A bike is more than the sum of its parts: my Carve 29er

If I look at my stable of bikes, and how much each one gets used (available on Strava), you might get the feeling that my Carve 29er isn’t one that I really like.

It languishes down in fourth place with ‘only’ 4000-ish km, trailing the Sholto bike, the Frezoni, and my cyclocross/gravel bike, the CAAD-X.

But the Carve 29er occupies a very special place in my memories. It’s the bike on which I have bikepacking adventures.

Ten years ago when I started getting into this new style of cycle touring, it was only natural to fit some bags to my hardtail 29er and get rolling.

My Carve has an origin story that I’m going to suggest is unlike most other bikes, and it’s going to sound weird when I tell it.

In 2011 I had bought a Cannondale RZ OneTwenty mountain bike, nicknamed ‘Rachel’. And I really enjoyed that bike, it was great fun on all the trails around Brisbane and SEQ. And the bestest best bit of that excellent bike was its Lefty fork.

The Lefty is a strange beast, and unless you have ridden a bike with a Lefty, I don’t expect you to understand. But a well-tuned Lefty on a trail or XC style mtb is a total joy. Super responsive, lightweight, laterally stiff, just a really cool thing to have on the front of your dually.

And one day I am idly being idle and I noticed a secondhand Lefty for sale on eBay. I put a bid on it, not really expecting that my low offer would win the bid. Which it did. At this remove I don’t remember what I paid for the Lefty, but I think less than $200. And those things were very spendy back in the day.

Ok so I’ve got a Lefty.

And it sits in my bike shed, mocking me, for about six months.

Next thing my friend JD has a Specialized Carve 29er frame for sale. JD had bought the Carve as a complete bike from Epic only a few months before, but later had discovered and been seduced by a gorgeous Ritchey P29 steel frame. So JD swapped all the components off the Carve onto his new Ritchey.

And the Carve frame was left behind. It’s a state of the art aluminium 29er frame from 2012. Certainly the XC geometry of the time is very dated now (70 degree head angle anyone?) but it works great on dirt back roads and most point-to-point style trails.

So I thought: that’s a low cost way to get the Lefty onto a bike, and perhaps get into bikepacking.

I bought a Shimano SLX groupset (drivetrain, shifters and brakes), hunted around for bits and pieces, and snagged a pair of wheels from Aiden Lefman when I approached him for help in servicing and fitting the Lefty (Aido runs a mtb suspension specialist firm, Cyclinic).

And there it was: a matte black medium sized 29er hardtail, with out-of-place Cannondale Lefty fork.

It was OK to ride on single track, although nowhere near as much fun as the OneTwenty.

But it’s natural role in life was to explore trails and back roads while loaded up.

I did a few micro-adventures on it, but its first starring role was in 2014 when I rode the Munda Biddi Trail.

And ever since then, every big adventure I’ve been on (except for one) has been on the Carve.

And as a hardtail mtb for having adventures on, it has been just about flawless.

Over time, the Lefty became slightly troublesome. Lefty forks have a known issue, ‘bearing migration’.

When the bearings migrate on your Lefty, you can go from 110mm of travel to 50 or 30 or 20mm of travel in hardly any time.

Many Lefty owners get used to fixing this issue while out on the trail. I never got used to fixing it all, regardless of on the trail or in my shed.

Before a bike packing trip I would always take the Carve to my mechanic, and ensure (among other things) that the Lefty had full travel, and off I would go. Sometimes it would lose a little bit of travel over a couple of weeks, but it never became a major concern.

But when I took the Carve to Dave (my mechanic) on my return from the Mawson Trail, he called ‘time’ on the Lefty. Too much trouble with the bearing migration, and performance in absorbing bumps had also got worse over time.

“Just find a carbon fork for this bike, you only use it for bikepacking so it doesn’t really need suspension. A carbon fork will make the bike feel lighter and more lively,” Dave said.

I agreed. He was right.

Carbon forks for 29er mountain bikes are pretty easy to find, but also can be somewhat expensive. I’m pretty wary of over-capitalising any of my bikes, and this one in particular would not gain one dollar of resale value by being shod with a fancy Whisky or Salsa fork.

So after a cautious search on AliExpress, I purchased a Trifox brand carbon fork, and Dave installed it.

So far (several quite taxing day rides, and one overnighter along the BVRT and South Burnett back roads) so good. The bike does feel lighter, although I should temper that opinion cos it has not yet had a full camping load on board.

The Trifox fork didn’t have adventure mounts, so thanks to BarYak for producing the Mule, a system for attaching mounting points. I’ve got the Blackburn Outpost cargo cages, and on a recent overnighter the BarYak - Blackburn combo worked very well.

Over the years I have used a variety of bags on the Carve to carry the gear you need for travelling around by bike. I have setup routines for pub overnighters, for full-on two-week-long camping trips, and everything in-between.

My favourite bags for the Carve have been the two frame bags I’ve used.

My original frame bag was made for me by my friend Dean. We used two existing nylon bag, of the giveaway type. One side was a Brisbane City Council City Cycle bag, and the other was a Griffith Unversity bag. The resulting frame bag had a real ‘rasta’ flavour with green edging, yellow one side and red the other.

After a couple of years the CityCycle side gave way … it was made from a very cheap nylon. So I asked my friend Brad to make me another bag, this time from cordura, and I have been using that one ever since. It fits a water bladder with about 2.5 litres of water quite comfortably, along with a pump and a few tools.

The rest of the kit varies. I mostly use a rear rack with bags hanging off it, rather than a large seat bag, cos my short legs don’t give me all that much clearance from the seat down to the tyre. And upfront I often use a Azur handlebar roll that I got to review for Australian MTB mag.

I like the way the Carve rides when loaded. Without a load it was a bit twitchy on singletrack in its Lefty days. These days it doesn’t have a suspension fork, so the dampening effect on the handling of all the extra load won’t be there in quite the same way.

The Carve is also I think the epitome of the idea that a bikepacking bike doesn’t need to be flashy to be good. The Carve’s aluminium frame was literally a castoff from a friend who didn’t want it compared to a steel frame from a famous maker. But in the intervening 10 years it has been a brilliant machine to own and ride. We’re still on the original drivetrain (more or less), original brakes, original handlebar (a SQ Labs trekking bar). And with one tiny exception (when I buckled a rear wheel one day) the Carve has always got me where I wanted or need to go each day that I’ve set out on it.

So that’s a pretty good endorsement.

Can I just post this here cos

  1. It’s awesome
  2. I want to remember it often
  3. I agree with every single line in it.

Surly Bikes: Some answers to just about any bike forum post

Arrows in my quiver, horses in my stable

A little while ago on this very website, I answered the question that everybody wants to know: “How many bikes do I need?”

I’ve just added a new bike to my shed, so I thought it might be fun to look at the principle stated in that earlier article and see how it applies to the bikes I currently own.

Controversially, my thesis discards N+1 as a guide for working out how many bikes you need, and replaces it with the idea that the right number of bikes is one.

So if you want to go road riding, you need one bike, a road bike.

If you want go mountain biking, you need one bike, a mountain bike.

If you want to race cyclocross / go touring or bikepacking / travel with a bike, you get the point.

At the moment, the number of one bikes I have is seven.

A road bike, a cyclocross bike, a dual-suspension mountain bike, a touring/commuting bike, a bikepacking bike, a folding bike, and an e-bike for shopping and commuting.

And the reason that this method holds up to the vicissitudes of life is that even though I have bikes for specific purposes, each of those bikes are actually quite versatile, and can easily fill the roles adjacent to their purpose.

So here we go. A complete rundown of the Briztreadley stable of bicycles, where they came from, and how long I have owned them, and what each one means to me.

I’m going to do this as a series of posts, probably over a few weeks. I probably won’t “announce” it until its all finished.

In defence of aluminium

Fiona on a steel bike, me on an aluminium bike. Loaded up and trucking and having the time of our lives.

I read plenty of stuff about bikes, both online and in magazines. Have done so for decades.

And one thing that I read often (so often!) in discussions and comparisons of bikes is that there is a discernable difference between bikes based on the material the frame is made from.

And this mostly is expressed as a diss for aluminium as a frame material.

Australian Geographic has just released a ‘guide to bikepacking’, which says the following, inter alia: “ Aluminium is light, and it is cheap, but you will cop a jarring ride”.

