February 5, 2014

The simple joy of exploration

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We all have different motivations for cycling. Some like it as a way of getting fit, others see it as a way of getting around, some live for the thrill of racing, others ride for the social connection.

I’ve enjoyed cycling for all of those reasons at one time or another but there’s perhaps one aspect of cycling I enjoy above all others: being able to explore and see parts of the countryside I haven’t seen before.

There’s really no better way of seeing the world around you than from the seat of a bike. The world goes past slowly enough that you’re able to take it all in and appreciate your surrounds while still covering enough ground in a reasonable amount of time.

Living in Reservoir, in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs, it’s fair to say I don’t have immediate access to Victoria’s most scenic roads. The Dandenongs are a solid 45km away, Kinglake is about the same and for both of these options there are plenty of busy and unappealing roads to get through before I can fully enjoy myself.

For this reason I often find it hard to get motivated for a ride.  But one thing I’ve found motivating in recent times has been the promise of exploring new roads and new regions. If I know there’s something new and interesting to look forward to in a ride it can help to provide that initial burst of motivation that’s needed to get me off the couch.

In the past week I’ve done a couple of different exploratory rides, both in Melbourne’s outer north west.

There are some nice roads out the back of Tullamarine Airport.

There are some nice roads out the back of Tullamarine Airport.

There’s a bike track that runs alongside the Western Ring Road which, at just a few kilometres from my house, gives me easy access to a few parts of Melbourne that would normally require riding on some terrible roads. The Ring Road trail also links up with the Merri Creek Trail which heads in towards the city, but that’s a topic for another post.

Looking at Google Maps one day I saw that the Western Ring Road Trail passes right by Brimbank Park in the suburb of Keilor. And looking at Strava’s ‘Explore’ page I was able to see that there are a number of short but interesting-looking climbs within the park.

With little more planning than that I headed out to Brimbank Park via the Ring Road Trail (a roughly 20km trip) last week and spent an hour or so exploring the many paths and trails within the park.

There was something so simple but enjoyable about visiting a new area and just riding wherever I felt like, finding new climbs and just getting away from the same old roads I always ride. The joy of not having to worry about motorised traffic shouldn’t be underestimated too.

Descending into the gorge on Wildwood Road.

Descending into the gorge on Wildwood Road.

And last weekend I found myself looking for somewhere different to ride once again and I remembered a one-way ride I did early last year from Reservoir to Trentham. On that ride I went along Wildwood Road, just south east of Sunbury, which includes a lovely little descent into a gorge before a short but challenging climb out the other side.

I discovered that climb completely by accident on that Trentham ride but last weekend I thought I might see if there were other similarly enjoyable roads in the area. I headed to Strava and mapped out a route that took in a loop of Wildwood Road and Konagaderra Road, noticing that the second of those roads seemed to feature a nice little climb as well.

The ride out there was awful — avoid Cooper Street/Somerton Road at all costs, people — but once I got beyond the reaches of Melbourne’s outer-suburban industrial sprawl the country riding was terrific.

Konagaderra Road was great, with a fast and flowing descent (see feature image above) before a challenging climb out the other side. And it was just enjoyable to be riding on a road I’d never heard about, relatively close to home.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the day was riding along and seeing other interesting-looking roads that I’d love to head out and explore some other time, such as Bardwell Drive or Gellies Road.

Climbing out the other side of the Wildwood Road gorge.

Climbing out the other side of the Wildwood Road gorge.

The thing I love about exploratory rides is that you’re really only limited by the amount of time you have and your own sense of adventure. If you’ve got all day, why not just start riding and see where you end up? If you see a good road, head down it. And at a pre-determined time (or just whenever you feel like it) find out where you are then pick your way back home.

My good mate Andy from Hells 500 describes these sort of outings as Forest Gump rides, named, of course after the scene in the film Forest Gump where the lead character just starts running … and doesn’t stop until he gets sick of it.

These sorts of rides are particularly satisfying in areas you haven’t explored before, such as when you’ve travelled interstate or internationally with your bike, or even if you’re just somewhere away from home where you wouldn’t normally ride.

