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Published January 27th 2016
A new life for an old Adelaide Road
For many years, Adelaide icons like the Tollgate, Devils Elbow and Eagle on the Hill were off-limit to cyclists. With all three of these forming part of the South Eastern Freeway, cyclists had to find alternative ways to head up the hills to Crafers, until either a safe passage was found for cyclists or the cars found an alternative route, or both.
This was to occur in May 2000 when the Heysen Tunnels were opened thus re-aligning the South Eastern Freeway on a more direct route to Crafers and disbanding the more windy and circuitous route through Eagle on the Hill. But what to do with an old road that has a few houses on it and is needed for the once-a-year scenario when the Heysen Tunnels are inaccessible.
The Crafers Bikeway starts in Glen Osmond alongside the Tollgate at the bottom of the Freeway. The Tollgate was built in 1841 to collect fees to help with the upkeep of the then Great Eastern Road. The Tollgate only lasted six years due to low traffic volumes generating an insufficient return. Imagine how many dollars they could have made if they could have lasted until today's traffic volumes !
The Bikeway is a fully bitumenised path running parallel and safe distance away from the Freeway. The path follows the curvature of the gully as well as a small creek on the northern side that rarely flows but often features wildflowers and other natives during autumn and spring.
The climb to Crafers is a modest average gradient but features four pinch points, the first of which occurs as we round a corner on the run up to the Mt Osmond overpass. Although not particularly difficult for the regular cyclist, those new to cycling will note the change in gradient and will reach for the gear change lever.
Alongside the Mt Osmond overpass we see the first of several former Highways Department huts that were once used to monitor traffic flows and incidents, and are scattered along the length of this road. Soon after this a second pinch point occurs as the path narrows on the run up to the Animal Boarding House, or the Kennels as it is affectionately referred to on the various cycling websites. It is at this point that the Bikeway joins a side road which leads on to the former freeway and takes us through the once notorious Devils Elbow.
Just beyond the Elbow the cycling time trial start line appears and for those looking for a challenge the fastest time for the 5.2km from this point to the top is just under 11 minutes. The bikeway now forms part of the Old Mount Barker Road with a concrete kerb to separate cyclists from the occasional stray car.
The aptly named Koala Corner appears on the only piece of the bikeway that has a slight descent. But this is shortlived as we quickly approach the third pinch point at Eagle Park, a favourite amongst the mountain biking community.
The former township of Eagle on the Hill approaches with little remaining from its glory days when it was home to the two most popular service stations in Adelaide on every long weekend. The Eagle on the Hill Hotel was also a popular watering hole despite being destroyed badly during bushfires. The eagle that once stood outside the Hotel now sits proudly on a private residence part way along the road, while this former town sits symbolically on top of the tunnels that now take all the traffic.
The Old Bullock Track was the other route used by Adelaide Hills folk to gain access to Adelaide during the 19th Century. This gravel track joins the bikeway, near Measday's Lookout, and is now known as the Pioneer Women's Trail, a 22km trail that traverses the same path that 19th Century women undertook from Hahndorf to Beaumont.
Cleland National Park is now visible to the north alongside the TV towers sitting on the Mt Lofty Summit. The fourth pinch point appears without warning as does our first views of the mobile phone tower to the southeast which sits above the township of Crafers.
The bikeway now leaves the road and follows a wide path for its last kilometre with rock formations on the north echoing the traffic noise from the below freeway which has now passed beyond the Tunnels. An early glimpse of some bollards results in an adrenaline boost over the final 100m to a disused road at the bottom of the phone tower where cyclists of all forms gather and reflect on personal achievements, pain points and the need for caffeine.
Having reached the peak after 8.8km, the Crafers Bikeway continues for another kilometre along this disused road before veering slightly downhill in to Crafers. As an alternative, and for the ultimate climb, cyclists who veer slightly uphill can travel along Shurdington Road which joins in to Summit Road, running parallel to the Sea to Summit Trail and the Heysen Trail, and taking riders to Adelaide's highest peak at Mt Lofty.
The Crafers Bikeway is open all year round and is well lit by road lights apart from the depths of winter when they occasionally get turned off. Interactions with cars are rare, and are most common with local residents or mountain bike drivers, both of whom are cyclist aware. Personally I prefer the free flowing downhill from the Bollards where one doesn't have to pedal for 8.8km. Just need to find an easier way to get there !
Enjoyed reading this article Steve.This "forgotten road" is one I travelled a lot on in the 40's and 50's,whilst a student.
There was a double story building..wood as I recall,just after the Devil's Elbow on the right handside heading towards the city.I think it was called the "Mountain Hut" I remember having matured cheese sandwiches there ,with stale bread and a pot of tea.
Having not travelled along this road for "donkey years" I wonder if this building still stands and if so,is it inhabited.(It wouldn't surprise me if it has been washed away,as it was built right beside the road at the base of a steep hill.) Thanks Noel.