Desert Diallin’

If you get to the bottom of this article and want to learn more, Annie is giving a talk about her experience solo touring the Australian outback at the store on Thursday, September the 1st at 6pm and you can sign up HERE!

I recently spent 6 weeks in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) for a University placement. I brought my 2022 Kona Unit X set up with a suspension fork with me so that I could ride the extensive network of trails in and around Mpartnwe. My time spent in Mparntwe was nothing short of immersive and validating. I started studying occupational therapy in 2020 and was unexpectedly thrown into online study. I’m also relatively fresh to bikes and touring, the catalyst being the purchase of a gravel bike at the beginning of last year. So it felt wild to be out of lockdowns, spending time in Mparntwe, purely based on these two relatively new interests; OT + bikes.

My Kona Unit X set up with suspension fork.

Mparntwe, home to the Arrente people, straddles the ephemeral Todd River and is surrounded by the Tjorita (MacDonald) Ranges. There’s a huge hand-built network of singletrack in and around the town itself. The riding is a gratifying combination of flowy longer trails on the west side, and shorter techy loops out east, all set amongst beautiful, vast scrub. These trails typically vary from dry hardpack over sandy loose river sand, to silty dirt/dust. When you take the chance to look up from the trail, you’ll be met with 360degree aspects of rugged ranges. During placement I’d spend a few afternoons a week riding, watching the ever-beautiful sunsets and feeling chuffed to noticeably be progressing my rock-climbing skills. There’s a mixture of crumbly mica base to sharp-as-glass quartz to navigate. I linked up with the local skating/bmx crew, who also ride trail from time to time. It was fun to have local intel and I couldn’t help but smile at their kooky Mparntwe style bikes. Aside from riding trail, I went on a few overnighters, my favourite being trekking out to Ruby Gap in the eastern section of Tjoritja/MacDonald Ranges.

Bikes of Mparntwe.
Bush bike.
Sandy riverbed of Ruby Gap, Arrente Country.

I’ve met six men in the past year that had done some variation of a ride from Naarm (Melbourne) to Mparntwe. Initially this seemed unachievable for me, but as my placement date crept closer, a seed was planted. There was no time in between exams and placement starting but I figured I could head homeward once placement had wrapped up. But with only technically having one week before uni began, I opted to cut the first week of class, to have a semi-extended ride like my mates had done, albeit in reverse. The focus of the ride being an intentional transition out of my Mparntwe life back to Naarm at my own pace and to forfeit more air travel. I was fortunate enough to ride on Arrente, Arabana, Kutyani, Andyamathanha & Banggarla Country, from Mparnte, NT, to Hawker, SA. The first two and a half days I was accompanied by a dear friend Liv, and then completed the rest solo. I’ll be elaborating further on my experience at a slide night at Commuter in the not-too-distant future.

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/solo-outback-bike-touring-with-annie-tickets-399826962207

Old Ghan Heritage Trail, Arrente Country.

But for now, here’s the nitty gritty of my set-up for the trip. I tend to err on the side of run with what you have and ride your bike for fun, rather than having high tech gear and riding for performance. Additionally I made the decision to attempt this ride a couple weeks ahead of my departure. When I was trying to determine what gear I’d need, how I’d manage as a solo female, the ins and outs of the route etc., a male mate who has ridden up to Mparntwe twice before told me “I’d figure it out”. This is an ode to the fact that I did just figure it out and made it work, my way.
So here it is, essentially a stock Kona Unit, except for a few changes I have made for MTBing, that translated well for touring. I swapped back to the original rigid fork and opted to try touring with a front rack after seeing Will’s ECR setup for a similar trip.

Desert touring setup, Arrente Country.

