January 27, 2014

Cycling in the Adelaide Hills

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Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.

Last week I had the privilege of heading over to Adelaide to cover the Tour Down Under for CyclingTips. It was a busy week spent watching and reporting on some terrific bike racing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

In addition to watching and writing about plenty of racing I also had a little bit of time to get out for some riding of my own. In all I managed five short rides (nothing more than 60km) but crucially I got to head out to the Adelaide Hills to check out some of the climbs I keep hearing about.

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of Adelaide’s many great climbs; rather it’s just my thoughts about some of the climbs I got to try while I was over there.

Corkscrew Road

On our first morning in Adelaide the CyclingTips team got kitted up for a ride and headed north east out of the city. We took a bit of a circuitous route but the main destination was Corkscrew Road.

This now-famous climb featured on stage 3 of this year’s Tour Down Under and saw a blistering attack by Cadel Evans to win the stage and take the overall lead.

The CyclingTips team (l-r: Dave, Wade and Andy) takes a spin out towards Corkscrew Road.

The CyclingTips team (l-r: Dave, Wade and Andy) takes a spin out towards Corkscrew Road.

Cadel made it look easy as he danced his way to victory, but I found it considerably less easy. In fact I took roughly twice as long to get up it as Cadel did.

Corkscrew Road in its entirety is 3.6km long and it’s more or less all uphill, but the climb proper is only about 2.5km long … at 9%.

It starts off at a pretty reasonably 8% or so but when you reach the actual “corkscrew” section — a series of switchbacks — the going gets quite a bit tougher.

I seem to remember the corners being quite steep (over 10%) and the sections between being much the same. But there are some terrific views to be had towards the top, looking back down on the road you just came up.

I’d love to come back at some point and give this climb a real crack once I’m in good form (and on my climbing wheels). But it was great to get a chance to ride it before the race, to be able to fully appreciate Cadel’s stomping ride.

Click here to see my Strava file from this ride.

Norton Summit

If the 1 in 20 is Melbourne’s most well-known climb then Norton Summit would have to be Adelaide’s. At 5.5km it’s not as long as the 1 in 20, but it’s average gradient of 5% makes it a touch steeper (as counter-intuitive as that might sound).

Norton Summit Road starts to improve after a kilometre or so.

Norton Summit Road starts to improve after a kilometre or so.

I must admit I wasn’t overly impressed by the climb in the opening kilometre or so. You pass through a semi-industrial area as you leave the suburb of Magill and it doesn’t seem like the climb is going to be particularly scenic.

But then you hit a left-hand hairpin after 2km and the views start to open right up. I think I actually said “oh wow” out loud as I rode up there on my own.

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For the next few kilometres the road hugs the ridgeline as it winds its way up into the hills and it’s hard not to ride with your head tilted to the left, soaking it all in.

One thing that struck me about this famous climb is just how consistent the climbing is. The first kilometre feels a little steeper than the rest but after that it’s remarkably consistent all the way up. It just sits around 5% and never really changes until you get to the top.

Speaking of which, I had absolutely no idea where the “top” of the climb was and I probably still don’t. There are a whole bunch of Strava segments for the road but the most popular one seems to be 5.5km long (which matches the old Cycle2max page).

The road actually keeps climbing a little beyond that point but looking at the profile from my ride I can definitely see that most of the climbing was done by the end of that 5.5km stretch.

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I spent much of this climb admiring the view and taking photos so I’d love to come back and have a tilt at this to see what sort of time I’m capable of.

Click here to see my Strava file from this ride.

Old Freeway to Mt. Lofty

The climb up the Old Freeway to Mt. Lofty is another one of those climbs I’d heard a lot about and was keen to try. Rising from Glen Osmond to the highest point in the Adelaide Hills I imagine it’s one of the longer climbs in the area — 12.2km at 4%.

The first section of the climb takes you up a bike track alongside the Princes Highway before you’re spat out on to Mt. Barker Road, the old freeway between Adelaide and Melbourne which included the infamously technical Devil’s Elbow section which saw more than its fair share of road accidents back in the day.

View from the bike track in the opening section of the climb.

View from the bike track in the opening section of the climb.

When you reach Mt. Barker Road it feels like you’re turned in the opposite direction to where you want to go and it takes a long time to get you back on track. Maybe this wouldn’t be so apparent if there wasn’t a dirty great big freeway heading directly to where you want to go.

This climb isn’t nearly as picturesque as some of the others in the area and it also lacks the consistency of something like Norton Summit so you’re constantly trying to find a new rhythm. I was passed early in the climb by a guy riding quite a bit faster than me and I was feeling good so I decided to speed up and catch him.

Mount Barker Road, the "old freeway".

Mount Barker Road, the “old freeway”.

It took quite a bit of effort to hold his wheel the whole way up but I’m glad I did. I reached the top of the freeway/Mt. Barker Road section at exactly the same time as my mates Nigel and Fletch — a complete coincidence.

Together the three of us rolled up the remaining few kilometres to the Mt. Lofty observation area — a rolling section with a couple of turn-offs and intersections that would have got me lost had I not been using my Garmin to navigate.

Looking down over Adelaide from Mt. Lofty.

Looking down over Adelaide from Mt. Lofty.

The photos don’t really do the views from Mt. Lofty justice — it is definitely a nice view. It’s a bit like Sky High in the Dandenongs, albeit a little bit higher (I was surprised when I learnt that) and much closer to the CBD. You get a real appreciation for just how flat Adelaide and its surrounds are when you’re standing at the top of the only mountain in the area.

Click here to see my Strava file from this ride.

