Australia's most populous state had a capital that hated bikes. Cyclists were perceived as obtrusive road users who always hogged up the roads, slowing traffic down. However, since the 21st century, Sydney has had a major reform and has many great cycle paths, making cycling a popular recreational activity, with a network that now extends kilometres beyond the realms of the city. Though the state's cycle network is centred around Sydney and the Northern Rivers, this is in addition to road cycling in rural areas, which can provide some spectacular laidback views – something that you cannot do whilst driving.
|“||Focus on what is still possible||”|
—Annemiek van Vleuten, 1st in the 2022 Road race, UCI Road World Championships at Wollongong
Shared cycle paths are usually marked with a cycle symbol. If a path is exclusively for cyclists, then the path will be painted green, such as the one seen on the right. It will be crisp clear whether pedestrians will be allowed on green paths or not.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that many cycle paths were either formed out of existing pathways that had some sort of use until they went unloved or out of council parklands. This has resulted in various gaps within the cycle network, in addition with the lack of cooperation between different councils, meaning you may have to ride on the road for a few hundred metres, or even kilometres on end, before returning to a path again.
If you consider Sydney as the world's capital for sloppy and misleading highway signage, you'd be disappointed to find out the same applies for signage on cycle paths. Signposting is done by individual councils; the lack of cooperation has led to erroneous distances, so make sure to use your favourite GPS application. Chances are very likely that your phone is more accurate than the signs on-the-ground. The situation in regional NSW and Newcastle is slightly better, but here, you'll find that the inverse – the trail will be poorly marked.
Remember to keep left at all times unless passing (overtaking). There may be signs and markings everywhere reminding you to stick to the left, but ultimately, it is your responsibility to stick to the left. You really don't want to piss of other cyclists by riding on the wrong side, or worse of yet, be involved in an accident of any kind. Finally, wearing a helmet is mandatory by law – no exceptions to this (or choose to cop a fine of $344). Though this is true in all states, the NSW authories are very stringent about this and on-the-spot fines are commonly handed out. Contrary to many places, you will not be judged for wearing a helmet; in fact, you'll have a very hard time finding someone who is not wearing one.
Cycle maps are usually left to councils, but there is a map of all cycle paths on the Roads and Waterways NSW website. If you're planning to go long-distance cycling, including cycling on freeways, this government website, albeit not up-to-date, should give you a general overview.
Contrary to most of the world, cycling on NSW's freeways is permitted, though not on all freeways (actual freeways designed for motorised vehicles, not bike freeways). On the freeways that permit cycling, you'll encounter two different conditions. Some freeways, like the WestlinkM7, have a parallel bike freeway to the main freeway itself, while on most others (and nearly all in regional NSW), you'll have to cycle on the freeway shoulder (and in some cases, you will have cars passing you at 110 km/h (68 mph)) and will need to safely cross at every exit and entry. Only cycle on freeway shoulders if you're feeling confident – it only takes one slip to cause a major accident.
Although the ACT is completely enclaved within New South Wales, it is not covered here for practical reasons.
This list is only a brief and generalised overview of what it's like cycling in these regions and cities. For detailed information, such as bike rentals or local conditions, check the relevant city or region article for information.
The urban core of New South Wales may have once been a notorious place for cycling, but today, it has a vast network of shared paths – today, it even has bike freeways.
As a general rule of thumb, newer suburbs that were established since the spraling boom of Sydney generally have more bike paths (i.e. Outer Western Sydney, former industrial areas) in addition to parks that are a part of a long-distance path.
Unlike many other cities, cycling on some of Sydney's freeways is completely normal, though riding your bike on the freeway should be done at your own risk. Often, this is only allowed on urban freeways with a wide shoulder. If there's an alternate cycle path that runs parallel to the freeway, then you likely won't be able to ride your bike. You cannot ride your bike under a tunnel (many of Sydney's freeways are underground, so this is a large number), nor can you ride your bike on the lane – you must ride it on the shoulder. Important freeways that are not tunnels where cycling is prohibited include the M4 Western Motorway west of Silverwater (you can only ride on the bike freeway between Pemulwuy and Silverwater), the A4 Western Distributor, the Gore Hill Freeway, the Warringah Freeway, the Eastern Distributor and the M5 East Freeway (the above-ground sections too).
Sydney has four long-distance cycleways that parallel freeways. The most well-known and spectacular cycleway is the WestlinkM7 cycleway; the other three are the M2, M4, and M5 cycleways, though the M4 is significantly shorter than the other two, starting and ending in random suburbs, meaning you have to cycle on the shoulder. There is also a short cycleway paralleling the Gore Hill Freeway, which eventually continues as the Epping Road cycleway. The future M12 will also have a future bike freeway that will parallel the under-construction freeway between WestlinkM7 and The Northern Road (A9), and it's expected that the Western Sydney Airport Motorway will open in 2026 along with the airport.