Stock 2022 Kona Unit X additions:

  • DMR vault pedals – I wear boots when I ride, and these are my preferred pedals for all my bikes. They grip into my boots well without shredding them although my shins do cop it from time to time.
  • SQ Lab 30X Alloy bars, 12deg Backsweep, Low Rise 15mm – as recommended by Andrew Major for MTBing with a Unit.
  • WTB Koda saddle – again recommended by Andrew Major (I somehow bent the stock saddle in a seemingly minor stack).
  • PNW Loam dropper post and trigger – for trails but used it for a few descents in Ikara (Flinders Ranges).
  • Cane Creek 40 Headset – I pulled this stock headset off my Midnight Special so I could switch between my suspension and rigid fork within a matter of minutes.

Touring specific:

  • Ergon GP3 grips – for additional hand positions and I was “ergon curious”. Truth be told despite my initial hesitations purely based on aesthetics I really rate these.

Bags and racks:

  • Nitto Obento front rack with Wald 137 basket and custom H_NGRY basket bag.
  • Tumbleweed T-Rack with Stealth Micro Panniers, and One Planet Dry Bag for extra storage.
  • H_NGRY custom rolltop framie.

Tyres:

  • Vittoria 29”x 2.6” Mezcals III filled with Orange Seal Endurance sealant. I typically run Maxxis Ardent Race and Ikon’s but they’re hard to get your hands on! Running 29×2.6” tubeless tyres were perfect for the terrain. Liv and I essentially rode through a sand pit to get to Aputula, and from there to Oodnadatta I was riding on washboard roads.
Full capacity, Aputula, Arrente Country.

Water:

I wanted to use the gear I already had and as I have a medium sized bike had to consider my water carrying options. I went with water bottles off the fork, a 2L bladder in the frame bag, 1L Nalgene on the down tube, as well as additional bottles I could place under the front rack/basket and extra bladders I could carry on my rear rack.

  • 2x 800ml Klean Kanteen bottles
  • 3x 1000ml Nalgene (I use these as a hot water bottles on extra chilly nights)
  • 4x 2000ml Platypus water bladders
Cable tie modifications, Dalhousie Springs, Arrente Country.

Kit essentials:

  • Dynaplugs with ++ plugs
  • Lezyne micro pump
  • Wolf Tooth Pack Pliers
  • Squirt Dry Lube
  • Blackburn multi-tool
  • Pedro tyre levers
  • (Spare bolts, thimble, thread, needles, 2x spare tubes, patch kit)
Joystick secured by stick. Joy.

Other bits:

  • Exposure Joystick light
  • Opinel No. 8
  • Spot Gen3 GPS Messenger
  • Battery packs, I used Gaia maps on my phone for nav
  • A two-person tent (it’s all I got)
Desert units, Arabana Country.

The Kona Unit X not only rides well on trail, both rigid and suss, but also handles great loaded. The front rack worked well for me for this relatively flat ride and enabled me to increase my normal front bag capacity of 11L to approximately 20L with a custom bag Harry from H_NGRY made for me. The only qualms I had with this set up was being a bit front heavy when I was taking descents in Ikara, but admittedly I was carrying several oranges amongst other heavy fresh food at the time. I don’t skimp on fresh food when I can get my hands on it! The one thing I’d change would be bars with slightly more back sweep and rise, as I have no stack on the Unit. I’m stoked to have essentially workshopped this setup by myself, grabbing bits and pieces off my other bikes, seating tyres with a friend’s air compressor the morning of departure, and using cable ties to hold my rack in place when my bolts rattled off from continuously riding over corrugations. My time in the outback was purely a taster. I’m far from satiated. Consider this a work in progress; desert diallin’.

I pay respect to the Traditional Owners of the Arrente, Arabana, Kutyani, Andyamathanha & Banggarla Country, whose land I was fortunate enough to listen, ride and camp on. I acknowledge their elders past, present and emerging and that sovereignty was never ceded. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.

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Commuter Cycles acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional custodians of the lands and waterways in the area now known as Brunswick, and pays respect to their Elders past, present, and emerging, as well as to all First Nations’ communities in Australia.