Monday, 6 August 2018

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail - Yarraman to Wulkuraka - Bicycle QLD 4 day bikepack

The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) is a fantastic example of turning a disused piece of travel infrastructure into a valid corridor of off-road adventure. It's been more than 10 years since I'd travelled the route, however my roots in the area go way back to my early riding days as a pre-teen, when the train service was still active. It was the 80's and fluoro was in, Madonna was young, the Torana was still available on the showroom floor - albeit a 4cyl Sunbird. Ugh, we all shudder for various reasons thanks to the 80's. 

Bicycle QLD  (BQ) had an event organised called the Yarraman to Wulkuraka (Y2W) Rail Trail ride - the full length being 161km held over 3 days, with organised camping for 2 nights out on the trail. Travelling North to South is the ideal direction as the gradual elevation change is in your favour - downhill! I looked at it as a prime opportunity to re-connect with the trail and put some base km in the legs for the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) in 2019. So many acronyms.

Given that my interest is riding ultra long distance I was invited to be the lead cycling marshal on course, to roll out with the front group, provide on-course rider and bike support and take lots of pictures. BQ had arranged for all riders to be shuttled up to the start at Yarraman early on Friday, but my adventure began at pro hours on Thursday morning...

 A beautiful day to ride a bike, no doubt about it. Winter in our part of Australia means shirt sleeves and sunscreen. Made quick work of getting through the city, the burbs and out onto the gravel.

Through the pine forests near the Glasshouse Mountains there had been some recent backburning to remove the buildup of brush - the rich scent of pine sap hung in the air and reminded me of a Norsca commercial (you know, those cheesy Scandinavian deodorant ads from the 80's). A great thing about riding alone on backroads is you can talk like Muppet Swedish chef all day long - flurpty dur bork der hoopty schmer!

Spinning along the gravel with small stones tinging on the titanium downtube, I was lulled into a memory of riding through the Wisconsin town of Cable, deep in the Chequamegon forest (pronouced schwa-ma-gon) on a recent US trip in search of deep bicycle knowledge. The gravel road, the pines and the riding solitude brought back the joy of riding with my Salsa buddies - Ben Weaver, Andrea Cohen, Gleaso, Chris, Kate and a few others who sampled the gravel out to the Delta Diner on those fine days.

Bikes connect people.

And what bike was I riding on this trip: I know a few of you would like to know what beast is this? Far from being at the end of it's life, it's my Muru Cycles titanium Witjira frame - yes the very same frame that has done over 5000km, 4 years in a row of heavily laden, mid winter ultra racing on the 1000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational race in Alaska, along with local singletrack and bikepacking trips. I have to say, this bike is the PERFECT platform for rail trail riding and long distance comfort/fast touring.

I've equipped it with a Lefty fork (older leg with unbonded clamps), tunable Mendon Cyclesmith clamps; NEXTIE Jungle Fox II 29x50mm carbon rims. I was travelling with luxury camping items this trip, hence the large amount of gear for only 3 nights. Revelate Designs bags throughout.

A HED carbon hub and QR axle in the rear; Avid BB7r calipers with ti hardware and Nokon cables, 160/140mm rotors; SRAM 1x11 drivetrain, 30T chainring, XX1 GXP crank, 10-42 cassette, X01 shifter and mid cage derailleur. Surly Knard tyres in 29x3, running tubeless for big bag fun and reliability.

In the Jerrycan bag (seatpost/toptube junction) are my spare camera batteries, headtorch, cache battery, Exposure Diablo 1100 lumen headlamp. Framebag top pocket has my water bladder (4L MSR dromedary), lower pocket has spares, tools etc needed to support the riders on the BVRT ride in the following days. Gastank bag (junction of toptube and stem) has my often used tools (Leatherman Style PS and Topeak multitool), food bars, sunscreen and chapstick. Ride Mechanic pouch on the downtube has a small bottle of the perfect lube for this trip - Bike Mix - an 80:20 blend of Ride Mechanic Bike Milk and Bike Cream. Keep the lube close to hand and you'll have no reason to avoid lubing the chain.

Up front is a medium Revelate Sweetroll handlebar bag (-10 sleeping bag - yeah overkill, long pants, puffy jacket, large first aid kit) and a small Pocket clipped to it (overflow food, sunsleeves, spare buff) and my Zipshot tripod.

