MEET THE MOTHER – AUSTRALIA’S BEST MOTORCYCLING ROAD – THE PUTTY REVEALED
Go and ride it...
There are a lot of crows on the Putty Road. Fat ones, with glossy feathers. They eat well. The Mother provides.
I guess that’s why I refer to the Putty Road as The Mother. She does in indeed provide, and not just for the crows. She provides me, and a lot of other motorcyclists, with what we need, just as a mother should.
And if you love her and respect her, then she will reward you. If you take her for granted, and don’t pay her the attention and respect she is due, she will kill you like a cockroach.
You see, unlike your mum, her love is not unconditional. It depends on you. Just like motorcycling. That depends on you too. You get complacent about riding bikes, you pay in blood. You get complacent about riding The Mother, you pay in blood.
They are a match made in the cruel and beautiful heaven that is motorcycling.
I first travelled The Mother as a child in the 60s. It had just been sealed. But it was already legendary, certainly in the minds of my immigrant parents who approached the drive from Windsor to Singleton with both the preparation and trepidation of explorers setting out to traverse the Congo.
I still vividly remember standing under the enormous fig tree that grows in a clearing at the end of the Ten-Mile and drinking some orange juice mum had squeezed just that morning. It was now warm and bitter after what was an all-day drive from Glebe to Singleton in 1966.
The fig tree is still there, although it’s been heavily lopped after being hit by lightning in 2021.
The first time I rode The Mother was in February, 1978. I was 16-and-nine-months old. I was on a borrowed Honda XL 250 with L-plates and shit tyres, a torn seat, and bent handlebars – and I should have been at school. I was too terrified to die, so I didn’t.
I have since ridden The Mother countless times on every conceivable motorcycle and at speeds ranging from “I’m looking at the scenery” to “They’re going to put my corpse in gaol” – and she never gets old, and she’s never boring, and she never fails to enthral me.
I’ve ridden it at night. I’ve ridden it in the teeming rain. I’ve even ridden it when it was still burning from catastrophic bushfires. Do I know it? Yes. But not in the way you think.
For sure, I know the corners, their progression, and which ones need a certain input. I know where the cops hide. I know where the bumps are. And I know which corners will show me the face of fucking God if I get them right, and which ones will pitch me into Hell if I get them wrong.
So I know the Putty like that.
I also know the Putty for what it is.
And it is a road shrouded with mysteries, cloaked in secrets, and stained in blood. Probably more than any other road in Australia per traffic load.
I have had two friends die in my arms on the Putty. And I have a seen dozens of crashes, fatal, almost fatal, that’s a maiming, and “Don’t worry, most of that will grow back…probably.” Near misses and hairy moments are without number, as are the pure atavistic thrills.
The Mother gives, and The Mother takes. It’s how she rolls.
But at the end of the day, it’s just a road. It’s no more dangerous than any other road. If you think it is, then you’re an idiot who should not be riding motorcycles. The Mother is simply a road, and just like any other road, you just need to pay attention when you’re riding on it. You need to understand this. Ride accordingly.
Personally, I really don’t give a shit if you die on it. I don’t know you. There’ll be no thoughts or prayers for you on my social feed, and I will not send my condolences to your family. I don’t know them either. You trowel it on The Mother and it will be your fault. Not hers. So you can’t blame her. But I will blame you and curse you, because your failure has led the road to be closed and the cops to swarm on it.
So make sure you ride her well. It’s much better than riding her safely…or what you think is safely. Riding well beats riding safely every time. One makes sense. The other is mewling bullshit.
I have not long ago moved to Singleton from Sydney. So I get to ride The Mother a lot – sometimes a few times a week – and I think it’s the greatest motorcycle road in Australia. And yes, I have ridden them all. And I think this is because it’s a road that offers everything to every motorcyclist – from beginner to old warhorse. Provided you pay attention from beginning to end, The Mother will give you the ride of your life. Or end it with ruthless cruelty.
I like that in a road.
So permit me to take you on a tour of The Mother. We shall proceed from south to north, since that is the direction most people ride it. So from Windsor to Singleton then.
BEFORE IT BEGINS
You should maybe fuel up in Windsor or Wilberforce. From Windsor to Singelton, it’s 174.7km. From Wilberforce to Bulga (the first fuel if you don’t stop at Colo Heights), it’s 146.2km.
You’re a grown up. Hopefully you’ll understand how far your bike can make it on a tank of fuel. Appreciate it will be a shorter distance if you’re on the gas hard.