Coachouse Road/Woodland Way

Late last year Adam Williss was good enough to write a piece for the site about the second edition of the Adelaide Dirty Dozen. In it he described the combination of Coachhouse Road and Woodland Way as the toughest climb in Adelaide. When I had one final chance to ride in Adelaide and I was trying to work out where to go, I realised it was a no-brainer — I had to give this one a crack.

The climb starts in suburban Magill and comes off Norton Summit Road, covering the same amount of climbing as the aforementioned climb in half the distance.

Woodland Way rises in a series of ramps, leaving views of the city behind you.

Woodland Way rises in a series of ramps, leaving views of the city behind you.

If a climb is 2.7km long with an average gradient of 10% you know you’re in for a challenging ride, but it didn’t seem that way to begin with. The climb is effectively comprised of six ramps with flatter sections in between and the first few ramps are actually pretty easy.

I took a right on to Woodland Way and thought “this isn’t so hard”. But the ramps get harder as you go along and the last one kicks to beyond 20%. I managed to get through that last section seated, which I was pleased about, but it certainly wasn’t easy.

Compared to something like Terrys Avenue or Mast Gully Road back here in Melbourne Coachhouse Drive/Woodland Way isn’t all that hard but that last ramp is a pretty fearsome sight and equally tough on the legs.

Click here to see my Strava file from this ride.

The descents

Of course one of the most enjoyable parts about climbing hills is the joy of riding back down. On my rides I tried to descend different roads to the ones I came up, to maximise the amount of the Adelaide Hills I would be able to see.

The view from the Greenhill Road descent.

The view from the Greenhill Road descent.

The descent from the top of Corkscrew Road down Montacute Road was probably my favourite of the whole trip, just marginally ahead of the descent down Greenhill Road. The views over the city as you hug the ridgeline on Greenhill are just superb and quite unlike anything we’ve got back in Melbourne.

The descent of Norton Summit Road was similarly impressive with great views over the city on the first half of the descent. The nearby Old Norton Summit Road was also enjoyable thanks to a couple of fast sections and tight corners.

More from Greenhill.

More from Greenhill.

While technically not a descent, Gorge Road was amazing to ride on too. I’d love to head back and ride this rollercoaster it in its entirety but even the small section I got to do — from Torrens Hill Road to Corkscrew Road — was a lot of fun.

Final thoughts

I think the thing that strikes me most about the Adelaide Hills is that they are just so close to town. We were staying at the Hilton Hotel right in the centre of Adelaide and within 8km I could be climbing into the Adelaide Hills.

Climbing Norton Summit.

Climbing Norton Summit.

Given I live about 40-45km from the base of the Dandenongs here in Melbourne, the idea of being able to start climbing some great roads within half an hour is massively appealing.

In short, I had an amazing time and even though I wasn’t able to get out for long rides, I still got a taste of the amazing climbing (and riding more generally) that’s on offer in the Adelaide Hills. I’ll definitely be back.

7 Comments

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  1. Matt / Jan 30 2014

    the other great thing about Adelaide, apart from the proximity of the hills, is the lack of traffic!…riding in the hills in the morning you will be lucky to see a handful of car out thru Greenhill, Basket Range, on to Lobethal etc. Comparing to my regular loops out thru Eltham, Kangaroo Ground, Healesville, Myers Ck, Donna, KL etc i really loved the stress free riding without the usual traffic concerns…..

  2. Fletch / Jan 29 2014

    So great you could get some time off TDU reporting to finally get a taste of ‘laide goodness Matt. I’m totally up for another trip back whenever you can :) Regarding road quality, stick to the hills mate. The flats either side are unnecessary in my opinion – too much fun to be had in and amongst the hills and they’re a great place to get some relief from the typical Adelaide summer heat.

  3. David / Jan 29 2014

    Now to catalogue them, take photos, create profiles, categorize and write descriptions for all of the climbs and plot where they are on a map… It’s only a very painstaking exercise to deliver the quality content that we read on this website…

  4. BBB / Jan 28 2014

    Having transplanted from Adelaide to Melbourne a few years back, your final thoughts hit the nail on the head. There are a number of terrific climbs all within spitting distance of the CBD and they can be easily linked up to give you a goodly amount of climbing in one session without venturing too far afield. The climb up Greenhill Road and onto Mt Lofty is a good one as is climbing all the way up Montacute Road.
    As for the roads, I was in Adelaide over Christmas and noticed the same thing. Fullarton Road is a shocker and it runs through a nice part of town. Montacute Road recently got a partial re-surface, but it is sketchy towards the top. And so on.

  5. Andrew / Jan 28 2014

    Hi Matt, having spent the weekend in Adelaide myself and riding the same routes u did, plus stage 4 from unley to victor harbour, I just wanted to ask your opinion of the road quality there? In my opinion, whilst the riding is great, I think the roads themselves are terrible! Bumpy, uneven, cracked, sewer lid covers, debris, different types of asphalt… I could go on! It seems that every time I ride in Adelaide I get multiple flat tyres, and I ride gatorskins. Can’t remember the last one I had in melbs. However, the climbing there is great for short sharp climbs and I recommend anyone to give them a go!!

    • Matt de Neef / Jan 28 2014

      Yeah, good call. Some of the roads in the outer suburbs were terrible. I seem to remember Magill Road being pretty average, but then a lot of those roads heading out of town were pretty poor.

  6. eatmorelard / Jan 28 2014

    I’ve always preferred the Old Norton Summit Rd as a climb (especially the testy last km!) and Greenhill Rd is a classic climb (but I guessed you would have worked that out from descending it), rearing up straight out of the roundabout on Greenhill Rd and pulling all the way (with a slightly easier section in the middle) up into the trees! Great place to ride, so many great roads (such as the one through the Basket Range to Lobethal)

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