There are a lot of coffee stop options whilst gravel cycling north of Canberra. Not so many south – Tharwa general store sometimes has the coffee machine going but isn’t really a gravel trip from Canberra. Probably the easiest is dropping in at Googong after some dam foreshore running. Admittedly, part of the reason is that south of Canberra has mountains – lots of them, but villages like Hoskinstown and Captains Flat would be good stops if coffee was available.
Having previously travelled down the Monaro Highway and dropped in at Michelago, I knew that the General Store was worth a visit. Nice coffee, sweet treats, and more substantial options (particularly on Saturday) if required. The good news is that there is a good gravel route to travel there!
Getting to the gravel
There was a time when Old Cooma Road was a narrow goat track – something completely inappropriate for the volume of traffic and horrible for cycling. Not any more. With the Googong development the road has been duplicated and a lovely cycling path established. This is nice, although the climb up out of Queanbeyan less so!
The bike path only travels as far as the Googong turnoff, and from here the road is a bit of a mixed bag: in some parts really wide with cycle lanes or verge, in others no verge to speak of. I’ve ridden this road regularly and I don’t feel unsafe, but I look forward to this road being fully ‘modernised’ given that this is a pretty important through-road from Queanbeyan to the Monaro Highway.
After Old Cooma Road, the reality is that Burra Road is a typical country road – sealed, limited verge, a mix of well maintained and not so new tarmac. But the key is that there is limited traffic too. This road has also had some improvements in the last few years – specifically on the descent that passes London Bridge Road. It has formed part of one of my pre-El Nina favourite local gravel rides – Tharwa to Burra – and I’ve always found it to be an enjoyable ride, whilst noting that in either direction there is a decent climb followed by a fun descent.
Burra to Michelago Gravel
Having cycled Williamsdale Road to and from Burra, I had an expectation that the Burra Road gravel would be similar – and this proved to be true. Generally quite smooth and supporting a decent pace this was a ride that you could spend some time admiring the scenery – not just trying to make sure that you don’t hit a pothole, rut or deep loose gravel. And that is good as to your left there are the Tinderrys, and the right rolling hills.
Overall the 20km between Burra and Michelago is almost all gravel, and is split half/half – half a shallow climb followed by half a nice descent. It is a very enjoyable cycle. The worst thing to look out for is stray sheep – of which I saw two on this day – which was the same number of vehicles that passed me in either direction. Once in Michelago there is a public toilet opposite the historic train station, after which you can head to the General Store for a refuel and rest-up.
Getting back to Canberra
My recommendation is a return to Canberra via the same route. In the interests of research, however, I rode the Monaro Highway home to see what it was like. In short, it isn’t awful (for a single-lane highway with constant traffic). For the 32km between Michelago and Johnson Drive the verge is almost universally decent to very generous – particularly wide once you reach the ACT border. Having said that at Williamsdale you pass the memorial to Mike Hall – tragically killed by a P-plated motorist where the verge is wide. Sobering. The worst part is the rapid descent into Tuggeranong Valley where wide verge is impinged upon by trees and shrubs. CyclingGravel’s verdict? I would ride it again, but the gravel return route is certainly preferred. It would be tremendous if in future it was possible to ride one way on Burra Road, and return via the Monaro Rail Trail. Thankfully, detailed planning is funded and underway!