THE BICYCLE AND THE BUSH – and a puzzle…

After my post on Donald Mackay’s record-breaking ride around Australia, my correspondent John referred me to this book.

Jim Fitzpatrick surely must know more about the history of cycling in Australia than anyone on the planet. There are plenty of stories to tell, and he tells them well.

What stood out for me was the sheer impact that the bike must have had on forming our nation. Between the early 1890s when the safety bike was invented (‘ordinary’ bikes were what we now call ‘penny farthings’) and the rise of the motor car, the bike was the fastest, most efficient and most effective way to get around.

The book details the exploits of cycling legends Arthur Richardson, Frank and Alex White, Donald Mackay, Jerome Murif and the great Hubert Opperman – superhuman endurance feats by today’s standards.

According to Fitzpatrick, not only the riders, but the bikes themselves and even the tyres were better in those days, at least if we’re looking for toughness and reliability rather than speed.

Shearers and other itinerant farm workers sometimes shared one bike between two men when they needed to get between jobs quickly. Two men with one bike could travel faster by taking turns at riding and walking.

This puzzle drove my non-mathematical brain nuts for a while.

Surely if one man were on foot at any given time, and every section of the track was being walked by somebody, the time for the trip would be the same as the time a man could walk it alone?

Wrong. Here’s why…

Let’s assume each man can ride 15 kilometres per hour (rough road, fixed gear, hills, bike laden with luggage), or walk 5 kilometres per hour (young, fit and his mate has the heavy stuff on the bike).

In the first hour Man A rides the bike 15km while Man B walks 5km. Then Man A parks the bike and walks on for two hours, by which time Man B has reached the bike. Man B is now at the 15km mark, while Man A is at the 25km mark. For the following hour Man B rides, Man A walks and they meet at the 30km mark. It’s taken them 4 hours. Walking alone at 5 kilometres per hour would have taken them 6 hours.

The system breaks down if someone nicks the bike.

Readers of RT’s LOTR are welcome to use this conundrum to win a bet in a pub, though be honest and send me a small percentage of your winnings.

For more about all this, see Mike Rubbo’s excellent blog post:

The Bicycle and the Bush is available as a Kindle download from Amazon. I hope Mr Fitzpatrick is getting the royalties he deserves.


Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling

9 responses to “THE BICYCLE AND THE BUSH – and a puzzle…

  1. Good post – I like the logic behind your calculation.

  2. I love books about Australian history, I’ll look out for this one, thanks!

  3. This was an excellent work and revealed a ‘bicycle era’ that has been overlooked by general historians. I had a copy in the late 80s and had the wonderful experience of helping for a a few weeks with restoration work on Melbourne’s private Farren collection of vintage bikes.
    Richard, if you haven’t met Paul and Charlie (Carolyn) Farren and viewed their collection of bikes and memorabilia, I suggest you do!
    Another collection is here in Toowoomba.

    • Thanks, Ralph. I didn’t know about the Farrens and their collection but I will check it out next time I’m in Melbourne (probably later this year). Thanks for telling me about it and I’m glad there are others who enjoy these things as much as I do.

  4. Jerome Murif wrote a book on his ride from Adelaide to Darwin in 1897. There is a copy in the Northern Territory and National Libraries. You can get a facsimile from the National Library, for a fee. No roads, he followed the Telegraph Line and went for days without food, shooting rabbits when he could with a pistol. Trevor Briggs from Balmain and I rode the Stuart Highwy in 1997 for the centenary of Murif’s epic ride. Trevor also did centenary rides in memory of Richardson and McKay and others. Sadly Trevor died on his ride around Australia in 2001, just short of its completion.

    • Thanks for sharing the info, Bob. It’s been very interesting for me to find out about that era. The men were tough and the bikes were tough too.

      I’d heard a little about Trevor Briggs too, and the very sad conclusion to his achievements. Thanks again.

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