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!

Bikepacking Armenia 2019

5 Lessons From Leading A Bikepacking Group The Length Of A Country

Over the last decade or so, I’ve become known as someone who cycles alone on unknown roads for vast amounts of time. This year, however, I broke the habit of a lifetime and went on a very different kind of ride.

The biggest difference wasn’t that I’d pre-designed the route, or that it was entirely off the paved roads. No – it was that I would be joined by a team of bikepackers from around the world. As the route designer and resident expert on Armenia, I would – for the very first time – be playing the role of a guide.

I’ve told the story of what happened in photos in a previous post, and discussed in excruciating detail the process of upcycling an old mountain bike to do it on. 

In this edition of my retrospective series on the ride, I want to talk about the unexpected lessons I gleaned from taking on this role.

Because doing something for the first time is always challenging. And it’s when you’re challenged that you find the best opportunities to learn. Right?

Lesson 1: I actually like riding with other people

By most measures I score pretty highly on the introvert scale. So while I do enjoy the company of other people (because introvert ≠ misanthrope), it quickly drains my energy, and if I don’t adequately manage my energy levels I bottom out. The result is a burning compulsion to run away and hide.

This is especially true when I have to ‘keep up’, so to speak, with extrovert personality types. So I was apprehensive about spending two weeks with a bunch of total strangers. I would have to be present and available at all times to deal with any situation that might arise, as well as being hopefully decent enough company. A daunting prospect, then, and perhaps one reason I’d never been particularly keen to guide a trip before.

Of course, it wasn’t that bad at all. Cycling is still an independent activity, even when you’re doing it with other people. It was pretty rare that all eight of us were within sight of each other. And, this being Armenia, we spent vast amounts of time huffing and puffing over yet another steep and unforgiving mountain pass – ample time in which to rest our social muscles and give our bodies a good workout. The ride quickly organised itself into a slightly stop-start series of mini rides. We’d regroup every hour or so but otherwise do as much or as little interacting as we wanted.

A couple of pre-emptive measures helped. In the first place, I figured I wouldn’t be the only one in the group who’d prefer a bit of space when they needed it. So I set the ride up as more as a loose tribe of companions than a tight-knit peloton following a leader. Everyone had the route on GPS units and phones, and could stay with the group as little or as much as they wanted, as long as we regrouped at overnight stopping points. The average experience level of the riders was high, so this approach worked well.

The second factor was that I only advertised the ride to my followers. After 13 years of blogging, I’ve noticed that my style of writing retains the attention of like-minded readers who resonate not just with what I say but how I say it. So I was pretty sure that the people who signed up for the ride would naturally include a fair proportion of quiet introverts, and that if I took measures to manage my own energy levels, it’d probably suit them pretty well too.

Finally, I didn’t involve anyone else in organising the logistics of the trip. Route planning was entirely on me, as was organising accommodation and planning resupplies. I did this in what I think was a more or less invisible manner, planning long for a variety of scenarios and having my fixer on the end of the phone to finalise arrangements. I love the idea of collective decision-making as much as any other lefty liberal, but I knew this aspect of the trip would work best if I did it on my own – which is generally how I prefer to operate in any case.

The group turned out to be a real mixed bag of personalities, but the one thing we all had in common was the ability to operate independently. This meant that the routine aspects of the trip – riding, navigating, camp-craft, bike maintenance – just happened. In the meantime we could all enjoy each other’s company – or, if we wanted, fall back and ride alone.

And what that meant for me was that – in spite of my misgivings and worries – I really enjoyed riding with the group. For a long time I’d seen bike trips as a way to maximise my independence, unshackled from the demands and differing opinions of others, able to craft my direction precisely as I wanted it.

Turns out there’s another way to do it, involving a lot more camaraderie – especially as the trip matured and we all got to know each other a bit better – yet retaining the sense of freedom that makes travelling by bicycle such a beautiful thing in the first place. 

And a big part of that is, of course, having a well-developed route like the Transcaucasian Trail to follow.

Lesson 2: Riding with others provides (much-needed) motivation

Now. I will confess. Another of the reasons I love to ride solo – or with one very close companion – is that I can get away with being really lazy. 

For quite a long time I found myself in the top five slowest cyclists in Tim Moss’s Long Distance Cycle Journeys database. This is because I tend to view the bicycle as a means to an end. And if that end is spending long mornings over coffee, or snoozing under a tree after an epic lunch, or taking three weeks off to go Couchsurfing in a new city, then so be it.

Though I could easily blame other commitments, the reason I didn’t ride the route sooner was a lack of urgency and motivation. Don’t forget that I’ve been actively designing it since the RGS and Land Rover-sponsored Transcaucasian Expedition of 2016, in which I mapped out large chunks of what I one day hoped to ride. But it was always something I would do in the future. It took seven other people coming to Armenia to actually get me out the door.

The itinerary I’d set for the ride also wasn’t an easy one. Sure, the statistics pale into insignificance compared to adventure races and the achievements of those who win them. But it kept the team very busy – particularly before the unconditioned (me) had begun to catch up with the seasoned athletes.

