Cycling in Western Australia's History:

Gold finds around Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in the early 1890's were followed by a massive population increase. With an area of more than 770,000 square Kms, bicycles became the transport of choice. Bicycles were more reliable and faster than horses and camels (where large loads did not need to be carried). Any distance over 3km, a cyclist is faster than a horse and the greater the distance, the bigger the margin.

Until the Goldfields Pipeline was finished in 1903, water in the arid interior was very expensive. Bicycles did not need water or hay and the rider uses less water per kilometre than a traveller on foot, or camels and horses.

The invention of the 'Safety Cycle' and pneumatic tyres in the 1880's had led to the mass production of bicycles. Now cyclists could travel quickly to the gold discoveries in WA along 'camel pads' (smooth, hard tracks made by teams of camels). A bicycle pad  (in photos) photographed in the 1930's, south of Kalgoorlie.

Early Australian bikes:

In Australia, the per capita ownership of bicycles was highest in Western Australia, while the Goldfields is estimated to have the highest bicycle ownership in the country  In the 1890s the most commonly used bicycles used in the bush, retailed for £25 to £35, (about $3000 today) but by 1900 it was possible to buy new bicycles under £5 (about $500 today).

One amazing fact about bikes of this era is that their weights were in a range of 10.2 to 12.2 Kg. This compares well with the weight of modern steel "fixies".  All early bikes (pre 1900s) were fixies (single speed with no freewheel) and brakes were not widely used (thankful the WA goldfields are flat!).  The craftsmanship used on many old bikes was extraordinary.  Many were used as daily transport in the bush in dirt and on corrugated tracks, and they had to be reliable.  It has been estimated (by Jim Fitzpatrick in his book "The Bicycle and the Bush") that some bikes did over 160,000 kms and were used daily for over 20 years.

Bicycles remained in common use in the outback for decades after motor vehicles arrived. Even in the 1930's, fit travellers and workers including prospectors, rabbit proof fence and pipeline inspectors, cycle ambulance services and kangaroo shooters rode distances of 200km in a day. Shearers and the clergy often reached their far flung flocks on bikes.

Early Cyclists:

The 1895 photograph below is of Archibald Sanderson equipped for his trip to Coolgardie. In this studio portrait, Sanderson is dressed in a shirt, bow tie, waistcoat and jacket. He is also wearing what appears to be a pith helmet with an attached fly net. He has a waterbag on the crossbar of his bike, a puncture repair kit on the back and a package, possibly a swag roll, on the front.

Charles Laver was a doctor in Coolgardie and also the owner of a an ever-reliable bicycle.  In 1896, after buying a stake in the British Flag claim, near what is now Laverton, he embarked a 386-kilometre journey to see the mine for himself. Laver liked what he saw at claim, and with 600 ounces of gold loaded on the bike, he rode back and forth to Coolgardie many more times.

By 1897 an informal town site had developed and later the town today known as Laverton was gazetted. As  a doctor, he would walk or ride to attend the local Aboriginal community, or prospectors on remote mining camps, reportedly refusing treatment to no-one, regardless of whether they could pay or not.  He was also instrumental in the establishment of Laverton's first hospital.

In 1905 Francis Birtles cycled from Fremantle to Melbourne, the first west to east bicycle crossing of the country. In 1908, he cycled to Sydney and then back to Sydney via Brisbane, Normanton, Darwin, Alice Springs and Adelaide. In 1909 he published the story of his feat, "Lonely Lands", which he illustrated with his own photographs. That year he also set a new cycling record for the Fremantle to Sydney continental crossing. In 1910-11 he rode around Australia. In 1911 he made a film of his ride from Sydney to Darwin called "Across Australia". Birtles continued on to Broome and Perth, then broke his previous records by riding from Fremantle to Sydney in 31 days. By 1912 he had cycled around Australia twice and had crossed the continent seven times.

This page is the property of Follow My Ride, a website detailing off road cycling in Western Australia.