Don’t turn up at the Grey Gum Café like a monstrous dickwad and ask if they have any petrol. They do, but it’s mainly diesel and two-stroke. Kim and Will do have normal petrol, but they need it to use in their own vehicles. Kim may still give you some because she takes great pity on idiots. Will may or may not, depending on how he’s feeling. Best you hand over $50 for the maybe five litres he may offer you. Consider it a bargain.
But you do you. I’m just pointing out it’s a good idea to have a full tank of petrol before you set off.
The bulk of the Putty Road runs between Wollemi National Park and Yengo National Park. It’s wild and feral. Check it out on Google maps. There’s a whole lot of nothing but bush either side of its asphalt. That’s what makes the Putty Road so freakishly special. It’s not all that far from Sydney – but once you’re on it, you may as well be on another planet.
But it’s a great planet.
AND SO IT BEGINS – DOWN TO COLO RIVER
The run from Windsor/Wilberforce down to the Colo River is but the barest taste of what The Mother has to offer. The road surface is very good, and the altitude changes are very noticeable. You will go up hill and down dale, and you’ll encounter a few very fast sweepers just before you commence your descent into the river valley.
The speed limit is 80, and then shortly after the BP servo on your right (near the Kurrajong turn-off), it will become 100. The Highway Patrol likes this bit, for obvious reasons. It’s been known to hide on the right in the entrance to the paintball place, and on the left in a few of the sideroads and driveways.
Then, just as the last houses disappear, and the trees close in, the speed limit drops to 80 again. And the road starts to go downhill. Stay on it. It doesn’t become truly terrifying until you hammer past the Out-Of-Control-Truck Safety Ramp on your right.
Then you’ll hit a fast and very short sweeper, followed by a 45-kayer – but you’ll power on as you hurtle down the now steep hill, and set up for a glorious 35-kay left-hander at the bottom. It’s not quite a hairpin, but it’s close. The camber is good and it’s a constant-radius curve. You’ll still shit yourself a bit, though.
Now be circumspect as you blast across the Colo River Bridge and the few houses in Colo. On your right you’ll see a time-share property, and just past that is a café. Sometimes the Highway Patrol waits here. They may be bludging free coffee and showing their dicks to each other, or they may be pointing their ray-guns down the road at the champion redlining third and seeking fourth as he comes up off the bridge.
Just past the café, you’ll belt past what was once going to be an Islamic stronghold and horse-farm on the right. And it was going well, they had a big flag up and everything, then when the council came to ask for their land-clearing permit, they kidnapped the council-worker.
This went poorly for them when they eventually ended up in court, and things are quiet there now. But this horse-farm is your signal to pass any slow-moving traffic ahead of you. Because now the fun starts.
THE RISING – COLO TO COLO HEIGHTS
This uphill run is fabulous. You should have an erection by the fourth corner. Super-good surface, and you’re fighting gravity, so it’s all you on the accelerator. If you’re unlucky, you might get a cop sitting on the left near the Bra-Tree (yes, a clearing with a tree full of daggy bras nailed to it), and you won’t be doing 80 when he sees you.
But if the Road Gods are smiling upon you, this eight-or-so kays of fast, beautifully-surfaced corners, are an absolute hoot.
You’ll then come upon an overtaking lane, and this is a sign you’re entering the sparsely inhabited Colo Heights. Be aware the cops love to sit beside the Rural Fire Station and ping people for not doing 80 through there. And it’s easy not to do 80. It’s a series of fast sweepers you could sail through at 140 without a care.
Then almost without warning, is the last petrol you’ll get until you reach Bulga. It’s a Shell servo, and it used to be run by a bloke called Klaus. Klaus knew things. He was taciturn, but he made an OK cup of coffee and a good burger, and if you didn’t give him the shits, he may tell you if there were cops ahead.
He would also sell you beer, because the servo is also a bottle-shop, and let you drink it at his picnic tables if you didn’t turn into a drunken dickhead.
There are new owners now, and I cannot speak to the quality of food or coffee they offer, because all I do there is get petrol and a soft-drink.
THE QUICKENING – COLO HEIGHTS TO GREY GUMS
As soon as you pass the sawmill on your left and Dogwoods kennels on your left, you’re into the meat of the Mother. You will only have phone reception at Grey Gums Café (another 50km down the road), and after that, Batman Corner.
