Update: October 2022Rode this route again as part of a longer trip: some minor updates made to reflect current road conditions and additional hotel and meal options.
Let’s be clear from the outset: this is not an easy ride. Involving over 2,000m of climbing and 42km of unsealed road this is not a route for the casual cyclist. And if the trip there isn’t daunting enough, the ride back involves more climbing. Having said that, this route does provide an epic weekend away and is highly recommended.
Canberra to Piccadilly Circus
A well-known extension to the Cotter-Uriarra loop is Brindabella Road to just after Condor Creek – where the tarmac runs out. This is a scenic and pleasant start to the ride, which doesn’t really deteriorate when moving on to the gravel.
This 9km of gravel road to Piccadilly Circus is of mixed quality depending on the timeliness of maintenance. In October 2022 it was in good condition, and the road is also generally quite wide which is useful as this is also the part of the route with the most traffic – mostly 4WDs on Brindabella mountain adventures. Whilst some vehicles continue on into the Brindabella Valley, most seems to divert onto Mt Franklin Road or other nearby tracks.
Piccadilly Circus is the highest point of the ride – over 1,200m. Given Tumut is at approximately 250m elevation there is significant descent to come, albeit it is interspersed with quite a bit more climbing.
Descent to Brindabella
Piccadilly Circus is also the location of the NSW border, and from here the road narrows and is also steeper. When I first rode this it was very rocky in parts but significant work has been done to improve the road and it is now very good quality gravel. Averaging around -6% gradient, this 10km stretch will find you consistently on the brakes – particularly with some of the tighter corners and bumpier parts of the road. Thankfully, some of the very steepest parts have a short stretch of asphalt, including the final descent into the valley which gets steepest at -15%.
The Goodradigbee River is a scenic and (under the bridge) shady place to have a break before continuing the ride. If you have a filter this is also one of the few places that you can obtain fresh water on the journey. We travelled on a fairly warm day, and I went through five water bottles so if you don’t have the means to carry this many, a filter fill-up here is worth planning in.
Finishing off the gravel
Heading back up into the hills from Brindabella, the tarmac soon gives way to some steep but well-maintained gravel. The road is also not as narrow, and provides some great forest and farmland views before the worst part of the trip – Micalong State Forest and the bluestone gravel road.
Presumably to help forestry operations, the final 8km of gravel road has a terrible laid bluestone that is treacherous – it is loose, deep in parts, and difficult to navigate. Caution and lower speed is highly recommended. To make matters worse, there are parts with blackberry growth near the road – ready to provide punctures. Thankfully, the road soon turns to tarmac – just in time for the descent into town.
Descent to Tumut
The final tarmac stretch into Tumut is an incredibly fun part of the journey. Descending over 1000m over 42km, you are treated to some fantastic forest, farmland and valley views. On the downside, you need to travel back up this way on the return trip!
Having made it to town, I can highly recommend a refreshing pint or two at Tumut River Brewing Company. Not only is the beer selection impressive, but the on-tap options are extensive – just what is needed after a long and dusty ride.
Alternative return to Canberra via Wee Jasper
I have now returned to Tumut and riden the alternative return via Wee Jasper. It is definitely worth considering.
Details of this ride
- Like all trips of this kind, the duration of the ride will depend entirely on your pace, pack and pace of your fellow cyclists. My riding time with limited luggage on a light bike was 6 hours 15 minutes with 1.5 hours of stops along the way – breaks and waiting for the group to re-form. This was a pretty comfortable pace, noting that there isn’t really anywhere to stop other than at the side of the road. More recently I did the route in rainy and cool weather, strong headwind and on a mountain bike with packs and it took 7.5 hours, with 45 minutes of breaks. Thankfully there are plenty of roadside stops with great scenery.
- We stayed overnight in Tumut. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the hotel options in town, but I would happily stay again at Ashton Motel. It was centrally located (easy walk to pubs, supermarket, etc), quiet, and the rooms had plenty of room for a bicycle. A bonus was the free light breakfast. Another option I’ve also now tried is Amaroo Hotel – closer to the brewery, large rooms and also quiet.
- We visited the Oriental Hotel for dinner. It had excellent pub grub. Tumut River also has excellent food options.