If you’re heading to Australia, you may well be wondering what the possibilities are like for cycling in and around Sydney.
While Sydney is not the world’s most cycling friendly city, if you know what you’re doing, you’ll find plenty of excellent riding.
Good news: we’re here to help you know what you’re doing and find the best cycling routes in Sydney!
In this article, Ellen Leabeater, a Sydney based triathlete (who says she always manages to cycle more than swim or run!) gives us the lowdown on the best bike rides in Sydney, including where to go for the best views and coffee.
Written by Ellen Leabeater
Based in Sydney, Ellen is the Women’s Captain for her cycling group, the Cammeray Roadies. When not begging her boss for more time off work to go cycling, she works at Guardian Australia as an audio producer for the news podcast Full Story.
Sydney cycling routes
The cycling in/around Sydney is great for sheer variety. If you can stomach some busy roads and crazy drivers, you will be rewarded by stunning views and unbeatable weather. The city isn’t known for its mountain peaks, but you will find a few spots of elevation, and plenty of fast flats to smash yourself on.
There are also plenty of options in every direction - north, south, east, west.
And you can choose your poison - there’s regular crit racing at Heffron Park, regular road races at West Head and plenty of choices for a long weekend coffee ride.
What are the best-known cycling routes in Sydney?
92 kilometres, 1,200 metres of climbing
This is probably the most famous route from northern Sydney - and on any given Saturday or Sunday you’ll be in good company among cyclists giving it their best crack up Bobbin, Galston and Berowra. The route has about 1,200m of elevation. You can cycle up the Pacific Highway and choose clockwise or anticlockwise.
Taking in stunning bushland, rivers and countryside, you forget how close to the city you are on this ride!
A good add on for coffee is Glenorie Bakery or there are a few nice cafes in North Turramurra.
Note about the Pacific Highway: This route incorporates a section along the Pacific Highway. Be aware that the Pacific Highway gets very busy with traffic and then isn't at all pleasant. For this reason I highly recommend doing this ride with some mates (safety in numbers!) early on a Sunday (i.e. before about 6am) as it should be quieter then.
If you prefer, you can avoid the Pacific Highway by starting at Turramurra or Hornsby (both accessible by train).
Other popular routes in the area are in Ku-ring-gai National Park – there are three main routes with a few variances that are Sydney cycling bread and butter.
127 kilometres, 1,660 metres of climbing
If you keep following the Pacific Highway, you hit Mt White, another main climb with a very fun descent.
It’s an out and back route, and on the way back you’ll want to stop in at Pie in the Sky for a refuel. The cafe sits at the end of the second hill, Brooklyn, and is another cyclist coffee haunt.
Be prepared to elbow out the motorcyclists in the line to get your well-deserved feed!
Consider starting from Hornsby to avoid the Pacific Highway (see notes on the 3 Gorges ride above for more info on the Pacific Highway).
95 kilometres, 1,300 metres of climbing
On the other side of the Ku-Ring-Gai national park is West Head and Akuna Bay. These can be attempted together or separately.
West Head is an out and back and, on a hot summer day you can be forgiven for thinking you’re the last person on earth. It’s a vast, craggy landscape. The view at the end is fantastic though, taking in Broken Bay, Pittwater and Barrenjoey Headland and Lighthouse. GPX file for the West Head loop here.
Akuna Bay is a loop off Mccarrs Creek Road, taking in some beautiful seaside views. Check out the GPX file for Akuna Bay here. If you're really keen, you can also head to Cottage Point for some extra elevation.
You can start these rides from Terry Hills if you want a shorter ride or to avoid the Pacific Highway at the start of this ride (see notes on the 3 Gorges ride above for more info on the Pacific Highway).
Tempo coffee is the place for coffee and food and an Instagram shot!
85 kilometres, 1,100 metres of climbing
Finally, Palmie (aka Palm Beach) is another famous route. It’s nice once you’re sitting down with a banana bread and coffee from the Palm Beach Boatshed, but the ride out can be nasty in sections as it gets a bit tight.
My advice is to go early and avoid the beach traffic!
What are your favourite bike rides in Sydney?
62 kilometres, 780 metres of climbing
A fave and a regular is Church Point/Mccarrs, which can be attempted clockwise and anticlockwise depending on whether you want the Mccarrs Road climb or not!
Riding through Church Point is always a dream, curling around the waterfront for about 6 kilometres. Then along Mccarrs you’re back in bush territory, surrounded by tall gums. This ride can be extended by heading out to Palm Beach, or shortened by starting/ending at Terry Hills - a good option if you want to avoid traffic.
135 kilometres, 1,700 metres of climbing
A ride that is great for a group of mates ready for an adventure is Ettalong. It takes in a few of the routes I’ve already mentioned (Palm Beach, Mt White, Brooklyn) with the add on of the Central Coast.
You catch the ferry from Palm Beach or Ettalong depending on the direction (make sure you check the times - runs each way every 30 mins) and it’s a nice 30 min break mid ride! Also recommend stopping for coffee at Box on the Water. Can’t get a better view for a refuel!
33 kilometres, 270 metres of climbing
On the other side of the Harbour Bridge is the La Perouse cruise. Very flat, very cruisy and with an excellent photo stop overlooking Bare Island (conversation point nobody asked for - it’s where Mission Impossible 2 was filmed!).
You can add on some loops of Centennial Park if you are so inclined, but probably the main reason I ever cross the Harbour Bridge is so I can stop at Bar Cycle on the way home. One of the most cycle friendly cafes in Sydney!
