May 20, 2015

Exploring Kinglake: Bowden Spur and other new roads

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The great thing about riding the same roads over and over again is that when you decide to deviate from the familiar, it feels all the more satisfying. Take the Dandenongs for example. On most visits I’ll do a combination of the more common climbs, like the 1 in 20, The Wall and so on. But when I head out there to, say, ride a bunch of the lesser-known dirt roads that snake across the mountain, it’s a welcome departure from the norm.

The same can be said of Kinglake. Like most Melbourne-based road cyclists, there are only really two routes I tend to take to get into the Kinglake Ranges: the very popular main climb and, occasionally, the quieter Humevale Road on the other side of the range. On very rare occasions I might come up the main road from Whittlesea or via the Toolangi approach, but I can count the number of times I’ve done so on one hand.

On Sunday, though, I decided to take my own advice and check out one of the lesser-known roads into Kinglake: the unsealed and very tough Bowden Spur Road.

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You might have seen photos of this climb — it’s notable for a couple of nice switchbacks and for the gigantic power lines that cross the road on their way up the hill. I’d seen such photos and was keen to give the climb a try.

Where the main Kinglake climb winds its way up the hill at a reasonably friendly gradient, Bowden Spur Road more or less heads straight up the hill with only a couple of corners to reduce the gradient. Depending on where you measure the start and finish of the climb from, it’s either 3.6km at 9% or 2km at 12% for the steepest part. Regardless of how you slice it, it’s a very challenging climb.

I was riding my regular road bike (Cannondale CAAD10) with 25mm Challenge Strada Bianca open tubular tyres and I had very few issues with traction. The surface is quite hard-packed, and any loose gravel can be navigated around without too much difficulty.

I’d certainly recommend a compact crankset though. Even with a 34×28 setup I was grinding away on the steeper stuff.

Ouch.

Ouch.

The climb itself starts in Stathewen and rather than riding the regular way there (via Hurstbridge then Cottles Bridge) I thought I’d take a different route on some roads I’d never fully explored. Broad Gully Road, Mine Road, Hildebrand Road — they’re all great little stretches of tarmac, quite lumpy in parts and with very little car traffic. Perfect.

I descended Hewitts Road to join the main road that leads to Strathewen and was pleasantly surprised how steep the descent was. I think I’ll have to come back and try out that road in the opposite direction (it’s 800m at 10% according to Strava).

From Strathewen itself I opted for the steep rise of School Ridge Road which eventually joined up with Bowden Spur Road a few kilometres later. Next time I’ll take Bowden Spur Road from the start to see what that’s like.

Mine Road -- one of several amazing little roads in the Kinglake foothills.

Mine Road — one of several amazing little roads in the Kinglake foothills.

There’s some steep climbing on Bowden Spur Road before you even get to the main climb, and while it’s not as relentless as the main section of climbing itself, the gradient and the loose road surface will still have you seeing single-digit speed readings on your cycling computer.

The climb proper starts with a long, straight, steep drag up to a right-hand switchback before a 100m flat section with great views over the valley as the power lines bristle overhead. As the road bends left the gradient kicks up again and it’s back to the grind until the road flattens out sometime later.

The road spits you out in Kinglake Central, 3.5km north west of where the main Kinglake climb ends. I headed in the opposite direction, however, descending Humevale Road for the first time then taking Plenty Road all the way back to town.

Click here to read more about the Bowden Spur Road climb at The Climbing Cyclist Wiki. And if you’ve got a climb you’d like to add to the wiki, please go ahead!
Looking down at the steep section before the first hairpin bend.

Looking down at the steep section before the first hairpin bend.

I’ve been reliably informed that as steep as Bowden Spur is, there are two other unsealed approaches to Kinglake that are even tougher. Beale Avenue and Bald Spur Road both run more or less parallel to Bowden Spur Road as they climb the range, the former to the north west, the latter to the south east.

I’ve had strong riders tell me they struggle to get up Bald Spur Road, even on a cyclocross bike with 33mm tyres and a 36×30 gear setup. Might be one for the mountain bike!

If you know of other unsealed roads, including climbs, near Melbourne that are an enjoyable challenge on a road bike, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Do many cyclists really use this road?

Do many cyclists really use this road?

In addition to exploring some new roads, Sunday’s ride had another purpose. For the first time in a while I’ve got something to train up for, namely the Muju Gran Fondo in South Korea in mid June. The ride is 140km long with around 3,000m of climbing, including some very steep pinches along the way.

I got an invite to the ride through my job at CyclingTips and decided I should probably try to cram in some training, given I haven’t been doing as much riding lately as I normally would. In fact, Sunday’s ride was the first time I’ve ridden more than 100km since my trip to the Snowy Mountains in early March.

I haven’t got much time before the gran fondo, but I’m hoping that a couple more hilly, 100km+ rides will get me through it.

Selfie time.

Selfie time.

And finally, just a really quick word about the website. As you might have seen, the good folks at Cycles Galleria have come on board as a supporter of the site in the past month and for that I’m very grateful. It takes a lot of time and energy to keep The Climbing Cyclist running and it’s certainly not without its costs.

It’s the support of great local brands like Cycles Galleria that helps make it possible for me to continue working on this website one day a week and providing content that, hopefully, you enjoy reading/viewing/watching.

So, if you like this site and/or have gotten value from it in the past, why not click through to the Cycles Galleria website via the ad at the top of the sidebar and take a look around at what they have on offer?

Until next time, thanks to you all for reading and for your ongoing support!

Click here to see my Strava file from this ride.