Out back is the smaller Revelate Pika seatbag - with spare clothes, 2 sleeping pads (Exped Synmat 7UL and Klymit X-wave - it is a luxury trip), Black Diamond Twilight Bivvy. I like to run a support strap from the seat rails to behind the bag, provides a bit more impact resistance from the big hits.

 Rolling through Woodford is a quick affair - just stop to top off the water and keep rolling. I stop for directions only briefly, but the locals are tight lipped about the best gravel roads in the area.

Breathable clothing is ideal - on these kinds of rides I like loose fitting (but defo not flappy) clothes that breathe well and aren't clingy when the sweat starts to flow.

I took the Neurum backroad via Villeneuve to Kilcoy, to avoid the narrow, windy sections of the D'aguilar Hwy. Neurum Rd runs parallel to the upper reaches of Lake Wivenhoe, which then becomes Somerset Dam, that then flows into Wivenhoe Dam.

Kilcoy for a quick fuel stop - bacon and egg muffin. Still a few km to go.

The highway may be fast but also has its share of debris. I picked this up just a few km out of town, but was rolling again fast thanks to a skunkworks product we are developing. I've never been so excited with a puncture - real world testing opportunity. 

I'm running tubeless, the beauty of this repair mode and system is that you do not need to remove the tyre from the rim to repair. Also makes it faster to inflate as the tyre isn't completely devoid of air volume. This puncture may have self sealed due to the fresh sealant, however this type of tyre wound  often weeps fluid and a bit of air in the short term - I needed the tyre 100% sealed so a tuft was installed.

Brisbane River near Colinton. Can 100% guarantee no bull sharks here.

The road miles melted away, just a beautiful ribbon of licorice to pedal on. I rolled into Moore late afternoon. Corellas announced overhead, their intention to roost somewhere nearby for the night, accompanied by a few white cockatoos.

Some peanut ran his vehicle into the gutter and started a grass fire. He wasn't happy with the ambos  strapping him tightly to the gurney - must have been the pingers in his system pre-accident. Emergency services blocked the traffic back for about 5km, just near the base of the climb up the D'aguilar range.

With my hi-vis on, an officer escorted me past the emergency service vehicles and allowed me to get a decent car-free head start on the ascent.

Of course, the vehicles stopped in the other direction had all kinds of questions and statements for me - 'how much longer mate', 'you'll beat the trucks up' or 'have you got our pizza'. For some reason, the first thing out of my mouth was 'herf shoompty flur, kern de berk bork'.

Bikes create envy.

Nearing Blackbutt the shoulder narrows and the speed limit is 100km/hr. No problem, you get plenty of warning with the lights behind you - just pull over and let the truckies do their job, everybody arrives safe.

Pizza pocket and slivers of dark fruit cake for dinner in Blackbutt. Food is fuel.

Bikes create hunger.

I bivvied at the showgrounds under a shelter. Luxury trip this one - double sleeping pads and had a hot shower!

Early rise for the fast 15km stretch to Yarraman in the pre-dawn light.

Best time of the morning I reckon. Passing the Hoop pine plantation of Pidna State forest, the whip birds delivered a strong chorus of calls. I bathed in the cool fog of the valleys then thawed the extremities on the climbs - Alaska has taught me well.

A quick shop at the IGA for fruit and then breakfast in the form of a fresh ham and cheese croissant. Yarraman Bakery, like many other small businesses along the rail trail, welcome the patronage of trail users for pre and post trip consumables.

I had a few hours to wait until the first of the riders' buses arrived in town, I headed east out of town to the trail head for brekky and familiarise myself with the town layout and route.

A fabulous shelter area with signage, however there is no water here at Yarraman station trail head, so best to top off the water bottles from the taps at the sports field in town.

The Errol Munt sports field in Yarraman township was the rendezvous point for buses and cargo trucks. All the bikes were packed well with moving blankets in the trucks. The riders came up in luxury buses, not sure if they had blankets or not. 

The local progress association put on a solid feed for all riders, with all dietary requirements catered for.

Bikes of all different types, there were commuter bikes with 28mm wide tyres, mtbs and fatbikes. BQ were carting all luggage for the riders, however some people still had panniers to carry the daily luxuries.

This family were fatbike prepared - The 4" wide tyres certainly smoothed out the irregularities of the trail, and the mild elevation change along the length meant not a lot of additional exertion required! The young bloke in the background was celebrating his 11th birthday on Sunday, he rode every km with gusto and finished strong, even on the 70km Saturday segment. 