But only if you’re with Telstra. Not with Telstra? Practice your car-flagging-down techniques. Yes, there are maybe four Emergency Phones along the Putty. Chances are you won’t have a flat-tyre or a criminal speeding charge anywhere near any of them.
The road from Colo Heights down to the Top Speed Proving Grounds and Panther Hunting Forests is a bit bumpy in places. It’s fast – lots of sweepers to begin with followed by phenomenal straights.
You’ll go past the Off Road Rush Complex on your right – but that’s just a sign with a white tyre nailed to a tree. Further on, you’ll see the odd weird-looking gate, a stunning giant ghost gum (I call it the Paint-Smear Tree because someone botched the line-marking on the left just at the base), and you need to keep your wits about you because here is where you’re likely to encounter beasts. Wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, goannas, snakes, echidnas, and deer can come out at any time. And deer are bigger and move faster than kangaroos. They also have swords and spears on their heads.
As you come down off the range, and the road opens up, you’ll rocket past the evocatively-named culverts, swamps, creeks, and waterholes – Howe’s (named after John Howe, the Chief Constable of Windsor), Kangaroo, Wallaby, Mellong, Tinda, and Cases.
Many things happen on this stretch of The Mother. There’s the animal stuff, which may kill you or hospitalise you. And then there’s the stuff which sends you to gaol, which is pretty much 250km/h in a hundred zone. That will also get you a headline on the news, so at least you’ll be famous when you’re kissing your cellmate’s tattooed penis goodnight.
The cops do like this stretch because people tend to see what the top-end of their bike actually is. Pick your time, I guess. Then roll the dice. Try not to roll the dice on weekends.
The road is bumpy here, as I said, but as soon as you cross the boundary between Hawksbury Shire Council and Singleton Council, the road becomes a lot smoother. If you’re proceeding at warp-speed, you won’t see the yellow-poled border sign, but you’ll figure it out pretty quick when your bike stops bouncing around.
There are a many wonderfully fast sweepers to enjoy here, not the least of which are found a few kilometres before Grey Gums, which is a downhill, high-velocity descent. Note the big, white, wooden cross on your left as you hit the bottom of the hill. It’s the perfect size for a crucifixion.
And then Grey Gums Café.
THE CAFFEINING AND HAMBURGERING
Kim Grace owns and runs this literal oasis of a venue, with her partner, William Watson. She loves and is beloved of the motorcycle community. Will himself rides. I know them both well, and have worked at the venue on and off for the last few years.
The food is great, the coffee fair, and the welcome is warm and genuine. How can you not stop here? The answer is you can’t NOT stop here. You must. It’s in the rules. The Mother wishes it.
As I said earlier, there’s no petrol here. You can try grovelling. That sometimes works. And sometimes it doesn’t work. It all depends. Many factors are at play. There are, however, tools available, tyre repair kits, and good WiFi.
Oh, and excellent beer.
So what happens next? Well, some folks decide they’ve had enough of The Mother. They ride back the way they came. Others, who know better, understand The Mother just gets better from here if you keep heading north.
As you hammer out of the Grey Gums, rev-limiter yammering, you will encounter St Shenouda. Well, not so much him, but his Coptic Orthodox Monastery. That’s the large brick entrance you’ll see as you tuck into a 200km/h sweeper a few fast kilometres past Grey Gums.
Carry on, pilgrim. The road gets better and better. You are approaching Garland Valley and the former truck stop, which is now the home of Wo-Man – a large steel sculpture.
The truck stop burned down many years ago. But it was, prior to Grey Gums, the place to stop and get a terrible steak sandwich. They were the wild and feral old days, when good food was not a thing anyone expected when they went riding. The truck stop also had petrol…most of the time.
Now it has bacon-and-egg-rolls and cold drinks on weekends.
There’s a long straight as you leave the truck stop. And the limit changes from 80 to 100. You’re probably doing 200 by this stage. And fair enough. Just be aware that if you’re going the other way, when the limit changes from 100 to 80 as you approach the old truck stop, there is sometimes a Highway Patrol car sitting in the truck stop. And he’ll get you as you crest the rise as the speed limit changes. Now, it’s kinda academic if you get done for 200 in an 80 zone as opposed to 200 in a 100 zone. You can have that discussion with the magistrate.
But heading north, soon you’ll encounter a very nice series of uphill corners. Two lanes wide. This is not the Ten-Mile. But it’s a nice taste of what awaits you. Carry on.
