Updated: Nov 28, 2019
The name ‘mountain biking’ can conjure up terrifying visions of ten foot drop-offs, relentless rutted climbs or generally being faced with riding terrain that is beyond 85% of most cyclist’s skills and fitness levels. However, road cycling around Sydney can also usher in sleepless nights. So, if you just want to ride your bicycle to get in some peaceful long endurance miles, socialise, de-stress and engage with the natural environment, what is one to do? Well, the good news is that there’s a huge slice of remote cycling heaven in the heart of the Hawkesbury…an entire 53 or 63km loop in fact, with dollops of everything any cyclist of any level or discipline- could possibly want!
Starting from the Colo/Hawkesbury River confluence, turn left up Portland Road away from the bridge and climb about 3km on tar until you turn right into Lower Colo Road. A very fast, hardpack descent will take you back down into the Lower Colo River Valley and it’s a serpentine, 10km cruisy dirt track until you reach Colo Park and ride under the elevated Putty Road bridge across the river. Continue straight ahead for 13km. Back on the tarmac, enjoy more cruisy river valley riding. Somerset Outdoor Learning Centre seems to dominate the Upper Colo River property market- making much of the scenery the look of well-groomed private parklands. But as soon as your wheels kiss the dirt again you are soon to turn right and cross the river via a very unique, low level plank bridge.
Take time to admire the beauty of the riverbed stretched out either side of you to an infinity point between thickly-wooded hills. Have a bite to eat then shift to granny gear, because from here it’s a winding 6km grind up Colo Heights Road to Putty Road. (There’s fabulous scenery and amazing rock formations to mitigate any suffering.) About two thirds of the way up, regroup at a lookout on the left about 2km past the small quarry. At the intersection, turn right onto Putty Road and after 1km you’ll be glad to exit left off this busy arterial road into Wheelbarrow Ridge Road.
Bored mountain bikers won’t be able to resist a random little singletrack running parallel to the tar on the right, and riders who haven’t been putting in the miles will be getting rather tired by now… The 20km Wheelbarrow Ridge Road may be mostly downhill, but it still requires turning those cranks! Tar soon changes to smooth, wide dirt road and glimpses through the trees of the Hawkesbury hills or Parr State Conservation area may be seen.
Lengthen this ride by another 17km via Wheelbarrow Ridge track to the right. But if you’ve had enough, continue straight, 6km down the road to Greens Road intersection. Turn left and ride over the Bridge to Nowhere and you’re finally back where you started- 53km later!
Wheelbarrow Ridge Track is a rough, much more technical 9km rollercoaster ride all the way down to Greens Road, with an occasional short pinch climb. The reward is majestic views, and tight switchback descents when you turn right onto Greens Road. You’ll ride the last 5km with the Hawkesbury River serenely lapping at parts of the road you are on.
START & FINISH:
‘Bridge to Nowhere’ aka Confluence of the Colo and Hawkesbury Rivers. Park at either Skeleton Rocks Reserve, or the RFS on Portland Ferry access road.
See author’s Strava profile activities. All roads & tracks are signposted for navigation.
Cyclo-Cross bike, or a hardtail mountain bike, Hybrid/Commuter bike. A dual suspension mountain bike is overkill- either leave it at home, or lock out all its suspension for this ride.
Fully charged mobile phone, (not much reception out here though) 2 litres of water, energy gels, snack food, basic bicycle repair stuff. Eat something before you leave home. I favour a boiled egg, or a bowl of oats. NOTE: In summer you must put electrolytes or some salt in your fluids, and start riding very early in the morning !
Excessive heat in summer. Flooding, road & ferry closures after heavy rains. Next to no vehicular traffic, but road rules still apply. These roads are remote so if riding alone, be self-sufficient and have a back up plan. The planking on the narrow bridge across Colo River can be intimidating- keep eyes ahead and don’t hit this bridge too fast! Some Wheelbarrow Ridge Track descents are steep, rough and challenging to ride- especially when you have already put 50km into your legs.
Race Fit, experienced Cyclists: 2.5 to 3 hours. Intermediate to novice riders: 3 to 5 hours. Allow one hour to drive here from Galston, two hours from Sydney CBD and Northern Beaches.