Planning for The Nullarbor

How To Organize A Long-Distance Ride

By Rick Wheaton

More than six years ago (September 2013), I wrote an American Motorcyclist story titled “Trip Planning,” which was a quick look at the subject, written as if you’d be riding your own bike and setting off from home.

Now, I’m planning a big ride across another continent, a long way from home base, and on a rented bike, enough of a difference to take another run at the subject.

This ride is from Perth, on Australia’s west coast, to Sydney, 2,500 miles east, a trip similar to riding from Los Angeles to New York. Compare Australia and the United States, for similarities. There is no similarity with my own country. Victoria is Australia’s smallest state, and it is almost the same size as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together.

Smack in the middle of my route is the Nullarbor, stretching for nearly 1,000 miles, and crossing it is the reason I’m planning the ride in the first place.

It’s 200,000 square kilometers (about 49.4 million acres) of arid rock, a world-class wilderness, and famous for its long straights. I read about this great Australian road trip as a teenager, and it’s been on my mind ever since. As a friend said the other day, “The darned thing is there, might as well ride it.”

Well, I’ve been wondering how to celebrate my 80th birthday, and this ride will do nicely.


First there are a few things I must sort out: timing, budget, flights, route, bike hire, kit, accommodation. And how on Earth do I tell my wife?

The time element is easy. I’m retired, though I still have to juggle family responsibilities.

But there’s a limit to how much I can spend. This is such a personal issue that there’s little point in going into details. Everyone will have different priorities, though the main items still need to be checked off: I need to get there and back, hire a bike, fuel it and take a stab at a daily allowance for sleeping and eating.

For me, getting there means jet lag.

The time difference between the United Kingdom and Perth is more than eight hours.

To a biker on the road, being so out of step with local time is flat-out dangerous, and I’m going to aim for some “jet lag time.” The average recovery is said to be around one day for one hour—a good reason to stop somewhere interesting en route.

Malaysia fits the bill. And, if I have two days there, a day flying and two days in Perth, I’ll almost be adjusted to local time when I start my ride.


Choosing the route

Now for the really fun bit: planning the route.

Where do I want to go? When? What will the road conditions be like? Will I ride solo, with a pillion, or maybe with a group? What sort of daily range should I aim for? Will it be hot, cold or windy? Is my general level of health good enough? What bike should I hire? What kit do I take? Do I need any special documentation or insurance?

These are all big questions, they will affect how I ride every mile, and I need to be pretty clear about the answers from the start.

Happily, I’ve already made most of the big decisions: I’ll ride solo on sealed roads, and I’ll follow the regular Perth-to-Sydney route, with a small diversion or two to meet friends.

At 80, my stamina isn’t what it was, and I take a bunch of pills every morning. But a leisurely 250-mile day is OK.

Best of all, the Australian spring will be pleasant enough, though the Nullarbor can be windy. Bike rental next. Again, an easy decision.

There’s a hire company in Perth—BikeRoundOz—and, from my first contact, they’ve been useful and friendly. They’ve helped me with local information and accommodation and guided me to a good choice of bike. Also, because I have to make an international flight, they’ve allowed me some date flexibility.

Luckily, the bike they recommended was pretty much my first choice—a BMW R 1250 GS, a great all-round sports tourer with huge off-road capacity if needed (I’m hoping not!).

My Three bags: 100 percent rain-proof yellow roll-top, black Touratech pannier liner for non riding kit. Bags-Connect tank bag for personal essentials.

I’ve rented BMWs before, but because I don’t know this latest model, I’ll grab a day on a BMW skill course a week or so before I leave.

Accommodation used to be easy, too.

Back in the day, I’d strap a pup tent on my bike and ride off into the sunset. But now, my creaking bones demand a proper night’s sleep.

I thought this might be a problem on the Nullarbor, but there’s a good choice of roadhouses, well placed, and most offer 24/7 fuel, food and lodging.

Some even offer air conditioning and swimming pools!

The adrenaline junkie might zip across the whole thing with one stop. Two or three is more common. But, as this map shows, I’m aiming for four to cross the Nullarbor.

The rest of the route is straightforward, and I’ll end up in Sydney (one of the world’s great cities) with a nice detour along the Great Ocean Road (one of the world’s most beautiful rides).

Rick Wheaton is an AMA member who writes about motorcycling and touring the world over.