You’ll next come into Howes Valley. It’s very pretty. If you’re not supersonic at this stage, you’ll see just how pretty it is. There are another few lovely sharper corners here – but either side of the valley all you’re going to find is sweeper after sweeper, which range from 55 to 75 in advisory signs.
What do those signs know? Nothing. Double it. The surface is good. You can even double them and add a bit, like a true champion.
Soon, you will notice the trees closing in again. It is crucial you don’t lose focus now. The great and good stuff is about to begin. Or the awful stuff, if you botch it up.
THE TWISTERATING – THE TEN-MILE
Just before you enter the Ten-Mile, you may or may not see a sign indicating the next 16-kilometres are twisty. That is the only warning you’ll get. Because the next right-hander is the start of The Mother’s special magic.
There are 99 corners in this 16-kilometre stretch, and 16 kays is about ten miles in the old money, hence the name. That’s about six corners for every kilometre. It’s very target rich.
And it is relentless and varied. You’ll get all the corners. From a super series that goes 55, 55, 65, 55, 45, 65, to the fabled Snake Guts of four 35-kayers – all perfectly cambered constant-radius sex-acts.
There are only two decreasing-radius corners on the whole Putty. They are in this section. You’ll find them. Oh yes, you will. So do not let your attention flag. They’re not bad, but they will catch you out if you’re not paying attention.
This is where many over-cookings occur. People, both in cars and bikes (and the odd semi-trailer) get complacent. They run wide. Bad things happen if you’re going the other way. Some of the corners are blind. Some are not. Some go up. Some go down.
One legendary bend got the name “Batman Corner” because some wag had hung a Batman symbol in a tree. The corner is a brilliant 25-kayer that goes up and then down after the apex. There’s a layback there where you can stop and catch your breath and let your tyres cool down so that you crash on the next hard right.
Once upon a time, the motorcycle media used to shoot lots of pictures on this corner. I still do from time to time. I think that’s because I’m the only one who rides that far. There is mobile reception here if you’re with Telstra. If you’re not, keep riding.
The surface along the entire length of the Ten-Mile is largely sensational. But there is an awkwardly-placed pothole on one of the 25-kayers. You’ll find it. It’s on the racing line. But you’ll also remember where it is for next time.
This is all rock walls and Armco. There is no run-off. Sometimes a tree might fall on you. Or a large rock. It happens. Sometimes a bush turkey will jump on your face. That happens too.
But it’s rare. The nature of the terrain precludes larger animals from throwing themselves in front of you. But not entirely. I have seen the rare wallaby standing in the middle of the road early in the morning or at dusk.
The important thing here is to stay on your game for the whole 16 kilometres. Ignore the digesting burger in your guts, which is swimming in a puddle of sugary soft-drink. This makes you sleepy. Don’t be sleepy here. You might well never wake up.
You may see a sign for Darkey Creek. If it’s near a blue Fireplace Ahead sign, you’ll know you’re near the end. The sign refers to the old fig-tree I once drank mum’s orange juice under. It’ll be on the right just as you come hard out of a 65-kayer.
Stop there. Breathe deeply. Celebrate un-death.
THE ENDING – SO WHAT DO I DO NOW?
Well, you can go back the way you just came. It’s possible you’re fit enough and hard enough to do the Ten-Mile once again.
But you probably need petrol.
You have two choices. Carry on through Milbrodale and head for Bulga – which has a petrol station and a great pub – or turn right at Milbrodale and head for Broke. Broke just has a servo, but you’ll be able to then make for Wollombi, and back to Sydney via Jerry’s Café at Kulnura. This is a decent ride as well, but there’s not that many corners, the surface is crap much of the time, many of the bends are off-camber, but it will spit you out at Mt White, which is the Old Pacific Highway.
And then if you haven’t yet been booked, that’s where you will be. Especially on the weekend.
If you decide to carry on to Singleton, a mere 20km from Bulga, you’ll find heaps of great pubs, and even a bike shop. Then you can slab it home on the freeway. It’s exactly one-hour-and-forty minutes from Singo to Wahroonga if you go that way.
So that’s The Mother. If you haven’t yet ridden her, it’s your loss. If you have, then I hope you’re nodding your head and smiling a bit. I ride The Mother a lot. So I smile a lot. But I never, ever, ever take her for granted.
Never do that.
Subscribe and get to see the real spicy stuff and much more
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.