Long-time Bicycling Australia journalist Peter Maniaty takes us on a ride back in time, through Mudgee and the NSW Mid West.
Back in the autumn of 2021, I was lucky enough to be an ambassador for the inaugural Mudgee Classic. Whilst I’d been reasonably close to the area before, having ridden several times around places like Bathurst, Orange, Hill End and Dubbo over the years, it was my first time based in Mudgee itself. I absolutely loved my four-day stay and have since returned on two more occasions with bikes and friends in tow.
Yes, the riding in and around Mudgee is brilliant. But what really stuck with me on that first visit was the complete experience that comes with it. The food and the wine. The scenery. The history. The friendly and relaxed locals.
There are some places where you just tend to feel more welcome – and Mudgee is one of them. Nestled in Wiradjuri country along the Cudgegong River, it’s a truly fabulous part of regional Australia, brilliantly geared for cyclo-tourism. Not too big, but big enough. Not too far from Sydney, but far enough to feel a million miles away.
If you’re considering making the trip out to the third annual Mudgee Classic on the weekend of 29/30 April 2023, I’d simply say: “What are you waiting for?” Grab your mates. Register your spots. Book your accommodation. You won’t regret it!
Regional Australia is renowned for ‘dead’ roads and the Central West of NSW is no exception. If you’re planning a long day in the saddle, be prepared for tired legs and, at times, inconsistent road surfaces; also stay alert for potential damage from the record rainfall and flooding seen over the past 12 months or so. 28mm+ tyres and/or lower pressures are the order of the day, as well as plenty of spares.
The riding terrain around Mudgee isn’t especially flat, but nor is it brutally hilly. Sure, it has its moments. But overall, I’d describe it as ‘rolling’.
On my visits I’ve also experienced relatively little traffic and those vehicles I have come across have been generally accommodating, providing plenty of space. Don’t forget to gaze upwards from time to time either, especially if you’re riding in the serenity of the early morning. You might see a hot air balloon or two floating gently above some of the many vineyards.
Of course, if the dirt is more your style, the Mudgee region also boasts some of NSW’s most outstanding gravel riding – around 55km of which will feature in the inaugural Dirty Mudgee gravel event on Saturday 29 April.
The town itself actually sits at the south-eastern tip of the popular Central West Cycle Trail, a 400km(ish) loop which passes through Gulgong, Dunedoo and Mendooran to the north and Wellington, Geurie and Dubbo to the west.
Mudgee can get stinking hot in summer. But in the autumn months riders can expect crisp mornings, often with some fog or mist, which slowly give way to reasonably mild days.
In April, temperatures average between 9 degrees (low) and 23 (high) degrees, while the month typically sees just 3 days of wet weather.
My time at the Mudgee Classic in 2021 was defined by clear blue skies stretching as far as the eye could see and very pleasant riding conditions. Just glorious.
An established wine producing region that’s well used to welcoming tourists, Mudgee is 260km north-west of Sydney, roughly a 3hr 30min drive. Basically, you turn right when you see the power stations just past Lithgow, then follow the Castlereagh Highway all the way to Mudgee.
The vibrant wine, food and artisanal produce scene – including bustling pubs, first-class restaurants, cellar doors and numerous options for fresh coffee and pastries – is accompanied by super friendly locals and there’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do, making it well worth allowing a few extra days before and/or after your weekend’s riding. Rest assured, non-cycling partners and family will have plenty to keep them occupied while you’re out on the road. (Oh, there are also a couple of bike shops in town should you require last-minute spares or supplies.)
I’ve always loved regional fondos and the Mudgee Classic is right up there with my favourites. There’s just a wonderfully authentic camaraderie amongst the riders and locals that you don’t get in the city.
As mentioned, Saturday April 29 will see the first-ever Dirty Mudgee Gravel Fondo held over a scenic 55km loop taking in the rural lanes, trails, wineries and grazing lands to the north of Mudgee. The following day it’s the turn of the roadies – although many visitors will no doubt take the opportunity to back up and ‘do the double’.
On Sunday April 30 an estimated 2,000 riders will roll under the starting gantry on Church Street in Mudgee, tackling their choice of four magnificent courses ranging from relatively-leisurely 35km (377m climbing) and 65km (573m) options, to far sterner tests over 125km (1,069m) and 175km (1,470m).
The two longest rides stretch all the way out to the northern townships of Ulan and Gulgong. But while the shorter routes will have you back in town much sooner, they still take in some spectacular local scenery.
I rode the 35km Social Classic course back in 2021 as a Saturday warm up, and it’s a wonderful little ride, winding its way up towards St Fillans before you hurtle back home along Henry Lawson Drive. Whichever route you choose, your day’s work will end back at the event village in the Glen Willow Regional Sports Complex with cold beer, tasty food, live music and possibly the word’s comfiest bean bags.