March 27, 2013

Guest post: The best (and worst) Dandenongs descents

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If you’re reading this there’s a fair chance you enjoy climbing. And if you enjoy climbing, you probably enjoy heading to the hills to string a bunch of climbs together. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that a day in the hills is about more than just climbing. In this guest post, Steve Morris explains why he loves descending and shares 10 of the most memorable descents in the Dandenongs; some you should check out, others you should avoid.

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Okay, we all love our climbs. We all enjoy a bit of suffering. If we could wrap barbed-wire around our pedals to make it a bit more difficult, we probably would (OK, maybe that’s just me). But you must admit, we all look forward to our reward at the top of a serious ascent. I’m talking about The Drop. The Way Down. The “See You at the Bottom”. It is half the ride, after all.

A good descent is like a good wine – and like wines, descents come in all varieties and flavours so you are bound to find one to suit you. Some are gentle, relaxed, peaceful idylls, savoured slowly on a sunny Sunday morning. Some are full-on, red-blooded monsters, best attacked like raw steak dripping with testosterone. The Dandenongs has a wide-ranging selection, and you can sample several on any given day.

drops

When we plan our route for the day, we put a bit of thought into how and where we are going to come down. If we wake up, check the weather and it’s looking a bit damp (and it’s nearly always damp somewhere in the ‘Nongs), there is a bit of disappointment that we really won’t be able to let it rip at the end of a lung-buster.

But, oh, that anticipation as you approach the end of a climb, that delicious feeling when you just ease over a crest, and it all starts to flow. It gives a wonderful, natural high – and you’ve earned it.

Your energy levels lift, the brain functions snap into focus, adrenalin kicks in. Suddenly, that extra serve of cheesecake you had last night comes into play as you fly past your tofu-loving, organic, stick-figure mate. He may be dynamite on the inclines but if he wants to play with the Big Boys on the way down, he needs to eat a sandwich. And a pie. And two or three sheep with roast potatoes, pumpkin and gravy. And some cheesecake, thanks.

When you're in the hills, descents are half the ride.

When you’re in the hills, descents are half the ride.

There’s a lot of nonsense spoken about how to get down hills fast – “hubs”, “aerodynamics”, “racing lines” – but when it all comes down to it, it’s mostly about the cheesecake. Let’s face it, you can’t change the fact that you’re a screaming girly-man around the fast corners, so you might as well develop the necessary gravitas to build some speed on the straights.

Did you know that TDF cyclists regularly eat 9,000 calories a day? If you can’t ride like Cadel, you might as well eat like him. Useful phrases here include “carbing up”, “muscle building”, and “seconds”. If you stick to a balanced diet of the five major food groups (sugar, salt, grease, carbohydrates and alcohol), you’ll develop a descender’s physique in no time. (Besides, have you seen those Schlecks with their shirts off?!)

The other great thing about descending is there is a built-in excuse. No need to stammer about “intervals’, “ITB pain“, or “the cat died”. If your mate smokes you on the way down, and he’s waiting at the bottom with that oh-so-smug expression that makes him look like a complete prat, when he raises an eyebrow and smirks “Caught a headwind, eh? Bad luck. I must have missed it”, the correct response here is:

1. Suck your guts in.
2. Glance pointedly at his midsection.
3. Hurriedly look away as if embarrassed.
4. Slowly shake your head while muttering under your breath “entire output of a micro-brewery”.

7 Peaks Domestique Series ride - Lake Mountain (28.10.12) 089

So we love our descents, and we love the Dandenongs, so which are the best descents in the Dandenongs? Here’s 10 that spring to mind,  from the least enjoyable to the most enjoyable.

10. Sherbrooke Rd (Ferny Creek to Kallista)

If I wanted to ride on mountain bike trails, I would have bought a mountain bike. This road is so rough it basically shakes you and your bike to pieces on the way down (still, it’s a good place to pick up items that have been shaken loose from other riders – pumps, lights, teeth, glass eyes, etc.)

Then when it does finally smooth off – the road goes up! Then later, a bit more downhill, straight into a hairpin, followed by a right-hander that always has a minor creek running across it.

Rating: 1/5
In short: Avoid it.

9. Olinda to Sassafras

Short, non-challenging, too much traffic, bleh.

Rating: 1.5/5
In short: Don’t bother. Too busy, anyway.

8. Perrins Creek Road

It’s fast, but a bit dull. The corners don’t really click, it’s full of gravel, and not very attractive. More traffic than The Crescent (see below).

Rating: 2.5/5
In short: Fast. Some bends. That’s it. Hard to get into a rhythm, and too much surface debris.

