Race From the Rock
Want to get a taste of the real Australia? Want to experience the big skies and rich red soul of the outback? Yeah? If so, Race From The Rocks could be for you. Sure there’s a race on, like there is every year - we’ll get to that shortly - but you can tour the same route whenever it works for you, and my oh my, it’s an incredible route to tour.
First, let’s talk about the race. Race To The Rock, it's Race From The Rocks - a solo, unsupported bike race from Sydney to Adelaide. It's your own personal race against the clock. Even if no one can get there, Race From The Rocks will start, as always, on the first Saturday of September. Kickoff is at 6:22am on 3 September 2022. This year we will start from the Sydney Opera House and finish 2,010 km later in Adelaide. Yes, we know. We're not finishing in Uluru this year. Sorry about that. The pandemic has fried us and we're keen to try something different. Don't worry though, you will get the same sort of experience. Oh... There is a 670 km entree option too: Sydney to Orange for those who want a shorter ride.
Don't forget that you can do this ride, or any other Race To The Rock course whenever it works for you. Race To The Rock season is August to September (April isn't too bad either!). It is the perfect time to ride this course or any of the other Race to the Rock courses from previous years.
An Incredible Route to Tour
Bike-packing racing is not for everyone. I'm much more interested in putting together routes for you to tour whenever it works for you. Take as long as you want. Explore our amazing country. Knowing that people have raced along the Race to the Rock courses should give you the confidence to do it yourself. If you dig into it a little deeper you might find some detailed notes about the courses to help with your planning.
While we’re out touring in remote outback Australia, we very rarely see other cyclists. If we do, they are usually from Japan or Germany - never from Australia. I would love to see more Australians exploring out great country by bike. Sure, riding through the outback is daunting, but with some careful planning it can be done safely. It would be amazing to see more riders organise their own bike tours on Race To The Rocks courses..
The Race To The Rock season is August - September (you can probably throw in April as well). This route, that I am about to describe in detail, along with the courses from previous years, are great for touring during this period.
So, what's this particular course like? I'm really glad you asked. It's so cool that you're showing some interest. Let me take you through it BLOW BY BLOW. Grab yourself a cup of tea and strap yourself in. I will try to convince you make plans to ride it.
This course is my favourite one yet.
Part 1: Sydney Opera House to Palm Beach - 75 km - Route Map
How's this for an iconic start to an adventure?! Rolling out from the Sydney Opera House and then heading straight over the Harbour Bridge, this section is a quick tour of Sydney's eastern suburbs heading north. It's an awesome mixed terrain escape from the metropolis.
On this 74 km section, expect to find a selection of pinchy urban climbs through leafy inner-city suburbs, a taste of single track with as many diversions into rocky trail networks that I could safely find, and fire tracks through the Garigal and Ku-ring-gai Chase national parks. You will definitely get some exercise traversing Sydney's undulating geography as you head north, especially on the back-street nightmare through the stunning beach-side burbs in the final kilometres before Palm Beach.
There are plenty of chunky rocks on the trails you will ride. Expect sudden rock-rollovers and other surprise trail features. There is one particular section at 35.7km (on a very short section of black diamond MTB trail) that has a steep but smooth rock roll over. It is totally safe to walk and we suggest that you do that on a loaded bike - that's what we did. Stay alert - if there's something you're not cool with riding, don't be a hero, just get off and walk. You look much better with a face and teeth.
As you descend into Palm Beach, you'll think you're in Summer Bay. It's no mistake; Palm Beach is where Home and Away's location shoots take place. It really is an idyllic slice of paradise.
Hopefully you'll get to the terminal in time for the ferry. Yes. A ferry. If you live in Sydney you don't care. I get it. I don't live in Sydney so bike rides that include ferry rides are novel. Anyway, you'll need to find the ferry to Wagstaffe. You will have a choice though. Will you wait for the scheduled ferry? Or will you make other arrangements? It will be interesting to see if anyone tries to get creative and save some time.
It's a beautiful 15 minute ferry ride over to Wagstaffe. As your ferry cruises into port, be sure to admire the lush surrounding hills, because that's where you will soon be heading.
Part 2: Wagstaffe to Orange (updated temporarily to avoid a closure at Monaghan's Bluff)
- Root Hog Road Option - 552 km - Route Map
- Box Ridge Road Option - 583 km - Route Map
Hopefully you got on the right ferry. Wouldn't it be funny if you didn't!? What a massive waste of time that would be. Well, maybe not a waste of time; tourists take pleasure cruises on these ferries, so at least you'll see some cool stuff.
