Gravel roads

The Dirty Dandys ride

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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.

Basin Olinda Road

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.

 

Not night time. 8:30 in the morning.

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.

Image taken by Mesh Gammune

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.

Brad Akers in his VeloOne kit

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.

Coonara Road

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.

The Dirty Dandys ride

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.

Image taken by Mesh Gammune

Mount Tanglefoot

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Distance:  8.6 km
Average Gradient:  4%
Elevation gained:  352 meters
Surface:  Gravel
Traffic: Minimal
Category 1

Click here for link to the Strava segment.

Mount Tanglefoot is located in the Toolangi State Forest, approximately 10 km north of Healesville.  There is a fair bit of climbing to get to the base of this climb with the choice of climbing this from either Chum Creek Road or Myers Creek Road.

Whilst this road is relatively free of gravel, if you were to give this one a go expect a bumpy ride.  There are quite a few corrugated sections all throughout the climb.  A CX or Mountain bike would be advised.  The road is wide enough to allow two cars to pass, however the edges of the road aren’t suitable to ride a bike on.  It’s easy to find a riding line, but you’ll want to ride as far into the middle road as you can.

Start of the climb

Mount Tanglefoot climb

The climb starts at the intersection of Sylvia Creek Road and Myers Creek Road.

This climb takes you through the Toolangi State Forest and to either side of the road is a forest of tall Mountain Ash and tree-fern.  This area receives a fair amount of rain and is always stunning.  This is a climb of two parts.  The climb begins with the steepest section, with the first 800 meters averaging close to 10%.

The road eventually flattens out until you pass the Wirrawilla Rainforest car park around the 4.6 km mark where from here there is solid climbing until you reach the peak.  Overall this section offers a fairly consistent gradient, and is by far the most scenic part of the climb.

On the far side of the climb is a campsite, and the area offers some challenging hikes.  Mount Tanglefoot has also inspired Yarra Ridge (wine) to produce a nice Shiraz which they named after the mountain.  If you head to the bottle shop first, maybe you can celebrate in style at the top.

Mount Tanglefoot

Bulga Park Road climb (Tarra Valley)

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Distance: 12.3 km
Average Gradient: 4.1%
Elevation Gained: 517 meters
Surface: Gravel
Traffic: Non-existent
Category: 1

Click here for the link to the Strava segment.

Bulga Park Road takes you through the majestic Tarra Bulga National Park, which show cases some of the states best rainforest. ‘Bulga’ is an Aboriginal word, meaning ‘high place’ or ‘mountain’ and the word ‘Tarra’ comes from Strzelecki Ranges Aboriginal guide, Charlie Tarra.  The park is part of the Strzelecki Ranges which stretches across Gippsland for roughly 100 km. These ranges were named after the Polish explorer, Paul Strzelecki, who in 1840.  After climbing and naming Mount Kosciusko, Strzelecki set off to Gippsland to explore the ranges.  His party entered the north-eastern end of the ranges and struggled through the rugged country for 22 days. Finally emerging starved and exhausted at Western Port Bay.

The climb commences at the junction of Bulga Park Road & Baxters Road (in front of the State School Reserve) in Macks Creek.

This is a climb of two parts with two short flattened out sections which spans Macks Creek (which unfortunately you can’t see from the climb).  The first 6 km has a soft sandy surface which may not offer the greatest of traction depending on weather conditions.  This first part takes you through a dense forest which has several sections which open off whcih offer amazing views of the valley to the right of the climb.  There is a mixture of long dead straights with switchbacks to mix up the climb.  For the majority the surface is dirt, however there are a few short rocky sections which are challenging to find a smooth riding line through.

The second part of the climb takes you through the Tarra Bulga National Park which will take you on a journey through an ancient forest of Mountain ash, Sassafras, Myrtle Beech, Silver Wattle and Blackwood. These trees create a canopy that reaches as high as 60 meters. This can filter out as much as 95 percent of the light. The area has 33 different species of ferns, some growing as high as ten meters which are just incredible to see.

The road surface in the National Park is different.  This surface consists of hard packed dirt and rounded rocks which are a low risk for punctures.  This section of the climb offers much better traction, and has lots of sweeping bends which makes it much easier to break up your climb. Plus is alot easier on the eye.

Bulga Park Road climb

This is a climb with a nice easy gradient, which will suit riders of all abilities, and an adventure down one of the roads less travelled, and a worthy addition to anyone’s bucket list.

