Bikes Equipment New South Wales Coast 2023 Technology

Oxford Bike Works Expedition: New Upgrades For 2023

Before my recent Australia tour, I took Tom’s Expedition Bike back to its birthplace in the UK for a tune-up and a few experimental upgrades. 

This post details what’s changed, explores the thinking behind the upgrades, and goes deep into the specifics of why they were made.

(Warning: it’s a 5,000-word long read, so maybe put the kettle on.)

For those unfamiliar with the provenance of the bike, let me summarise the origin story in one paragraph:

New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates

On Finding Freedom In The Space Between Two Atoms

Of all the metaphors that capture the essence of bicycle travel, perhaps freewheeling is the most appropriate.

Think about it. When you stop pedalling and freewheel, you have ceased to exert any discernible effort. Yet you continue rolling forward anyway, propelled by your own momentum. Magic!

What makes this possible is the wheel – or, more specifically, the assembly consisting of axle shaft and rotational ball bearing. It is here, in the space between two atoms of polished steel, that can be found the transition between human and machine. Wikipedia informs us that bearings of this kind have been recovered from Roman shipwrecks dating back over 2,000 years.

(To understand the genius of this mechanical principle more deeply, grab some cone spanners and overhaul your front hub, or at least watch someone do it on YouTube.)

Similarly, when balance and curiosity pair up with that equally extraordinary invention known as the bicycle, they together express the same transcendental freedoms embodied by the free-spinning wheel and articulated in English with labels like “cycle touring” and “bikepacking”.

There are emotional parallels to be found on the road, too. 

New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates

In Which The Kindness Of Strangers Wins Again, And How I Forgot What Camping Really Means

I rose before dawn, ignoring the scent of bacon, and rode out of camp. My goal was to reach Forster before lunch, get my broken spoke replaced, and live happily ever after.

I stopped for coffee in Seal Rocks (flat white, no sugar). While waiting for my order among bleary-eyed barefooted surfers, I popped into the store nearby. I’d been told it had “very limited supplies”, so I was surprised to find bananas on the shelf among a range of fresh produce, groceries and souvenirs.

(Where I live, a village store with “very limited supplies” means one that only sells certain brands of vodka and cigarettes.)

Then I hit the road inland. Surfers paddled out to the break as I pedalled waves of asphalt. More campers sped past, the din of eager engines announcing their approach through the forest, heading to Seal Rocks for one last late-summer weekend of fun. I soon recognised the spot where the north end of the Old Gibber Trail had spat me and my broken wheel out the previous evening. Had the detour been worth it?

New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates

Riding The Old Gibber Trail, And How Not To Pack A Bike Touring Toolkit

At some point on the third day, the ride began to acquire its own momentum.

The Fernleigh Track tailed off (see my previous post), and Newcastle came and went in a dull morning of hilly coastal headlands strewn with bike paths and promenades. I stopped thrice en route to the Hunter River: once at a dead end at the bottom of a fabulous freewheeling descent (and, it turned out, fabulous first-gear ascent), again to make myself another instant roadside cheese toastie, and a third time at a bike shop for some chain lube.

The Queen’s Wharf ferry terminal was perched on the far side of Scott Street from Newcastle’s former railway terminus, a Victorian red-brick edifice that looked for all the world like it had been uprooted from a provincial English city. This, I guessed, was where the Fernleigh Track would once have delivered its wagons. Had I been in the mood to dawdle, I might have stopped to snoop around. But the road was pulling me onwards, and so I boarded the Stockton ferry and left bustling Newcastle behind for another time.

New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates Rants

Why The SLSC Is A Life-Saver For Touring Cyclists, Plus Some Notes On The WarmShowers Controversy

I crossed The Entrance Bridge, leaving the previous day’s mishaps behind me, and pushed north, following off-highway trails through forest fringes.

Finally the New South Wales Coast Cycle Trail began to offer what it had promised, taking me far from the Pacific Highway and brokering a tightly-negotiated route along the various barrier islands and reefs that were smeared along the coastline.

I bounced between placid seawater lagoons and the omnipresent Pacific surf, stopping mid-morning for coffee at a shipping-container kiosk on the southern point of Catherine Hill Bay.

Freewheeling down past the beach, the waves looked so inviting that I couldn’t resist stopping for a spot of body-surfing.

Only then did it become clear what a gift to cycle tourers is an Aussie east-coast institution whose origins can be traced back to the early 20th century, known today as the Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC).