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The Caves and Country Route: a scenic adventure

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling on Wombeyan Caves Road, NSW

The ride: Mittagong to Young, NSW
Distance: 270km
Days: 4
Difficulty: Hard
Cumulative elevation gain: 3, 855m
Cumulative elevation drop: 4,065m
Road: part dirt, part sealed

When we planned this route, we knew we'd be in for a challenging ride. What we underestimated was just how amazingly beautiful it would be; even getting caught out in an electrical storm, pounding rain, hail and gale-force winds couldn't wash-out our appreciation of what a lovely route this is. But it is challenging, with close to 4,000 metres of vertical climbing over the four-day ride from Mittagong in the New South Wales Southern Highlands to Young on the South West Slopes.

The Caves and Country Route cuts across the Great Dividing Range, passing through National Parks, across the Wollondilly River and via Wombeyan Caves before emerging into the rolling countryside and through the towns of Crookwell, Boorowa and Young.

The ride is clearly divided into two parts, with the mountainous bushland of the dirt road section juxtaposed against the cleared fields of the country, but even the on-road section continues to offer up something different as you roll on by, passing grazing pastures, rounded boulders, bright yellow fields of canola and small vineyards.

Bike route 1874676 - powered by Bikemap

The ride can be done in four days, with the fourth day being just a half-day ride, however, if you've got time on your side, you may like to add a day or two to give yourself time to see the caves or spend some time in one of the country towns along the route.

Mittagong is easy to access on Sydney's local CityRail train network and bikes don't need to be boxed. Young can be reached via the CountryLink service; a coach makes the trip between Young and Cootamundra and a train completes the journey. Please note that these coaches generally only take two boxed bikes at a time. Larger groups may want to ride an additional 33km south to Harden, where you can board the train directly. Bike space is still very limited, so book yourself a spot well in advance and arrange to pick-up a bike box.

What to ride

This route is part dirt and part sealed road and is suited to sturdy touring bikes, hybrids and mountain bikes with a good selection of gears ­– you'll want something capable of dropping into low gear for the long climbing stretches, particularly on the first day. Riding this with 27 gears was nice, although one in our group who brought along a 12 speed suffered from cramps on the climbs on the first day and had to walk the last section. Front suspension isn't a necessity, but it will make your ride a whole lot more comfortable.

The first half of the ride is on well-packed, but sometimes gravelly dirt with rare car traffic, while the second part takes in quiet, smooth paved country roads. An ideal tyre for this ride would be something like the Continental Globetrotter, which is a heavy duty touring tyre with a slick centre for a nice roll on pavement, but with a knobby tread at the edges for good traction taking corners on the dirt. Having said that, none of us on this ride used this tyre. I was very comfortable on a pair of Continental Country Plus 26x1.75 inch and Simon had a similar tread in Schwalbe. We had no problems with these on the dirt, although we did have to watch ourselves when flying around corners on the dirt descents. At the opposite end of the scale, Paul was very comfortable on the dirt with a knobby tyre similar to the Maxis CrossMark, and while it didn't bother him too much, he naturally noticed it to be a little stickier on road.

When to ride

Like most areas of NSW, Spring is a lovely time to ride this area. The days are warm, but the air is still refreshingly cool and a perfect cycling temperature. Spring is also generally a pretty time of year, with the canola fields turning a dazzling yellow. The one minor downside to this time of year is that the magpies can get a little territorial and we got swooped on four separate occasions.

Summer can be hot, while Winter in these parts can be chilly, with the top altitude on this ride reaching 1,023m, but even the lower altitudes towards Young can give you a shiver. If camping out in Winter (and even parts of Spring and Autumn) expect below zero temperatures at night.

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