24 Jan 2012

A New Way To Tour

Posted by Mike Rubbo

I had a letter from Steve Brown about a bike tour he’s just done  with his partner, Zoe Xue, an urban designer from China.

Here’s Steve.

And  Here’s Zoe.

I first met Steve some years ago when he was working with Scott Dickason at EVs, developing electric bicycles for the postal service.

We made a film together about the excellent hill climbing  qualities of the EVs E  bikes, choosing a famous climb in the Dandenongs for demonstration  purposes.

I was tricked into being part of that demo!

Hmm, the film’s had 19,000 views. Not bad!

Then, Steve went off on his own and formed Niubike.

He was writing to me now about the exceptional lightness of one of the E bikes he’s offering, the eCoda which is only 17 Kilos, very light for an E bike though laughable for a racer of course.

Here’s the eCoda.

What looks like the water bottle is apparently the Lithium battery. He rode this E coda on the tour I’m going to tell you about whilst Zoe rode  the heavier more conventional, ETU (pron. E two)  you see here.

Note the voluminous panniers and the battery behind the seat post on her bike

The ride was in Victoria,  from Wangaratta to Bright via Beechworth.

It’s called, The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail

The trip took them five days, riding very leisurely, and covered about 250 Kms.

I’m pleased to be able to start this report with a photo from Wangaratta, circa 1922,  which shows two bikes of the era.

This photo recalls  that bikes were once important rural transport as you can discover in that excellent book, the Bicycle in the Bush, by Jim Fitzpatrick

T’was a  very wet  1922 day in Wangaratta,  it seems, with a very patient horse standing  there.

(Thanks to Museumvictoria for photo)

The town  still has  charm it’s nice to see.

The ride was mostly along the famous rail trails bike paths laid on former country rail lines.

Old rail lines make great bike paths since trains don’t like steep gradients and nor does the average touring cyclist.

Why did Steve and Zoe  go electric when  thousands of riders do this trail  under their own steam?

Well, because Steve sells E bikes, and because he’s come to believe that the E bike is a good way to get people who think they are past riding, back on bikes.

Providing exercise with a bit less pain, you could say.

This  rail trail they rode, for example, can be hard for the older rider.

It does have some gradients,  like here,  for example,  between  Everton and Beechworth.

That could be enough to discourage the less fit.

Another good reason for having a bit of help was because, to quote Zoe, “the headwinds were shocking”

Riding into a wind,  can be worse than any hill since it’s like a hill without end.

An E bike nicely  tames head winds.

Indeed,  it’s like having one’s own  gentle tailwind all the time.

This is probably why many Dutch folks ride E bikes, esp. older ones, the headwinds being famously fierce in the low countries.

The small motors,  just 200 watts,  pull the teeth out of the head winds and make the trip much more pleasant, freeing the cyclists  to enjoy the scenery…

…both wet and the dry.

Also,  the curiosities like this novel mail box,  an obvious homage to the style of passing traffic.

Along the way,  former railway stations have become shade and rest spots, quite nicely done,  I think .

A water tank and loos add to their practicality.

Steve and Zoe report finding only one cafe directly on the trail.

It was  at the curiously named, but nice to say, Porepunkah.

I wonder if it gets tedious, waiting for bikes to stop at the Rail Trail Cafe, Porepunkah?

Part of Steve’s touring E bike strategy was to convert a regular lightweight bike trailer to carry 60 Watt 36 volt  solar panels.

With strong sunlight, Steve tells me that this provides almost perpetual motion for his bike, the eCoda….

…..as well as for this  rolling billboard of his product line.

I wonder if the trailer with solar panels was  really necessary?

With both bikes  enjoying a range of 40kms at least on a charge, and  the camping spots generally having power to replenish the batteries, why bother with the solar panel?

Well,  the trailer’s usefulness is clear, carrying the camping gear when you see how much they have.

And having the tiny 200 watt motor to help pull that load  must be nice.

