New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates

What Not To Do On Day One Of A Bike Trip (For Example)

As I pedalled towards The Entrance through a never-ending conglomeration of suburbs and seaside towns, the hills seemed to get steeper, the hard shoulders narrower, and the traffic heavier.

Tangled cycleways gave way to long-winded highway crossings, nasty climbs through hilly rainforest spat me out onto caravan-clogged beachfront boulevards, and all under a sweltering late-summer sun. The momentum that had inspired me to push on into the afternoon began to taper off. Had following the New South Wales Coastline Cycleway been a mistake?

In Bateau Bay, struggling to reconcile the route I’d planned on komoot with the signage on the ground, I sailed blindly past the Aldi I’d been aiming for to stock up on food for the ride ahead, not realising until several kilometres later. Things briefly perked up when I reached the longest jetty in New South Wales (351 metres!) on the eastern shore of Tuggerah Lake, but I couldn’t be bothered to walk to the end and back like all the other tourists were doing.

Hungry, low on blood sugar and still with no food in my panniers, I spotted a backpackers’ hostel nearby and made an impulsive decision to check in for the night.

The reception door was locked, so I called a phone number I found online and asked if the place was open. The guy on the other end said he’d check. 

When he forgot to call back and left me standing outside for 15 minutes, I should have seen a red flag. 

But I was tired. I wanted food and sleep.

New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates

Why Ride The NSW Coast Cycle Trail Anyway?

My plan was simple: leave the house, follow the coastline north, and see what happened.

The deadline was a family wedding in Sydney; the route already established. I’d stop pedalling when I ran out of time, take the night train back, show off my fabulous new tan-lines, and we would all live happily ever after.

It was a nice, simple plan of the type I encourage newcomers to cycle touring to try, requiring no preparation beyond throwing some gear in a pair of panniers and hitting the road.

Now, given my particular history of bicycle-mounted expeditions, you might think a ride up the Australian coastline sounds rather tawdry. 

So – if you’ll indulge something of a tangent – let me put into context why I decided to ride alongside the sun-drenched beaches and through the colonial seaside towns of a rich English-speaking nation in peak holiday season.

New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates

Bike Touring New South Wales: Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Ten minutes was all it took to slot back into the role of sweatiest, most vulnerable, most linguistically explicit road user.

A signpost on the New South Wales Coastline Cycleway, aka: Coast Cycle Trail.

In Newport I loaded up the relevant New South Wales Coast Cycle Trail segment and struck forth on a narrow coastal road called The Serpentine. 

As the name suggested, this was the start of a meandering rollercoaster of obscene gradients winding through humid forest amongst staggered hillside dwellings. Riders on this designated cycle route would find themselves hurdling headlands and conducting flybys of secluded beaches, all the while wondering if they were covering more horizontal distance than vertical. 

These hills weren’t long – but by god, were they steep.

My last major undertaking on a bicycle had occurred before the word “covid” entered the dictionary. So I was even more delighted to find this gruelling warm-up interspersed with segments of six-lane highway. 

Cursing the hills, cursing the traffic, cursing my legs, and occasionally cursing all three at once in a coordinated verbal assault upon that trifecta of cyclists’ bugbears: this was a familiar combination of grievances, one I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in about 50 of those abstract entities we call “countries” (with the notable exception of the Netherlands, where there are no hills to curse).

My intention now was to add a new country to the list. Technically I had already done so in those first ten minutes, but only in the way I have technically visited China because I once spent an overnight layover in a hotel in Guangzhou. No – it would take more than a stiff morning’s climb to be able to say I’d travelled Australia by bicycle in any meaningful way. 

(Let’s remember that this is a land so big that to visit a friend in Perth would require a flight of the same duration as from London to New York, or a drive roughly equivalent to a east-west crossing of Europe, or a four-day continuous train journey, or – the dream – a good couple of months of pedalling.)