7. Sky High to Olinda (Ridge Road)

This is just a bit of fun. A couple of nice corners, the chance to pick up some speed, and a nice start to the full mountain descent. And, if you are in the right season, a special visit from the Ridge Road Magpie, just to keep you on your toes.

Rating: 2.5/5
In short: Short and sweet.

6. The 1 in 20 (Sassafras to The Basin)

Oooh, controversially low rating. But not my favourite. It’s not steep enough to generate any real speed without working hard, the corners are too far apart, and they don’t really flow together. The false-flat is annoying. I always get to the bottom feeling a little bit unsatisfied.

Rating: 3/5
In short: I guess it’s long, but it requires you to work for your enjoyment. Good surface, though.

5. Monbulk Rd (Kallista to Monbulk)

Nice. Steep enough without being ridiculous. Corners are easy (nice, wide sweepers) – a bit of traffic.

Rating: 3.5/5
In short: If you really push this, some of the corners can be fun. Very easy if you don’t use a bit of effort. A nice relax prior to going up The Wall.

4. The Wall

Big Happy Face. This is cool. This is the one you take your Beach Rd mate to (the one who has a Strava segment for the Col de Beaumaris). You can almost see his mind working when he hits the triple-left-hander after the Nursery flat. First part – “Hmm, road goes down again”. Second part – “Hmm, road goes down steep”. Third part – “Holy verticals, Batman!”

It’s a great road – the first section is fast, fun and easy then after the Nursery, it picks up. Can be tricky and catch you out here and there. And that bloody hairpin! I swear all the oil, slime and slush get washed into it, and the surface is incredibly slick. Even top riders have been caught out and had their wheels slip out from under them going though it (OK, maybe just me).

Rating: 4/5
In short: Treat this as a technical challenge. It’s not too demanding, but it’s easy to get wrong. Easy to stay just on the edge of comfortable control, while still flying along.

3. The Crescent (Sassafras Creek Rd)

Whoa. Now we’re getting serious. Starts off easy and then suddenly plummets down that first steep ramp – to be followed by a sweet, but challenging series of corners (that first long left-hander is really a grip-it-and-hang-on tester). Then after reaching the flatter portion, you’ll be in the right mood to crank it through the big trees along the creek line. It gets a bit rough near the end, and the Stop sign arrives just that bit quicker than you expect. Best of the shorter drops.

Rating: 4.5/5
In short: You want to attack this. A bit of everything, gorgeous scenery, and whipbirds too.

2. Devil’s Elbow

There are two routes here. You can drop straight down the Tourist Road from Ferny Creek all the way to the bottom, or you can go over One Tree Hill Road and then take Churchill Drive. While the OTH/Churchill route has some nice bends and is undoubtedly more attractive through the trees, you have to stop when you rejoin the Tourist Road at the old service station – and that’s where the fun really starts.

I prefer to take the Tourist Road all the way from Ferny Creek. It’s like going down a roller-coaster that starts off gently and then keeps on building and building all the way to the finish. You feel your pulse rate and excitement accelerating in concert with the road, particularly through the sweepers on the first section down into Tremont.

Then, when you hit the service station carrying good speed, the road suddenly drops away from you and that’s an adrenalin hit. Good, challenging corners, loooong straight sections for speed – if you were dozing off after a hard day, you’re awake now.

Rating: 4.5/5
In short: Sweat, heart-rate, breathing. Get ’em all going. Stay alert, and you can still enjoy this at a gentler level. Be careful of the 1000 Steps crowd at the bottom.

1. Sky High to Montrose

Bitumen heaven. Ok, the first section on Ridge Road to Kalorama can be mildly terrifying if you let yourself go (particularly after the CFA station), but once back on the Tourist Road life is good.

Steep enough to just roll or use a bit of pedal pressure to maintain your desired speed, the corners just flow together (some nice and tight, some lovely long sweepers, some left-right switchbacks), no merging side roads until basically at the bottom, good surface. I find myself singing ‘Dancing Queen’.

It is possible to travel from Kalorama to Montrose without pedalling or braking – that’s six-and-a-half kilometres of just rollin’!

There is a little bit of traffic (still less than the other side of the mountain), but even so it’s one of those roads that make you want to go back up when you reach the bottom, just to go down it again.

Rating: 5/5
In short: This is why Isaac Newton invented gravity. Just enjoy. ‘You can dance! You can jive! Having the time of your li-ife’.

So that’s it. Everything you need to know about the Dandenong descents. If I’ve left out your personal favourite, well, let us know. And remember, enjoy your drops – they are half the road, and sometimes they’re the best half.

Do you agree with Steve’s selection? What’s your favourite descent and why?