I caught up with these lovelies - Emma and Fiona - they were rolling as the mid-pack, highly qualified bike-and-human-repair support crew. The plan was for me to lead out, then ride back against the flow of riders to scan for issues, then ride forward again, then backward, do this a few times until nearing the 70% mark of daily distance, then ride back until I came across Emma and Fiona, then ride to the finish. I aint complaining and the extra distance was enjoyable, seeing all the smiles on the riders faces. Fraser and Marianne were the tail end sweeps and in charge of getting everybody across the line each day.

Paying my respects to the Yarra-man. Being right next to the pub I reckon he's seen a lot of things. Figuratively.

Down at the trail head there was a rider briefing. Was great to see so many people eager to head out on the adventure on the rail trail. 255 people were on the startline and ready to start riding. My panorama camera setting seems to have altered a few bikes into strange paranormal hybrids...

A jostle for position over the first bridge with some loose turns, but the country soon opened up. I spent some time removing cow pads off the trail, but then turned a corner and saw my efforts were going to be fruitless if I continued doing this. This is why drink bottles on the underside of frame downtubes aren't a good idea.

Many farms still use the rail trail easement as part of their grazing land, so not uncommon to encounter stock and the evidence of their passing through the grass. Double entendres were spread all over the trail.

Many groups of walkers were out on the trail this weekend - a large contingent were on a school leadership camp trekking segments of the trail. It is 19km from Yarraman to Blackbutt.

The surrounding countryside is a blend of grazing and farming. After a while the groups and individuals settle into their own rhythms, was a time for conversation and checking to see how riders were enjoying themselves.

Guiding riders through Blackbutt - 'trail this way, bakeries that way, water tap next to the fence' and a quick gear adjustment had riders moving and stopping for all the right reasons. Terry, a fatbike mate of mine, was on his way back from seeing a country client - I love how the cycling community works and just by chance, you cross paths in remote spots.

Leaving just as the day starts to heat up, you are rewarded with some of the most enjoyable sections of trail through the Benarkin State forest, after leaving Blackbutt. The forest canopy is dense enough for dappled light on the trail. A leisurely 22km from Blackbutt to Linville. I'd also see this as a really good neutral feed zone, if one happened to be racing it (yep, there are many long distance races held on the BVRT) as there are long stretches of good visibility and smooth trail - forearms on the bars and peel that orange...

The creek gullies can provide a bit of an adrenaline rush and a challenge for some. The inclusion of the cement path is a worthy addition on the entry and exit, providing a stable base. These guys were out for fun - epitomising the rail trail adventure through shared experience and having a laugh over a coldy that night at camp.

The trail opens up as you descend the Balfour Range towards Linville, the trail a blend of hard packed gravel and short sandy sections. With double track you have plenty of line options, a few water bars here and there, with a downhill gradient that allows side by side riding with easy conversation. You go through many hand-cut sections through hillsides, historical signage and seated rest stops to admire the views.

With around 7km still to go until Moore and the first camp of the trip, many riders enjoyed a coldy as you can see. There is a general store as well, to cater for the large freecamp area adjacent the pub. Linville, like many small towns along the BVRT, is a great place to start or finish a ride on the trail. Support the businesses with your custom and create a long term support network that helps everybody!

Moore was the destination for the first night, the Pony Club grounds had a large area well suited to the hundreds of tents and various support vehicles. As all luggage was carted by BQ, all sorts of accom and support items came out of the travel bags - chairs, swags, bottles of red, cheese and bikky platters - all adding up to a relaxed atmosphere. BQ provided amazing support with plenty of hot showers - a fast moving queue ensured you were ready to relax with good conversation.

Dinner (and brekky the next day) was held at the Soldiers Hall in Moore, catered by the local progress association. This was just a short walk/ride from camp, was well signed and lit at night with blinkies. It was great to catch up with a few mates and tell stories from Iditarod, as well as talk about the real topics of thermal diuresis, abdominal cramps and stomach emptying, contact point management and mental preparation - was good to cover at least one topic that was above the belt.

This was me.  Was a warm night with a bit of fog in the early morning, the blood moon was a real treat to see at around 4:30am.

The trail was open at 7am, so was a quick pack down and get the riders gear into the trucks, affectionately known as 'Coconut Airways'.

This was to be the longest day of the trip, around 70km. Many were eager to get going and I was among a front group of around 30 riders. Being winter time, I was on the lookout in the creek gullies for ice over the concrete culverts. Yes, this is a real thing, NOT some imaginary Iditarod fetish of wanting ice and snow on every bike adventure...