North of Newport was Avalon – more hills, more sweat – and north of Avalon was the suburb of Palm Beach. One of its many seafronts is apparently familiar to many TV-watching Brits as a principal filming location for the popular Australian soap opera Home and Away. In reality, Palm Beach is an exclusive district of greater Sydney made inaccessible by terrain and distance; the preserve of multi-million-dollar second homes with swimming pools and private jetties; a trove of accumulated wealth hidden amongst cliffs and forest canopies and further concealed by a subtropical loop track of cicadas and kookaburra cackles.

Mid-morning, as the sun rose above the tree-tops and beat down upon the tarmac, the neighbourhood seemed abandoned, except for a trickle of passing utes – the Aussie name for a 4×4 pickup truck with a tool chest or two mounted on a raised rear tray. As I rode north, these vehicles and their occupants dispersed themselves amongst the driveways of their absentee clients in order to dredge the unused swimming pools, tend to the unseen gardens, and construct the extensions and sundecks and boat sheds whose only purpose appeared to be to channel surplus cash into further inflating the market value of these properties.

It struck me as ironic that – at the starting point for one of the most frugal and egalitarian forms of adventure in existence – I’d found myself riding through a premium postcode in one of the most expensive cities in one of the richest countries on Earth.

Rounding the northern spur of those bejewelled hilltops, with only the Barrenjoey headland separating me from the great Pacific, I came at last to my exit point of Palm Beach Wharf, from where the public ferry would spirit me across the bay of Pittwater, out of Sydney proper, and to the Central Coast region of New South Wales. 

Lucky timing: the late-morning ferry was just boarding as I rolled up to the end of the wooden jetty, rickety and incongruous among the designer dwellings above.

As the ferry chugged slowly out of dock, the conductor offered me a wireless card reader to pay my fare – but my card inexplicably failed to register. He shrugged:

‘No worries, mate. Have yourself a free one!’

And he moved on to the next passenger, leaving me with a big inner smile, happy to be reminded that – even in a place like Palm Beach – money didn’t always matter most.

New South Wales Coast 2023 Personal Updates

Tom’s Bike Trip Continues: Down Under Edition

By the time you read this paragraph, I’ll have embarked on my latest bike trip, riding solo along the lush coast of New South Wales, Australia.

I haven’t tackled a ride of any significance since before the Covid-19 pandemic – and while I’m relishing the prospect of hitting the road, it’s a tempting moment to look back at the evolution of this blog,, and my parallel bike touring career.

You could say it began 17 years ago when I signed up for a free Blogspot account and created a blank page entitled “Semi-Coherent Thought Chowder”. At the time, I simply wanted a space for converting ideas into words and dumping them there. The idea that people might read it never crossed my mind.

That changed in the summer of 2006, when my old schoolmate Andy and I came up with the entirely unoriginal idea to try and cycle round the planet. As classic overachieving middle-class able-bodied white males, we decided to brand the fuck out of the expedition, seeking sponsorship and media attention, launching what today would be called a YouTube channel, and generally turning it into a ‘thing’.

It was, in many ways, the antithesis of the attitude towards bicycle travel I would later evangelise. But it did need a professional-looking website. And so my idle ramblings were reinvented as the official blog of Ride Earth, a high-concept, charity fundraising, environmental drum-beating, only-marginally-interesting, very-long-distance bike ride.

Ride Earth fizzled out when Andy and I realised, far too late, and on a wintry roadside somewhere in the South Caucasus, that our reasons for doing it were fundamentally incompatible. 

At the same time, as you’ll know if you’ve read or watched Janapar, I met my future wife and realised there was more to life anyway. 

In this period of downtime I quietly rebranded the site as Tom’s Bike Trip, which seemed to better reflect what I was actually doing. And I started to write because I wanted to, rather than because my previous decisions obliged me to.

This had the interesting effect of people starting to read what I wrote. Perhaps, in retrospect, there was something more compelling about the story of someone cut adrift on a bike with a lot of time, a vague sense of curiosity, and something worth coming home for. Perhaps – I repeat the word because this is pure conjecture – this stripped-back version of life on a bike resonated more deeply than the chronicles of another privileged adventurer on a pedestal.