It might be that you’re out for a ride and you’ve got a destination in mind (it might even be a one-way ride) but if you’ve got the time, why not find a different way to get there? Keep track of the direction you’re heading lest you end up in completely the wrong place, but take the time to try new routes to help mix things up. You can even do this with your daily ride to work, to make it feel like less of a chore.

And then there’s the more structured exploration option. Tools like Google Maps and Strava’s ‘Routes’ functionality (not to mention a whole host of similar tools) allows you to map and plan a ride in as much detail as you like.

Spend some time creating a route that uses roads you’ve never ridden before and if you want to get a sense of where the best roads and climbs are, use Strava’s ‘Explore’ functionality. With Strava’s ‘Routes’ tool you can upload the finished map file directly to a Garmin cycling computer to give you step-by-step directions while you’re riding.

Sure, a planned route doesn’t give you the same feeling of freedom or spontaneity as a Forest Gump ride, but it still gives you a chance to see roads you mightn’t have yet ridden, all without the hassle of getting lost (although that can be part of the fun too!)

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All of this might sound pretty obvious, and it is. But taking this sort of approach has helped me to stay motivated on the bike and allowed me to find ways of keeping my cycling fresh and interesting. I hope it helps you too.

Thanks for reading!

13 Comments

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  1. Kevin / Mar 26 2014

    “The ride out there was awful — avoid Cooper Street/Somerton Road at all costs, people —…” It is a beautiful area out around Wildwood, though I definitely agree with this advice! But a good route out there is the Galada Tamboore Path (Craigieburn Bypass) to Amaroo Rd, then onto Mt Ridley Rd over the hill (good views over Melbourne, I think it might be the highest point in metropolitan Melbourne hence the estate name of “Highlands”), over Mickleham Rd and right onto Parkland Crescent to Bardwell Drive. I would also advise most cyclists against the section of Craigieburn Rd West between Mickleham Rd and Whites Lane, unless riding it when not much traffic is expected. Do keep riding and writing out there. :)

  2. Dylan / Feb 24 2014

    BTW if you’re ever thinking about an ‘exploratory’ sort of ride like this, it’s worth checking out map.bonzle.com – it’s the only site I know of with reasonably good information about road surfaces. Not always the easiest site to use – the map is a bit slow and clunky to navigate with but worth it if it means finding out your planned route might actually involve 20km of steep gravelly road!

  3. EdJ / Feb 19 2014

    another great article and some interesting stuff in the comments – thanks

    might be stating the obvious but a few years back read the suggestion in a running mag’ to get out of a rut why not try your regular runs the opposite way to the way you normally run them – realised that I was equally fixed in my ways with my riding – just because at some time I’d decided that best way to ride a particular route was say clockwise I’d stick with it – just riding the other way makes the hills a different challenge gives different views and opens your eyes to turnings might have missed coming the other way – I use sports-tracker (just because I always have) and find it useful to take a pic’ of an interesting looking track or road which gets tagged onto the map so helps me remember to look up if will be a useful route on googlemaps when get home

  4. Brent / Feb 15 2014

    I am lucky (smart?) to live in a country town and only 1 minute from practically unused country roads. Getting out in peaceful ride is a great day.

    Don’t forget rail trails – especially the long ones like bright and bairnsdale. Some are possible on road bikes – some you require something a bit sturdier like a cyclocross bike. Not epic daredevil singletrack but its great riding when you know there is no car. Some like the bairnsdale and beechworth sidetracks are surprisingly hilly.
    As a sidenote – at the top of your posts can you sign your name (as you sometimes have guest speakers).