26 Comments

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  1. Chris / Aug 6 2013

    Five major food groups (sugar, salt, grease, carbohydrates and alcohol), that rings a bell for some reason…very funny Mr Morris…I think “The Devil’s” and “The Wall” are the best but “Inverness” is a cracker as well especially after the last right hander decending…I haven’t been down “Invermay” but its on the list, surely the closest to the first plunge of a rollercoaster.

  2. PG / Apr 7 2013

    I wish I had read this earlier. I did the Sherbrooke Rd descent for the first time this morning and was very grateful for my 25c tires on my 23 mm rims. What a shocker.

    Personally I like Perrins Creek Rd and really enjoyed it this morning.

    Agree with the #1 rating, but can you include the big drop at the beginning of Camberwell Rd? Dead straight road with good sight lines and fairly wide lanes? I’ve had some interesting times there outrunning dive-bombing magpies.

  3. Matt / Apr 5 2013

    Agreed, I would only swap the Devils Elbow to be number 1 and bump Sky High Montrose to number 2 – I love the devils elbow decent.

    Sherbrooke Rd is an absolute nightmare. Especially the first section where you are shaken to pieces, often find myself alternating hands on the bars to get some relief from the crazy amount of vibration. I would not have it on the list at all, and include Monbulk Rd from Kallista to Belgrave (does that count as the Dandenongs?)

  4. Brad / Apr 2 2013

    Great article Steve.
    I think you’ve got most of the descents pretty much spot on.

    I might be nick picking here a little but on descent #1, then road surface from Kalorama to Kalorama memorial reserve isn’t all that good (hardly bitumen heaven). After that though, the descent to Montrose is the best in the area.
    I also don’t really agree with the inclusion of descent #9 (Olinda – Sassafras). I think either Terry’s or Inverness have more merit as descents. This section of road is more of a rest break than a descent for me.
    I have to add that I suppose all this depends on your abilities and preferences as a cyclist. I prefer sweeping corners and hate hairpins or tight corners as I’m not so experienced or confident yet so overall, I think it’s a very subjective topic.

  5. Da / Mar 30 2013

    At last, an article for us heavyweights, always suffering as we do smaller lighter riders speeding past us up the hills, and then accusing us of “merely using gravity” as we show off our descending prowess.

    I would have pushed 1:20 a little further up the list. Sure, the false flat takes the edge off for a while, but the corners are technical enough to allow for a little white knuckle, edge of tyre adhesion adrenalin flow. Especially in a couple of the lower getting-a-little-tighter-as-you-get-into-them corners, often made just that little more interesting by a flow of water and mud over them. By comparison on the Sky High to Montrose descent you are hard pressed to get fast enough to experience that feeling. Which is not to deny the pleasures of that descent- if you want to relax a little while flying downhill and around corners, that is definitely the one.

    I laughed out loud at your description of the Sherbrooke Road descent- it was just as I experience it. I spend all of my time trying to work out just what all those rattles on my bike are as I bounce and shake down the hill, constantly changing position on the road to see if there is a place- anywhere- which doesn’t vibrate me around so much.

    While The Wall could be a great descent, there are too many driveways to allow one to relax enough- especially after I once observed a resident come out of his driveway in his ute and fishtail his way up the hill, putting in danger every cyclist he passed on the way up. It is sobering to think he might be there one time when I am descending. Also I am yet to get the line quite right on the right hand bend before the hairpin which has had the services dug up and a long bitumen patch which cuts across the best cornering line- I still find it puts me off a little.

    Great article- thanks very much.

  6. Dylan Nicholson / Mar 29 2013

    Well I just got back from a fantastic morning exploring as many as these routes as I could in one morning, and can confirm that #4, #3 and #1 are all great descents (I also did most of #5, starting from Perrins Rd), though I have to say I enjoyed The Wall (your #4) the most. But it’s quite possible that after doing each of them a few times I’d find myself revising my opinion – #3 definitely seemed like it was one that would improve as you got to know the road better.
    Surprised that The Crescent/Sassafrass Ck Rd and Perrins Ck Rd aren’t more popular as climbs actually.

    • Hamish / Mar 29 2013

      Perrins and the Crescent are both good climbs (steep in parts). My mates and I alternate between Perrins, the Crescent and Sherbrooke Rd when returning from Emerald.

      We don’t go down Sherbrooke for reasons discussed in the post, preferring the Wall instead.

  7. Geoff / Mar 29 2013

    All the ratings are spot on. Read this just after my regular start to a weekend – Mountain Highway,up the 1:20, down to Montrose, back home down Canterbury Rd, about 2 hours round trip. That blast to Montrose (53/11 and no brakes all the way) is just right for blowing away all the crap from the working week.