Can I get some science to go with this unsubstantiated opinion?

Specifically some science that shows that in a system which includes pneumatic tyres with up to 10 mm of “give” that a rider can tell the difference between the so-called “ride quality” of a metal (steel, titanium or aluminium) or carbon fibre frame.

I currently own six bikes. There is a road bike (Frezoni custom steel), a cyclocross bike (Cannondale CAAD-X), a touring bike (Shogun Alpine GT), a hardtail mountain bike (Specialized Carve), a folding bike (Brompton), and a commuter e-bike (built it myself, but the frame is a old Cecil Walker steel touring frame).

Four of my bikes have steel frames, and two have aluminium frames. In the past I have also owned titanium and carbon fibre framed bikes.

Here are some things which make a difference to how a bike rides:

  • Weight (of you and the bike together)
  • Frame geometry and how the bike fits you
  • Suspension
  • Tyres.
  • How you feel about life at the time.

Here are the things which have no discernable effect on how a bike rides:

  • Colour
  • Frame material.

My favourite and most memorable rides are multi-day touring rides, hopefully somewhere scenic and interesting. And from the list above, I will take either the hardtail mountain bike or the touring/commuting bike for those multi-day rides.

One is steel, the supposed gold standard for “ride quality”. The other is aluminium, which Australian Geographic thinks is “jarring”.

I take the hardtail aluminium mountain bike if I think the route will be rough or gnarly.

And the reason is simple: the mtb has bigger tyres. About 55-60 mm wide, compared with 48 mm wide for the biggest tyre which fits the touring bike.

That is all there is to it. The steel touring bike, which is my favourite machine, which I have ridden 14,000 km on in the last four years (since I started using Strava), isn’t the right bike for rougher roads. The bike with the big tyres is.

So why am I so hot under the collar about this issue?

I dislike poor advice, and advice which focusses on the wrong things.

There are plenty of aspects of bike design and construction which are important differentiators that you can look at when buying a bike, and I’ve listed some of them above. Price might also be a factor for most of us, also longevity.

Those authors who push the idea that aluminium has a harsh ride in comparison to steel or titanium might be actually be doing bike buyers a favour.

If an aluminium-framed bike is cheaper and lighter than a steel one (and surely much cheaper than carbon-fibre or titanium), then just buy it. The ride quality you experience will be based on how the total bike fits you, and how the tyres you select work on the road/trail surfaces you ride on.

What won’t be a factor in ride quality? The aluminium. Cos physics.

Don’t believe me? Reckon you can tell the difference between bikes purely on frame material? Email andrew.demack@gmail.com and let’s set up a test.

Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah)

Straddie, a.k.a Minjerribah is a great place to dip your toes into the water, both figuratively in terms of bike touring and literally because it’s an island paradise right on Brisbane’s doorstep.

The Stradbroke Flyer is the only way to get there. It departs at five to the hour every hour in the morning, and more random times in the afternoon. But of course you’re going in the morning, you want to maximise your time on the island.

I tend to just drive down to Cleveland and park relatively close to Toondah Harbour. Because I’m bringing a bike, if the area around the harbour is parked out, it’s easy enough to find a spot a little further away.

The boat ride is about 25 minutes, and I’m not great on boats but I’ve never felt sick on the Flyer. The next thing you know you’re disembarking at One Mile Jetty, Dunwich.

There are food outlets at Dunwich if you need a coffee before you start riding.

The number one thing about having a great bike-touring weekend on Straddie is your route from Dunwich across the island to Point Lookout.

Below is my current route, which is perfectly fine on a mountain bike, or any bike with tyres bigger than 50mm/ 2inches. There are sandy patches after you leave East Coast Rd, but the hardest part really is the first 7.5km from Dunwich on the bitumen to the turnoff at “The Esses”, because it’s the section with the traffic. I rode this route for the first time in January this year, but Strava heat maps tell me that plenty of people have ridden this way before. I’m hopeful that we can get this route signed and formalised over the next couple of years, but crucially there is absolutely no reason not to use this route right now.

It follows a sandy, gravel track from East Coast Rd almost all the way to Amity. It is closed to motorised traffic. And then after a short spell on the bitumen (either Claytons Road or Beehive Rd, not sure which), you once again get into the bush for the roll along Point Lookout Rd, which is closed to cars.

And now you know everything that is important is to know about how to bike tour on Straddie. The rest of it you can find out by being there. Grab a campsite at one of the Minjerribah camping grounds. I like Adder Rock, but Cylinder Beach is also popular. Hot tip is to ring up to book (07) 3409 9668, rather than using the website. Eat at the pub or get some fish and chips up at the point. I’m sure you will work it out.

P.S. I’m told there are more adventurous off-road rides you can do on Straddie. But this article is aimed at those who are new to bike touring.

P.P.S. You will notice there is nothing in this so-called beginners guide to bikepacking or bike touring that talks about what gear to bring or how to pack it on your bike. That’s because you can work out all of that AFTER you have been on your first bike tour. If you stay at the backpackers hostel (Manta Lodge) at Adder Rock then you could take all you need in a small backpack. My very strong advice is not to let a lack of gear stop you from getting out there.

Where can I go bikepacking?

In a few short weeks, sometime after EkkaCross, I’m going to go for a bike tour along the Mawson Trail. Yes, I am very much looking forward to it.

It’s a two-week tour on gravel roads and trails, and my friends and I will cover something just a little short of 1000km in those two weeks. From the Flinders Range through the South Australian outback to Barossa Valley vineyards, and finishing with a ride down from the Adelaide Hills into the South Australian capital.

The Mawson Trail is not your first bike tour. It helps to have some experience going into a two-week ride.

But for those people who see photos on Facebook or Instagram from my little adventures and wonder “could I do that?”, let me tell you that there’s nothing special about me, and I’m not any sort of athlete. I am a portly middle-aged man.

So, could you go bike touring? (or as the kids call it these days, “bikepacking”?)

Of course you could. The hardest part is deciding to go.

And here are some rides that I think are easy starter trips. You could do these rides with full camping kit, or just staying in pubs or motels.

Short tours around SEQ

Longer tours (which are still pretty easy)

Longer tours which are slightly harder

  • Stanthorpe to Ipswich
  • The Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure.
  • The Munda Biddi Trail.

I shall put up a page describing each tour, so when the link goes live, there will be a description of each tour, including logistical challenges that need to be met, and a link to my Airtable database for each tour, with route plan and accommodation plan.

Hope you find this useful! Let me know if you go on any of these trips!

Avoiding the Wide Bay Highway

Ground-truthing a route from Kilkivan to Gundiah

I am hoping later this year to be able to ride from Ipswich to Hervey Bay on rail trails and minor roads. The first four days are roughly the same as the Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure, except that day 4 would go all the way along the KKRT to Kilkivan.

The rest of the ride would be Gundiah or Tiaro, Maryborough, Hervey Bay (on the Mary to the Bay trail). So the route linked above provides a crucial section so make this possible: a low-traffic route heading east from Kilkivan.

The latest edition of Organised Grime’s guide to the BVRT and KKRT includes a map showing this link.

I rode the section from Cogzill Rd to Smith Rd on Tuesday 4 January. It was a useful link, but it certainly didn’t feel like a road reserve for most of it.  It felt like a farm track, and I think I should have found out who the landowner was to let him know I was coming.

I’ve provided feedback to Mark Roberts, who makes the wonderful maps for the Organised Grime guides.

This screen grab shows the section of the route I’m discussing. It runs from 14.2 km to 19.1km on the Strava activity link at the top of this post.

As we cross the Wide Bay Creek on Cogzell Rd, the “road” becomes a farm track and splits in two. The left hand branch is our route, the right is Cogzell Rd and I assume from looking at the aerial photos that it goes to a farm house.

As we leave the creek bed, we emerge into a valley paddock, with a well-defined double track trail.

As the valley narrows in, the trail goes past a very nice little dam.

And through the first of maybe five gates.

And then almost disappears on occasion as you follow the line on your GPS unit or phone.

The farm track emerges at the far end onto Smith Road, which takes us back towards Woolooga. Turn left on Gympie-Woolooga Rd to head towards Tiaro, or right to go to the cafe at Woolooga. Mark Roberts’ route towards Gympie also goes right at this point, but from there on I haven’t ridden it.

