There’s something special about bringing together a group of strangers and introducing them to new roads. I put together this little event which included some of the Dandenong Ranges finest gravel climbs. I invited a small number of riders to join me for a Dirty Dandys ride. We had rain forecasted overnight. It was supposed to dry up by the time the ride was due to start. On the drive up it was raining quite heavily and just kept on raining.
I was really excited about this ride. There were a number of riders who were travelling quite a distance just to eperience this ride. All the way from the western suburbs, & one of the riders ventured all the way from the beach to join us. There was going to be two groups with the second group due to meet us in the Basin car park at around 8:00 am.
The first group consisting of Adam, Geert & Fabian headed out to Old Coach Road. This is a climb which I found so hard that I’ve only ever done it once. Old Coach Road is a dead-end road, which then turns into a walking track. Most riders are turned off venturing up it due to the dead-end sign (plus the fact its ridiculously steep). Very few have done this climb. When you get to the gate which leads onto the National Park, this is super steep and littered with really wet rocks and debris all over the path. There was very little in the way in traction, and was really hard work to get up today.
The guys worked out pretty quickly that this wasn’t going to be an easy ride.
Climb no# 2 was up Basin Olinda Road which is easily the Dandenong’s most popular dirt climb. Its a stunning road to climb which is easy to access and located right next to the start of the 1 in 20. The road was wet and slightly muddy and everyone had to work overtime to climb. It was great conditions to ride though. We were treated to a low hanging mist on the second half of the climb. Things were going well until the skies really opened up on us. I love riding when it rains, but these were conditions where the last place you wanted to be was on a bike. As everyone crested the climb, we weren’t giving each other high fives. Everyone went and huddled under the shelter next to the shops to hide from the rain.
Many were wondering whether to pull the plug and head home.
We descended down to Olinda Creek Road and made our way across to Silvan Road. This is a climb which is 6.7 km in length with an average gradient of 5%. I felt sorry for those sitting in the wheel of the rider in front of them. The roads were wet and muddy and all they were doing was eating mud. By now everyone was well and truly soaked to the skin.
Silvan Road is quite a hard one to climb. The gradient is nice and easy down the bottom and steadily gets steeper until it hits you in the face at 13% in a number of places on the climb. With rain adding to the misery there were a lot of riders in the pain cave on Silvan today. Near the top is the R.J Hamer Arboretum Gardens and one of the finest lookouts in the Dandenong’s. Today there wasn’t much in the way of a view, and there’s sill a bit of climbing to get to the top. One of the riders spied a shelter, and the climb could wait.
Everyone agreed that it was a good time to shelter from the rain.
Everyone looked shell shocked. Soaked to the skin, yet somehow there were grins on the guys faces. We had all traveled up some truly stunning roads, in conditions that most would not dare ride. You want all your rides to be special, and sometimes it just happens. There was 11 riders on the ride, and for most the course was completely new to them, and they didn’t quite know what to expect.
It was a bit daunting the fact that we weren’t even halfway through the ride. There was still five climbs to go.
Warwick Farm Road was next. I don’t know how it was possible but it started to rain harder. A few of the riders were physically shaking. One of the guys came up to me and said;
“we’re having a great ride but the conditions are just too bad. We’ll have to finish this up“.
Warwick Farm Road was now set to be the final climb of the day. We weren’t even half way through the course, but I was relieved that we were going to be pulling the plug. I would hate for any of the guys to get sick after a ride like this. There was some very exhausted looking riders at the top of this climb. Some were still able to smile. Then my ears perked up when I heard my favorite words.
One more climb!
Down the base of Perrins Creek Road is a dirt climb up Coonara Road. Its this great little 2 km climb with a fairly consistent gradient which joins onto one of the Dandenong Ranges most iconic climbs. The Wall. Earning itself the nickname of being “the Dirty Wall“. I have climbed Coonara Road a number of times, but today it was at its most stunning. The road is surrounded to either side by imposing Mountain Ash, and ancient ferns which can grow over 10 meters in height.
The mud was being thrown around thick & fast.
This was definately going to be the last climb for the day. If any of the riders had energy left this climb was guaranteed to suck the life out of them. At little over 5 km in length, this is a climb which many underestimate, and is quite a difficult climb to do.
From here everyon headed back down to the Basin for a Coffee except for Geert Vercruysse “aka Geert the vert”. He was loving the conditions and kept on riding. Geert headed down Falls Road, past the National Rhododendrom Gardens and then up to climb Olinda Creek Road.
Overall this had been an incredibly hard ride. But not all bad experiences are bad and a ride like this, even though it was hell may turn out to be one of the most memorable rides of the year. The forecast had given everyone false hope that the ride would be dry. Instead, it rained on us for 3 and a half hours straight.
“Has the weatherman ever told you stories that just make you laugh?“
-The Strangers, Always the Sun.
