km off-road trail that runs between Perth in the north, and Albany in the south of Western Australia. The trail is divided into sections, and can be ridden in either direction, either as short sections, or as a complete ride, called an end-to-end. We chose to do an end-to-end, from north to south.
The Munda Biddi provides a marked route which includes small sections of tarmac, but mostly gravel roads, fire roads, trails and single-track. Along the way are ‘huts’ - shelters for cyclists to overnight in – or small towns where you can find food and accommodation. If you do their recommended itinerary, you cycle between 30km and 70km each day, overnighting in a hut or small town. Having no idea of the terrain or difficulty of the route, we decided to start out with the recommended itinerary, and see how things went from there.
Bikes and equipment
We did the Munda Biddi on our standard dual suspension 29er mountain bikes, kitted out with bikepacking bags and panniers.
My bike was a Specialized Epic; on the back, a back bike rack, small panniers and a bag on the rack; a custom bike frame bag (sewn up by my sister); a bag on the handlebars; and two cages on the front forks. A small ‘fuel tank’ provided easy access to snacks on the go. I also wore a hydration pack large enough to stuff a rain jacket into.
My husband Nigel’s bike was a Santa Cruz Tallboy; on the back, a back bike rack, large panniers and our tent strapped onto the rack; a seat bag with frame; a couple of small frame bags; and a handlebar roll bag. Nigel also wore a hydration pack.
Hans rode a Scott Spark with a seat bag, a frame bag, a handlebar roll bag, cages on the front forks, and a couple of fuel tanks, plus he wore a hydration backpack.
We carried the basic bike spares that you would carry on any regular multi-day event, sharing where we could, and made sure that our bikes had a thorough service before the trip. As it turned out, we had one broken chain to deal with, and a few squeaks and creaks on a really wet and muddy day - that was it as far as mechanical problems went.
Accommodation and food
The huts along the way are all the same basic design: a metal shelter with large wooden platforms where you lay out your sleeping bags. On one end are picnic tables and chairs, and on the other, two large water tanks. A little way from the shelter is a smaller shelter with an eco-friendly long-drop toilet. Nothing else is provided at the shelter, so you need to carry sleeping mats, bags, liners, and of course, your clothing and toiletries.
As no open fires are allowed, you also carry a camping cooker, plates, mugs, cutlery, pots and your food. Our menu consisted mainly of quick-cooking oats (just add boiling water and let it stand for a minute) and coffee for breakfast, a lunch of either fresh bread or wraps with peanut butter, or vegemite, cheese and salami (salami stays fresh for ages!), and a dinner of cous-cous with a ‘cuppa-soup’ for flavour, dehydrated peas, plus tuna/salami/salmon (available in packets) to add some protein. We also carried energy bars, trail mix and jelly babies for snacks. When we spent a night in a small town (every two to three nights), we’d find a cabin, bed & breakfast or a motel, for a hot shower, warm bed and a chance to do some laundry. Plus, we’d fuel up with a real meal and some beers at the local pub. No matter how small the town, there’s always a pub!
With our typical South African ‘give it a go’ attitude, we did no test rides before loading up with panniers, gear and food, and heading off from the northern trailhead. Well, the first thing that you notice is that your wonderful light carbon bike is now approximately 20kg heavier, and that it does, indeed, affect the ride! Weight does matter! It takes a while for you to get the feel of the bike and its cargo, but after a day or so on the trail, you’re riding noticeably better than day one! We did rearrange bags, gear and weight distribution several times along the route, until we found what worked best for each of us. I found that weight on the handlebars affected the handling badly, while weight on my back racks was far less noticeable, so I shifted anything heavy from the front to the back. We also rearranged goods logically so that we could find what we needed when we stopped each day, without having to unpack everything!
The route was incredible, and a great deal of work has gone into its planning, creation and upkeep. The route uses tar roads only where necessary, which was minimal. Most of the trail was on quiet gravel roads, small fire roads, barely used old logging tracks, former railway lines, or single-track, some of which has been created specifically for the Munda Biddi. The bulk of the ride is through forests, which makes for some pleasant riding and lovely scenery. We spotted several kangaroos, some emus and many loud and colourful birds along the way.
The Munda Biddi is not difficult, but that’s not to say it’s easy, either. The route itself is manageable by most intermediate cyclists, by South African standards. What makes things difficult is that you’re effectively riding a 30kg bicycle. It is not a technical route, but there are some big hills. There is also, in the northern areas, what the locals call ‘pea gravel’, which is exactly as described – very loose, deep gravel roughly the size of peas. Easy enough to ride on the flat, or control (with some sliding about) on the downhills, but a challenge on a steep hill with a very heavy bike. And once you do stop, it’s almost impossible to get going again on an incline. There were several short sections that I walked.
Because the trails are through forests, there is also a lot of debris on the trails – from plants to sticks, branches and even trees that have fallen across the tracks. All easy enough on a regular ride, but when the closest bike shop is 100km away, you don’t want to risk breaking a spoke, bending a derailleur, or breaking a bike rack, so you tend to ride more conservatively than usual. The weather, of course, also plays a role, and can turn an easy ride into a battle. We encountered heavy rain and high winds, which made things more of a challenge. You do, however, have all day to do your chosen distance, so you’re not chasing cut-off times, just daylight.
Nigel (a strong cyclist) and I (a social cyclist) completed the Munda Biddi quite comfortably in 20 days of riding, but for me, there were a couple of tough days, and we did the ride quite slowly, enjoying the scenery. Unfortunately Hans (a social cyclist) had trouble firstly with a chest infection, and later with knee injuries. He took a few days off to get over the chest infection, and joined us again further down the trail.
The record for an end-to-end is four days, six hours and 39 minutes, but I really see no point in racing a route like this. We took two rest days, both of which were to sit out severe storms.
The verdict on bikepacking
We loved it, and plan to do a lot more in the years to come. It’s a wonderful way to see a country, literally at grass-roots level, get some exercise and adventure along the way, plus earn a sense of achievement. Another great aspect of bikepacking is the people you meet along the way. There’s a special camaraderie, a shared sense of achievement when you meet another heavily laden cyclist on a trail, and swop stories of trails and routes, bikes and gear, mishaps and not-to-be-missed bits. I can’t wait to be back out there, loaded with gear and peanut-butter wraps, following a trail less travelled, to borrow a phrase.
Stats from our ride:
20 days riding plus 2 rest days
Total distance: 1003km
Total time: 127 hours, 24 minutes
Moving time: 82 hours, 54 minutes
Average speed: 7,9km/h
Average moving speed: 12,1km/h