"How are the Road
Trains treating you?" is the question asked of anyone who's ever
cycled the highways of Northern Australia. It is usually asked by a
grey haired caravan hauler, who is quite rightly intimidated by these
monsters of the road.
So what exactly is a
Road Train? Everyone is familiar with the standard truck and the
standard semi-trailer we encouter on our roads. Configurations such
as B-Doubles (a semi with an articulated trailer), Truck with full
trailer or even B-Triple (a semi with a trailer articulated in two
additional places) may look and be as big as trains but these are
merely "Long Vehicles". A "Road Train" is a long
vehicle with at least one, but more often two additional
trailers attached at the rear.
In the eastern and
southern states road trains are banned from most roads. Two trailer
combinations can be found throughout most of rural Western Australia,
across the Nullarbor and in some parts of NSW, Victoria and
Queensland. However the serious three trailer rigs ply the Stuart
Highway from Port Augusta to Darwin, and across the top from Western
Queensland as far as Geraldton in WA.
As you might expect,
these huge vehicles pose a special threat to cyclists. They are big,
heavy, and nowhere near as nimble as a regular semi-trailer. About as
easy to handle as a bicycle towing 6 BOB trailers I imagine. Road
trains cannot easily slow down or safely maneuver in any direction
terribly quickly, so expecting one to do so is asking for trouble.
When it is safe to do so, a road train driver will always pull his
rig completely into the oncoming traffic lane to overtake a cyclist,
well before he passes. When it isn't safe the truckie will let you
know with blast of his horn. This is simultaneously a polite request
that you make way for a very large and difficult to handle vehicle,
and a subtle warning that if you don't your flattened remains will
decorate the highway surface for years to come.
Here are a few tips for
dealing with road trains:
Give the drivers a
wave. Driving road trains is a lonely boring job with some serious
responsibilities and these guys usually appreciate the occasional
bit of human contact.
If you get the
chance, have a chat to the drivers. They are usually a great source
of accurate information about road and (especially) wind conditions,
other cyclists in the area, places to eat etc. This also re-enforces
the idea in their minds that cyclists are people, not obstacles.
[NB: This technique works with truckies but not always with caravan
Keep your eyes
open and get off the road if you sense potential problems, like a
roadtrain behind being overtaken, oncoming traffic, poor visibility
If you're going to
get off the road, work out early where you're going to get off, and
signal you're intention to do so! Signalling gives you a bit more
time to get off the road without forcing the truckie to play chicken
with the oncoming traffic. [Not that these games are any contest ]
If a roadtrain
driver blasts his horn to ask you to get off the road, GET OFF
THE ROAD !!
Once off the road,
wait until the all of the road train has passed before getting back
on the road. This might be obvious but believe it or not a cyclist
was killed on the Stuart Highway a couple of years ago after
vacating the road for a truck, only to try to get back on after the
second trailer passed to be collected by the third trailer.
The effects of a
passing road train on a cyclist depend on the wind direction. If it's
from the left, then you'll hardly notice it. If it's blowing from the
right then even if the road train misses you when you're collected by
it's wake it'll feel about the same. You also need to watch you don't
get dragged into the rear trailer by the considerable vortex
generated by an overtaking road train. If the wind is from the front
there is a danger you won’t hear a road train coming up from
behind. Keep an eye out, but feel free to enjoy the few seconds of
draft after the train has overtaken. With headwinds an
oncoming train will slow you down even more. Issue profanity. And
finally, when the wind is at your tail you can enjoy going from 40kph
to 14kph in 2 seconds. Drafting cyclists take note.
The best places to see
road trains in the wild are:
north of Alice Springs, especially on the day after the twice weekly
rail train from Adelaide arrives. Also checkout the photo collection
in the Dunmarra Roadhouse.
Highway between McKinlay and Cloncurry, where three 53.5m, 300 tonne
double B-triple combinations with eight hoppers service the
Cannington mining project
West of Derby on
the Great Northern Highway in WA (more double B-Triple ore haulers).
In the Tanami
Desert in NT, where there is now a 400 tonne seven (yes seven)
trailer two engine road train servicing "the Granites"
gold mining project. I can't wait to for that one to pass me.
So how do the road
trains treat me? Very very well. The rule of thumb is: the bigger the
rig, the more responsibly it's driven. I'd much rather be overtaken
by a road train than a semi, as I know the road train driver is far
more likely to do the right thing by everyone. I’d certainly
rather be overtaken by one road train than three semis. So next time
you see a road train, give the driver a wave and be grateful there
are two less trucks on the road as a result.
The effects of a
passing road train on a cyclist (A & B) depend on the wind
direction (1,2,3 & 4):
Roadtrain? What road train?
B2 & B3
Even if the road train misses you when you're
collected by it's wake it'll feel about the same.
A4 & A3
Watch you don't get dragged into the rear
trailer by the considerable vortex generated by an overtaking road
There is a danger you won’t hear a road
train coming up from behind. Keep an eye out, but feel free to
enjoy the few seconds of draft after the train has
With headwinds an oncoming train will slow you
down even more. Issue profanity.
Enjoy going from 40kph to 14kph in 2 seconds.
Drafting cyclists take note.