It was wet, cold and very muddy which was the story of the day. A number of riders got back to the Basin and started to shake uncontrollably. Everyone was soaked to the skin. Covered in mud, and freezing cold.
Brad Akers commented: “How good was that ride! Really didn’t want it to end”
Sing Ling commented “Ain’t no sunshine in the hills, only rain and mud. Lots of mud“.
Mark Skinner said “S0 many great climbs and due to the cold we were praying for climbs ha ha”
A big thankyou
A massive thank you to Mesh Gammune who drove as a support car & course photographer. Taking some very incredible photos on the day.
A big thanks to everyone who helped out with this ride. During the week my young son gave me the flu and I was knocked for six. I was forced to pull out of this ride at the very last minute. I witnessed a truly epic ride and gave Mesh some company in the support car. Even though I didn’t get to ride I had an incredible day, and hope to put together another ride like this one at some point in the future.
If you want to learn more about the dirt roads of the Dandenong Ranges click here. Some of the best roads out there are the one’s you are yet to ride on.
The Melburn Roobaix has been running since 2006, and easily one of Melbourne’ most iconic cycling events. It is hosted by FYXO who have embraced the spirit of one of Europe’s most popular one day bike races. The Paris-Roubaix which is renown for its challenging cobblestone sections. The Melburn Roobaix explores the bumpiest sectors of cobbled lanes and alleys. As well as the lesser ridden bike routes. Hoping to introduce riders to hidden parts of the city and offering a sense of adventure.
There were thousands who showed up to the Hawthorn Veledrome to take on this years event. One thing that always stands out are the large number of riders who come along and dress up in costumes and ride the craziest of bikes.
You kinda feel out of place if you’re not dressed up.
You are given a rider pack with an assortment of goods to complete the ride. Along with many a keepsakes and a map. My orientation skills are on par with how well I know my way around the city. Pretty much non-existent. I had a look at the map and already felt lost. Maybe I could follow someone who knew where they were going…..
The first road out of the veledrome was short and steep, and the course offered a surprising amount of challenges along the way. The Melburn Roobaix isn’t a race. It’s an adventure and you want to take your time soaking up the sights and sounds that Melbourne is famous for. I was taking it easy, constantly pulling over taking photos but as the ride wore on, the crowd was thinning out and found it harder and harder following riders. After each sector there was a familiar site of riders pulling over.
Searching through their maps.
My mountain bike ate up the cobbles. Between the bikes suspension, and wide tires I was really gliding seamlessly across them. I kinda rued not bringing the road bike which would have offered a much different experience. There were twelve sectors of cobble all up. Each with their own reputation and own name:
- Bon Vent
- Sur Shackell
- Biere a l’Avance
- Coup Droit
- Pas de Marche
- Tres Rade
- Muur d’Elm
- C’es Facile
I loved hitting the cobbles!
It wasn’t all that easy trying to find the right racing line. Just when you were seamlesslyg gliding across what seemed a perfect line. You would find a pothole or small bit of road traffic to dodge. With so many riders around, you always had to be mindful of the terrain and what was around you. As the lane ways were pretty narrow.
I was pretty much lost after the first street. Occasionally I would come out on a road that I recognised. But largely I was a tourist rediscovering my own city, and was lucky to join a couple of riders who seemed to know their way around. It helped to break up the ride chatting away. Particularly as the second half of the ride really wore me down. They had certainly come up with a challenging route for the 2017 edition.
After a brief visit to the Beer temple, we eventually we made it out to the Brunswick Veledrome. Its a joy to do the iconic lap of this historic venue, and I ended up doing several laps. Soaking up the sites and sounds. There were a number of riders already ahead of us. Everyone with a smile on their face.
Many thanks to Andy White and FYXO for putting on such a great event.
If you find yourself riding past a cobbled alleyway. Consider to make a short detour and explore the hidden parts of Melbourne. You never quite know what you will find……
In 2016 I was sick and injured a grand total of 46 weeks. 2017 couldn’t get much worse could it?
A torn tendon in my rotor cuff saw me off the bike until late March, & it wasn’t until mid-May that I was free of pain. My recovery was long and slow, and things were starting to look good. I then broke quite a few bones in my body at the end of June. You can probably guess how I’ve seen 2016/17…….
Way back in 2012 I did the Superman on my Mountain bike on the way to work. I was thrown well over three meters over my handlebars, landing nose first. I managed to protect my helmet with my face. My glasses smashed but didn’t go in my eyes. My lip was ripped up, but I didn’t damage any teeth. No neck or spinal damage. No blurry vision, dizziness or concussion. It was lucky that I didn’t kill myself.
The next day was my 5 year wedding anniversary, which I ended up spending at the Dandenong Hospital getting plastic surgery to my nose. The surgeon asked me if I wanted to know where he was taking the skin from. “How bout you just do it and surprise me” I told him. I rode three days later. My nose still swollen and clogged with blood. It was hell breathing. That weekend I did my first ever 150 km ride, struggling to breath and suffering the whole way.
