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Hit the road for a day ride

21 April, 2011

The joy of a sunny day spent leisurely riding in fresh country air is hard to beat.  What are you waiting for? Pack these essentials and off you go…

Day ride

Image by Richard Jupe

Where are we off to?

There are rides in every issue of Ride On with a selection online. Browse purely off-road options at Rail Trails Australia. Find a bike event or community ride on the Bicycle Network listing. Ride guides and maps can be bought from bookshops, newsagents and some bike shops. Good books of rides are also available from and

Try to get a map of the ride you want to do or the area you’ll be riding in – it will make getting lost last less time and will give you confidence to change your plans according to how you feel and the prevailing conditions.

Normally adult trail riders looking to cruise will average about 10-15km/h. Use this as a guide to your timings, and add in generous frequent breaks.

Many trails are well sealed and suitable for almost any type of bike, although skinny road tyres may slip on some surfaces.


Dress in thin layers so you can peel them off as you warm up and put them back on when you stop. Although you may not like exposing your legs, jeans aren’t a great option for longer rides; their seams will soon start to feel uncomfortable. Be bold and go for shorts; even with light riding your legs soon warm up.

Pack a light spray jacket – they have enough water resistance to keep you dry in case of a sudden shower and also keep the cold wind off if the weather turns. Most types fold down into a tiny parcel, so they don’t take up much room.

Wearing comfortable footwear will make a longer ride more pleasurable. A pair of trainers is fine, but the stiffer the sole the better; a stiff sole will resist the bending action of the foot while pedalling. For this reason, thongs and Crocs are not ideal.

Sunglasses are a great idea for summer riding, and not just to counter sun glare. They also protect your eyes from dust, insects and drying wind.

Gloves are also a good idea, even in summer. Riding for many hours can be tough on the hands and lead to numbness. Gloves will absorb a lot of the bike shudder that would otherwise be transferred to your hands. They also soak up the sweat, making using your bike’s controls easier. And the back of many gloves can also be used to wipe off the sweat from your brow.

Sun safe

Helmets are not designed for sun protection, leaving the back of your neck, tops of ears, face, and a balding head exposed. Some people wear a peaked cap under the helmet to add some extra protection, although it can get sweaty.

Use sunscreen liberally on all exposed skin and reapply regularly. Some modern bike-riding tops are designed with long sleeves specifically for summer riding.

Stuff and carrying it

Image by Richard Jupe

A light backpack for carrying your essentials is a convenient alternative to racks and panniers. Bike-specific packs sit low on your back to avoid hitting your helmet and offer good air flow between the pack and your back.

Consider taking a light blanket with you; it will add a lovely sense of comfort when you stop, and can give a meal break a picnic feel.

Another bit of kit you’d appreciate on the ride is a cooler bag with a freezer block in it. A cool drink really hits the spot after a bit of pedalling in the sunshine.

Food and water

Most major rail trails have water stops along the way, but try not to rely on these taps: if they are broken you might end up very dehydrated.  Aim to drink about 500ml for every hour you are riding.

One of the many great things about bike riding is that it burns heaps of energy, meaning you can sample food at all the eateries along the way.

Portable food such as muesli bars and fruit make great snacks. Try to eat small amounts regularly and before you get tired. Even if you’re starving when you stop for lunch, take a drink first and then eat slowly to allow yourself to feel full. Pass on that extra course, because overeating makes riding uncomfortable.

A good-quality thermos is a great investment for making any ride a picnic. Coffee fiends can get their fix, or you can carry soup or hot water for tea.

Bike stuff

You need your helmets because the road rules apply on off-road paths.

For any ride lasting more than an hour, take two full 750ml water bottles. Most bikes have bolts on the inside of the main triangle of the frame where you can attach cages for carrying water bottles, or stow the bottles in your backpack.

Put lights on all bikes in case you return late or the weather turns.

Pack a portable repair kit with the tools and spares you’ll need. A spare inner tube and tyre levers are great insurance.

Riding tips

The bell is your friend. Let other riders, pedestrians and drivers know you’re coming with a friendly ring. You can use your voice as well.

You might be surprised to know that the road rules apply on off-road paths. In practise this just means leaving your helmet on, keeping left and sharing the space with others out there.

Ride single file on busy roads and on narrow paths. Plan to re-group with fellow riders during the ride, so that everybody can keep in touch. You can use this opportunity to have a snack break or rest stop.

With the kids

Taking your kids on a ride out in the country can be a great experience for both you and the little ones. To ensure they get the most from it and will want to go again, go at their pace, don’t be tempted to test their limits, and don’t rush. Also plan for frequent riding breaks.

How far a child can ride depends on the individual and how easy the ride is. A five-year-old might make 15km if she’s having a fun time and the ten-year-old might independently complete a 70km day, but your child might not have a bar of this.

Plan for a modest family adventure and investigate options for opting out, such as a shortcut to the finish or a nice spot where one adult can play with the kids while the other rides to pick up the car.

When riding in a group with your kids, rather than leading the way, riding closely behind is the best way to supervise, as you can see and talk to the kids as they ride. Until aged 12, kids can ride on the footpath. You can also ride on the footpath when accompanying them.

As any parent knows, kids can require a lot of gear. On top of the basics, including extra snacks, you might need some books or games and a ball to kick around as a change of pace.

Don’t forget to give your kids’ bikes a proper look-over before leaving home. Often the seat height will need to be raised to match their growing spurts. Remember to note if their bikes require a different spanner, spare tubes or tools as your regular repair kit and throw this in your backpack as well.

Getting there

Rather than riding through the suburbs to a rail trail or the countryside, many rail trails and rural paths have access by train. Bikes can be taken on metropolitan and regional trains in Victoria, but some regional services have limited capacity. NSW and South Australia allow bikes on trains but you pay extra during peak hours. Queensland and Western Australia’s metropolitan trains don’t allow bikes during peak hours. Check with your local transport authority for more details.

If you plan on driving out to the start of your ride, your bike(s) may fit in the back of the car. Put a blanket down first to prevent marks from the greasy chain and dirty tyres. Remove the front wheel or both wheels if necessary. Of course, a bike rack – tow bar mounted, roof rack or strap on – is the best option for transporting bikes by car using minimal space.

Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

Weather watch

Is rain or wind forecast? If so, pack a jacket, another warm layer and some extra energy food. Allow for more time to complete the trip and bring plenty of soldiering-on spirit.


Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network Victoria. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

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