I should point out that when I came back the next day after staying overnight at the Prince of Wales Hotel Gundiah, that I took the road, for comparison purposes. In cooler months the decisions will be less influenced by the need to get the ride over and find a cool drink and some air-conditioned spaces, so I hope to use this route later in 2022 (September perhaps) as part of an Ipswich to Hervey Bay tour.

What do you think? Have you ridden other back roads routes east from Kilkivan that work better? Let me know.

How great is the GABCY network? Super keen to go have a look at this … https://nixtrader.wordpress.com/gabcy-network/

'The quiver killer is a myth' or 'Can any bike replace the Sholto?'

My touring / commuter bike (the Sholto) has had a long and varied career. And ever since I turned it into a 650B bike, it has firmed more and more as my favourite.

That is partly because of it’s versatility. The Sholto is good for commuting to work, for riding overnight or weekend tours on a mixture of rail trail, back roads and gravel roads. It is not the lightest bike, but I am not the lightest rider, so I tend to forgive those sins.

It is also partly about our shared history, and the memories associated. I have owned this bike since I turned 30 in 1994. I went on my first bike tours with the Shogun (as it was then). It was also my first cyclocross bike, at which role it was also quite awesome.

About the only thing I don’t really like about the Sholto is the brakes (currently Tektro CR720 cantilevers). They’re fine. They aren’t great. They aren’t terrible. Just OK.

I like everything else. I like my position on the bike, it’s very relaxed, but it still feels like I can power along when required. I like the range of roads, trails, and surfaces that the Sholto is comfortable on. I like being able to put on the Vittoria Terreno tyres or the Teravail Washburns, when I want a wider tyre (almost 50mm) with plenty of grip for the dirt roads. I like going back to the Grand Bois Hetres 42 mm slicks for rolling along the commuting roads, or heading out to Cambooya on a weekend tour on mostly bitumen.

I like the myriad of options for being a contender in the #CarryShitOlympics. I have a cool basket for carrying all sorts of stuff, I have a deadly front rando bag, I have great front panniers, I have a small but surprisingly capacious saddle bag, I have the Cranktank for carrying 4 litres of water on long thirsty days and now I have a custom made in Ukraine frame bag, which lets me carry a 2 litre water bladder and plenty of other stuff in the main triangle of the bike.

I like that the Sholto was a standout performer on a recent 9-day tour. The only moments of concerns I had for 9 days were a couple of punctures, and you’re always going to get them from time to time. I’ve had very few flats in the last couple of years, so I was probably due.

I also like the alignment of the Sholto with the “reduce / reuse / recycle” mantra. I am trying to convince myself that there’s nothing that newer gravel/adventure bikes can do that the Sholto cannot also do.

And mostly I am convinced. New bikes are shinier and newer, but are they going to be better suited to my particular combination of commuting and touring? And would the new bike feeling last more than a week before it just felt like the bike you have had forever?

The Sholto bike’s 30th birthday will be here before I know it, in 2024. And with very long timelines currently for getting new bike frames and parts, if I actually do think that it is time for Sholto to retire, what would replace it?

Here is a list of cool gravel/adventure bikes, mostly available as frames that I would build up with my selection of parts. They are all 650B disc brake / drop bar / gravel adventure / touring bikes. Strangely, three of them come from the UK. The first is from Braidwood in NSW.

These bikes are listed in descending order of price. Which of course means that the one I am really tempted by is the Fearless Warlock.

I am going to do a decision matrix with these four bikes to see how they stack up against the Sholto. But my sense of it is: I could spend $4000 on a new bike (that’s my ballpark pricing on a built-up Fairlight Faran), and it would absolutely be better than the Sholto. But $4000 better? (Whatever that means). I suspect not.

I might change my mind tomorrow. The Sholto might break again. I don’t know what the future holds.

But I do know that the current build of the Sholto brings me a lot of joy. And maybe when I fit the new Swiss Stop brake pads I have in the shed, the brakes will become awesome and the bike will be perfect.

Rail trails and back roads to Hervey Bay!

Next big idea: Ipswich to Hervey Bay: BVRT, KKRT, BNT and back roads to Tiaro, Mungar.

And Mary to the Bay Rail Trail is being built full speed ahead by Ken McDonald’s magnificent low-cost construction crew.

And here’s the tricky bit, connecting Kilkivan to Maryborough. Mark Roberts has mapped a route from Kilkivan to Gympie and I’ve adapted a section of it for Kilkivan to Woolooga. Then it’s OK to go via Miva and Theebine etc and so on. Back roads heaven.

GQRTA Day 9 Ubobo to Gladstone

Part 10 of 10.

Previously: Day 8 Mungungo to Ubobo

Strava link

Distance: 79.3km

To describe this day as a “transport stage” would seem like I’m damning with very faint praise. But let’s be real. In every tour there are sections which aren’t all that interesting, but still have to be ridden.

This day was all on bitumen roads, some of them quite busy. From Ubobo to Calliope is about 54km, all but the last four km is on Gladstone-Monto Road, which doesn’t have a daunting amount of trucks. Quite a few 4WD vehicles towing caravans, quite a few RVs, not all that many trucks.

We stopped for a morning tea break at Calliope, and shared a picnic shelter with a ragged looking dude who was chain-smoking roll-your-own ciggies. He looked like maybe he was homeless, but then was picked up by someone in an almost new Camry and off they went. So what do I know.

With only 25km left on our trip, we packed up one last time and hit the road. We tried to follow what short sections of bike path there were through Calliope, and crossing under the Bruce Highway to join the Dawson Highway into Gladstone.

Our only incident on the way to the Club Hotel (opposite the Gladstone railway station) was a flat rear tyre for me. The culprit was a sliver of wire that my tyre picked up when I rode on the highway shoulder, so I don’t think I can be too hard on the Vittoria Terreno Dry on this occasion. A complication of my own doing was caused by the ghetto rim tape job I did at the Eidsvold Caravan Park, comprising Gorilla Tape torn down the middle (to fit the bed of the rim). The tape had wandered up onto the shoulder of the rim, which was preventing the bead of the tyre from sitting correctly. The solution involved a pocket knife and some careful trimming.

Pretty soon we were having a big bowl of chips at the Club Hotel before a relaxing afternoon. Belinda headed down to Barney Point Beach, and Rob and I retired to our respective rooms.

The next day we dropped the bikes off at a local transport depot, and jumped aboard the Tilt Train for the return journey to Brisbane. It is VERY annoying that Queensland Rail doesn’t allow passengers to bring bikes aboard the Rocky-to-Brisbane Tilt Train. Are we “Good To Go” or not? If everybody who reads this guide to the Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure would like to write to the Minister for Transport and Main Roads about this issue, I would be grateful! Mark loves getting emails.

The Tilt Train is a great way to travel. Just lower your expectations for the coffee served by the catering team, and you’ll have a fine time, and probably finish whatever book you were reading on your Kindle.

Back to GQRTA Index.

Contact Andrew Demack with questions about this route

GQRTA Day 8 Mungungo to Ubobo

Part 9 of 10.

Previously Day 7 Eidsvold to Mungungo

Next Day 9 Ubobo to Gladstone

Strava links

Distance: 71.8km

Well, we made it. Even though we were reduced in number, even though I think we got slower day by day towards the end, even though we had some long days in the saddle, we made it.

When I first heard from Desley O’Grady that a date had been set for the opening of the tunnels section of the BBIRT, I knew I wanted to attend. And as I reflected on my conversations about how BBIRT might interact with other rail trails, I also knew that somebody would have to be the first to try and piece the trails together.

So this whole ride was about today’s event. But it’s a great ride, regardless. As a bike-touring route at the right time of year (I would NOT do this ride in summer, for instance), this has very little traffic, no really hard days, and many good towns to stop at. As 700km rides in Australia go, this would be one of the easiest!

We set out this morning fueled by breakfast supplies we had bought the day before in Monto. The trail opening event would commence around 10.30, and we had about 30km of gradual elevation gain to get there. The Gladstone-Monto Rd is bitumen, but doesn’t have a large volume of traffic, and on this particular Saturday morning I suspect at least half the vehicles which passed us were going to the same event as us.

We made it to Kalpowar for a toilet stop and a quick look around, and then onto rough gravel roads for the next 5km to Barrimoon siding.

The BBIRT crew have put out signs which direct you to Barrimoon siding, and I’m sure they will still be in place, or replaced by more permanent ones in the future. It will be even better when you can use the rail alignment straight from Kalpowar – the bridge over Cabbage Tree Creek might be an impediment to that, I don’t know.