20 Comments

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  1. Mike / May 3 2016

    I’ve tried Bald Spur Road on my MTB and still ran out of heartrate on some of the steeper sections that are over 25% https://www.strava.com/segments/5409101

    Anything under 30 minutes is hero class in my old world meaning sustained VAM greater than 750 m/h. Once you stop on these steeper sections it’s nearly impossible to get going again. Would I ride it again? Hell yeah.

  2. dan / Aug 10 2015

    can anyone comment on the ‘left turn’ at strathewen?

    ie left at the junction and up Chadds Creek road turning into Pine Ridge road as an alternative to Bowden Spur Road

    It’s unclear if there is a road or not..
    was wondering if it was an option to come down off kinglake..looking at the profile not sure i’d make it up!

    And +1 on the comment about Hewitts Road – nasty!

    Cheers

    • Matt de Neef / Aug 19 2015

      Sorry Dan, I’ve never ridden up that way so I’m not sure. Google Street View seems to suggest that Chadds Creek Road is sealed for a bit beyond Strathewen. From what I’ve heard Beale Avenue is very, very hard. But as for Pine Ridge Road, I’m simply not sure. Sorry!

    • steve / Sep 16 2015

      Hi Dan,
      Pine Ridge Rd is unrideable on a road bike.
      It’s got long deep ruts from water erosion that’ll easily swallow wheels whole and has lots of debris (fallen trees and branches) all over.

      Might be able to descend most of it if you’re expert on a downhill mtb (probably still need to walk some sections).
      Anything else and you’ll be walking a fair proportion of it.

      There’s actually signs at both ends that say ‘Road Closed’, plus gates. I figure that’s more for motorised vehicles though.

      Matt,
      Thanks for great writeups & photos.

  3. Robert Merkel / Jun 8 2015

    Don’t try this in a howling northerly without a MTB (or better yet, wait till another day). The steep stretches face directly into it and the wind whistles through the gully even faster than it does elsewhere on a windy day.

    I was barely doing 10 km/h on the flat section on the ridge *after* I’d gotten to the top.

  4. Jon Thornton / Jun 3 2015

    Inspired by this article, I did this ride on Saturday (70km gravel, 57km bitumen, 9km bike path). Utterly awesome. I was tempted to add a loop of the One Tree Hill Reserve, but the route was already pushing 3,000m over 100km.

    There was a short section on Jacksons/Hildebrand that had just been top-dressed with loose gravel. This would have been slippery on a road bike, but was a piece of cake on my gravel grinder with 38mm tyres.

    Best gravel roads? Eagles Nest, Shaws, Long Gully, Ridge and Skyline. Reynolds was just stupid.

    https://www.strava.com/activities/314521412

  5. Mick / May 30 2015

    Great new ride Matt, bit of nostalgia for me. I used to ride my Proflex MTB from Eltham to Kinglake using this route via Hurstbridge, with my daughter on her Diamondback in the late 90s. We used to return via Bald Spur Road. A good 80-85km ride.

  6. Sean P / May 25 2015

    Great work Matt. Saw the wiki page and headed up there via Nutfield on a crisp but stunning Saturday morning. The devastation of the 2009 fires is still plainly evident. Road quality was pretty good and views back all the way to Melbourne were spectacular. A great and steep alternative to the standard Kinglake climb. Thanks!

  7. Claude Cat / May 24 2015

    Thanks for the inspiration.
    I gave this a crack today, and it’s beautiful climb.
    It’s very tough as you say. I would have loved to stop to take some pictures on the steep section, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get going again afterwards!
    I think I’ll add this to my regular rotation for climbs out kinglake way!

  8. Dan / May 21 2015

    Amazing! I’m heading out to Strathewen tomorrow to explore with no set plan, if I find myself looking up, this might be a thing to try…

  9. Scott Barrow / May 20 2015

    Hey Matt, good article again. Thanks.

    The first bit of Hewitts is quite steep indeed, but nothing compared to some of your dirty dozen climbs in the nongs. Gets you puffing if you keep pushing up the flatter bit to the high point of the climb though!

  10. Brendan Edwards / May 20 2015

    Berglund Road in Officer is one of the craziest gravel climbs to try. There is a 200 metre sealed section towards the end which peaks at 30%, and the gravel section before this peaks at 18%:
    https://app.strava.com/segments/1774690

  11. David Blom / May 20 2015

    Photos usually flatten the gradients in a photo. They don’t do that to Bowden Spur Rd – I think the Power lines give a really good indicator of just how steep it is…

  12. Robin / May 20 2015

    Love it. I was worried when you got the job at cycling tips that this great web site would go by the way side. Thank you for keeping it up and keeping our eyes open on some great alternatives. I go to Bairnsdale for work a fair bit and will be throwing the 25mm on and having a crack at some unsealed stuff next time. Less traffic and more interesting scenery.

    • Matt de Neef / May 20 2015

      Thanks Robin. I love comments like these. I really enjoy bringing you pieces like these and as long as people are reading I will continue to do so. Thanks again. :)

  13. updave / May 20 2015

    Old Mt Slide Road from Steels Creek up to Kinglake Road (Yarra Glen side) is very nice.
    I also hear Old Kinglake Rd (same start point) that comes out near the top of the “regular”sealed climb to Kinglake is quite a gnarly one but do-able on a road bike.

  14. Goonie / May 20 2015

    Nice ride – seen that road a number of times but wasn’t sure whether it was rideable on a road bike.

    Mittons Bridge Road, on the other side of the ridge from Hewitt’s road, is another nice little climb (and a fairly easy one).

  15. Jon Thornton / May 20 2015

    There are lots of great gravel roads in the Green Wedge. Skyline Road is probably doable on a road bike. Lots of 16% pinches, but the surface is hard-packed clay.

    A few weeks ago, I made 4 bitumen ascents of Kinglake. It was a great day out. https://www.strava.com/activities/275690638

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