Anyway, from Wagstaffe the course picks up sections of the original Big HuRT race, probably the first bikepacking race in Australia. After some lovely coastal riding, the course heads up into the Brisbane Water National park. The trails are super rocky at times - the sections near the Woy Woy tip and the descent into Point Clare will be character-building on a loaded bike. You will need to walk at times to stay safe, even if you're a gun trials rider. While no abseiling equipment will be needed, you might need to remove some stuff from your bike and make a couple of trips to get up the steepest rock scramble. I've given you a B-line option, if you're not fussed about the race, and want a more leisurely way to Ourimbah.
After a scenic commute via Yarramalong and the Mangrove Creek Dam, the route heads south along the famous Old Great North Road through Yengo National Park. It's definitely "old" and "north" but if you're riding with CX tyres I'm not sure how "great" you'll find it with all the rough terrain. This track is an amazing ride traversing the rugged foothills of the great dividing range.
You'll need to catch two ferries at Wiseman's Ferry before grinding up to Lithgow through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Wiseman's Ferry marks the end of the roughest terrain on the course. From here on it's mostly smooth gravel roads.
There is some tough climbing and a few sketchy sections to navigate on your way up to Lithgow. Flood damage over the last few years made route selection difficult in these parts. As an example, you will need to take extreme care after Bilpin when dropping down Mount Irvine Road, which is closed to car traffic, to cross Bowens Creek. The trail clings for dear life to the cliff face as it zig zags down a wall of rubble. It has been destroyed by flooding, as has the bridge over the creek. While open to bikes, there are no guard rails, so take extreme care on the way down - falling off the side will mean you will end up on the news. The creek can be crossed without testing the makeshift bridge repairs, but be careful as the flood waters have washed huge amounts of silt downstream. If you pick a poor crossing point you might feel like you have stepped into quicksand. Sounds exciting, yeah?
From Lithgow you'll skirt around the western side of the Blue Mountains. If there weren't so many bloody private property disputes and locked eight-foot high gates I'd take you in deeper, but you'll have to settle for the spectacular views instead, which is a good deal if you ask me. The Wolgan Valley views are an absolute highlight as you roll along rocky ridge-lines, high above the valley. If you keep your eyes right, you might just find the most spectacular lunch spot I have ever experienced.
A rugged rail access track will get you most of the way to Portland before some plantation commuting and the Eskdake Road dirt roller coaster. It's here that you'll enter the goldfields where thousands of people made and lost fortunes in the 1850s. You'll still find people panning for gold as you roll alongside (and cross) the Turon River on your way into Sofala.
Heading north you'll sample the famous Bridle Track to Hill End which follows the mighty Macquarie River. The track over Monaghan's Bluff is particularly entertaining. I have no idea how traffic once travelled in both directions along this narrow goat track carved into the side of a cliff. The Bridle Track finishes with a steady climb up to Hill End. From there, you'll pass through gold rush ghost towns before a long descent to the Macquarie River crossing at the Long Point ford. It's a super wide crossing, and usually the water rises no higher than your shins, but I'm told that's not always the case. If the river is too fast, the water too high and the ford too dangerous, you will have to re-route and you're looking at hundreds of extra kilometres to find another crossing option. Don't worry about getting wet, because the tough climb out of the valley will get you warm on the other side.
The last section to Orange is a mostly dirt-road commute with a surprising number of pinchy climbs. The entree finishes at the rotunda in the middle of Robertson Park. While rolling into town, the joy of getting this far and conquering Old Great North Road, the Blue Mountains and the Macquarie River will be overshadowed by the disappointing lack of the colour orange (except if there are roadworks).
Update: Unfortunately the Bridle Track mentioned in this section is currently (Aug 2022) closed at Monaghan's Bluff. We have published a couple of options that avoid this closure (these are linked above). Also, with the huge amounts of rain in recent years, there are times when fording the Macquarie river is dangerous. The Root Hog Rd option linked above involves fording the Macquarie River and you will most likely get wet. There is a chance that you will consider the crossing too dangerous, or you may not wish to risk it. If that is the case you can choose to the other option. The Box Ridge Rd option (also linked above) does not involve fording the Macquarie River. It is 31 km longer than the Root Hog Road option and has more sealed roads. When the Bridle Track reopens we will republish the original route, if we remember.