So we joined the crowd of about 400 people who had gathered for the event. We saw plenty of friendly and familiar faces, and mingled and chatted and ate a burger, and slurped a coffee.

Then the speeches happened, and the trail was opened. The support from local and state government for this project was evident in the fact that the Mayors of North Burnett and Gladstone councils were both there and cheering it on, as was the State Member for Gladstone, who announced some funding to enable the trail head to become wheelchair accessible.

But the driving force behind getting this trail open has been the BBIRT community group. Yes, they are well connected into local government – Desley O’Grady is on Gladstone Council. But very little of the work done before this event was done by Councils or TMR. It was all organised by BBIRT (working with the permission of TMR, of course. BBIRT has a licence allowing them to improve the trail corridor).

After speeches and photos and filming and farewells, we got riding on the newly opened trail around 12.30pm.

From Barrimoon siding down to Golembil is the spectacular initial section of the new trail. And it is worth every last bit of the time, effort or money it takes to get you there.

I have ridden plenty of rail trails in Australia. And this is (potentially) the best one. A little more work on the surface and it will be the best one.

There are six tunnels in the 5km from the top of the Dawes Range at Barrimoon. And the trails rolls through each of the tunnels, and in between there are views of the range all around. Just down the valley from here is a town called Many Peaks. And you can see why, as you cruise on the 11 km downhill to Golembil bridge.

We took quite a few photos on the day, and I took pix last time I was there as well. And all I can say is that it would require a much better photographer than me to do justice to what a beautiful ride this is. You have to go and do it yourself.

From Golembil, the trail continues along the valley towards Many Peaks, and eventually Builyan, where there are toilets and a shop (Kirsten’s Cottage, not always open, check before you ride).

The trail along here has plenty of rough and sandy sections. Wide tyres are a must, and it certainly would have been easier without our touring load.

We had a late afternoon tea at Kirsten’s Cottage, which was most welcome. Caramel tart! After a week of bike riding you start to think you can eat whatever you like whenever you like. It’s not true.

We then had about 18km left along the Boyne Valley to Ubobo. And we asked some local folks at Kirsten’s whether there were any hills between Builyan and Ubobo (there were a couple of steep little surprises earlier in the day on the way to Kalpowar).

And the ladies said no, it was pretty flat. Although there would be a hill coming out of the creek crossing just near Larry’s place. So that was helpful, thanks.

We rolled into the Boyne Valley Discovery Centre at Ubobo in the late afternoon. It is a great spot, and I won’t trouble you with all the details of camping options / cabins / showers / camp kitchen etc and so forth. It’s not just the only place to stay at Ubobo, it is also all you would ever need while in Ubobo. Except for Optus mobile phone coverage.

However I will say that if you happen to be there when there is a caravanning/RV club also in attendance, you might get a BBQ dinner (tick!), and breakfast on the next morning (big tick!), and the aural delights of a local country music band playing through the evening (if you really like country music, that might be a tick, but for me I would rather be required to remove a tick from a delicate part of my body than have to listen to what passed for music on this occasion).

Next: Day 9 Ubobo to Gladstone.

GQRTA Day 7 Eidsvold to Mungungo

Part 8 of 10

Previously: Day 6 Gayndah to Eidsvold

Next: Day 8 Mungungo to Ubobo

Links

We’re getting closer to the big day (the opening of the Barrimoon Tunnels section of the BBIRT). Today is the day before, and our little trio of touring bicyclists are starting to feel like we are part of something much bigger.

We had surprising encounters with locals when we stopped for refreshments. At Mulgildie, the man behind the counter at the shop had seen us out on the road, and knew we were riding to the rail trail event. At Mundubbera, a chance encounter at the takeaway cafe saw us chatting to someone who lives next to the rail alignment at Grosvenor Creek (south of Eidsvold), who wanted TMR to remediate the access to her property. At Eidsvold Caravan Park, it seemed everyone we spoke to had either seen us on the road, or knew where were going!

Our ride today saw us take a brief look at the rail trail alignment from Eidsvold heading north to Ceratodus siding. (Ceratodus is a lung fish which lives in the Burnett River, although Wikipedia tells me that botanically the Queensland lung fish is not actually a ceratodus cos they became extinct in the Eocene Epoch.)

Rob and I rode the trail alignment for a couple of km, and then jumped out onto the highway. Belinda on her Hookworm-tyred mtb stayed the course, and said the trail wasn’t too bad (thanks to the work of Michael Whitty, local trail carer).

We turned off the Burnett Highway at the turnoff to Wuruma Dam, and then followed back roads to Abercorn and on towards a rest break at Mulgildie (53km). It was a warm day, and by the time we reached Monto (68km) via Airport Rd we were looking for a cafe with air-con and cold drinks.

At Monto we were recognised again, this time by TMR’s main man in charge of rail corridors, Craig England, who was there for the next day’s festivities.

Eventually we rolled out for the last 13km to the Mungungo Hotel. Once more we were recognised. I saw a ute pass us, with a bike strapped onto the back. The bike had a Jones handlebar. I thought “I bet I know that rider … there won’t be many people bike-nerdy enough to have a Jones bar who I don’t know.”

And sure enough a few km later, there’s someone taking a photo of our trio from the side of the road, and it turns out to be Cliff, a friend from Brisbane who, like us, is into adventure/touring cycling.

Cliff said “I was watching your posts from the first few days of the ride, and just had massive FOMO, so I thought I would come up to Kalpowar for the opening event tomorrow.”

So after a day of being recognised, and feeling like we were part of something bigger than us, we rolled into the Mungungo pub.

When I was planning this trip, I had messaged the Mungungo pub via Facebook to ask if we could camp at the back of the pub, and named the date we would be there, in preparation for the opening of the rail trail the next day.

And the cheerful message came back: ‘For you Andrew, it’s a free room!’

So I said thanks very much, and considered myself some kind of very minor rail trail celebrity.

Of course, when we got to the Mungungo Hotel, the man behind the bar had never heard of me, and my name was not on the booking list for rooms, and the person who had answered my message on Facebook was no longer involved in running the hotel.

Hero to zero in two seconds flat. Hilarious!

For all of that, we did receive a warm welcome at the Mungungo pub, and spent a very pleasant evening there. In terms of other accommodation in the area, if you pressed on to Kalpowar there is both camping and lodge style accommodation there, and there’s a National Park camping area only a couple of km away from the trailhead at Barrimoon siding. But for this trip, Mungungo was the right distance for us, trying to keep the average day to around 80-90km.

Where to stay in Mungungo

Next: The big day dawns.

GQRTA Day 6 Gayndah to Eidsvold

Part 7 of 10

Previously Day 5 Proston to Gayndah

Next: Day 7 Eidsvold to Mungungo

Links

Distance 86 km

Gayndah to Eidsvold was our first day riding on the Boyne Burnett Inland Rail Trail.

The BBIRT is a fascinating mix of Queensland history and current day interpretations of that history.

The Gayndah-Monto-Gladstone branch railway scribes a massive 270km arc away from the main coastal railway line through the North Burnett region. It left the main line at Mungar Junction, about 10km south of Maryborough, and rejoined at Byellee, just outside of Gladstone.

Queensland’s railways were mostly built in the 30 year period from 1890 to 1920. Having the railway come to your town was a vital engine of economic growth, and no doubt played a major role in the development of the South and North Burnett regions.

Branch lines all over Queensland declined in usefulness after World War II, and were all closed by about 2000, decades after they had become uncompetitive for both freight and passenger services.

When the railway finally closes, there are often three big ideas about what should happen to the line.

The first is that the line should be preserved just in case there is a need to reopen it to service some mine or other. Or maybe a sugar mill!?

The second is that our branch line would be perfect for a historic railway – a certainty to be a tourist drawcard!

The third idea is turning the rail corridor into a trail for walkers, bike riders and horse riders.

In my view this third option is the only sensible route forward for most disused railway lines. But the pity is that it takes at least 20 years for communities to come to that point of view. In that time many elements of the line can be lost. Bridges get washed away in flood events, maintenance stops and timber bridges especially deteriorate, the line gets leased out to private interests, etc etc.

The Gayndah to Mundubbera section of the BBIRT faces all those challenges.

No trains since the turn of the century means no maintenance for the many bridges.