Other important trails include the Parramatta Valley Cycleway, the Windsor Road Cycleway, The Bay Run, Cooks River, and perhaps the most iconic of all, the Harbour Bridge cycleway. Often, these cycleways will connect or branch off into smaller trails, eventually towards other cycleways or towards a suburb.
One Sydney suburb in particular known for its cycleways is Sydney Olympic Park, with many trails centred around Blaxland or Bicentennial Parks. Here, there are endless cycleways that form a large suburban network. The one catch is that nearly all of these cycleways are shared paths, meaning you might have to slow down for pedestrians – certainly not pleasant when you're travelling at 30 km/h (19 mph).
Useful maps for urban cycling
- City of Sydney (offline download)
- City of Canada Bay
- Northern Beaches Council
- City of Parramatta
- City of Ryde
Hunter and the Central Coast
The Hunter's cycle network is often amalgamated with the Central Coast's; given the large amount of lakes in the Hunter, particularly Lake Macquarie, many bike paths follow a lakeside path. Freeway shoulders in the Hunter are open to cyclists, but keep in mind that there will be oncoming vehicles crashing at 110 km/h (68 mph), sometimes even (illegally) at 120 km/h (75 mph).
Newcastle generally has most of its important points of interests connected to its network of bike paths, though gaps are fairly prevalent. In many areas, you will have to ride on the road, keeping in mind that cars will generally give way and slow down if needed. You generally won't need to use medium or high-difficulty cycleways as defined by the council. However, the major exception to this is Stockton, which is only connected through the Tourle Street Bridge (B63). However, if you're not a proficient cyclist, you may want to use the ferry to Stockton. You may be inconveniencing your fellow passengers, but it's completely legal and this practice is commonly done on Sydney's ferries – Newcastle should be no different.
Lake Macquarie's network is mostly a southerly continuation of Newcastle's. Most of the network is east of the lake; the trails west of the lake closer to the freeway are usually filled with traffic.
The Central Coast's network is relatively poor compared to Newcastle, though the northern parts of the region closer to the Hunter is slightly better than the south. You will have to ride on the road as there are few paths, but this is slowly changing, with the council investing in shared paths.
- Newcastle City Council – Cycleway maps (offline download)
- Lake Macquarie – Walking and cycling (council map)
- Port Stephens Council – Cycleways
- Central Coast Council – Central Coast Bike Plan (there are various maps there)
The Illawarra may be coastal, but its hilly low-elevation topography has posed a challenge for large-scale infrastructure – and perhaps what explains why nearly all roads between state's largest and third largest cities tend to be windy or steep. Unlike its Central Coast or Hunter counterparts, there are few bike paths in the Illawarra, and almost all of them are shared or on the road. In some particularly steep sections, you will be requred to dismount and wheel your bike. It may be an inconvenience, but these paths usually have a gradient of over 20%; combined with narrow paths, you can probably see why this is necessary.
Suffice to say, Wollongong is still a nice place for cycling. In 2022, it hosted the UCI Road World Championships with the track mainly featuring Mount Keira, a perfect place to go road cycling but on mountains. The Mount Keira Ring Track may only be a 5-kilometre loop, but you'll see some impressive rainforest scenery along the way. Just be careful for leeches after rain.
The Northern Rivers', or specifically Tweed Heads' limited network is rather unique in a sense that its network resembles more like Queensland's network as opposed to somewhere in NSW – and its northerly location explains it all. Unfortunately, in this part of the state, few shared pathways have been developed, meaning you have to cycle on the road – something that's certainly not ideal if you're a novice cycler.
Other famous trails
- Thredbo Valley Trail (or Thredbo Valley Track) in Kosciuszko National Park. It's only open during the summer between November and May, and only if conditions permit (snow regularly covers the trail). The trail passes through the impressive alpine valley near Thredbo and eventually onto the impressive suspension bridge.
- Lady Carrington Drive in Royal National Park is mostly a road, part of the Grand Pacific Drive. Though cycling on the road may be unpleasurable, you'll see picturesque coastal views in the world's second national park.
- Old Great North Road in various parks, but mainly in Dharug National Park, north of Wisemans Ferry. It's 43 km (27 mi) one way, and should take the entire day. Parts of this trail pass through the convict-built Old Great North Road built between 1826–36, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Australian Convict Sites.
