SPRING RIDE (with a touch of dirt)

Every now and then, I yearn for adventure. Indulging that impulse, I decided to investigate rumours that similar souls have cycled up and down the MacDonald River from Wisemans Ferry, via St. Albans… on a road bike!

I have ridden the hills and valleys of this pristine and remote riverine area on our doorstep for the last decade- but always on a bicycle with fat tyres, flat bars and a very generous granny gear. On the road, I ride a luscious red Trek Domane SL, which has an ISO Speed suspension tech OCLV frame to smooth road rumble transferred through the bicycle to your body. I wonder if I am going to make it to St. Albans without damage to my precious road bike, or perhaps get a puncture? As I exit the ferry left (onto Settlers’ Road) and fly mostly downhill past residences scattered along the MacDonald River and the steep-sided ridgeline thumb of land extending out from Devine’s Hill, anxiety fades and I am on my way!

Near the 7km mark, I hit the dirt and immediately have to slow right down to negotiate the next 9km of dirt safely. Patches of stutter bumps in the road are annoying, but my mountain bike skills have me choosing all the smoothest lines by default. I encounter only four cars while riding the entire 22km road. In the vicinity of the old Settlers’ Cemetery, I am flying along the tar again, all the way into St. Albans.

Spare some time to admire the 1902 St. Albans Bridge, an early example of a DeBurgh timber truss road bridge. Turn left onto Webbs Creek Road; it is here where you can truly relax as the road lazily unwinds beneath your wheels and you are completely surrounded by natural beauty. This road, in some parts, is literally right on the river’s edge. You can pick up a really good pace while admiring homesteads, paddocks, rock formations and verdant flora, because you have the entire road to yourself and there are only three very short pinch climbs to get over enroute. I had to stop several times- not only to savour lovely views- but to admire the occasional splash of boronia flowers in the dry bush and a few wild roadside peach trees just unfurling their pink buds in anticipation of spring.

It’s all too soon that the valley opens up and I see the confluence of two rivers again. Reflecting on my ride while crossing the Hawkesbury again on the Webbs Creek Ferry, I feel elated and refreshed- my abilities reasserted. I saw ‘new’ features I have always missed, being inside a car. The Trek Domane performed faultlessly on both road and dirt.

The saying, ‘No Risk, No Reward’ is on repeat in my dreams that night…

Settlers Road: 9km Dirt Road, 12km Tar (1hr 30, no stops)
Webbs Creek Road: 20km tar. (1hr, no stops)

Road bikes: Let a bit of air out your tyres for more cushioning and better bike handling on the dirt ie: I usually ride on the road inflated to 120psi. For this ride, my tyres were 100psi

Pre-Ride prep: Ensure your chain is well-lubed, or else dust and grit on Settlers’ Road will quickly dry out your chain.

Dirt Road: If you are riding on slick, skinny tyres, be aware that you cannot suddenly change lines to get out the way of motor vehicles like you can with knobbly tyres. Listen carefully for approaching vehicles and either pull over, or adjust the line you’re cycling in advance.

Troubleshooting: Essential to carry a pump, spare tube, puncture repair items, a chain breaker tool. Next to no mobile reception around here!

Weekdays: Ride between 09H30 to 15H30 to avoid commuter traffic.

Weekends: Ride from 05H30 to 10H30 to avoid tourist traffic.

Weather & Access: Beware of extreme heat here in summer: carry sufficient water with hydration salts. Access to the MacDonald River Valley can be temporarily closed due to bushfires, flooding, or major Hawkesbury River events.

Two free ferry transits across the Hawkesbury River.

St. Albans: Water and public toilets at St.Albans, Beer or coffee at historic Settlers’ Inn or Fickle Wombat.

Wisemans: Water and public toilets at the East Bank Ferry Park. Ferry Artists’ Gallery has beautiful work by local artists and Busby’s Café next door has coffee, cake and more.