An iconic Canberra road ride is the Cotter Uriarra loop. Most Canberra cyclists will have an opinion on whether clockwise or anticlockwise is best. My view? Depends on the wind, but the ‘three sisters’ (the ride up from Uriarra Crossing towards Canberra) is not my favourite. For those not familiar with this ride, I’ve included a map below.
A popular addition to the Cotter Uriarra ride is Brindabella Road “to the gravel” – from Uriarra Village to the end of the tarmac is around 9km of beautiful undulating hills, and a worthwhile ride if you are roadie-bound. A link to this ride is also below.
What you miss from having to turn around on the Brindabella Road ride is what is beyond: climbing up into the mountains and then a loop back to Canberra. There are a number of ways to explore – my route involves a return via Pipeline Road which is a wonderful gravel road following the Cotter River. But it is a great illustration of the amazing day rides you can easily do from Canberra.
Up to Piccadilly Circus
From the end of the tarmac, it is 9km of steady climbing. Generally, Brindabella Road is in good condition and well maintained (as can be seen from the photo above). Never too steep, it is a matter of picking your gear, and working away whilst enjoying the scenery. It is a reasonably well traveled road with occasional traffic passing in either direction, which does mean that it can be a little dusty when a vehicle passes. I would also not recommend the route in winter as it does get snow towards the top!
At ‘the circus’, you are at the NSW border. This is a good spot for a quick break if needed before heading left on Mount Franklin Road. There is a bit of a view back towards Canberra, via the little less than scenic high voltage electricity clearing. If you are wanting to turn back to Canberra here the descent is quite good for a gravel bike – some parts of the road are corrugated, but overall it does not require a painfully slow trip to avoid shaking yourself to bits. A MTB does make it a bit more fun…
Getting to Pipeline Road
Mount Franklin Road to the Bendora Road turnoff is a further gentle climb. This road is also well maintained, now heading into Namadji National Park. To the right are some great views down into the valley, and you are likely to see wallabies and maybe even (like me) an echidna. Before heading down Bendora Road there are well maintained public toilets at Bull’s Head Picnic Ground (included highlight @38.7km, right at the very top of the climbing).
Bendora Road is also a well maintained road, but is less travelled and rockier than roads to this point. The ride down is a lot of fun, with some tight corners with lots of loose rocks to look out for. This type of descent is where a hard tail MTB is advantageous, but it is not essential. Between the Warks Road intersection and the Pipeline Road turnoff are also some great views back towards Canberra, such as the one at the top of this post. Beware that the Pipeline Road turnoff is not clearly sign posted: you need to be aware of where the turn is and take it. Third trail on the left!
I was expecting a fire-trail experience on Pipeline Road, but for the most part it is much more “gravel road” than “fire trail” (see above). It seems that this is due to the road being used for maintenance of the water pipeline from Bendora Dam – hence the name. Shortly after starting on the road is a gate that is easy to ride around, followed by a very steep descent to the Cotter River.
Pipeline Road is undulating – some sharp steep climbs and descents. Broadly, the road runs along the side of the valley, and you are rewarded with some excellent views down to the river and across the valley as you go. Overall I found the ride from the Cotter River crossing until the gate at the end to be the most challenging part of the day. Pipeline Road meets a gated intersection with 9 Mile Track and Hardys Trail – you will need to lift your bike over the fence or gate at this point. You are rewarded, though, with an amazing view before the steep descent down into the valley.
From the end of Pipeline Road there are a lot of choices as to how to return to Canberra – my route was fine, including the crazy descent above and the crossing of Pierce’s Creek. There are plenty of other choices through Pierces Creek Forest if you are up for a but of an indirect explore.
Details of this ride
Hints and tips
- Gravel bike or Hardtail MTB are good for this ride
- Pipeline Road is gated to prevent vehicles. Make sure you are well prepared with spares and that someone knows your planned route and return time.
- There is no treated water available on this route. There is a running stream at the Cotter River (highlight at 48.7km) if you wish to treat your own.
- There are some very steep descents, notably from Bendora Road to the Cotter River on Pipeline Road, and from the gated intersection with 9 Mile Track and Hardys Trail (highlight at 56.8km).
- Komoot’s estimated travel time is quite generous. This ride took me 4.5 hours of riding time, plus around 45 minutes of breaks.