The climb finishes at the town of Balook

Bulga Park Road climb at a glance

  • Long undulating climb
  • Breathtaking scenery
  • The area is a naturally damp rainforest and can experience tree debris lying across the road.  Expect damp, cold conditions
  • Heavy canopy which leads to poor drainage of the road (expect anything on this climb)
  • The National Park is home to a large number of wildlife
  • Toilet facilities available in Balook
  • Limited places to purchase food in this area; Café in Balook (limited opening times) & at the Tarra Valley Caravan Park (Tarra Valley Road). It is advised to bring adequate supplies with you
  • During summer this is a bushfire area
  • This is a logging area.  If you hear a truck come along it is advised to pull off the road to safely let them pass

About the Tarra Bulga National Park

The Tarra Bulga National Park was created when fifty acres was set aside in 1903.  This was later extended to eighty hectares. A separate 750 acres was reserved in the Tarra Valley in 1909 and the intervening land was purchased later. The Tarra Valley National Park (1230 hectares) was then declared in June, 1986.

During fire season

Tarra-Bulga National Park is in a fire district. Anyone entering parks and forests during the bushfire season needs to stay aware of forecast weather conditions. Check the Fire Danger Rating and for days of Total Fire Ban at www.cfa.vic.gov.au or call the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226.

Further information for the Tarra Bulga National Park (on Parks Victoria website)

Bulga Park Road climb

Cycling Grand Ridge Road

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Images courtesy of Andrew Clifforth photography.

If you’re looking for a grand adventure on the bike.  Grand Ridge Road (GRR) is one of Victoria’s most spectacular tourist drives.  Taking you through the heart of Gippsland.  GRR is mainly unsealed, but well maintained in most areas, and can be ridden on any sort of bike.  The road snakes its way along the ridge of the Strzelecki Ranges.  Covering 135km from Seaview to Carrajung.  This road provides stunning views through the La Trobe Valley, and to Bass Coast and Wilsons Prom to the south.

 

It is an incredible road to cycle because of the ever-changing scenery.  From fern forests to rolling pastures, towering mountain ash to forestry plantations.  If you ride down Grand Ridge Road you will feel like you’ve gone back in time  This road was built in a by-gone era.

GRR takes you past the Mount Worth State Park.  And into Mirboo North, which has colourful murals depicting the history of the town.  Adorning the sides of local shops which are great to get a photo with your bike next to. If you enjoy a Beer, then Mirboo North also has the Grand Ridge Brewery.  You drop in and sample some of Gippsland’s finest Beers and Ales.  The final part of your journey will take you through the magnificent Tarra Bulga National park.  This is one of Victoria’s most spectacular cool temperate rain forests.

 

You will rarely have the opportunity to ride such a beautiful road that offers stunning views throughout.  You’ll find it just a delight to ride, and will offer you a adventure of a lifetime.  Whether you ride a short section.  Or take on the whole 135km you will be left with lasting memories.

Cycling Grand Ridge Road

Start:                                Seaview

Finish:                             Carrajung

Public Transport:          V-Line Services run alongside the Princess Highway.  Check out the PT Website for further details

As with all unsealed roads, the road surface can change depending on weather conditions.  Take appropriate equipment, and some extra spares and make sure you take lots of photos along the way.

Cog Cafe climb

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Distance:  500 metres
Average Gradient: 16%
Elevation gain: 90 metres
Traffic: Light traffic
Terrain: Residential/Forest
Road Surface: Gravel

Here is a link to the Strava segment here:

The Cog Bike Café lies at the end of the Lilydale Warburton Trail.  This is one of Victoria’s most popular rail trails which stretches 38 km in length.  You’ll find a great hidden climb directly behind the Cog Café which is quite a brutal gravel climb.  It’s not for the feint hearted and one for the pure climbing enthusiasts as well as the gravel grinders.

Start of the climb: Corner of Warburton Highway and Station Street

The climb to the entrance of the Cog Café is sealed and peaks in excess of 20%.  This is the easy part of the climb!  The road flattens out briefly as you turn onto Madeline Street and turn onto Croom Street.  You’ll soon find that the road turns to gravel and there is only a limited racing line that you can ride on.  This makes it extra challenging to get up.

Along the way you will be treated to some stunning views of Mount Donna Buang to the left hand side of the road.  It’s unlikely that you will see a car, but if you do the road is very narrow and would suggest you pull off the road to let them by.   This is a dead end road.  Once you reach the gate at the end of the road you will have to backtrack.

When you reach these gates you will have to turn back

Cog Café

The Cog Café has everything a cyclist needs.  Great Coffee and a Bicycle Workshop to boot. Several times they’ve saved my bacon with helping me out with emergency repairs and helped me get back on the road.  The Cog Café also has suitable bikes to rent out to ride the Lilydale Warburton Trail which is 40 km one way, and easily one of the best rides you can do to truly experience the Yarra Valley and a great ride to take the family on.

Link to Facebook page here:

The Cog Cafe climb was a popular inclusion as the opening climb in the 2015 & 2016 Warburton Dirty Dozen ride.