That’s who I am. That’s what I do.
Sadly I had a very serious crash on the 25th June. Here’s the list of the major injuries:
- Broken collarbone
- Fractured elbow
- Dislocated shoulder
- Fractured forearm
- Fractured knuckle
- Strained wrist
- Knocked out over 3 minutes
Yup it hurt!
With a young son I guess my priorities have changed. Riding bikes isn’t as essential as it once was and having two serious injuries so close together is not something I’d wish on anyone else. I plan on taking an extended period of time off the bike which will mean I won’t be writing about my adventures for quite awhile. I’ve got a number of climb reviews that I had been working on which will be publishing over the coming months.
Here are some of the great rides I’ve managed to do since coming back.
In 2017 I amassed a whopping 1,372 km. I used to average this each month many years back. Whilst the prospect of at least another 3 months off the bike isn’t appealing. At least I can look with pride at the riding I did get in this year. There were many places tat I went and experienced for the first time, and had a blast. Brad Lyell and Geert Vercruysse were the guys I mainly rode with this year. And cannot thank them enough for all their support through what has been a very difficult year.
Here are some of the best rides I did this year. If you haven’t read any of these I would really love it if you can.
- 100 km recovery ride
- The Great Victorian Rail Trail
- Great Ocean Road loop
- Visiting French Island
- Tarra Bulga National Park ride
- Mount Riddell
- The Dirty Dandy’s ride
2017 has been one of the most challenging years of my life. I’m a firm believer in remaining positive, which has been made easier without the support and well wishes that I received from you guys over the year.
Thanks for reading.
I will be back…..
Located just 38 km east of Melbourne is Lysterfield Lake. This is one of Melbourne’s most popular mountain bike parks which was really put on the map when it hosted the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Some of the tracks that were specially built for the games still remain today, and are just as hard.
With a rise of popularity in gravel grinding. It’s a wonder that many road bike riders haven’t realised that many places such as Lysterfield Lake and the You Yangs. Places which are traditionally seen as mountain bikes only parks, actually have some great fire trails which you can easily ride a road bike on.
Today Geert and Brad came out with me to explore some of the wonders that this park holds.
We were treated to yet another beautiful crisp winter’s morning. The sun was yet to rise and we hit the trails with our lights lighting up the path in front of us. The park his home to quite a large population of Kangaroos, and for much of the ride we were dancing in and around them. It was unpredictable which direction they would choose to hop off onto.
We were lucky see some of the mothers with their joey’s poking their little heads out of their pouch.
We made our way up to Trig Point. The highest point at Lysterfield Lake, and the 3.2 km climb is quite a challenging one. This climb has a nasty bite towards the top with the gradient going upward of 18% on very loose gravel. And very little traction. I’ve climbed it enough times to know all you can do is suck it up and pretend there’s no pain.
We were treated to magnificent views up top, and of course more Kangaroos.
From here we descended down to the Churchill National Park. I prefer riding around here as the climbing is very steep, and usually you get the place to yourself. We made our way around the only flat part of the park. My intention was to take them up Bellbird track. Which is quite challenging, but felt they could do it. Next to this climb is the “Link Track”. This is a climb that I’ve always avoided like the plague as it’s just too hard to climb (see image below). I’ve only been up there once in the 50 odd times I’ve ridden around this park.
One of the guys pointed out the crazy track that goes up the side of the hill, and could hear WTF! I couldn’t help it, and made a change in plan. At the last second I swung my arm out and turned up this insanely steep path that’s quite corrugated and littered with loose gravel.
I won’t repeat what was said behind me. Suffice to say they left a nice tip in the swear jar.
This climb scares me and I was only expecting to get halfway before jumping off to walk. The boys, were sitting on my wheel and guess I figured if they could do it then I had to keep climbing. Halfway up I was feeling ok, and looked over my shoulder and had dropped them somewhat. I kept gliding and suddenly I had a feeling that I was going to do it. I chucked a quick glance over my shoulder, and noticed that Geert & Brad had gotten off to walk. Can imagine that they weren’t liking me at the moment.
The peak couldn’t come quick enough, and a major relief to crest the climb.
With limited time we only had time to do one more climb, so being me. I picked the hardest one I could think of. The Powerlines climb is over 1 km in distance averaging over 11%. Given a third of the climb only averages around 5%, you can imagine how steep this sucka is. Given that the path is quite rutted in places, and a tonne of loose rocks which offer nothing in the way of traction.
This climb has hurt me every single time I’ve climbed it.
Long story short, Geert & Brad got off to walk and I got cursed more.
Maybe it wasn’t the best of experiences, but I’m sure they’ll be back for more!