Royal National Park
Staying south of the bridge, there are a number of gorgeous rides in and around the Royal National Park.
1. You can brave your way along the Princes Highway from the city (not overly pleasant - expect lots of traffic) or start a ride from Sutherland train station. See GPX route embedded to the right of this text.
2. You can do a loop from Sutherland, through Helensburgh and Stanwell Tops, and choose to come back via waterfall or add on more and swing by Gairie Beach for a swim. Stanwell Tops is a great coffee stop/lookout, though it can be windy, so hold on to your bike!
3. Other options are heading to Woronora Dam and Bundeena. You can always catch the ferry from Bundeena to Cronulla for a shorter ride.
Sackville to Wisemans
75 kilometres, 800 metres of climbing
Finally, a slight deviation but I'm going to mention it as something outside of Sydney and just because hands down it’s been my favourite new ride this year: the Sackville to Wisemans Ferry return.
We were lucky enough to be staying in Lower Portland over the June long weekend, and had the perfect base for plenty of exploring around the Hawkesbury area. Quiet roads winding by the river on one side, and sheer cliff faces on the other. If you do want to ride just be aware of where the ferry crossings are! The area is also accessible from Sydney - access via Windsor or Maroota/Glenorie.
What's the best climb/route that not many people in Sydney know about?
Don’t really have an answer to this one - nothing is a secret in Sydney!
Although I did meet a guy on my ride the other day who was cycling from Manly to Watsons Bay, having breakfast at the Watson’s Bay hotel beach club and then catching the ferry back to Manly. Now that sounds like a bloody good Saturday ride to me!
Are there any closed road cycle tracks in Sydney?
Closed road cycleways are a bit hit and miss in Sydney unfortunately. This is slowly changing as a result of Covid and some pop-up bike paths are coming along. However they tend to end randomly and I imagine would be hard to navigate for someone unfamiliar with the city! This City of Sydney map of its bike lanes and shared paths might be useful however.
There are a few exceptions to the above. Take a look at the following:
Where to stay in Sydney (for cyclists)
Where you stay in Sydney probably depends on how you want to spend your time off the bike.
Want to spend some time on the beach? Look for places around Mosman/Balmoral/Manly if you want to stay north of the bridge, or Bondi/Bronte/Coogee in the east.
If it’s Sydney harbour views you’re after try North Sydney/Kirribilli or the CBD.
If it’s food you’re after, you can’t go past the inner city - Newtown/Redfern/Surry Hills.
If you want to do some running after cycling you can’t go past the Bay Run - stay around Rozelle/Balmain. Most of the beaches have good coastal tracks too.
Bike shops (and bike rental) in Sydney
Livelo is probably your best bet for hiring a road bike. You can also hire bikes in Centennial Park but that’s focused on bikes just to ride around the park on.
If you want to browse some bike shops, Clarence Street in Sydney has the best density - there’s Clarence St Cyclery, Jet Cycles and Giant Sydney.
When to visit Sydney
Spring and Autumn are probably the best. The weather is warm enough that you don’t need layers on the bike but not so hot you end up dripping in sweat after 10 kilometres! Plus, you are still able to hit the beach and have a dip.
Tips and articles
Is there anything that visitors to Sydney shouldn't miss?
Sydney is very much an outdoor city and a harbour city, so be prepared to get active.
The Bondi-Coogee walk is a crowd favourite, as is the Spit-Manly walk. If you head further south, the Coastal Track is a challenging but incredible hike. There are also heaps of walking tracks in Ku-ring-gai National Park.
One of my other favourite things to do is have a picnic overlooking Sydnbey Harbour bridge - check out the Coal Loader, Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden or “The Office” on Manly’s East Esplanade. Although there are so many places you can go, don’t be limited by my list! It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon with some friends, some Finska, and the sunset.
Getting out on the harbour is always lots of fun, whether it’s a lunch cruise or just a commute on the Manly or Watsons Bay Ferry!
And a visit to Sydney isn’t complete without spending some time on the beach. Bondi and Manly are iconic, but for quieter options I opt for Chinaman’s Beach or Camp Cove.
Are there any rules of the road that cyclists should be aware of?
Cycling on pavements is not allowed, except for cyclists under the age of 16 years and adults accompanying them (unless there is a ‘No Bicycles’ sign).
Cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast, but can’t be more than 1.5 metres apart, riding as close together as it is safe to do so
Wearing a helmet is mandatory.
Be aware that you can take your bike on the metro, trains and ferries for free, when there is space available. However bikes are not allowed on buses.
What are your best tips for people cycling in Sydney for the first time?
Be prepared for some hostility on the roads. Compared to many European cities, unfortunately Sydney isn’t known as a cyclist-friendly city. It’s slowly changing as more people get into the sport and are visible on the roads, but cars rule the roost around here. The traffic can also be pretty heavy.
Together this gives you a good reason to get out and cycle in the early morning - bonus is if you time your route well, you can usually watch the sunrise over the water.
Cycling is always better in numbers, and depending on where you’re staying (and if you’ve got the time) it may be worthwhile to join a local Sydney cycling club (just make sure you check first whether you need insurance). They’ll be able to show you the local routes.
A huge thank you to Ellen for her really useful insights into cycling in/around Sydney.
Have you explored Sydney by bike?
If you've got any tips to share, please do share them below!
We'd also love to hear from you if you know anything about cycling in other parts of Australia as we're keen to build out our content - and travelling there ourselves is tricky right now... get in touch if you can help!
For more cycling destination inspiration, head to our destinations page.