Back in October, Isaac visited Wagga Wagga to take part in a fresh festival format – Gears and Beers – the cycling festival overflowing with beer and no competition in sight.


We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the  Wiradjuri people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.


Vast, open plains, and hot country drew me to the West. I was desperate to go somewhere I’d never been before after Covid had crushed plans again and again. So when I heard about a gravel riding festival, Gears and Beers, in Wagga Wagga, I was intrigued.

I’ve never been interested in the competitive side of cycling – I don’t find joy in winning or pedalling hard until my legs burn out, I just like being out in nature and the fresh breeze of movement.

Gears and Beers has found the right balance here, keeping the best parts of cycling culture, and dropping the machismo.

Rides aren’t timed, and people are encouraged to take it slow and chat with fellow riders along the way. There’s still a lot of Lycra around, but I didn’t feel too out of place on my big, slow, touring bike and in a T-shirt. And of course, the local beers go down exceptionally well after a long ride.

The day before the main event, I cycled the Wiradjuri Trail, an optional 40km ride through several significant Indigenous sites, telling the stories of near and distant history.

The culture has a strong presence today, and exploring this trail was a real highlight of the journey. The Wagga Wagga Art Gallery also has some fantastic art from Aboriginal artists near and far. These activities are all free and central, and add another dimension to the festival experience.

One of the many epic single tracks

The Slower You Go, The More You See

Excitement fills the air on the big day. Road closures allow cyclists to take their place as the sole users of the asphalt, at least for a little while.

Tour de France commentator Mike Tomalaris runs around with a microphone, giving everyone from the hardcore athletes to the pre-teen kids an interview over the loudspeakers.

While I’m no stranger to big days in the saddle, I’d signed up for the Filthy 50, reluctantly admitting to myself that after spending all of Covid on the couch, I was in no shape for the epic Dirty 130.

The 50km ride was tough but fair, taking about three hours with a break for a muesli bar and a stretch in the middle.

It was my first time cycling in a group, and I can see the appeal, with the sense of camaraderie and shared experience permeating the ride. I met some great people, each with a story of how bikes had made their way into their lives.


Cycling in a group makes for a fun experience!


When I made it back to town, I took a cheeky detour to the riverbank. While I can’t say I agree with its controversial inclusion on the 2020 list of Australia’s Best Beaches, it was the perfect refreshing stop to wash off the sweat and dust off the road. What other cycling event permits entrants to laze around in the river mid-race?

Read more: Remember to leave no trace!


After riding triumphantly through the finish line, riders are welcomed to the afterparty – a bustling park stuffed with food vendors, a stage with local musos, and lots of beer.

The three local breweries that stood out to me were the wildly productive Tumut River Brewing Co with their endless array of novel flavours, Thirsty Crow hawking their refreshing ales, and Tuckerbox with some appropriately nostalgic hops.

You’re never short on great places to eat and drink

Rich Culture, Rich Dinners

On the evening before the main event, the most important part of the festival takes place: carb-loading. Bottomless pasta (my two favourite words) was served up at the exceptional Italian restaurant Pastorale and we were treated to a dinner hosted by Mike Tomalaris.


More mouth-watering food options


Mike is credited with popularising cycling in Australia when he presented decades of Tour de France on SBS, as our nation transformed from a little-known cycling backwater, to the leaders of the pack when Cadel Evans hit the scene.

As we scoffed unending plates of pasta (vegetarians rejoice, there are plenty of options), we also heard about the history of cycling in Wagga Wagga.

The city is becoming a paradise for active travel, with a huge expansion of cycle paths in town and singletrack on the outskirts.

For those who find the fancy Italian option uninteresting, a rowdy pre-festival dinner at the craft brewery was also offered. Greasy burgers matched the greasy hands of those who took part in the race to patch a flat tire, and other activities that would no doubt be the norm in a society where all drinking games involve bicycles.

Beers are, after all, carb-laden, and therefore suitable for the night before a huge bike ride.

For accommodation, there were two options. If you wanted to be within staggering distance of the brewery or restaurant, you needed to book early for a room in a hotel or Airbnb in town, as these filled out on the weekend of the festival, evidence of the economic boon that adventure tourism brings to regional areas.

I went for the shoestring option, camping nearby on a Hipcamp farm, with views over the town at sunrise. With festival tickets reasonably priced, the whole weekend can easily be done on a budget.


You can take all your camping gear – bikepacking style


Either way, be prepared for an early start, with the longer rides starting earlier in the day. And be sure to book two nights if you can get the Monday off, as the post-ride festivities extend well past sunset.

Nearby Explorations: Make a Weekend of it

There’s a bunch of other things to see nearby, including local cheese makers, wineries, and natural highlights. I’d highly recommend checking out The Rock if you have time.

As the name suggests, it’s a big rock. It takes a few hours to hike up, and along the way you can read up on the mysterious and bloody history of the landscape.


There’s plenty of great scenery


Classic Australiana bush surrounds you, and while it gets a little steep at the top, I’d say it’s an easy walk, with plenty of shade. From the top, views stretch out endlessly in all directions, a patchwork of farmland and winding rivers.

The lone mountain range sits like a goanna on the plains. It really does have that sacred feeling that’s present at all important Aboriginal sites across the country.

The rivers are another natural highlight – you can stop by the beach in town, but there are several other places to enjoy the river on the way home.


Gorgeous river views are everywhere!


For those with time on their side and a hint of madness, it’s also possible to cycle from Canberra to Wagga Wagga or vice versa, a pilgrimage that’s widely admired by festival-goers.

Whatever you do, don’t take the highway back to Canberra – the route through Tumut and the Brindies is accessible to all cars, and despite taking slightly longer, is a much nicer drive.

Start Polishing That Chain – The next Gears and Beers is on the 1st and 2nd of October

Gears and Beers Festival is a great way to spend the weekend outside, with rides ranging from 10km to 130km. Connecting with the landscape, culture, and flavours of the Riverina region is both surprising and rewarding, and well worth the trip.

Does this sound like your kind of festival? Head to the Gears and Beers website to grab your tickets.