It was a shame that I had to get home to head off to work. But even a short ride is a good ride.
Both Lysterfield Lake & the Churchill National park have some amazing fire trails which are really enjoyable to ride. Just keep an eye out for those Kangaroos. We ended up seeing over 100 on our ride.
If you want to plan around Lysterfield Lake or Churchill National Park I have put together a number of pieces on all of the best climbs. Please click on the links below:
Click here for link to my Strava Activity.
I lover riding over the winter months! There’s a certain appeal that gets me out of my nice warm bed to get out on the bike. I was invited by Brad Lyell to do a climb called Mount Riddell in Healesville. This was a climb that I knew nothing about and looked it up on Strava. The segment said that it was 6 km in length with an average gradient of 10%.
There wasn’t all that much information online about Mount Riddell. All I found out was that it’s a mountain within the Yarra Ranges National Park to the east of Healesville, and offered a number of challenging hiking trails. Sitting at an altitude of 815 meters above sea level.
We parked at Healesville Sanctuary and made our way across to Mount Riddell. I’ve done some pretty intimidating climbs over the years, and hate to admit that this one looked very scary.
When we hit the base of the climb, the road rose sharply in front of us. It just kept getting steeper and steeper and steeper. Finally peaking at 21%. Whilst this first pinch was only 400 meters in length. I was wondering what the next 5 km was going to be like.
At the top of the pinch, we came to a gate and had to pass our bikes over. We then enjoyed the briefest of descents. This was going to be the last respite we had until we hit the top.
The first part of the climb wasn’t too bad. The gradient generally sat between 8 – 10%, and we knew this was going to be tough. Trying to soft pedal as much as possible.
When we hit the second hairpin I screamed out “f#@k me”. A minute later Brad rounded the bend and heard him yell “oh crap!”.
The road went skywards and rarely dipped below 18% from here for the final 2 km. It peaked at a ridiculous 23% at one point. Every corner we came to we hoped for some respite. It never happened. I had brought along my SLR and a change of clothes for the wet weather up top. My backpack weighed close to 7kg & weighed me down heavily. My whole body was screaming and many times I wanted to jump off my bike and walk. I thought about the toughest climbs that I’ve ever done. Mast Gully Road. Terry’s Avenue. Mount Baw Baw. Mount Hotham. This was easily the most brutal. Grinding up such an incredibly steep gradient over such a sustained time on gravel would bring most riders to tears.
I couldn’t believe that I got up in one piece and almost collapsed in a heap. It was a bit disappointing that the climb didn’t come out at the peak. Finishing at a picnic area at 780 meters above sea level. There was no view, just a feeling of immense pain.
That was truly brutal!!!!!!
Being suckers for punishment we continued on and found some hiking tracks with the aim of getting up to Mount Donna Buang. The path we chose was pretty rough with a tonne of debris everywhere. We descended for about 4 km and boy was it cold.
We then started to climb and climb and climb. 10 km of undulating climbing all up with some incredibly steep pinches going up to 21%. We hit the mist, and the path was covered in lots of wet branches, bark and wet rocks. There was very little traction and I was screaming in pain climbing up extremely steep gradients. With a backpack which seemed to be getting heavier and heavier the further we climbed.
With the wet mist, it got and colder the closer we got to the peak of Donna. This was one of the most remarkable areas that I’ve ever ridden through, but I can’t remember much. I cracked big time and ended up walking several incredibly steep sections along the way.
We ended out on Don Road and in 25 km climbed a ridiculous 1,500 vertical, which included 7 km of descents, and took us almost four hours to do. Whilst I’ve done rides before with such crazy vertical. They’ve always been on the bitumen and there is no comparison to the difficulties we faced on this ride. We ended up riding less than 50 km.
Easily the hardest short ride that I’ve ever done.
The descent was just as hard. It was absolutely freezing and took all of my resolve ignoring the cold. Brad regretted bringing fingerless gloves. I wore two pairs of really warm gloves and my hands went numb. I can only imagine what he must have gone through.
This one hurt something chronic and I had to ask myself what is the Riddell of why we climb?
When I work out the answer I’ll let you know.
And no. The answer is not ‘42’.
I was staying in the Tarra Bulga National Park and had to do a ride from rainforest to the sea. Port Albert was only about 34 km away. This is a beautiful seaside coastal fishing village within South Gippsland, off the Bass Strait, which is located just north-east of Wilsons Promontory and also close to ninety-mile beach. The town acts as a commercial fishing port, and is popular with fishers and surfers. And of course cyclists who love to see the sea.
I love exploring, and visiting little country towns. Normally I try to avoid a ride that I can’t do a loop on and which involved riding flat roads. But my holidays can be quite exhausting, as I end up doing a tonne of driving, hiking and cycling. So to plan an easy ride minimises the amount of damage that I do to myself.