Details

Directions:                                           Warburton is located approximately 72 km east of Melbourne

                                                                on the Warburton Highway

Accomodation Options:                  Visit Warburton Info Website

Cardinia Aqueduct Trail

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Cardinia Aqueduct Trail
Location:   Upper Beaconsfield – Pakenham
Distance:   5km one way
Surface:     Generally smooth dirt or gravel track
Access:       Parking access from Officer Road or Thewlis Road
Dogs Allowed

Thewlis Road entrance

The Cardinia Aqueduct Trail is set in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges.  It is an excellent recreational trail suitable for bike riders, walkers, horse riders and joggers. Feel the serenity and tranquility as you make your way through grassy woodlands.  Wet gully forests and tall Eucalyptus trees. The trail begins in Pakenham, and follows a disused section of the Bunyip main race Aqueduct and maintenance track.  This is a trail which is steeped with history.  Playing a major role in the rural and urban development of providing water to the Mornington Peninsula.

The trail ends near Dickie Road in Officer.

The Cardinia Aqueduct Trail

The Aqueduct trail is 5 kilometers in length.  You will find the surface is generally smooth dirt with some gravel.  Overall the trail is fairly flat throughout with one steep section to the west of Officer Road.  The trail has a pretty good surface and is suitable to ride a road bike on.  And is a popular trail for walkers, horse riders, bike riders and joggers and even suitable to push a pram along.  If you’re travelling by car you can’t access the start or end points of this trail.  You will need to backtrack to complete a full lap of the trail.  Many people will just come along to do a small section of the trail instead.

At a glance

  • Easy walking on level trail
  • Suitable for prams
  • Dogs allowed (on leash)
  • No toileting facilities
  • Parking available on Officer Road & Thewlis Road
  • Located 57km south east of Melbourne (easy access from the M1)
  • Road crossings at Officer & Thewlis Road (take care when crossing the road)
Map courtesy of Cardinia government website

Recommend

The trail is quite isolated, so make sure that you bring adequate supplies as there are no shops along the trail. The trail is a 10km return trip, and if you are doing the Aqueduct trail by bike.  I can offer some additional climbs around the area which are great to bike/hike.  Click on the links below to read about some of the great local gravel roads:

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can find some steep hiking trails to the north of the Aqueduct Trail.

 

Cardinia Aqueduct Trail

Ben Lomond aka Jacob’s Ladder

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Distance: 23.2 km
Average Gradient: 
5%
Elevation gain: 
1,070 metres
Terrain: Gravel (MTB or CX only)
Road Surface:
Loose gravel

Here is a link to the Strava segment here:

Ben Lomond is a mountain to the north of Tasmania, and situated 42 km east of Launceston.  It is visible over much of the northern midlands of Tasmania.  Its stark treeless plateau is roughly 14 kilometers in length, 6 kilometers wide.  And is in excess of 1,300 meters in height. A summit on the plateau named Legges Tor is the second highest point in Tasmania at 1,572 meters.

Image taken by Jenne; courtesy of Flickr

Ben Lomond climb

Ben Lomond is a climb for the gravel grinders.  Offering 14 km of challenging undulating climbing over gravel just to get to the base of Jacob’s ladder.  The ladder is a section of road which has been built straight into the side of the mountain.  And looks more like a climb you would see in the Tour de France.  Not in Tasmania.   Once you hit the ladder.  To the side of the road are cliff walls and giant boulder gardens that flow down the face of the mountain.  The Ladder itself is 1.2 km in length with a large number of switchbacks with an average gradient of 13% over loose gravel.  This climb would test even a seasoned pro, and is easily one of the most difficult HC climbs in Australia.

Image taken by Jenne; courtesy of Flickr

The climb to the summit offers amazing views of rocky crags & surrounded on all sides by precipitous escarpments.  Its one that you will want to put on your bucket list.

Ben Lomond

Plan your ride

  • No facilities on sight. Make sure you carry adequate food and water supplies
  • CX or Mountain bike suggested
  • Bring adequate tools in order to make repairs.  Otherwise you will be in for a very long walk home
  • Bring some extra inner tubes
  • Keep an eye out for wildlife
  • Check weather conditions
  • Use extreme caution on the descent
  • Not suitable to ride over the winter months during snow season

How to get there

The climb begins at the intersection of Upper Blessington Road and Ben Lomond Road.  This is located approximately 42 km east of Launceston.

About Ben Lomond

The stark, treeless landscape of Ben Lomond with its imposing and precipitous cliffs is visible over much of the northern midlands of Tasmania.  It’s plateau is roughly 14 kilometres in length, 6 kilometres wide and is in excess of 1300 metres in height. The summit on the plateau named Legges Tor is the second highest point in Tasmania at 1,572 metres above sea level.

Ben Lomond is well known as Tasmania’s premiere skiing destination, and is one of Australia’s best gravel climbs.