    It’s funny though, I’ve ridden up the 1:20 at least once a week for 4-5 years and could count on one hand the number of times I’ve been down it – too many cars (including on the wrong side passing bikes on the way up), too many other cyclists out of their depth and wobbling all over the place, and corners greasy from not getting much sun a lot of the year.

    Hey Matt, I thought this site might die after you got the Cycling Tips job but it’s great to see it’s going from strength to strength. This is the kind of thing we want to read

  8. Jon Thornton / Mar 29 2013

    Entertaining, informative and well-presented. Great use of fonts, images, maps and white-space. Keep up the excellent work.

  9. Mondo / Mar 27 2013

    I’ve never ridden the Nongs but having your great article I’m inspired and determined to make the pilgrimage to the Nongs. Thanks!

  10. Frank Nyhuis / Mar 27 2013

    I’m lucky enough to live in the Dandenongs (top of Mast Gully Rd), and get a regular look at all of these climbs and descents. Bit surprised about your comments on The Crescent – I find it a bit of a drag after the initial drop, and it’s actually got more gravel on the corners than Perrins at the moment (at least until the next heavy downpour), so I get a much better run down Perrins. Glad you didn’t include Mast Gully, because that’s just too narrow and dangerous to enjoy the descent, seeing the morons who regularly fly up the hill on the wrong side of the road! But why not Terry’s Ave? It’s nice and wide, and on a dry day, you could probably hit 100kph on the top half, but hang on to the brakes at the bottom!! And lastly, I hope we don’t have any spills from people going for Strava KOM’s – the effort it takes to wipe that extra second off puts you scarily close to the edge!

    • Dylan Nicholson / Mar 28 2013

      I thought Strava didn’t record KOM achievements for downhill segments? Certainly I once had a message about the average gradient being under -1% or something.

      • Frank / Mar 28 2013

        I’m pretty sure Strava puts up any segment unless it is reported as ‘dangerous’ e.g a finish through a set of traffic lights or something. Otherwise most of the descents in the Hills will be there.

  11. Hodgey / Mar 27 2013

    Sherbrooke Rd is definitely in the right position! It a shame as it would make for a nice ride!

  12. GlennR / Mar 27 2013

    I’ll put the Elbows #1 and the 1in20 #2.

    As much as I love TheWall and others you really have to be careful doing 80kph+ in the Nongs with all the driveways and tourists.

    Another good one is Monbulk-Emerald road with some nice rollers afterwards.

  13. Simon A / Mar 27 2013

    Hilarious!

    The 1 in 20 does have a good little jump near the end where they’ve patched over the road. Good enough to get some hangtime. Big fellas might need some strong rims for the landing, but it’s good for us featherweights. If there’s no wind.

    Putting in a vote for Inverness post-hairpin. Watch out for the driveways, but good enough for 80-odd kmh with only two sweepers to roll through.

  14. David / Mar 27 2013

    Great article. I think going from Olinda to Montrose on the Tourist Rd all the way is the best one. 11.2km @ 3.4%.

    We really should have more info on how to ride descents properly too. Though it is short, I love the dip down and swing back up of Bolton heading towards Batesleigh. Made riding that climb a heck of a lot easier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpZB80cr9rg

    What makes a good descent? A wide road with a good surface, wide-sweeping bends with good corners with the cambering right.

    Just don’t try fanging down Mast Gully Rd or Roma Pde…

  15. chris / Mar 27 2013

    Hughes St….Great road, a ridiculously quick section in the middle with possibly the best views in the whole of the Nongs…

    Only problem is Burwood Hwy at the bottom!

  16. Byron / Mar 27 2013

    Who doesn’t love descending. A great read thanks.

  17. Tony / Mar 27 2013

    Best and Worst is Terry Avenue.
    The top is awesome, the bottom is deadly

  18. Fletch / Mar 27 2013

    Love it! It’s great to see this site pay due homage to the real reason we climb! Nice work Steve :)

  19. Hamish / Mar 27 2013

    Great article! I love the Sky High to Montrose descent. Nice sweeping bends and the gradient is such that you’re going fast but it’s not over too quickly.

  20. Scott Barrow / Mar 27 2013

    “You’re terrible Muriel”. Good piece.

  21. Malocchio / Mar 27 2013

    “If you can’t ride like Cadel, you might as well eat like him.”

    ^^^ This has become my brand new motto. Great article!

  22. Modcon / Mar 27 2013

    I remember being schooled by the university of Lachlan Norris and the gang back in the day about how hit the ton down a certain notorious climb. Came down with a group of boys a while later, and someone opened his thigh on a tree stump. Hairy.

    • Matt / Mar 27 2013

      I was just telling Wade about that story yesterday mate. Horrible.

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