A ride to Port Albert
When I woke up and stepped outside to see what the weather was like. OMFG it was freezing!!!!
At little over 1 degree outside, I almost ran straight back to bed. The only thing stopping me was that I knew I would regret not getting out to ride. We were heading back to Melbourne in the afternoon, and this was my only chance to do this ride. “Suck it up princess“. I told myself. Chucking on five layers of clothing. My biggest worry was that I only brought shorts & my skinny little legs were going to freeze to death. I wasn’t going to set any fashion trends but brought along a pair of footy socks which really don’t suit the bike. But sure did keep me warm.
It was freezing and there was frost to either side of the road. I had to descend down out of the Tarra valley and was shaking like a leaf. It remained under 3 degrees quite some time, but when it warmed up to 8 degrees, I was dressed like an Eskimo and sweated quite a bit. The ride was supposed to be easy as most of it was flat.
I’m not a big fan of riding dead long straights, but was keen to see the sunrise at Port Albert which did not disapoint.
I pulled into Port Albert and took some photos and noticed that the wind suddenly picked up out of nowhere. It had been eerily still on my ride south. With limited time, I hopped back on the bike and figured what direction the wind was coming from pretty quickly (northerly). There’s something I’m less a fan of than riding dead long straight roads, but dead long straight roads into a headwind!
There is something inherintly evil about doing an out and back ride with no tailwind one way and a a headwind the other.
Not happy jan!
My body had already burned a tonne of energy trying to stay warm. The fight against the headwind all the way back to the caravan park set me over the edge. It was a really hard grind for what should have been a very easy ride. I always take the good from the bad, and never regret a ride.
I can tell you, by the time I got back to Melbourne that night I was very, very exhausted!
Port Albert History
Port Albert is one of Victoria’s oldest sea ports, and had been established in 1841 by explorer Angus McMillan. The area was originally known as Seabank or Old Port, but was changed to New Leith when the town started developing. Later changing to Alberton and Port Albert in honour of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the husband of Queen Victoria. The Tarra Bulga National Park has some of the areas best riding in the area, and there is a couple of really good climbs up to Agnes Falls near the towns of Welshpool and Toora.
Click here for the link to my Strava activity.
- Distance: 68 km
- Elevation: 423 meters
- Minimum temperature: 1 degree
- Maximum temperature: 8 degrees
I managed to square a couple of days off work, and convinced the family to make the trip to the Tarra Bulga National Park. We were able to get accommodation at the Fairhaven caravan park. This was perfect for me as it is situated right at the base of this great 13 km climb up Tarra Valley Road.
I have ridden through the Tarra Bulga National Park once before with my mate Christian Purnomo. This was one of my favorite rides of 2015, and an area that I vowed to return.
It was bucketing down with rain overnight, and I had difficulty sleeping. Only managing short periods at a time. At 3:00 am I threw in the towel and said;
“screw this. I’m sleeping in”.
Even after sleeping in till quarter past 7 it was still raining and quite cold outside. It was tempting to stay in bed.
Nah I wanted to ride more!
The loop I chose took me up Bulga Park Road. A dirt road which very few riders have ever climbed. This is a 12 km dirt climb that takes you up the back way to the Tarra Bulga National Park. I knew that the heavy rains would effect the climb, but usually love climbing dirt roads in the wet. I find the rain mixed with the dirt can offer some good traction.
The road surface was a soft sandy mixture which with lots of water effectively turned the road to mud. The gradient only sat around 4 -6%, but I was finding very little traction. It felt like my wheels were glued to the ground and was forced to climb it in my granny gear. Quite embarrassing for such an easy gradient. The road also offered its own challenges. It wasn’t corrugated, but I found it quite bumpy and I was finding it hard to find a riding line, and was constantly shifting from one side of the road to the other.
Every pedal stroke was a grind, and I was really struggling for breath. I stopped at one stage to see if I had a puncture. It felt like my tires were glued to the road, and I was really, really, really hurting.
With a lot of climbing ahead of me, I was seriously wondering how I was going to get up this fucka.
6 km in I hit the Tarra Bulga National Park. The scenery was incredible, and what I liked most was the surface of the road changed. There was a lot more rock in the road, and a hell of a lot more traction. I started to ride 5 km/h faster with less effort, & the k’s started to fly.
The higher I climbed, the colder it got. A little over 5 degrees up top, but I didn’t mind. From here it was all downhill. 12 km of incredibly dangerous and treacherous descents down Tarra Valley Road. This was one incredibly twisty and windy road little over a car length wide.
Between wildlife running across the road, and having your heart in your mouth every time you went around a blind corner I was thankful to get back to the caravan park in one piece. I also had a narrow miss with a car.
Anyone considering making this descent should use extreme caution.
This is such a beautiful place ride around, and luckily I have one more day to ride out here.
To be continued.