Yuonga Road (Warburton)

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Yuonga Road
Location: Warburton
Distance:  1.6 km
Average Gradient: 11%
Maximum Gradient: 24%
Category: 3
Elevation gain: 133 metres
Terrain: Resedential
Road Surface: Paved/Gravel

Here is a link to the Strava segment here:

Mount Donna Buang is a Mountain in the southern part of the Great Dividing Range. It is located in Warburton and is one of Victoria’s most popular Mountain climbs to ride. The drive is only around 90 minutes from Melbourne.  This takes you through the beautiful Yarra Valley.

On the lower slopes of Mount Donna Buang is a road which runs parallel to the popular tourist road climb called Yuonga Road.  This road is quite steep and takes you to one of the entrances to the O’Shannassy’s Aqueduct Trail.  Which offers magnificent views of Mount Bride.

Turn left

Yuonga Road climb

The climb begins at the start of the Mount Donna Buang Tourist Road.  There is a short climb until you reach the turnoff at Yuonga Road where you turn left (see image above).

There are some stunning views of Mount Donna Buang which may help to distract you from the pain.  This is one steep sucka!

The gravel bit

The sealed section of the climb finishes near the Aqueduct trail 1.3 km into the climb.  Just getting to this point is incredibly difficult.  The road then turns to gravel and gets steeper.  Continuing on for a further 300 meters roads up the lower slopes of Mount Donna Buang.  It is incredibly steep with sections peaking at well in excess of 20%.  The surface is loose gravel & is more suitable to climb on a CX or MTB bike.

This is a dead end road, and with luck you finish the climb before it finishes you.

How to get there

Directions:                                           Warburton is approximately 72 km east of Melbourne

                                                                 on the Warburton Highway

Accomodation Options:                  Visit Warburton Info Website

Churchill National Park

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Churchill National Park is located 30 km’s South-east of Melbourne and joins onto Lysterfield Park.  This 271 hectare National Park offers a variety of Fire trails for Mountain Bikers or CX riders.  There are a number of climbs throughout the park, which have a high degree of difficulty.  Not only are they steep, but all of the trails are littered with gravel and traction is quite difficult.  You will need a high level of fitness, to circumnavigate the park.

Churchill National Park

Churchill National Park is famous for its 173 different species of birds.  Such as the Australian Wood Duck and the Pacific Black Duck.  Most mammals are only active at night, so if you arrive early or leave late, you might be lucky enough to see one.  The Park is also home to a large population of Wallabies & Kangaroos.  Take care when riding to keep an eye out for them.

The entrance to the Park is off Churchill Park Drive.  You can easily combine a ride around the Churchill National Park up to Lysterfield Lake.  Just be mindful that the climb out of the Churchill National Park up to Trig Point is extremely steep.  Many a cyclist has walked up it, however there are 360 degree views up the top that will make it all worthwhile.

If you haven’t visited the Churchill National Park, I would highly recommend it.

Details:

  • Entry via Churchill Park Drive, Bergins Road and Lysterfield Lake
  • 24 hour parking available on Curchill Park Drive
  • Parking is available within the park (observe gate closing times)
  • Picnic & B.B.Q facilities (next to main car park)
  • Toileting facilities (next to main car park)
  • No dogs allowed (National Park regulations)
  • Joins onto Lysterfield Lake

Click on this link for a map of the Churchill National Park from Parks Victoria.

The Churchill National Park

Skyline Road (gravel)

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Distance:        8.3 km
Surface:         Gravel
Traffic:           Minimal

Click here for the link to the Strava segment.

The adventure

Skyline Road is a gravel road which extends from the Bend of Islands to Yarra Glen.  Its a road which is one for the adventure seekers and will offer you a Roller coaster of a ride.   You will be challenged with climbs.  Lots of them.  They aren’t long but they’re steep with the gradients ranging between 12% – 18% in gradient.  Getting up them is extra challenging as you’ll face traction issues as you’re climbing on loose gravel.  Getting down them has its own challenges.  The descents are very steep and you will need to take care dodging loose gravel.  They will require all of your descending skills to safely get down.

The road surface is fairly consistent throughout (see image above).  You’ll find the road is littered with loose gravel.  There is a limited racing line you can ride on.  Whilst the road is not in the greatest shapes, it’s a road that you could get away with riding 23 mm tires.  We would recommend that you use appropriate CX tires though.

Skyline Road will treat you to some stunning views of the Yarra Valley on the approach to Yarra Glen.  This a quaint little country town is set amongst the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley.  This is one of Australia’s most renowned winery regions (please don’t drink and ride).

Its quite a tough climb to get here is hard but its well & truly worth it.

Skyline Road (gravel)

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Skyline Road (gravel)

  • Loose gravel surface
  • CX or Mountain bike recommended
  • Technical descending
  • Stunning views of the Yarra Valley
  • Quite roads free from traffic
  • Incredibly challenging climbs
  • High level of fitness recommended