Part 3: Orange to Adelaide - 1340 km - Route Map
Now it's time for the tough stuff; the remote outback riding that Race to the Rock is known for. We're not heading to Uluru this time, but that doesn't mean you're getting off easily. This section has everything from rich red outback soil to a very realistic chance of snow, fast gravel roads to country single track. It gets super remote out there and you'll need to take your planning seriously to stay safe.
Leaving Orange you'll quickly see why this town is a secret cycling gem as you get a taste of the gravel riding through the Canobolas State Forest. You'll climb up to 1,400 m near the top of Mt Canobolas which sees plenty of snow throughout the year. It can snow on any day of the year. It could get wild up there. You have been warned!
After Mt Canobolas they course flattens right out as you head into thousands of square kilometres of farmland. Here the remote commute stage begins with side trips into the Nangar National Park and Back Yamma State Forest; the former has the last climb you'll see before the outskirts of Adelaide, while the latter has a flowy single track interlude to break up the seemingly endless gravel roads.
After Forbes you'll follow the Lachlan River past Condobolin, where you'll find the last supermarket for hundreds of kilometers. Shortly after Euabalong you will make a left turn and set a course directly towards the middle of nowhere.
Do you like trains? I freaking love trains! After Euabalong you'll follow the access tracks alongside the transcontinental railway. The dirt is the rich red of the outback and you will need to be super careful with planning food and water. This is not a two-bottles-and-you'll-be-fine type of ride. The outback is dangerous for those who are not experienced or those who have carefully planned their logistics.
There are huge gaps between services on this stretch. That's what happens in the outback. Don't like it? Do something else. Do not do this! You will need to do your research and be certain of how much food and water you need to survive the long gaps between resupply points.
After hundreds of kilometres of big skies and remote outback riding into western NSW, you'll roll into the remote outpost of Ivanhoe. Not long after that you'll hang a left and blast south through the famous Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area. This section includes the Mungo National Park where Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, found resting just meters apart, were buried more than 42,000 years ago on Lake Mungo’s shores.
The riding here is mind-blowing. The dead-straight roads through the salt lakes are sometimes 15km long without even the slightest deviation. There's nothing but thigh-high salt bush as far as you can see. It's eerily quiet and you will wonder how many thousands of years ago these massive lake beds last saw a material amount of water. There is no better way to experience this country than on a bike - fully immersed in the elements with each sunrise and sunset painted with ridiculous colours. But let's be honest, with no protection from the sun and wind this section could finally be the one that breaks you.
The greenery of the irrigation country either side of the River Murray will be a welcome surprise as you roll into Mildura for a long overdue resupply. It will be your first major town since Condobolin. Don't get too comfortable because you'll be straight back out onto the heavily corrugated Old Mail Road to Renmark - I last rode this in the middle of summer during a drought and wedgetail eagles circled low above emaciated sheep that had been abandoned, too expensive to feed at the time.
After some easy riding, with plenty of services, through citrus and houseboat country you'll follow the water pipeline into the Barossa Valley. You could sample some of the world's best shiraz on your way through, or maybe stay in a plush bed and breakfast. Hopefully you'll remember how to climb after hundreds of kilometres of flat time-trailing, as you head up into the Adelaide Hills.
From the Barossa you'll follow the Mawson Trail toward Adelaide but with a couple of edits to experience some more Adelaide Hills highlights. You'll finish with a descent of the Pioneer Women's Trail and end your ride right in the heart of Adelaide's CBD.
While this is an amazing cycling adventure it comes with the usual disclaimer. Sorry to bore you with it, but this is serious. I want you to go into this well informed and with your eyes open.
This course contain some sections that will be extremely difficult to ride on a fully loaded bike. There are some trails through steep, rugged and rocky terrain with unmarked trail features including drops, extremely steep descents, sudden rock roll-overs and unprotected trail edges with extremely long drops. Everything is safe to walk your bike through with care. If you're not confident riding a section, do as we do and WALK IT! Always be ready for a sudden and sketchy trail feature.
The course contains very remote sections that are extremely dangerous for unprepared or inexperienced bike tourers. The route passes through areas which could close due to fire, flood or snow on any day of the year, sometimes for weeks. You have been warned.
The route passes through national and state parks and forests. There can be closures for any reason (eg flooding, fire, snow, etc) at any time of the year. Please observe and obey local rules - this is just a silly bike ride. Please leave no trace of your presence other than your tyre tracks.