Knowing too that you can camp without power, still run a lap top, charge a phone….

…..Or just enjoy the natural show of lake Sambell.

And the solar trailer has other unexpected merits.

These are  so promising  that I’m telling Steve I think there could be  a market for such solar  trailers.

Firstly, they make an excellent table when camping, the surface being tough enough to take whatever you want to put on it

And here’s something nobody’s thought of yet. With the  the trailer, you can  fossick and stock up  as you go.

Along the trail in the picturesque towns,  there are many  interesting produce purchasing opportunities.

For instance,  here they are approaching Milawa

where there is a colourful cheesery…

….The Milawa Cheese factory.

Perhaps you’d love to take one of those home, but how to carry it without a trailer?

Maybe you’ve  noticed an initiative called, Pedal to the Produce.

But how could you lug a large cheese  with you in a wicker basket like that for several days?

Or how could you drop  by the Pennyweight Winery…

….and pick up a couple bottles of their famous drop….

… Without a nifty power assisted trailer to carry the load?

That seems to me to be the  great unrealized advantage of Steve’s trailer, the ability to return to our hunter-gather phase  whilst on the rail trail.

Now,  you can bemoan this  plug for yet more consumerism.  Yet I’m sure you like the idea of thriving country businesses selling wholesome produce to cyclists like you.

Anyway , the possibilities of stocking up are rich  and varied  near the Murray to Mountains rail trail.

In Beechworth, for example….

….still open late, they found the honey pot.

and like Pooh bear, stocked up with a jar or two .

Approaching  Bright, it was another story

The alpine town,  famous for its stately avenues

was where they struck trailer trouble. The solar panels came loose.

But at Crispy hardware and Timber,  with the help of Zack, they managed to fix the loosened panels   just before Crispy closed.

To wrap the story up,  Zoe reports that the food was great and reasonably priced at the  Alpine Gate Cafe in Myrtleford.

And the fish and chips were excellent at the Ageing Frog in Beechworth.

As was the coffee at the Beechworth Bakery where some of the staff waved them on their way.

I would have loved to have ridden with them though if I did.  I would have  practiced CCD.

That stands for creative civil disobedience meaning there’s no way I would have worn a helmet out there in the fresh air, traffic non existent.

No way with the chance of  a head injury being  about about one in 2 million or the same as  getting a meteorite up your nose.

Indeed,  if this was the Northern Territory, you  could ride legally without  a helmet on such a trail,  as I recently discovered  and showed in the film, Darwin Shows the Way

That’s as it  should be, helmet choice, that is.

One can only hope, as more and more visitors from overseas discover this great trail, that they’ll point out  how stupid is our compulsory helmet law, how  out of step with the rest of the world it is, and  that change will come.

And then one will ride with the breeze in one’s hair as nature intended.

That’s an example of my Bicycle art.  celebrating the beauty of the body on the bike.

Who know,  one day my bicycle art might be there for the two wheeled hunter gatherers  to discover along to trail in some gallery or eatery.

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3 Responses to “A New Way To Tour”

  1. A great ride, well done. Good to see you took in some of our favourite towns in the north east including Wangaratta, Beechworth and Bright. The Rail Trail is an amazing asset to the region and attracts many people throughout the year. Hopefully you’ll be back at some stage.


    Wangaratta Victoria

  2. Great post, Mike. I have been contemplating a tour through such regions by bicycle for a while. This looks like a great way to do it.

    I also agree with you about the helmet. I’d rather wear a broad brimmed hat out in that sun! The threat of being stopped by police is still enough of a disincentive to not bother…



    Dr Paul Martin

  3. Great story, photos and product. I like the philosophy of getting people active, even if it is with the assistance of a 200 watt battery.

    Like most cyclists, I have had my fair share of stacks over the years, in both city and bush environments. Without a helmet, I would have become a head injury patient on a number of occasions. I value my quality of life and have met far too many head injury victims to ever subscribe to cycling without a helment.


    Ant Packer

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