So thank you, fellow riders, for giving me a reason not just to organise this ride for you, but to ride it myself. Because it’s no joke to say that you gave me the motivation to ride the trans-Armenia mountain bike route I’d spent literally years imagining.

Lesson 3: Off-road biking is way more demanding on gear than I realised

I knew this style of riding would place a lot more stress on my bike and gear than a road tour. However, as I wrote in my previous post, I was entirely unprepared for the extent to which this would be true.

This wasn’t just my hilarious string of bike-based tribulations. Oh, no.

Rich’s lustworthy Prospector, which drew admiration on a daily basis, suffered a broken Rohloff shifter mount that had to be fixed with zip ties and Gaffa Tape.

Chris’s beautiful Dragonslayer developed a worrisome amount of play in the sliding dropouts (which later necessitated a warranty replacement), and also lost its rear braking power altogether.

Pete’s tubeless Transmitter suffered a large number of messy punctures which eventually had him reaching for the emergency innertubes.

And Ed’s old-school 456 got well and truly taco’d on a thumping rocky descent, for which I had to dust off my wheel-building skills and get all twangy on the spokes.

The bike that suffered least was, in fact, Nick’s Oxford Bike Works Expedition, which suffered nothing more than a damaged sidewall when the tyre was scraped too closely past a rock, easily booted with a square of toothpaste tube (classic fix). 

The Expedition wasn’t originally designed for this kind of off-road bikepacking, but it was designed to be a tough-as-nails generalist, cut from the same cloth as my own classic cromoly mountain bike – and it absolutely showed on this trip.

Lesson 4: Even the most independently minded travellers sometimes like guidance

Back when riding (and writing about riding) was my full-time occupation, I’d often be asked if I’d consider becoming a guide. 

And the answer was always ‘no’, because one of the inherent attractions of travelling by bike – at least from my perspective – was venturing blindly into the unknown and… not just surviving, but experiencing a journey unclouded either by your own preconceptions or by other people’s interpretations of what you experienced.

After a few years of this, I learned that you always carry your preconceptions with you, by bike or otherwise, and that they run a lot deeper than the superficial, sensory impressions most people mean when they talk about preconceptions.

And in the absence of other people’s interpretations of your experience, you often invent your own hopelessly naive explanations to fill the void. These rarely tend to be exposed for what they are until you spend quality time with someone with a lot more knowledge and a much broader perspective – after which you feel enlightened, and perhaps find yourself wishing that person were there more often to help you make sense of things. In other words, you wish you had a guide.

What this trip helped me realise is that the best kind of guide is the one who might as well be another member of the group, but with the crucial difference that they can – when appropriate – help others interpret and understand their experiences.

This is a world apart from that more visible and widespread kind of tour guiding (about which I find it far too easy to be cynical) in which tourists are herded around like livestock between a series of sights, experiences, buses and hotels, with zero autonomy and with most explanatory spiel recited from a script.

Indeed, there seems to be a generous amount of space between guided tourism and independent travel – a space I can see the value in exploring.

Because – trip logistics aside, and while I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth – there seemed little doubt that my presence enhanced the experiences of everyone who participated because I could help them make sense of it.

It seems that living on and off for more than a decade in Armenia, speaking the language, and literally writing the book about the country made me quite well qualified to play this role.

This could even become a skill with which I could – gasp! – actually earn some money.

Lesson 5: The hard work paid off

Some tweaks are still required, but I can say in all truthfulness that this route – while tough – is in fact an absolute blinder. 

I owe a debt of gratitude to Logan at for providing the proof of concept and for allowing me to input on his plans. The route he recce’d overlaps in several places with what we eventually rode.

While I’d eventually like this to be part of a mountain bike-friendly version of the full Transcaucasian Trail, I’m also hopeful that the page can be updated with the improvements we tested and grow into the classic trans-Armenia route. 

Whichever way it goes, look out over the winter for the resources needed to replicate the ride. If you’ve even the slightest inkling to ride out here next year (perhaps because Ryanair will finally be flying to Armenia?) and you’ve got 2–3 weeks to spare, I really can’t recommend it enough.

On a related note, many readers have asked if I’ll be running the same trip again next year.

I would love to reply with a resounding ‘yes’, but the truth is I cannot. You see, I’m drawn to experimentation, rather than repetition, as I feel this is how progress is made in the world, at every level from the personal to the global. I rally against doing the same thing again on principle. So it’s time for others to take the route we’ve created and do what they will with it. And I’m more than happy to help facilitate that.

What I’d really love to ride next year is something similar but in southern Georgia, following the Lesser Caucasus Mountains from Batumi to the Armenia–Georgia border and resulting in a true Transcaucasian Trail mountain-bike route being along the whole range. That is something that well and truly passes the ‘hell, yeah!’ test.

Decisions, decisions. I’ll let you know in the New Year…

Header photo by Chris Goodman. Used with permission.