There is something inviting about riding the longest Rail Trail in Australia - a long flattish stretch of multi-purpose trail through rural landscapes and country towns and communities, to see what you can see. So when friends Jeff and Matt from Brisbane sent out the invite to join them on a ride in both directions of the BVRT, the date was set and the plane trip was booked.
The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) is a recreational trail following the former rail line along the Brisbane Valley from Wulkuraka (west of Ipswich, 40km from Brisbane) to Yarraman in the Toowoomba region. It is currently the longest rail trail in Australia extending 160 kms.
The railway line was built between 1884 and 1913 to transport timber, coal, dairy products, and passengers along the upper Brisbane River valley. The railway was gradually closed down from the 1960s to the 1990s, until the last passenger train in 1989 and the last freight train in 1993. The development of the BVRT began in 2003, stage by stage, with each local council following the other to open sections until 2018 when it reached its current length of 161 kms.
Our plan was to start riding as soon as I built my bike after landing in Brisbane, starting at the south end, closest to Brisbane. This meant we would use three days to ride end to end if we were to stick to daylight riding hours. 320kms of gravel riding both directions of the BVRT for the weekend was a perfect plan! Though it was enough for Matt to decide to not ride, but instead join us for dinner on Saturday night.
An early idea was to ride from Brisbane to the start of the trail in Wulkuraka. We were glad we didn’t do this and took the quicker option to drive.
The freeway didn’t bring a lot of scenery as Jeff & I caught up while driving. Though I smiled when I was left in no doubt that I was now in Queensland seeing the road sign declaring “Darren Lockyer Way”, named after the state’s rugby league legend. If there is a landmark, or even a stretch of road, presenting an opportunity to name and honour a famous QLD sportsperson, politician, or snake catcher, Queensland jumps on it.
Parking a car for three days at the start of the rail trail seemed like an invitation to thieves or vandals. There would be a good chance that the car might be on blocks when we got back, so we parked in a residential street a couple of kilometres away, and rode to the official start for a photo.
We got riding at 12:30.
Train lines are generally built with gradients of no more than 4%, and freight train lines are more gentle, closer to 1.5% gradients. The northbound trail is described as the “uphill” direction, with the published elevation map making the climb from Linville more dramatic than it really is. In the end, the trail has a 1.5% climb over 22kms from Linville to Blackbutt and that’s about it.
The first section of the trail is in the plains and is flat, flat. The trail crosses several rivers where remnants of rail bridges are just hanging on, protected by signs, but the trail dips into the rivers, some of which are quite steep on both sides requiring all your gears.
After reaching Moore, the trail enters the ranges and things get more interesting with a few more bumps which was a nice relief from flatness.
It was the end of August and may as well have been Spring in Queensland. Warmth in the sun and cloudless skies. There were other signs of Spring including signs at every fencepost warning us of swooping magpies. We saw many magpies and babies, but we only had one swooping attempt.
It wasn’t too early in the season for snakes either, so we were on alert. Just after discussing whether we might see some, it was like slow-motion when we both focussed our eyes on a super smooth stick lying across the trail. It started moving. We looked at each other and before the chance to deviate, I rode over the snake and looked back for what might happen next. The snake had reared up showing me its fangs - I stamped on the pedals but it felt like I wasn’t even moving. Fortunately it was only a green snake. Every branch lying on the trail after this got our special attention.
After 85kms, our target was Toogoolawah for the night, a town with about one street and three pubs. We had reserved a room at the first pub in the street, and by 4pm we were at the bar replenishing our liquids and listening to yarns from locals about water skiing at the local dam, growing up with mischief in Toogoolawah, and rail trail users dropping through the town.
It was Friday night, and as we tucked into a pile of ribs, the pub got busier and louder, before we headed to sleep ahead of tomorrow. We heard the crowd leave, well, get kicked out of the pub at closing.
It was a cool start to the next day, as we set off just after sunlight. We had some nice misty landscapes with distant cattle and kangaroos, and enjoyed early morning bird songs. For most of the morning it was like we were riding through a cloud. Today was a long day off road, needing to cover 175kms to make it to the end and back to Esk for our booked accommodation.
It warmed quickly and by the time we reached Linville, we were stopping for a coffee and taking a layer off. Linville was full of activity. It was Saturday and more people were on the trail, but at Linville there were campervans everywhere around the trail with bikes at the ready. The local shop/cafe told us that most of his trade was from trail users these days. It was another good sign for the commercial benefit of the trail. We came across one youth group of 30 or so teenagers all on bikes ready to ride a section of the trail - it was all about getting the kids out, off computers, and onto the trail.