The line from Mungar to Gayndah has been leased to Isis Sugar, so there’s no prospect of the rail trail back towards Biggenden. The floods over the last 10 years damaged the Reid Creek bridge (the first one out of Gayndah towards Mundubbera) and the Burnett River bridge between Wetheron and Gayndah (also in the off-limits Isis-leased section).

Into this context comes our hero Mike Goebel, and his small team working on the Mt Debateable to Humphrey section of the BBIRT. With Reids Creek bridge washed away, the most reasonable way to access the trail is by riding out on the Gayndah-Mundubbera Road, and turning off at Mt Debateable Rd to cross the Burnett River.

From there we could access the rail trail at Mt Debateable siding, and follow on the trail as far as the Humphrey siding. Then its Boomerang Rd alongside the Burnett River, looking up the gullies at the wondrous bridges (4,5,6,7) that are such a feature of this section. Read more on the history of these bridges here.

For me one very cool aspect of the bridges is their variation. There are concrete arches, and steel lattice trusses, and even one called the “upside down” bridge.

The surface of the trail throughout these sections is what we might call “unimproved”. Some sections are a little bit rocky, some have substantial patches of sand that rob you of your momentum.

By the time we made it to Mundubbera for lunch (Mike arranged for us to meet the councillor for that town as well) it was well past 2pm and our average speed for the day was under 10km/h. With the temperatures above 30 deg C and some uncertainty about our route for the next stage, we just rode the Burnett Highway to Eidsvold. The traffic was not a problem and our group (by now a trio as Brett had decided to return home after the ride into Gayndah) rolled into town with about 45 minutes of daylight to spare.

We stayed at the Eidsvold Caravan Park. As the BBIRT has not officially come to Eidsvold yet, I get the feeling that touring bike riders are not as common as on the BVRT or KKRT.

The Corner Motel Cafe is the best spot for dinner in Eidsvold. It might also be the only spot as the pub wasn’t serving evening meals when we were there.

The Corner cafe was so good we came back for breakfast the next day!

Where to stay in Eidsvold:

Next: Day 7 Eidsvold to Mungungo.

GQRTA Day 5 Proston to Gayndah

Part 6 of 10

Previous: Day 4 Kingaroy to Proston

Next Day 6 Gayndah to Eidsvold

Links

Distance 75.9

If Day 5 was transitional from rail trails into the unknown, Day 6 is totally off-piste.

When the idea for the Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure started forming in my head around June 2020, the biggest question was: “What is the best route to link the KKRT and the BBIRT?”

I asked Mike Goebel (the co-ordinator for the Gayndah to Mundubbera section of BBIRT) what he thought. I had a look at maps. I wondered if the spur line from Murgon to Hivesville and Proston would ever become a rail trail (at present this seems only a distant possibility). Some further investigation made it clear to me that Proston was a much better overnight prospect than Hivesville. This was borne out in real life.

But the big unknown was the ride from Proston to Gayndah. 76 km, most of it on dirt road, with no towns, no services, no toilets, not water, not even a picnic shelter on the side of the road.

I was concerned enough about the Proston to Gayndah ride that I found a way of carrying 4 litres of water on my bike. Even in September you can get very hot days anywhere in Queensland. I had a bad experience once running out of water while bikepacking from Imbil to Jimna on a sweltering day in mid-October. Not keen to repeat that experience.

So today’s ride was a little leap into the unknown. But fortunately we also had a local to ride with us. Peter, a BQ member who lives on a property just out of Gayndah, arranged for a friend to drop him off in Proston so he could ride with us.

We stocked up at the Proston IGA with food and water and set off.

The ride started with a testing 3km climb on the bitumen road back towards Hivesville. We turned onto Proston-Abbeywood Rd which (nice surprise) was sealed for another 7km.

And although after that the surface was back to gravel, it was a well maintained dirt road. And gravity was in our favour. The climb out of Proston had taken us to 500 m above sea level, and we were aiming for Gayndah, 110 metres above sea level. So more down than up is always a good day, provided there aren’t too many lumps and bumps along the way.

We rolled along merrily until our next nice surprise: the appearance of Mike Goebel, our Gayndah contact, in his rail-trail-supporting station wagon. Mike always comes bearing the local produce, so it was mandarins for morning tea.

We stopped at creekside locations for food and rest breaks, but really this day had no major dramas. It’s not a very easy day on the bike, because 50 km of unpaved road is never that easy. But it was no harder than other days on this route, and scenic in forestry and cattle grazing kind of way.

There are a couple of gradual climbs on the way into Gayndah, which we negotiated by steady pedalling, and we arrived in the early afternoon.

There are pubs and motels and caravan parks in Gayndah, but Mike Goebel is a very hospitable man, and most of our group accepted his offer of camping at ‘Cafe Michel’ (his house).

Mike’s connections with the Gayndah community also came for the fore, as the Councillor for Gayndah division of the North Burnett Regional Council appeared at Mike’s place to whisk us away for a quick tour of the sights.

The most impressive of these is the view over the Burnett River from the top of Mt Gayndah. I would not want to ride my bike up the access road to that lookout, but the view is awesome. Probably the best way for bike tourists to see this is to ingratiate yourself with Cr Dael Giddins, who is a lovely outgoing person who is always keen to show off the town.

Where to stay in Gayndah

There is another caravan park, and three pubs. None of them have websites, which makes me think they’re not that interested in having people stay. Brett from our group stayed at the Riverview Caravan Park and said it was OK.

Next: Day 6 Gayndah to Eidsvold

GQRTA Day 4 Kingaroy to Proston

Part 5 of 10

Previously: Day 3 Yarraman to Kingaroy

Next: Day 5 Proston to Gayndah

Links

Distance 72.4 km.

Today’s ride in the Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure is a transitional day and it is very much in two parts.

The first part is the last section of “completed” rail trail on this trip, riding the South Burnett section of the Kilkivan to Kingaroy Rail Trail.

The KKRT itself is a tale in two parts, but for the purposes of this route, we will only touch on the southern section, which is that rarest of creatures, a sealed bitumen rail trail. Truly the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat of rail trails in Queensland. We rode from Kingaroy to Wondai all on the tar, and it continues as far as Murgon, another 13km away. Check out Gillian and Mark’s book for all the gory details on the KKRT.

Kingaroy is 425 metres above sea level and Wondai is 310 metres. So the combination of rail trail gradients (gentle), bitumen (pretty darn smooth, especially for those of us on 48 mm tyres), and losing 115 metres of elevation all made for a pretty easy ride.

We climbed gently as we left Kingaroy, up to Crawford, Memerambi, and the highest point of today’s ride at Wooroolin. There’s a free campsite on the trail at Wooroolin, and another down at Wondai.

At Wooroolin there’s a Grand Hotel, and a cafe which was once a butcher’s shop. I’ve eaten at the Butcher’s Cafe before and it was very passable.

This time we just took a couple of photos at the old station, and kept on rolling. Wondai was our destination for early lunch, and this time it was also our moment to farewell Ian, who was returning to Brisbane for family reasons.

So after some delicious rice paper rolls at the Wondai Bakery, we left the rail trail behind and launched into the unknown.

Our route from Wondai to Proston followed back roads with a mixture of sealed and good gravel for 16km until we popped out on Wondai-Proston Rd, which isn’t any sort of highway, but is the road which trucks visiting Hivesville and Proston would use.

The traffic wasn’t a problem to us. The hills, maybe a little bit more. One long climb got us to Gordon Buchanan Lookout, which would not make my list of top 100 lookouts visited. But it was a pleasant place to stop and regroup.

It was a warm afternoon as our quartet rolled into Hivesville, where the servo is new and well-stocked. Belinda was threatening to buy a whole box of ice blocks.

As we consumed our refreshments, a group of off-road touring motor-bikers (KTMs and the like) rolled in for refuelling. They were heading towards Mount Perry, apparently that’s a good place to go on your motorcycle. (It used to host a wonderful mountain bike race about 10-12 years ago, but that’s another story altogether).

From Hivesville to Proston is only 11km, but it is hill country, and every road is lumpy. Our route took us off the bitumen at Kinleymore, and along Middle Road, which climbed for 4km. Just what we wanted in the hottest part of the day.

However, I have to say that it was all worth it when we arrived in Proston. We were charmed by the vibe of the main street, with the Golden Spurs pub and the Jacaranda Tearooms, and the Proston public library.