  5. MICHAEL CONDON / Feb 6 2014

    Exploration is a very fun thing to do on a bicycle and for me probably began as a kid on a bmx. I have heaps of hills near home and also quite a few near work so I get the opportunity to get into hills almost immediately. They’re not long hills, many are short but steep and I can just repeat them over and over, which is what I’ve been doing in preparation for Baw Baw this Sunday. Even if you’re doing a commute to work and back you can always turn down a different street or find a new way home that adds extra distance or an extra hill or nicer scenery to mix it up. I’m lucky to live near the Yarra. Having a road bike and a MTB is also handy because with the MTB I have been to so many places a road bike is just not suited too, like many of the single rabbit track style trails that shoot out off the Main Yarra Trail and other creek trails and the like. It’s nice to mix it up. Exploration rides are also good when you just want to go for a cruise, however once I find a nice spot I always seem to go back over and over trying to get a good Strava time. Well, I guess that’s good for my fitness! Happy Trails!

  6. David / Feb 6 2014

    We also have a fair supply of cat 4 and above climbs to do around the traps ;)

    A bike rack on the car is another way to expand ones horizons though I love the VLine suggestion.

    One can even do the exploration thing close to home or work. Try to find the road that you haven’t gone on before – check your strava heat map if in doubt…

  7. Wayne D'Agostini / Feb 5 2014

    Great article Matt. Gellies Rd was used in the end scene in Mad Max, hence the Strava segment title. Must have ridden this fifty times and never knew this until a mate pointed it out this weekend. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2x8RhadlpA

    • Darren / Feb 6 2014

      I knew Mad Max had been filmed in various areas west of Melbourne but didn’t know that it featured a scene that close to home!

    • Matt de Neef / Feb 6 2014

      Woah, awesome!

  8. Gary Miller / Feb 5 2014

    A variation on that theme is what I call get out town and explore. Start from towns like Seymour ( great highlands loop) Castlemaine , good hill country , Warrigal for Baw Baw, Taralgon even Colac. Around the lakes, flat with wind. I use map myride to plan rides 100-140, log them on Strava for future trips. All made possible by fast VLine trains to get you out early and usually a few return options. May sound strange but they take you away from city traffic and provide fresh air, sights, sounds and surprises, it’s a great way to freshen the appetite for the sadle.

  9. Hoang / Feb 5 2014

    Great read, Matt!
    I have been riding more and more and enjoying most parts of it because all the routes I’m doing has been new.
    As an example, on the weekend I had planned to do a longish ride and needed to start locally to save time on time on bike vs time in car. So I used maps.google and Strava Routes to get me from Coburg to Kinglake down to Humevale and return. It was a great ride, but showed me some roads that should be avoided for next time (e.g. Main Rd/Lower Plenty Rd/Upper Heidelberg Rd – it’s the same stretch of road, but very undulating and require riding with motorists)
    For those interested, this is the route on Strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/110559351

    Cheers,
    Hoang.

  10. David Castree / Feb 5 2014

    I rode the same roads on a one way ride to Trentham (via Mt Macedon) on Australia, with the same motivation – to explore. A very pleasurable ride. Love your writing Matt, as a former beach roader New to hills it’s a great inspiration.

  11. Darren / Feb 5 2014

    Great write-up and read Matt.

    I did exactly that the other week, and although Wildwood Road is basically on my back door step and I have ridden it a dozen times or more, I decided to explore the southwest end of Wildwood Road and took in Gellies Road for something different.

    Albeit they are very short climbs of only a couple hundred metres each, the descents from both sides are extremely steep (15-20%) and should be approached with caution, especially since there is a bit of a dog-leg in the bottom of the road which also happens to be a one-vehicle-at-a-time bridge.

    Here is my Strava link of that ride – http://www.strava.com/activities/105963588 and the Gellies Road section starts at the 40km mark into the ride.

    For those that may be interested, the Strava segments are listed as MAD MAX (westbound climb), Emu Creek (just a longer version of the MAD MAX climb) and Jellies Road East (eastbound climb)

    For a more ‘relaxed’ descent and climb, riders could also take in the northwest end of the Wildwood loop on Konagaderra Road out to the Lancefield Road. Refer to the same Strava link above starting at 20.5km into the ride.
    The descents from both sides allow the rider to observe oncoming traffic with ease so they can lay off the brakes and take in a fast paced descent before climbing a leisurely gradient up each side.

    The roads are quiet out that way, even on weekends and the quality of the surface is pretty good considering they are classed as secondary roads.

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