By the time we had arrived at Blackbutt, the climbing was done. We were waiting for the climb described on the elevation map to start, but it was all over. We had done it!
We continued to Yarraman hoping for a drink at the store but found nothing, not even a cold water tap. Perhaps we missed the civilisation that was there. We sat and contemplated for a few minutes but didn’t go looking any further, and got back rolling for the “downhill” section.
The trail offers varied use, for horses, walkers, cyclists (in that priority order). We saw two horses (and their owners) on the trail, several walkers, but mostly cyclists. One walker we stopped to chat to. He was walking alone on a desolate section from Yarraman. He had a backpack and was camping along the trail. He told us that he was on a 200km walk back to Brisbane! “Why?” In a completely straight face, he said that he was “having a break and the walk is to just to get away from the missus and the kids for a few days.” That’s quite a walk! We wished him the best, and after leaving laughed a lot wondering what he said to them…”hey guys, just going out for a walk - back soon” … in six days?
The descent back to Linville was quite fast despite the gradient being moderate. It was lots of fun!
We stopped in Blackbutt for a hamburger lunch and a few cans of softdrink. I didn’t go for the lime spider on offer! There was a lot of activity around Blackbutt with people visiting over the weekend. It was also the Linville-Blackbutt section of the trail which seems to attract most cyclists.
By the time we were back at Linville for a ice block and breather, we were pleased with the time we had made. We hadn’t taken any breaks apart from a few chats with people along the trail and had made a good average speed.
That then changed.
Jeff hit a rock and got a nasty sidewall puncture. It was big, but no problem….plug it. In fact it required two plugs. But no problem. We were back rolling, but with memories of how these tyres served us (poorly) when bikepacking in NZ - they were notorious for punctures.
And then it wasn’t too long before the plugs were lost on the trail and we plugged again.
On the fourth occasion, it was time to put a tube in. OK we should be good now!
When I left Sydney, I thought about getting spare chain links, but I had a new chain and the trail shouldn’t be too wild. At the next river crossing, I was in the wrong gear into the clim on the other side, and with too much power, I broke the chain. Oh no! We were 30kms from anywhere and I thought we were stuffed. Fortunately Jeff has some spare links which saved my bacon this time!
It was now getting late and dark due to time spent on our mechanicals. Luckily Jeff had a light which led us along the final stretch of the trail to Esk through lots of bugs and helped to identify and avoid the wallabies on the trail. We got to our “Mountain View Lodge” in Esk with some time to get ready for a pub meal with Matt and his 17 year old son who drove from Brisbane to catch up on life and tales of the trail. It was a great funny dinner with a Karaoke birthday party as a less than subtle backdrop.
The last leg to the end of the rail line.
We left our lodge to see the mountain view behind us and followed the smell of bacon to the first cafe for breakfast. Bacon and egg rolls and two long blacks would get us going on the trail this morning.
We got chatting to a few people who were also enjoying breakfast as we took in the warm morning sun (it was going to be a warm one). We got talking about Jeff’s punctures yesterday. One grandfather asked whether we had thought about tubeless setups! We erupted in laughter. If only he knew.
We bought some bike supplies at the local shop and luckily we did. Within about 10 minutes Jeff’s tube had gone and we replaced it with another quickly. Otherwise the run back to Ipswich was flat and uneventful (no mechanicals) across the plains.
Riding the flats can be tougher work than it seems. It requires constant pedalling without any free-wheeeling, and so while there isn’t much climbing on the rail trail, it was still a good workout and a lot of fun.
The BVRT is a great piece of cycling infrastructure and as we saw, is well used by locals and tourists. The fact that it was there, well documented, signed, and serviced, got us there visiting towns, spending cyclo-tourist money, which wouldn’t have happened had it not existed. It doesn’t take much for us to say yes to an interesting riding adventure, but BVRT is a great quick flashpacking route!
Where’s the next rail trail?
- 3 tubeless plugs
- 2 tubes
- 1 snapped chain with link replaced
- 1 snake
- 1 magpie swoop
- Rail trail both ways 326.26kms 2603^m each.
- Riding time 15:21. Elapsed time 19:18.
PS Jeff has since bought a new set of tyres!
More info on BVRT here or simply drop in to the MC Clubhouse for a coffee and a chat on it..