- Cascade Hut Trail in Kosciuszko National Park is a 10-kilometre (6.2 mi) medium-difficulty cycling trail to Cascade Hut as the name should suggest. It's one of the few popular cycle trails that get fully coated with snow during winter.
- Burramoko Ridge (Hanging Rock) trail in Blue Mountains National Park is a 10-kilometre (6.2 mi) cycling trail (return) that meanders through various rocks and landforms near Blackheath. Along the way, you'll see plenty of impressive valley views.
- Boyd River loop in Kanangra-Boyd National Park in the Blue Mountains is a 21-kilometre (13 mi) that's mostly gentle and follows firetrails (meaning, the track should be gentle enough for motorised vehicles). Along the way, you can also take a 7.3-km detour to Morong Falls.
Most public ferries should allow you to take your bike with you, though they may not allow you if it's a high-use route (such as the F1 between Manly and Circular Quay). If your ferry does allow you, make sure you stand outside and hook your bike to the front (there will be two hooks at the front of every ferry). Never leave your bike unattended.
Most Sydney trains will not allow you to take your bike on trains while all metro stations prohibit cycles. As a simple matter of fact, Sydney's trains are often densly packed and there's no room for a cyclist to hog up half the standing area near the ends of carriages. However, on the other hand, Intercity trains (i.e. trains from Sydney that aren't within its urban network but where you can still use your Opal® card) do allow you to take your bike. Depending on the route, there will be a hook at the end of each carriage.
Road cycling in New South Wales can be an entirely different story, depending on the location and time.
Riding your bike on the road during peak hours can be a nightmare, especially on main arterial roads. Most of Sydney's arterial roads weren't design for cyclists and these roads easily get filled by car-loving commuters; it is for this exact reason why many New South Welshmen who live in a major city have hated cyclists in the past. Newcastle's and Wollongong's roads are slightly better, but you can still expect the same. See § Sydney for cycling on freeways. While there are inner-city freeways in Newcastle and Wollongong, cycling on freeways in both cities is unheard of (there are none in the Central Coast, though).
Cycling on a slightly quieter road or a road that explicitly says "Watch For Cyclists" on a blue sign in all caps would mean it's safe to cycle and motorists have been warned. While there will always be that one ignorant driver illegally using their phone, it's generally safe to assume that it won't be unplesant. Still take normal precautions, and try cycle in a large group if you are cycling on the road.
With the exception of cycling on freeways and major divided four-lane highways, cycling on most highways and rural roads should give you a laidback view of the surrounding scenery. Keep in mind that most oncoming traffic will come rushing at 100–110 km/h (62–68 mph) (even 60 km (37 mi) in the Snowy or Blue Mtns is fast) and it's difficult to swerve off-road on particularly narrow roads without a shoulder – it's important, especially on rural roads, to keep left. Try and cycle in a single file if you're cycling in a group, because although most drivers will cross into the oncoming lane, it's not always possible.
Some roads in the Snowy Mountains will get covered in snow and ice during the winter. Avoiding cycling in such conditions most New South Welsh drivers aren't proficient in driving on ice. You could also easily slip or lose your balance, and when there's a car coming behind you with a panic-stricken driver, that's a one-way recipe for disaster. On occasion, this may happen in the Blue Mountains, but the black ice can make conditions worse. Check local conditions before driving in the Snowy and Blue Mountains.
Though road cycling in a place that isn't exactly welcoming to cyclists might seem a bit intimidating at first, it should be like cycling on many roads in northern Europe (such as Germany, Denmark and other Nordic countries). Apply some common sense and you'll be fine.
If you're travelling on a medium- or long-distance highway (usually over 200 km), there may be scenic tourist drives that you may want to ride on. These drives receive less motorised traffic, are more scenic and enjoyable.
Before you get on your bike, always make sure to do the following:
- Have a working bell – it's the law. To put it simply, no bell means no ride. Other cyclists need to be aware of your presence and need to know if you want to pass them.
- Wear something bright and visible and have some sort of night lighting – again, NSW law requires all riders to have proper reflectors and night lighting when riding at night. You may think it looks dumb and arbitrary, but getting hit by a car or another cyclist is even more dumb and arbitrary.
- Wear a helmet – had a fall and didn't wear a helmet? Most New South Welsh cyclists wear one, because again, it's the law. They prevent you from getting a serious head or brain injury were you to have an accident.
- Check if your brakes are working – there's nothing worse than travelling at 40 km/h (25 mph) and need to slow down, only to find out your brakes don't work. It takes less than a minute to check whether they're working or not; better be safe than sorry.