Tarra Bulga National Park loop
- Distance: 35 km
- Elevation gained: 714 meters
- Click here for link to my Strava activity.
Imagine the excitement of boarding a Ferry on an adventure across the bay. You’re off to a secluded island that offers over 100 km of roads and tracks to explore by bike. There is no electricity. No water supply and only a small population of permanent residents, with no tourist vehicles allowed. French Island is a true cycling paradise!
It was an early wake up in order to be down to Stony Point at 7:20am to catch the ferry. I was accompanied by Geert & Brad, who were eager to see what French Island had to offer. This Island is the largest coastal island of Victoria, and is located in Western Port bay. French Island boasts Australia’s biggest population of Koalas. With 70% of the island listed as National Park. This consists mainly of coastal mangroves, swamps, heath, grasslands and blue gum forests.
The island is quite isolated and we had to wonder; “do they speak English on French island?“.
We set-off down Coast Road to the north, which is a relatively flat 12 km stretch of dead straight road. Surprisingly this road ended up being quite an ordeal. Stretches of the road were soft and sandy. You would be riding along and suddenly the bike would sink inches into the ground and often go sideways on you. There was often little traction, and wheel spin was common. I brought my mountain bike, with nice and thick tires. It was hard going but I could manage o.k. Geert’s CX managed most of the carnage, but he was still battling the bike at times. Brad was the unlucky one, riding on 28 mm tires, which was like skating on ice.
Thankfully there was only the one spill and Geert managed to get a score of 9/10 with his crash landing.
When we made the turnoff for Red Bill Road I discovered that I had dropped my Go Pro. We had to backtrack 4 km to find it which was a major relief. This unexpected detour cost us a fair bit of time, and we needed to revise the route. Geert and I had mothers day functions to get back to, and could not afford to miss the 1:20 pm ferry.
Off the main road our adventure began. We had a map of the island and were soon to learn that a road on the map could mean literally anything. Red Bill Road was more of a walking track than a road, with a narrow bumpy line that had us dodging a number of objects.
We headed towards Mount Wellington, the highest point of the island. Whilst mountains are usually big, this one stood a tiny 92 meters above sea level. A used car salesman must have come up with the name.
We had scoffed at how little climbing there was on the island. I admit that I failed to take into account that most of the climbs up the island tended to be on sandy surfaces which are 10 x harder than normal climbing. The path ahead of us was very dodgy, and completely covered in sand and all uphill for the next kilometer. With no traction it was impossible to climb. We had no option but to go bush bashing and ride over some horrible terrain. Our legs were on fire, and I was experiencing some heavy labored breathing. “What’s the gradient Geert“, I asked. “2%” was the reply. We were dying trying to climb a 2% gradient, on a climb which stretched on for over a kilometer.
We all collapsed in a heap at the top gasping for breath. Over the other side the path just seemed to get worse. This would have been challenging hiking on, let alone ride on.
I was loving every single minute of our ride.
Eventually we made it back to the main road. This felt so smooth after all that we had been through, and made our way to the tea rooms. This is a farm in the middle of the island where we were treated to some scones, and got chased around by dozens of hens and took a short break. No visit to French Island is complete without visiting.
From here, we headed north and came upon what appeared to be a dead end. We pulled out the map, which told us that the road continued on for at least 3 more k’s. We went bush bashing again and rode on what kindly could have been called a goat track. With several more sandy sections that we had to ride off the path to avoid.
Time was running out, but we felt we had enough time to visit the Pinnacles, which had one of the best lookouts on the island. With limited time, we pushed as hard as our tired legs would carry us.
We came to a climb up to the Pinnicles and Geert and I had a little pissing contest to get to the top. I started to take off on Geert, which was short lived as I came around a bend to see a snake inches from my front wheel. I squeezed the brakes as hard as I could to avoid riding over it. Years ago this guy told me a story “my mate deliberately rode over a snake, and it got caught in his rear wheel and got flicked up and bit him on the ass!“. Thankfully the snake was facing away from me and slowly slithered across the path.
I love snakes, but prefer not to be bitten by one. Especially on the ass.
Soon we saw the lookout at the Pinncacles and came across a wall of sand. There was a 15 meter climb, over 30% in gradient. The path was completely covered in sand. There was no way we could possibly hope to get up there and we all had to get off and walk.
The French Island adventure
The views up the top were impressive, but time was getting away from us. We had 40 minutes to get back to the ferry. If we missed it, the next one wasn’t for 3 hours and we couldn’t be late.
There was a downhill section to look forward to and I pushed off, taking it easy on the descent. I rounded the first bend and almost rode over another snake. This one was a red-bellied black snake which I knew was venomous. The little sucker was facing me and reared up and hissed at me. I stopped inches from it. The foot closest to the snake was still locked into the pedal. I hoped that my mountain bike shoes were too thick for its fangs to bite through.
