Taking on the Kidman Trail: Matt Bird’s FKT Journey

The Kidman Trail, east of Adelaide, South Australia is 260km of punchy climbs, leafy forestry, and rough gravel descents. It’s a spot that many ride over a couple of days, taking in the views of the famous Barossa Valley vineyards, Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula at a leisurely pace. But not Matt.

Burgh athlete Matt Bird made it his mission to set a Fastest Known Time (FKT) record of The Kidman. Not only does that mean riding as fast as possible, but it makes any help like opening and closing of gates, supplied food and even talking off-limits.

Matt’s summary

“The Kidman Trail is hard, annoyingly hard. On paper, the numbers aren’t overly scary, covering 260km and 6000 metres of climbing between Kapunda and Willunga.

The story changes very quickly when you realise it was originally designed for horses, something you’ll realise very quickly when you’re pushing your bike through some truly horrible hike-a-bike terrain.

Typically the trail would be ridden in two or three days with camping along the way. I’d encourage anyone to do it this way as it’s truly a great ride and much less of an undertaking than the Mawson Trail. The trail breaks down into three main sectors and that’s how I approached it for this ride, treating each sector as its own point-to-point time trial.”

Sector 1 – Kapunda to Mount Pleasant

“Rolling out of Kapunda at 6 a.m. felt almost surreal, Riding into the darkness I ran the bike up the gears and thought to myself “We’re really doing this aren’t we” I was quickly snapped out of my thoughts and into action as I nearly collected a fallen tree that had appeared on the trail in the time after my aborted January test run.

The first 25km are fast, a treat because a lot of the trail isn’t. Arriving in Stockwell you hit the first paddock section of the trail and find yourself hiking, my approach here was to move quickly but safely with a lot of riding to go. Paddock bashing completed you’re back on roads and moving fast towards Mount Crawford, ripping through Barossa Valley vines and down fast sandy roads. Mount Crawford houses the worst hill I’ve ever ridden, the film doesn’t do this justice, it was awful.

I had a 35-33 as my smallest gear and still only just made it over. It’s not shown in the film but I almost ended the day by nearly crashing on the other side for good measure. Exiting Mount Crawford you’re back on the road and heading towards Mount Pleasant, the first real resupply of the trail.”

Sector 2 – Mount Pleasant to Macclesfield

“In Mount Pleasant, I set a new record for the fastest eating of a pasty and refilled my bottles and pack keeping the stopped time to a hair under 5 minutes. This is the most remote part of the trail, after going through Tunkillo you’re properly out in the middle of nowhere.

The riding through this section is rough and slow and this is where my goal of going under 10 hours started to look a bit shaky. This section also hides the biggest stitch-up of the trail, after a very steep descent to a creek you look up and realise you have to go straight up the other side of the valley you’re in. This timed nicely with the hottest part of the day for good measure.

The fun isn’t over as you hit an unmaintained section of trail tantalisingly close to Macclesfield, pinballing through ruts you can’t see and trying to negotiate around fallen limbs in the long grass this section can chew you up and spit you out. Luckily if you survive it’s a downhill run into Macclesfield and the second resupply.”

Sector 3 – Macclesfield to Willunga 

“As I rode into Macclesfield the rain arrived, after nearly crashing on the wet tiles outside the general store I filled my bottles and set off into the final sector. Just outside town hides the last real stitch-up of the trail with a final bit of paddock bashing.

After this, it’s all fire road and forestry access trails to the finish. Unfortunately, this is where the rain came in big time. The section through Kuitpo Forest is some of the nicest gravel riding in South Australia, sadly I couldn’t really see any of it because my eyes were full of sand after taking my glasses off. Finishing the Kidman Trail happens in a blur, after kitting 80kph on the descent into town and ripping it through some back streets the trail ends at a park on the outskirts of town. 

Every now and then you have to push your boundaries in this sport. By setting out to do something a little bit crazy you redefine your own limits and what you’re capable of. I set out with a mission to do the hardest thing I could think of and the feeling of elation at the finish is hard to match. After 11 hours, 28 minutes and 34 seconds I crossed the line and felt all the stress and tension dissipate, all of a sudden the most important thing was where the hot chip spot was and what pizzas we were going to get with them.”

Matt uses our Ossa White Bar Tape and wears pieces from Pedla’s Off Grid Collection.

Video by Yuzu Studios and photography by James Raison.