We were fortunate to be there on a week day, so after booking in at the pub and getting cleaned up, we wandered over to the tearooms for coffee and cake, and then visited the library for a dose of local history.

The main street of Proston has had an injection of community spirit from the local councillor for South Burnett, Kathy Duff. It is a fantastic story of a town which is surely struggling through drought and the rural downturn, yet seems full of resilient people who just keep on showing up.

As I was glancing through a self-published history of Proston, I did spy a picture of a much younger Kathy Duff, with 1980s big hair and puffy sleeves, representing the district in some sort of talent quest. It was a different time.

The other highlight of our time in Proston was dinner at the Golden Spurs Hotel.

Possibly against our better judgment, Brett and I both ordered the Pad Thai. Because I love pad thai, and who is to say that pad thai in Brisbane is better or more authentic or more whatever than pad thai from a pub in rural Queensland.

It was the best pad thai I have ever had. That is not an exaggeration. Silky noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, large perfectly cooked prawns, much chicken and tofu and lemony garlicky flavours with the requisite sprinkle of crushed roasted peanuts. Our dining companions – Rob especially – were salivating with envy.

Places to stay in Proston:

Next: GQRTA Day 5 Proston to Gayndah.

GQRTA Day 3 Yarraman to Kingaroy

Part 4 of 10

Previously: Day 2 Toogoolawah to Yarraman

Next: Day 4 Kingaroy to Proston

Links to data:

Distance: 52.9km

Peaceful morning scene at Yarraman Weir.

The route today is controversial. Not VERY controversial. Not “pineapple on pizza” levels of controversy. But there are many opinions about the “best” route from Yarraman to Kingaroy.

When the Kilkivan to Kingaroy Rail Trail opened in 2016, straightaway there were people who wanted to connect up the KKRT and the BVRT for a longer multi-day ride (I was one of those people).

Gillian Duncan and Mark Roberts who publish the wonderful book ‘Where To Mountain Bike in South-East Queensland’, also have a book on the two rail trails. They discuss the Link trail options on pages 18 and 19 of that book.

The real reason for the signed Link Trail is to make sure that touring riders go through Nanango. Retired dentist David Kenny mapped out the route in 2019 and was successful in getting a small grant from Heritage Bank to pay for the signs. David wanted to make sure that the route went through Nanango, as there were other routes being published that went via Tarong State Forest and bypassed Nanango altogether.

Well, I like Nanango as a town, so there was no way I was going to bypass it. And added to that was the fact that we weren’t heading back into Yarraman for breakfast, as the Link Trail heads east past our overnight spot at Yarraman Weir before turning north on Din Din Road, a.k.a. the old stock route.

The stock route is pretty good fun. Refer to other notes about what sort of bike is best for this type of ride, but certainly those on bigger tyres had more fun on this section. The sign at either end of the rough part of the route gives adequate warning, and a gentle challenge (“cyclists dismount in areas if unsure”). I sure didn’t dismount. And I didn’t have to get off and push either.

We arrived in Nanango in time for morning tea or brunch, depending on your appetite status. We were fortunate enough to catch up with the aforementioned David Kenny, who while we sipped our coffees gave us an overview of the gravel riding routes around the area.

I will certainly be returning to Nanango, probably as part of a three-day ride including the NAN 1, 2 and 3 gravel loops, and a return to Linville via the upper reaches of the Brisbane River.

But on this occasion we headed north from Nanango for 5km on the Burnett Highway, before turning off on Booie Rd.

I had ridden the signed Link from Nanango to Kingaroy about two years previous, and wanted to try a different route. My memory of the Link was of big hill after big hill and I wondered if the alternate route I had mapped out might be flatter.

Reader, I was wrong. My route to the north of the D’Aguilar Highway was plenty hilly, made much worse by a navigational error I made soon after we turned onto Booie Rd. (We continued straight ahead on Smith Rd instead of staying on Booie Rd by turning right).

So if you compare and contrast the routes I have linked above, I would suggest that the RideWithGPS route is worth trying, and the Strava ride (which we did) is not. It did have a screaming smooth dirt road downhill on Reagon Rd which gave up 100 metres of hard-won elevation in about a minute and a half. But that’s not good.

We made it to Kingaroy for a late-ish lunch at the Glendon Street Cafe, and rolled out to the Kingaroy Showgrounds, which is a good place to camp. We had called ahead to let them know we were a group of bike riders, so the spot we were allocated was away from the caravans and RVs, and close to our own amenities block, which also included a power box to charge our electronics.

We said goodbye to Emma and Fiona, who had booked the services of Out There Cycling to get back to where they had parked their van. David and Josie are doing a great job, it’s the easiest way to organise point to point rides on the BVRT/KKRT.

Kingaroy is a large town with plenty of hotel and motel accommodation, even some AirBnBs. But if you are camping, the Showgrounds is a clear winner.

We dined at the Kingaroy RSL, where the sticky date pudding was a veritable island in a sea of butterscotch sauce. What more could you ask?

Kingaroy is well known for cool nights and mornings … it is nearly the same elevation as Yarraman and Blackbutt, about 450 metres above sea level. One of our group, who found herself a little under-insulated at Yarraman, had no trouble finding some extra warmth in the shops available at Kingaroy.

Next: Day 4: Kingaroy to Proston

GQRTA Day 2 Toogoolawah to Yarraman

Part 3 of 10

Previously: Day 1 Wulkuraka to Toogoolawah

Next: Day 3 Yarraman to Kingaroy

Strava links:

Distance: 77.1

This is one of the signature days on this ride, with the iconic ride from Linville to Blackbutt, the hero section of the BVRT in my view. But that’s still to come, let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Our day started with breakfast at the Havachat Cafe. You should do that too. Unless you are a diehard “porridge cooked on the metho stove” type of a camper. We had a couple of those in our group. There’s nothing you can say to people who would choose instant porridge ahead of a bacon and egg burger.

The first highlight of the ride today is the Yimbun Tunnel after 10km. This is the only tunnel on a rail trail in SEQ, so take your time as you approach, take pix, and then ride through. There’s an information panel with the history – of course there are panels and plaques galore along the trail, and I have long agreed with Roman Mars: always read the plaque.

Zoom across Ivory Creek into Harlin, which has a servo and pub, and up a short non-rail-alignment hill to a picnic spot with a view. Then there is a fun little section with a restored bridge and the old rail alignment wedged into the side of a hill, before we cross the D’Aguilar Highway for the first of three times.

Moore is an ideal location for morning tea, with 28km under our wheels. I like Kai Lounge, but other cafes are available. Toilets are in the park across the main road, so be careful of trucks and caravans once the coffee hits you and you need to go.

Fully refreshed we roll out of Moore past the magpies towards Linville, and our eventual date with the long long climb up to Benarkin. There are also a couple of little hills on the trail from Moore to Linville, because some sections of the trail here are not on the original rail alignment. But when we are on the original corridor, there is a great view over the upper reaches of the Brisbane River.

Linville is home to one of the BVRT’s big success stories: the Linville Hotel. It’s changed hands a few times in the last few years, but the current owners have transformed its look and the bike riders and grey nomads have been coming in droves ever since.

We don’t have the time today to hang out at the pub. We have a hill to climb. I may have already mentioned it.

This is the oldest section of the trail. There is an explanatory plaque somewhere along the route which gives some background about Reg McCallum and Kevin Allery, councillors on Nanango Shire Council who saw the vision of turning the disused rail line into something much more wonderful. In 2006 they kicked off the Linville to Blackbutt section, and the rest is history (mind you it did take 12 years to finish the trail). A group sprang up at Moore, the Ambassadors of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, and they have been looking after this section ever since.

The trail rises steadily (good old 2%) from Linville, up to McNamara’s Camp, which is a great spot for a rest break. It’s roughly halfway, and marks the point where the open valley ends and we are encased in denser forest for the second half of the rise towards Benarkin.

The second rest stop is called Fettlers Rest. It’s worth a look, for the rail trail art installation. There is also a short walking trail down to a culvert tunnel under the embankment at this location.

Eventually Benarkin (toilets, shop, free camp) hoves into view, and what follows is a gentle run into Blackbutt, with its bakery, cafe, pub and shops.