Today is where we would start to encounter the larger elevation changes along the route, as the trail meanders through farmland and short gravel roads. This newly opened section has been the result of several years of negotiation with landowners, local councils and BVRT alliance to allow access to property easements and the railway alignment. Their hard work has certainly paid off - this vital link provides a completed trail network with a rich history, that we are very lucky to have right on our doorstep!

Harlin is a small town with services, at around 13km south of Moore. Riders must cross the Brisbane Valley highway, however the design of the trail is such that you must slow down for the crossing. Service station/roadhouse and other conveniences are here.

Rolling down onto the plains surrounding Toogoolawah, I'm reminded of the grasslands of Kansas. This area has an airfield that services the farmland - property owners who choose to fly their own planes to Archerfield, as well as the local skydiving businesses.

Can you imagine life for the train operators back in the day, out here in the summer heat, sweat seeping from every pore as they shovel coal into the insatiable furnace? Or the rail workers, their manual labour installing the sleepers and rail track, belting in those nails that you occasionally see littering the trail. Suddenly your saddle soreness is tolerable.

Transport to and from anywhere on the trail is made possible by dedicated shuttle companies in the area. Comfortable, late model buses with trailers to accommodate bikes and luggage. There are also coaches that provide regular services from towns and train stations - having a look at the BVRT website, or a quick Google search, will bring up many travel options:

This is a fantastic service provided by enterprising local people, giving you the ability to have a seamless travel plan - eg park your vehicle in Toogoolawah, book your shuttle to drop you at Yarraman, ride to Linville and stay at the pub and ride to Toogoolawah the next day - all doable in a weekend! Train it to Caboolture, bus it to Yarraman, then train home from Wulkuraka. Or for race training - catch the train to Wulkuraka, ride to Yarraman, turnaround and quick bivvy at Blackbutt showgrounds (shower too if you want luxury) and back to Wulkuraka - repeat as required...

Toogoolawah is a major town on the route, around 29km south of Moore. Coffee shops and bakeries galore, an IGA for the bigger refuelling requirements - in case you want to devour a whole watermelon in the park on your own with zero guilt. You know, bucket list type stuff.

Leaving Toogoolawah you cross this incredible bridge. I was amazed at the hacksaw work.

Shortly after, you are onto a raw, grassed over trail frequented by stock - but hardpacked! Stock are efficient animals - they often choose smoothed bovine GPS vector lines, which is a boon for cyclists. Just beware the fresh waypoints they leave.

Loads of refuel opportunities in Esk, 19km south of Toogoolawah. There is a large parkway and concrete bikeway surrounding the station, with lots of water taps beside the path. You definitely want to take on water here - the trail from here to Coominya is remote with no development along the way. I paused in Esk to chat and have a bite to eat at a leisurely pace and sit on a real chair - as opposed to smashing down a handful of food in-motion and sitting side saddle for variety.

You reach the dizzying heights of Mt Hallen (sign posted in the classic railway style), then you get a second wind with a rewarding slightly downhill gradient to Coominya. Along with a tailwind, unicorn icecream vendors and beach views*. 

*all of these last three are dependent on your level of depletion and hallucination during this section of trail

The destination for the last night on the trail was the historic Bellevue Homestead in Coominya. An oasis for riders, parched from their travels and ready to relax with a shower and a frothy or chilled red from the wet bar. Water satiated my thirst (non drinker) but to fancy it up I think of it as 'melted white snow'. 

Full mechanical support is provided on course and at the end of the day for bikes. Along with myself, Emma and Stu are qualified bike mechanics ready to help riders with mechanicals, questions or just support on route when the tiredness sets in.

For riders new to this kind of thing, remember the simple rules of A) ride your own speed, B) drink often, C) snack continuously, D) smile, and E) keep going, you will get there, just don't stop!

A beaut spot to park up under a tree for the arvo, enjoy a deserved nap after a massage and muscle rolling out session with the tennis ball.

Atkinson's dam is closeby - a memory of my first bike touring trip there with my dad when I was 11. I pestered dad for ages to take me bike touring, so we planned a ride out there, 13km each way. We took the tent but it rained so hard all night, we ended up in the brick shelter and getting eaten by the mosquitoes. Best touring trip as a kid ever!

Bikes create memories.

A fabulous spot beside the vineyard to watch the sunset and wind down, talk it up and share a laugh. Generous sized meals for dinner and brekky.

The moon rose and was time for me to select a bivvy spot - far away from the band.

The self-serve coffee tent was a popular spot in the morning for a chat and catch up - much talk of the dancing the previous night...