I spent the next four years honing my travel writing skills alongside a series of what felt, on a personal level, like ever more boundary-pushing rides. Beyond my first tidy little ride across Europe came the brutal desert crossings, sketchy checkpoints, and tear-jerking hospitality of the Middle East and northeast Africa. Crossing the East African Rift Valley through the tribal no-go-zone of the Afar Desert, I felt I’d reached a place so distant from the pokey little English village of my upbringing that to go much further would bring only diminishing returns. Yet even that proved wrong when I dragged bike and gear to the Outer Mongolian steppe, where all sense of time and place dissolved into a blur of roadless plains, big river crossings, and wild Siberian forests.

In 2012 I found myself at a book launch in Pasadena, CA, at the end of a long ride down the US west coast. The author was espousing his vision of a world in which people took their passions and moulded them into freedom-generating livelihoods. Much of the advice related to implementation, but the most memorable broad concept was that of focusing on what people asked my help with. Lightbulb moment: could my blog’s comments and contact form submissions be the key to doing this sustainably and forever?

Until then, I’d been funding my travels by taking intensive short-term web development contracts and setting up temporary shop wherever I happened to be. Had it been today I would probably be describing myself as a ‘digital nomad’. In any case, I wanted out of that schizophrenic lifestyle, bouncing from feast to famine. I wanted a stable living that rewarded my skills in a principled way and connected directly with what I valued most in life.

I went through every email I’d received through this blog’s contact form, categorised the questions by theme, and wrote long-form answers to the most frequently-asked of them. The result was a pair of ebooks: Essential Gear For Adventure Cycle Touring and Understanding Touring Bikes For Epic Expeditions.

Because these books were extremely niche, I followed with a third, How To Hit The Road, which aimed to cover at a higher level the entire subject of that glorious thing known variously as cycle touring, bike touring, bike trekking, bikepacking, adventure cycling, or simply travelling by bicycle. I put this one on Amazon as a Kindle ebook and print-on-demand paperback.

At the same time, I wrote in extravagant detail on niche topics that didn’t fit into any of these books and published the results freely on the blog, all the while continuing to explore the ever-more obscure corners of my passion for bicycle-mounted adventures. The culmination of this was probably my 2014 experiment to try and ride the length of England without any money on a bike I’d found in a scrapyard.

(A friend suggested that this would make for the most interesting book I’d have written to date, but I never got round to it.)

Then, in the summer of 2015, something happened. I went hiking and came back inspired to build a long-distance trail across Armenia and Georgia. This rapidly snowballed into what is now known as the Transcaucasian Trail. It’s attracted over a million dollars in funding through various channels, yet for the last seven years I have worked almost entirely unpaid to make this dream a reality, living off the modest income now generated by The reasons for doing things this way are complex, but might be encapsulated by a desire to make a living in a principled way. Syphoning donor funds into a full-time job of my own creation doesn’t fit that principle.

All this while, cycle touring and have been there as a familiar friend I return to when I’m feeling burned out by the emotional demands of wringing a 3,000km-long international hiking trail out of the combined efforts and interests of the growing number of people and organisations involved in the effort.

That’s what’s happening now. I’m riding my modified prototype of the Oxford Bike Works Expedition bike north from Sydney, Australia, following the New South Wales Coast Cycle Trail as far as I can – at least, until the date of my sister-in-law’s wedding, the main reason I’m in Australia and something I should probably make sure I’m back for!

The jury’s out on how much of this trip I’ll be sharing in real time – but whatever I do make public will probably be in the form of Instagram stories.

Preparing for this trip has also inspired plenty of new material for the blog, which I’ll be sharing here soon.

In the meantime, I’ve been updating and republishing some of the most well-received content I originally wrote and posted on the blog between 2012–2014, including:

There’s plenty more where that came from here.

As for why I’ve chosen this particular route at this particular time – either tune in on social media to find out, or wait and see what pops up on this blog in the coming weeks.

Wish me luck!