The Blackbutt Bakery is excellent. The best thing on the menu is everything savoury, followed up by everything sweet. This does sometimes lead to the problem that with 20km still to ride, you might have trouble finishing your sweet treat, but that just means wrapping up something delicious and keeping it for later on. In my case it was a wedge of peanut butter choc brownie – some serious calories!

Blackbutt also has a great low-cost place to stay: the Showgrounds. There are wonderful hot showers and you can camp there for $10.

From Blackbutt the trail tends up towards Nukku, and then a long downhill run to Harland Park, and a tricky crossing of Cooyar Creek. This crossing has large sandstone blocks, which a confident and skilled rider on wide tyres will handle easily. But those who are daunted can also jump off and walk across. There’s no advantage in getting a pinch flat, or falling off into the creek if an edge of the stone slab catches your wheel.

If you are riding across the blocks, consider your exit gear. In both directions there is a steep pinch coming out of the creek crossing.

After Cooyar Creek, the trail rises steadily past Pidna siding, with its beautiful stand of grass trees, arriving at the end of the trail at Yarraman Station park. This park is about 2 km from the current centre of Yarraman (pub and cafes and shops) which is on the main road.

We camped at Yarraman Weir, which is about 1km from the station park, but in the “wrong” direction, i.e. further away from the town centre. So when we headed in for dinner at the Royal Hotel, having lights on our bikes was vital. The Weir campground is free for rail trailers, and it has toilets and water (but only a small tank) and a picnic shelter, but no shower.

Places to stay at Yarraman:

Next: Day 3 Yarraman to Kingaroy

GQRTA Day 1 Wulkuraka to Toogoolawah

Part 2 of 10

Previously: Overview

Next: Day 2 Toogoolawah to Yarraman

Strava links for this post:

Distance: 86.8km.

The ride starts from Wulkuraka Station, and rolls along a concrete bike path for the first 5km through suburban Ipswich. Once we pass under the Warrego Highway we get onto the dirt and start to get into the rhythms of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

The BVRT has become much busier in the past few years, and you will certainly encounter bike riders travelling in both directions. Further along the trail you may also encounter riders on horses. Both walkers and horse riders have right of way over bike riders, so be nice and share the trail!

Fernvale is the first opportunity for a coffee or a snack, after 22km. But before you get there, take care as you cross the Brisbane Valley Highway at Lloyds Road after 14km. The crossing of Fairney Brook on a concrete causeway is a little treat about 4km later.

No shortage of food and drink outlets in bustling Fernvale. Once again, be careful crossing the Brisbane Valley Highway … even in town the cars, trucks and motorcycles roar past with great enthusiasm.

I like and recommend the Tree Change Cafe (corner of Banks Creek Rd and the highway).

Back on the trail for one of the original sections of the BVRT, Fernvale to Lowood, which undulates gently alongside Forest Hill Fernvale Rd for most of its 9km. Lowood also has cafes multiple and bakery singular, and quite a lovely garden beside the trail as you head off past the golf course.

Cross Clarendon Rd and marvel/wince at the “bicycle fence”.

Lockyer Creek bridge is another chance for a photo, this time for a beautifully restored rail bridge. More like this please!

The run into Coominya from here is straight and imperceptibly uphill. Good thing there’s a shop and a pub at Coominya if you need them.

The next 15km up to Mount Hallen are mostly uphill, on that steady railway 2% gradient.

Catching up with friends you see on the trail.

Made it to Mount Hallen!

But that’s OK because it means that the following 10km into Esk are “downhill”. In both instances you will still need to pedal.

Esk nestles beside Sandy Creek in the shelter of Mount Glen Rock, where it is proposed to build a mountain bike trail network. And it has accommodation and refueling options too many to name.

Sadly the Red Deer Cafe is closed because of a fire, so my next favourite eating spot in Esk is the Grand Hotel, which has a pleasant beer garden in back. Our group included some vegetarians, who rated the vegie pizza as a winner. As might be expected, meat eaters have a much larger selection to choose from, not just in Esk, but for this whole 9-day route.

After lunch we had about 19km left for the day, over one more hill at Ottaba. The bridge at Coal Creek is slated for the restoration treatment, so soon enough it will be one less time you have to make the decision of whether to find a super-low gear and attempt to power-spin your way up the pinch out of the gully, or admit defeat and push your heavy-laden bike.

Watch out for magpies, camels and llamas in this section of the trail. No prizes for seeing or interacting with any or all of these creatures. The camels are in a paddock, the magpies are on the wing in spring, but the llamas are a tourist attraction, so maybe you could take one for a walk.

After Ottaba is another long pedally gently downhill run to Toogoolawah, home of the Condensery art gallery, and Ramblers skydiving centre.

My group was tempted by neither art nor plummeting, and instead took some victory snaps at Toogoolawah station and then reconvened for drinks at the Exchange Hotel.

Where to stay in Toogoolawah:

There are two other hotels – the Club, now called Peddlers Rest, and the Toogoolawah Hotel. I haven’t been to either one, and can’t even find a link to add.

Next: Day 2 Toogoolawah to Yarraman

Overview: The Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure

Part 1 of a 10-part series describing a bike touring route by Andrew Demack, from Ipswich (Wulkuraka) to Gladstone, the “Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure”.

Next: Day 1 Wulkuraka to Toogoolawah

Background

I visited the two developing sections of the Boyne Burnett Inland Rail Trail in June 2020, and met up with Mike in Gayndah, and Desley O’Grady at Kalpowar, and was impressed with their vision and enthusiasm and commitment to this great project.

So when the news came that the Kalpowar section was going to be opened in September, I thought, “why not ride there, and promote the idea of linking up Queensland’s three major rail trails”.

This 9-day ride uses the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, the Kilkivan to Kingaroy Rail Trail (in part), and the new sections of the Boyne Burnett Rail Trail, linked up by back roads, and some main roads.

Resources

What do I need to know?

Bikes and tyres

The rail trail adventure covers a mix of surfaces but never gets into singletrack that would be suited only to a mountain bike.

Rail trails don’t have long steep climbs – after all, they follow a corridor which used to be a railway line. Some Queensland rail trails have short steep climbs out of gullies where the trail routes around rail bridges which are no longer in service.

And there are some long climbs, such as from Linville to Benarkin on the BVRT, or Wondai to Wooroolin on the KKRT. But those climbs are usually at a very rideable 2% gradient.

The surface of these trails is quite variable. There are certainly plenty of opinions about what the right sort of bike is for Queensland’s rail trails, which with one exception are all gravel surfaces.

Our group mostly had tyres of 42 mm or wider, with perhaps the “average” tyre being 650x48 or 700x40-42. My view is that a tyre width of approximately 50 mm is the sweet spot on rail trails. Any bigger and you are wasting energy dragging around more tyre than you need. Any less and you will dig in on the sandy sections, and be bounced around on the rougher sections.

Carrying your stuff

You will also see in our photos that there isn’t one correct way to set up your bike for rail trail / gravel road touring. We did a mix of camping and staying in pubs, so almost all of us were carrying camping kit.

If you see a setup in the photos on these pages that you are interested in, get in touch, and I can give more details. Here’s my bike for this trip, but I also have toured on rail trails on a mountain bike, and can offer some tips and tricks on what to bring and how to bring it.

Weather and wind

The best time of year for bike touring in Queensland is winter into early spring. We rode in early September 2021, and the weather was superb. We had a couple of cool nights (Kingaroy, Yarraman) with overnight lows down to about 3 degrees Celsius.

Riding south to north makes sense in Queensland, especially near the coast where the prevailing breeze is a south-easterly. In late winter / early spring, there is always the chance of a gusty westerly wind. We only experienced mild breezes, and didn’t notice a headwind of any sort until the second last day.

Mobile phone service

Telstra is so far ahead of Optus once you leave the south-east corner that it is not even funny. Those of us with Optus phones found them mostly useless on the nights we stayed in Proston, Eidsvold, Mungungo and Ubobo.

Next: Day 1 Wulkuraka to Toogoolawah

Not the backyard blitz

Gravel-packing with panniers

A big part of the bike-packing style of bike touring that really took off in the last 10 years was strapping bags directly to your bike, whether on the handlebars or seatpost, or within the main frame triangle.

For touring routes that have a high proportion of rough off-road tracks, or even some single track, this approach can be really good. It mean that most of your load stays within the usual dimensions of the bike.