No I didn’t want to test out this theory.
I remained as still as possible, and quite relieved when it decided to make a quick retreat.
Time was running out getting back to the ferry, and I brushed off the two snake encounters. Then of course I punctured. The tube had enough air in it that I could continue riding on a flat tire, so I pushed along for another k or so. Still able to manage 15 – 20 km/h. Eventually I stopped and with limited time to get back, stopping 10 + minutes to change a tire I was working out in my head on the math. Do we fix the tire or do I continue on a flat tire? We put some air in the tire which seemed to be enough for me to ride back on.
Half a k later, the tire went completely flat, and we no longer had enough time to pump up the tire. I had to ride on the rims and was able to do so for awhile, but fatigue and exhaustion set-in and eventually had to get off and walk the last 2.5 km.
We had to push and managed to make it to the ferry, which was hell with 5 minutes to spare. Why hadn’t I stopped to pump up the tire?
Whilst much of the ride we traveled through scrubland. French Island has a number of hidden rewards worth making the trek worthwhile.
French Island is an adventure like none other. Its about riding the roads less travelled, and getting back to nature. Getting out to do a ride which most never knew existed. French Island is the least visited National Park in the country. The island is completely isolated with no electricity, no water and no sewerage. Residents need to be 100% self-dependent on generators, water tanks and septic tanks.
We saw so much, yet there were still large parts of the island left to explore.
An excuse to return for another adventure. That’s what I like most about cycling. The world is your playground and you are only limited to your imagination. Brad, Geert and myself had the time of our lives today and hope that our ride may inspire you one day to take the ferry out to this great little island to discover it for yourself.
We were excited to visit Quiet roads, beautiful coastline, and a sense that you’re discovering a place that few ever get a chance to visit.
It’s a wonderful thought.
If you want to ride French Island, you can check out our Strava route for the day here.
Brad put us to shame by riding a lazy 86 km home from French Island. All up he rode an impressive 160 km for the day. He said that “it was a good idea at the time. It was tough going most of the way home and felt every one of those kilometres. Thanks for the invite to French Island. Next time on bigger tires!“.
After losing three and a half months of riding, I’ve treated every ride I’ve done since as epic. Riding is special and I have endeavored to find rides which I haven’t done before. One’s which test me that little harder each time.
There was a climb that I found in Geelong which I’ve wanted to climb for years. Challambra Crescent was made famous when it was used in the UCI World championships in 2010. Local boy Cadel Evans has taken a liking to the climb and included it in his annual Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race. With an average gradient of 10% over1 km, I had to try.
It wasn’t hard to work out a course around this climb, heading down to the Great Ocean Road. I mentioned this to my mate Gary Beazley who then invited Philip Natividad.
We parked at Eastern Beach, and being the organizer of the ride it was a little embarrassing how lost I got us. Every 5 minutes I was pulling out Google Maps, trying to work out which way to go. Eventually I was able to find Challambra, which follows the Barwon River. I was optimistic of getting up in one piece and went well for a whole 100 meters before going into the red. The gradient was on the wrong side of 8%, and continually changed through out the climb. Peaking at close to 20%. A climb like this is my bread and butter, and even though it wasn’t that warm it was like a Sauna and I was dripping with sweat. Gary and Philip were just cruising up ahead, casually chatting as they enjoyed the climb.
I fought tooth and nail to get to the top.
This sucka hurt me, and my pain continued from there. The climb out of Geelong was almost 2 km in length, averaging over 5%. That hurt, and I was looking forward to some flat country side on the other side.
I wasn’t expecting a roller coaster of really steep medium range 1 – 2 km climbs, which were quite steep. After not doing any proper climbing over the past five months I was not prepared to do so much climbing. I was hurting and desperately trying to hang on for dear life. It wasn’t until 35 km into the ride that the road flattened out and I was doing everything I could to try calm my beating heart that was racing at a million miles an hour.
You can see in the photo bellow. Gary to the left cruising having a Sunday stroll. I’m hunched over and fighting the bike. The story of my ride.
When we hit Forest Road the skies opened up on us. Strangely enough, this is when my fortunes turned. I’m one of those freaks who enjoys riding in the rain. I went into the zone, and my legs came back, and finally recovered somewhat.
The skies opened up on us for over 30 minutes on us all the way into Anglesea, where we enjoyed brunch.
The break wasn’t good for me though. Afterwards I could feel a massive build-up of lactic acid & my legs felt like lead. My injured shoulder flared up, and with 40 km to return to Geelong I was questioning how I could pull this off.
A miracle happened.
We didn’t realise on the way down we were riding into a head wind. There didn’t seem much of it, but as soon as we headed east there was this wonderful invisible hand pushing us along.
The pace jumped up and we were flying. I was riding on my limit, but the k’s were flying and I knew from experience that it was better to suck it up and keep the pace high, otherwise the legs would go on me.
