The accepted “bestness” of a riding road usually lies in the amount and quality of corners it provides the rider. Scenery is an added bonus, of course, but you can’t ride scenery.
There is also an argument, usually from cruiser riders with limited ground-clearance on their bikes, that long stretches of straight-line nothingness is the path to true motorcycle happiness. And for them, it strangely is, so their needs are also considered.
The rest of us are all about corners.
And corners are only normally found where big hills and mountains inflict them upon the road-designers. So where there are lots of mountains, there are lots of corners. Just ask Europe.
Australia is not blessed with vast mountain ranges. We only have one. And it’s not really a mountain range so much as a hilly spine that stretches most of the way down the continent a little inland of the east coast. Dubbed the Great Dividing Range, its greatness lies in its distance – it is the fifth longest in the world at 3500km – rather than its height.
But thanks to that range, nearly all of Queensland’s great riding is into, out of, and over it.
This is by no means a complete list of the Sunshine State’s best rides – but it’s a good start.
Also known as the Gillies Range Road, this is arguably the best bit of road in Queensland for motorcyclists. It’s also the twistiest one that’s farthest from Brisbane. But it’s worth the trip. There are 263 corners and an 800m elevation change. There’s even Lake Tinaroo nearby, or Lake Eacham, but you should be paying attention to what you’re doing and not looking at the lovely water.
It offers a good, predictable road-surface, with few decreasing radius bends. It’s a sweet ride made ever sweeter by the entrancing sugary smells from the Gordonvale sugar-cane mill. Though on the days you’re buffeted by cyclonic trade winds blowing off the Coral Sea, it might be less sweet.
If you’re enjoying the scenery (and there’s lots to enjoy) you’ll see a big green frog painted on a rock. If you’re concentrating, then it’s just a green blur.
The Gillies Highway is North Queensland incarnate, and a motorcycle ride you simply have to do.
But pay attention. It’s a long way down.
A joyous loop with more corners than a thousand Rubik’s cubes, you start a bit north of Brisbane in Woodford, and end up almost in the centre of Brisbane. In fact, if you keep heading east, you’ll run into its cultural heart, Fortitude Valley.
The section from Woodford to Villeneuve and then to Somerset Dam requires caution. Some of the corners have deformed bitumen thanks to the scads of boats being towed on that road, but at least you’ll know if your suspension is set up properly. After the dam, you can stop and gaze at the waters of Lake Wivenhoe, with the full understanding it looks nothing like its namesake town in Essex, England.
A few short transport-like kms later, you start the climb up Mt Glorious – and it is glorious indeed. Bend after bend, on camber and of a constant radius (mostly), the surface is sure, and the elevational changes are breath-taking. There are even a few places you can overtake slower traffic with ease and safety.
If you’re short on time, do the Mt Glorious Road to the end, and have a rest at Samford Village, or chuck a right onto the Mt Nebo Road and keep indulging your corner demons.
They will thank you for it.
In a more adventurous world, this loop in the Sunshine Coast hinterland would be a racetrack to rival the Isle Of Man. The government would close the road for a week, and famous racers would do high-speed battle on a circuit that would challenge them, delight them, and terrify them in equal measure.
But you’re not racing, and no-one’s about to close one of the most popular motorcycle loops in Queensland so you can.
Try not to stare at the stunning ancient Glasshouse Mountains rearing out of the flatlands as you come out of Maleny. It’s hard not to. They are truly spectacular. So if you’re not staring, be aware that tourists will be. Ride with that in mind. Down the hill you go to Mapleton and its waterfall, then chuck a left onto the Obi Obi Road, which cuts through the Kondalilla National Park and the Mapleton Falls National Park. This is all kinda rainforesty, so you might see a dinosaur or two. The surface is mostly good, except after heavy rain, where you might encounter a washout or five. Then chuck a left for Kenilworth (if you don’t you’ll end up in Gympie) and head back south to Conondale – the place where wild men race dirt bikes at insane speeds every year since the beginning of time. The Conondale Six-Hour is certainly worth a look if you’re into that.
You’re now on the Maleny-Kenilworth Road and on the way back up to Maleny in the Blackall Range and those crazy Glasshouse Mountains. And about a million good places to eat.
Feeling adventurous? Feeling like a quick dash into NSW and then back to the safety of the Gold Coast? Ever ridden a once-private road built by the Lions Club (hence the name) so travellers can experience the stunning scenery between Rathdowny (Qld) and the Summerland Way (NSW)?
Try the Lions Road – and tell your grandkids about it.
Sections of it will take your breath away, and sections of it will appal you – especially those bits with the one-lane bridges where you may have to give way to cars.
The surface is iffy in many places, but since you’re now aware of that, you will have no excuses. If you take care, you’ll be rewarded with a challenging, exhilarating ride, jam-packed with amazing views and some great corners.
And then there’s the town of Kyogle in NSW, where the beer is very cold, the coffee is pretty good, and you might even see a bush turkey for which the town is named (Kyogle means ‘Place of the bush turkey” in the local Aboriginal language). Then head back north-east to the town of Uki, and behold the majesty of Mt Warning. The road through here is windingly magical, but a little busy on weekends.
There’ll always be traffic through Murwillumbah, but on the other side you’re back in Queensland and on the Tomewin Mountain Road, which is a lot of fun. Or take the almost parallel Currumbin Creek Road. They’re not all that wide, but they are a hoot to ride if you have your wits about you.
Do it. Do it and understand just how vast and empty outback Queensland can be. Do it on a sports bike and you’ll want to sell it for a cruiser before you get to Emerald. If you last as far as Barcaldine, your spine will be fused into a chain of screaming pain and you’ll be gibbering at the sky like a madman. But since you’ll still have more than an hour to go before you get to Longreach, it will pass the time.
Do it as an overnighter because only crazy people would attempt a there-and-back ride in one day. Somehow, it will seem even longer on the way back, and since you’ve already counted all the kangaroo carcasses the previous day, you might have to find another way to pass the the time. There are no corners unless you decide to take a few laps around Emerald, and your tyres will be square by the end of this journey. But your mind would have experienced the vastness of the limitless sky and your eyes would have seen the curvature of the earth. And that’s no bad thing.