This post was sparked by a promotional article by Tailfin, who make lightweight racks and luggage, which were originally focused on adding luggage capacity to road bikes. They have now worked out that their market is mostly your “bikepackers”, hence “Do pannier bags have any place in modern bikepacking?”.

I broadly agree with the Tailfin crew, even though they are touting their new product. Panniers are a great way to store stuff, if you can get them mounted securely. Yes, they do have a place.

On my Sholto touring bike, I have a lowrider front rack. It is the one universally regarded as the market leader by long-distance tourists, the Tubus Tara.

And the panniers that everyone uses on the Tubus Tara are Ortlieb Front Rollers (there are about four or five different models, I have the cheapest ones with no bells and whistles).

All Ortlieb panniers have a very secure mounting system onto the top rail of the Tubus rack. So they aren’t going to bounce off (despite what Tailfin says).

But the lower plastic hook(s) that provides added stability is admittedly a rattly kind of system. My first attempt at silencing the rattle was quite successful. Rokstraps are a kind of bungee on steroids. I attached the stretchy part to the top rail of the rack, and the webbing half to the bottom attachment point, and held the pannier by strap lengthwise from top to bottom.

The only downside was that the strap stayed on the rack when the pannier was removed, and at that point it flapped around and got in the way. So mounting and unmounting the panniers was a bit of a faff because the straps had to be put on the rack each time.

The next iteration was to attach the Rokstrap to the panniers rather than the rack. This involved unscrewing the attachment rails at the back of the Ortliebs, and sanding away a section of the plastic rail to make space for the Rokstrap to wrap around. So now they are attached to the panniers, and the mounting/unmounting is a breeze.

The panniers are now nearly silent on even the roughest gravel road. The downside is that I’ve modified/hacked/damaged them, so I suppose I’ve reduced their resale value. Probably not a big deal for panniers that cost $110 for the pair.

And the answer to the question: ‘Do panniers have a place in modern bikepacking?’

Well I don’t know what ‘modern bikepacking’ is, or why I should care if I’m doing it, so I might not be the right person to answer. But I think I’ve solved to my satisfaction the question: How do I carry touring gear on my bike on rough roads?

And to Tailfin: so many straw men in your article. The idea that small panniers are some sort of revolution just cos you can also buy large panniers is laughable.

See also:

Our favourite bicycle YouTuber Russ Roca had the same issue, but solved it in a different way.

New kit day

Airtable is awesome

I like to plan bike tours. The two tools I use most are Airtable and RideWithGPS.

Airtable is a fantastic tool for planning anything. It is a combination of simple database and simple spreadsheet, coupled with calendars and to-dos.

The basic level is free, and you can do plenty with the basic version.

Every tour I have ridden for the last four years has an Airtable as part of the pre-ride planning.

I have even planned a tour that I did not ride – Lands End to John O’Groats in 2020. I was all set for six weeks in the UK in May-June 2020, but not even Airtable can overcome a global pandemic.

For most tours, the route comes first. I plan my routes in RideWithGPS. I plan out routes for each day’s ride, and join them up as an “event” in RideWithGPS.

My Airtable bike-tour planning template then takes over.

The most important table is the route plan – it is your bike tour at a glance. It takes the day-by-day routes from RideWithGPS, and presents them in a table with date, day, start and finish locations, daily distance, lunch location and distance, and links to the accommodation table. The table also tallies your total distance for the tour.

The accommodation table is a deep dive into your accommodation options. You can put in multiple options for each town or location, and link to the URL, note the tariff and whether you have booked.

Grouping by town is a good way of comparing options if there are several to choose from.

The packing list table is one that I have refined over many years. It helps me work out what’s important to take on this specific tour. I group the items by ‘location’, which in this context means where is an item stored on my bike.

The “locations” listed will change depending on which bike I am taking on this adventure: my 650B touring bike or my 29er hardtail touring mtb. And as I consider which items to take, and where there might be room to store them, I get a feeling for the set-up I will need.

Am I camping? Am I taking my stove? Am I taking an Aeropress for a delicious coffee each morning, or will there be somewhere to buy a coffee?

If I’m camping in remote locations (i.e. not in towns), am I taking a tarp or a tent? What are the predicted minimum overnight temperatures for this time of year in these places? If we are staying in towns, is it camping or pubs?

What is the mix of roads and trails that comprise this tour? My most recent five-day outing on the Central West Cycle Trail I took my 29er hard tail mountain bike, and I was happy with the choice, especially on the last day through some rough, rutted and bumpy forestry trails through the Goonoo Forest near Mendooran.

The mountain bike has different luggage carrying options than my touring bike (the Sholto). And for my next mini-adventure I’ve decided that the Sholto will do the trick. The gnarliest piece of road or trail that I expect to ride is the crossing of Yarraman Creek on Old Yarraman Rd, and If there is a little bit of hike-a-bike coming up from the creek bed that will be fine.

But with more than 200km of bitumen road as part of the tour, the Sholto bike is a clear winner over the 29er, because of the more road-oriented position, and smaller tyres. And of course this means that when sorting through my packing list, I have in mind the low-rider panniers and front bag system on the Sholto, rather than the bike-packing style luggage on the mtb.

So if one of the barriers to getting started in bike touring is a lack of expertise or experience … l invite you to grab my Airtable template, and just see where it takes you. Any questions, just ask.

Loaded up and trucking

I recently posted some photos of my touring bike, all set up for the Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure. And people asked questions, or expressed opinions, about the bike and the luggage setup.

So let’s get nerdy. Here’s a deep-ish dive into the shallow water of what I know about setting up your bike and equipment to go touring.

The bike now known as ‘the Sholto’ started out as a Shogun Alpine GT. I bought it in 1993, so the frame is now 28 years old.

Most of the components are much newer than that. The seatpost is the only other original component.

The Shogun Alpine GT was a touring bicycle, with a triple chainring at the front, and 700x35 tyres. Mine was a medium size, ordered from St Kilda Cycles, and put together for me by Andrew Pritchard at Flashing Pedals, Acacia Ridge.

After several other incarnations (flat-bar singlespeed hack bike, ghetto cyclocross/gravel grinder, mustache-bar rail-trail tourer), the bike was re-born as a 650B touring and commuting bike about three years ago, and re-named in honour of my late friend Sholto Douglas.

Here’s the current spec, in more detail than anyone could ever want.

  • Frame: Shogun Templite 4130 Chromoly steel, made in Taiwan. Fork was custom made by Joe Cosgrove (of Frezoni fame), as part of the conversion to 650B. It is a “low-trail” design, to improve handling with a front load.
  • Wheels: Pacenti Brevet (front) and Grand Bois Papillon (rear) 650B rims. Front hub SP PV8 dynamo hub, rear hub Shimano Tiagra. 32 spokes front and rear. Tyres: Grand Bois Hetres, 42-584. NB: I had a Pacenti Brevet rear rim become unusably soft, so had to get the rear wheel relaced with the Grand Bois Papillon. Finding good quality reliable but lightweight 65) rim brake rims is no small matter. Kumo Cycles has the Papillon, which is now my go-to.
  • Cockpit: Shimano Sora 9-speed shifters, Ritchey Logic 46cm handlebars. Profile Design quill stem adapter, BBB stem.
  • Pedals: HT ANS10 Supreme flats (thanks Emma). Update: When I’m not touring, I’ve swapped out these pedals for MKS Sylvan Gorditos, which have a less aggressive pins and plates.
  • Drivetrain: Middleburn cranks, 42-30 chainrings (TA). 11-34 9 speed Shimano cassette, derailleurs are Shimano Alivio.
  • Brakes: Tektro CR720 cantilevers.
  • Saddle: Brooks C17 Cambium with cutout.

Luggage, water etc

My camping kit

  • Tent: 3F UL Lanshan Pro 2 Requires poles because it’s intended for use by hikers who carry walking poles. Also, buy better/sturdier pegs than the standard ones.
  • Mattress: Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat.
  • Sleep: Drop.com down quilt, Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor sleeping bag liner, Zempire Chill Pill pillow
  • Stove: Jetboil (decided not to take it on this trip, we’re camping in towns so there’s always somewhere to eat).
  • Resmed Airmini travel CPAP machine. Has changed my camping experience remarkably! Previously I would wake multiple times a night, and often on a cold evening have to get up to relieve myself. Now I can sleep through the night, and I feel like I’ve found a kind of magic formula for comfy camping. A good night’s sleep, who knew that would be helpful?