Gary and Philip were riding brilliantly and I was pushing to keep their wheels.
Before we knew it we were in Torquay and heading north to Geelong with only 22 km to go. The tailwind here was extra nice and the pace lifted even more. At times we were sitting on 45 km/h on the straights and I was in the red. On the limit, but I kept going. “I can rest once we get back”, I kept telling myself.
After crossing the Barwon River there was a long pinch ahead of us. I dry heaved and my body told me to get f#*d, and I dropped well off the pace. Guess I was glad to make it this far I suppose. The ride back to the car was a complete blur.
Since returning from injury I have averaged over 80 km per ride. I have explored areas of the state that I’ve never ridden before, and caught up with some great mates. Whilst each ride has had its own challenges. I’ve been having the time of my life. I’ve still got a long way to go until I’m healthy, but at least I’m starting to get on track.
A big thank you to Gary and Philip who carried me through this ride.
To be continued.
Distance: 100 km
Elevation gained: 1,200 vetical
Moving time: 3:50
With a shoulder injury which has plagued me for the past four and a bit months. I am limited to riding flat roads at the moment. My passion is climbing and I find flat roads quite boring, but see this as a golden opportunity to do some of those rides that have been sitting on my to do list for years.
I decided on riding part of the Great Victorian Rail trail. This is Australia’s longest continuous rail trail, spanning a total of 134 kilometres from Tallarook to Mansfield, with a section linking Cathkin and Alexandra. This trail boasts Victoria’s longest rail trail tunnel at Cheviot, which I just had to do.
Brad Lyell joined me for the ride and I picked up Brad on the way up & headed up to Yea. There was 10 km of climbing right from the onset, and the loose gravel made moving tougher than we expected.
One of the highlights of the trail is the historic Cheviot Tunnel (pictured above). The tunnel was built in 1899 to cut through McLoughlin’s Gap. The tunnel is over 200 metres long, and the tunnel was built from handmade bricks, and an estimated 675,000 bricks were sourced locally.
When we approaching the tunnel I was thinking “this doesn’t look that long”. Looks are deceiving as the tunnel was huge. Once you were in the tunnel it was pitch black. All you could see in front was a small pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel that seemed to take forever to reach. It was quite an eerie sensation riding through, but truly remarkable.
We loved it, but if you’re claustrophobic I would suggest you give this one a miss.
It was a nice gentle downhill descent to the small town of Molesworth. Apparently the section of line from Molesworth to Cathkin was quite challenging for the railway to build. The train had to cross the Goulburn River flood plain. Requiring a number of bridges.
All of the original timber bridges were destroyed and had to be replaced with modern steel and concrete bridges which now make for good riding.
There was a fair bit of climbing as we made our way up to Bonnie Doon. Stopping in at Yarck on the way up. Hate to admit it, but wanted to get a photo to make fun of the name but wasn’t necessary. They make fun of their own name.
There wasn’t much water in the lake at Bonnie Doon, but it’s always beautiful. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the classic film “The Castle”, which centered around the Kerrigan’s. A simple family who’s simple joy was to stay up in their dream holiday house up in Bonnie Doon. Everyone will remember Darryl Kerrigan’s immortal line “tell him he’s dreaming”.
The ride across the big bridge across Bonnie Doon is always an amazing experience, and we stopped off at the general store for some lunch.
Darryl Kerrigan: How’s the serenity? So much serenity
The return trip was a bit of an ordeal. On the ride up it was quite still, but the wind decided to pick up on the way back. We were unlucky to cop really strong cross winds which we battled tooth and nail. To make matters worse we were running late and nothing gets you faster than the fear of the wife. Leave passes are a precious commodity that you never take for granted.
I was hurting. My shoulder was screaming in pain. I had saddle soreness (wouldn’t recommend to take 4 months off the bike) and I went into TT mode and shut out everything and pushed as hard as I could all the way back to the car.
Brad had a great ride. “Cheviot tunnel was the best part of the trail. I enjoyed riding to Bonnie Doon and the bridge was awesome but the ride back was a hard slog into a strong head wind most of the way so not so enjoyable.”
The Great Victorian Rail Trail
The Great Victorian Rail Trail offers an amazing adventure. The surface is well-compacted gravel, gradients that don’t go over 4% incredible scenery; villages along the way which offer their own unique experiences, such as historic landmarks, museums, food and wine, shopping and markets. Along the trail are a range of places to stay and eat.
The Great Victorian Rail Trail is great to explore on foot, bike or horse. For further information on the Great Victorian Rail Trail click here.
If you haven’t ridden this great trail before I’ll pass on this advice from the Castle.
“Bad luck….ya dickhead!”
Distance ridden: 130 km
Overall time: 7 hours 30 minutes
Elevation gained: 800 metres
Click here for link to my Strava Activity.