Saddle sore: Viewing regional NSW from the back of a bike

James Thomas

“We should be finishing in Moree, not starting.”

That thought crosses my mind as we pass Moree’s artesian baths. What it would be to plunge weary legs into natural hot springs after a week riding 1000 kilometres through regional NSW.

In the 1800s explorers discovered this terrain on horseback. Today, stirrups are replaced with the vice-like grip of bike pedals, our steeds are carbon and horse power comes from quadriceps. But the landscape hasn’t changed much in 200 years. Well, except for some serious land clearing undertaken by our forefathers.

Riders arriving in town. Photo: Carer's Australia

Wheat paddocks, long roads, dry air and black cockatoos. Roadside, there’s plenty of cattle and the scene is one of pleasant country charm; until a half tonne cow crosses the path of our peloton taking us to a crashing halt. But don’t blame the cow…

One of our riders thought he’d guide the herd away from us by communicating with them in their mother tongue - He moo'd. The cattle responded. With a stampede. Thanks John.

From Dr Doolittle moments to delusions of grandeur. We see ourselves as Cadel, Hincapie, and Gerrans – cycling greats. In truth, our 'Peloton of the Outback’ looks more like a lycra’d line of hunchbacks. And before long, results in sore backs. The road from Moree to Bingara is riddled with potholes.

At the halfway mark, locals in Gravesend provide morning tea: coffee, biscuits, sandwiches, fruitcake. This is why people travel to the country; the people are so nice and, yes, down to earth.

Country riding. Photo: Carer's Australia

Bingara, by the Gwidir River, is the inland fishing capital of Australia. But after a day in the saddle, throwing a line in was never going to happen. We wet our whistles at the Imperial Hotel instead and tales of our cycling brilliance rival any fishing trip.

Organised rides always start early. On a more leisurely visit and you'd start with eggs, bacon, a coffee and perhaps a small bush walk. Not today - we rise early to achieve the 153 km to Tamworth.

The roads out here are quiet.Photo: Carer's Australia

The Quality Powerhouse Hotel dubs my room the 'Superior' Queen. I wonder which one of my mates scored the Inferior? To be fair, it was huge and the curtains a regal velour. Plus, it had a Nespresso.

Tamworth hosts one of the world's biggest music events, the annual ten-day Country Music Festival. But y'all know that, don't you? What you may not have known is the town has a growing culinary reputation.

Addimi Espresso is a new wine and Tapas bar and Le Pruneau is a French restaurant that uses local, organic ingredients. What would Slim Dusty think? Beats a beer-less pub.

The "walk a country mile" museum in the visitor information centre tells the story of the artists that shaped Australian country music... But we were thirsty and had stories of our own to tell. It was less than a country mile to the embrace of tiled walls, ice cold taps and the clink of schooners as we applauded the day’s physical feats at the local hotel.

The pub session from the night before takes its toll on the ride to Gunnedah and given that alpha male cyclists rarely stop for weak bladders, it is an uncomfortable day.

Gunnedah is said to have inspired much of Dorothea Mackellar's poetry though I'm not sure what inspired the 'lyrical' toilets at Wolsley Park. Take a seat on the throne and enjoy the music, which crescendos at about the time it is assumed you will be finishing your business!

We forge onward to Coonabarabran, the gateway to some of the best bushwalking in the world. Put your bike to one side and go for a walk through the Warrumbungle's.

The peloton has the road to themselves. Photo: Carer's Australia

From Coonabarabran we ride to Dubbo and onto Mudgee’s vineyards, impressive cafes and homestead accommodation like Pieter Van Gent winery .
My 2-bedroom cottage is warm from the glow of a fire and I take in vineyard views and a beer with Russell Conchie, a local cycling enthusiast.

Every Easter (in 2015 it will be 3-6 April) Mudgee hosts a bike muster. A family friendly, camp-on-site event with daily rides through the countryside, lunch at different wineries and nightly entertainment. The ride is open to riders of all ages and capabilities.

Age is definitely hindering our capabilities at this stage of the ride. It is never easy riding all day, having a beer or two at night and rising early to do it all again and again… but we do, and I suspect we’ll do it all again next year…

If you go

Contact Destination NSW for places to stay and ride in NSW