Trail opened at 7am for event riders (the trail is always open 24/7/365) and time to make some distance on the final day of 43km total to Wulkuraka, although the backwards and forwards nature of my lead marshall role on the trail sees me nearly double the daily distance - happily! Heavy fog shrouded the area, only a short 12km to Lowood or another 7km to Fernvale and the reknowned bakery.

I haven't ridden around Lowood for many, many years.  Everything has changed - going past the high school and the shelter where we used to hang out during lunch has been replaced by a large hall; the athletics track is still there where shotput, javelin, high jump and the 100/200m were my fave school sports. Along the rail alignment there used to be many large sheds and businesses that maintained the railway machinery. Memories.

Convict built stone work is still present along the trail at Lowood.

The super fast section into Fernvale is fantastic.

Fernvale is another full service town, all manner of food options are here. Water taps along the trail through the park.

When I was in my early teens, Fernvale was a gateway town for me and my solo riding adventures in the area - out to Wivenhoe as it was being built, swimming at Twinnies and Savages crossing or riding to mates places. I'd pick up a bag of lollies from Boyce's store and just...ride. I had an old steel 10spd racer, with these incredible Continental 27 x 1 3/8 tyres that never seem to flat - an absolute necessity out on what was mostly gravel side roads, or single lane blacktop with hideously rough shoulders. Summer nights and moonlight, Winter nights and dynamo lights. My bike was an amazing adventure machine, as I'm certain it was to many of you who read this story.

I lived around here when the train still ran - I remember planning trips into town on the rattler. Sadly, the trips never eventuated as it wasn't long after that the train stopped running, just as my horizons were expanding. Riding along the trail brings back a lot of the memories from that era though - looking up a valley where a mate lived and recalling the parties we all went to and didn't tell our parents we were staying the night; the cow paddy fights in the lower paddock and then washing off in the dam; or when a mate rolled his parents Range Rover in a gully on their property, and he would be reminded of it every day on our school bus, seeing it parked in the driveway of the repair shop awaiting parts; the dirt roads in the hills where we'd ride our bikes with girls we liked and would smooch in the horse shed...

Bikes rekindle memories.

BQ has the amazing support of WICEN, a group of volunteers who provide radio communication support along the trail during BQ events. These hardworking vollies count the riders going by, radio forward and back any issues and provide a friendly face for those who may be a bit down on energy.

The trail section here near Fairneyview contained a large proportion of 50mm blue metal rail base, with a thin cover of grass. Would have been a rough ride for the hybrids, but my plush lefty and plus tyre combo was a magic carpet ride.

This section of track had the highest concentration of stations to Ipswich - Fairneyview; Wanora; Borallon; Pine Mountain and Muirlea. All too soon, the Warrego highway overpass kinda signalled the return to civilisation and the end of the adventure at Wulkuraka. Dirt track evolves into urban bikeway...which isn't all that dissimilar from stock routes evolving into main thoroughfares and highways over time.

All up, this was an amazing off-road adventure put together by BQ. It is no wonder that the event tickets sell out so quickly - so add it to your diary for next year. The BVRT is a fabulous piece of infrastructure for recreational cyclists of all levels.

The distances involved and the resources available online at the BVRT website, allow you to plan out an adventure to suit riders of all ages and abilities. Given that roughly 90% of this route is off-road (or on seldom used short sections of backroad) you can focus on enjoying the ride, instead of worrying about traffic. Reading about it will only get you so far though - get out there and ride it for yourself!

You'll see that riding it once isn't enough, you'll want to take your friends out there too. I know what I'll be doing next weekend...

Bikes share adventures.


  1. Enjoyed your blog Troy. I was a young signal electrician and came up the Brisbane Valley now and then to service the flashing lights on the road crossings in the 1980s. It's like visiting an old friend riding the BVRT for me.

  2. Great write up. Shame I missed the ride. :(
    Hmmmm....would a Lefty fit on the BNT?

    1. Lefty on your BNT - it's all possible at Area54 ;)

  3. Great Blog, thanks for sharing. Did the Y2W ride last year and will have to do it again now that the trail is finished.

  4. What a great adventure. You’ve got me all revved up to do it next year! In the meantime, next week I am planning to ride half the BVRT in the other direction. Looking forward to riding the BVRT on my new Muru soon! :)

    1. The support is top shelf David - frequent and infrequent riders are all catered for, and the trail is perfect at this time of year. Muru and BNT - great combination!

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