Route: Thornbury to Kinglake return, via Flat Rock Rd
Duration: 4 hours 4 minutes
If you do most of your riding on Beach Road, Yarra Boulevard and in the Dandenongs, you’re missing out on some of the best roads Melbourne has to offer. Beyond the north-eastern suburbs, out toward Kinglake, there are a bunch of gorgeous roads that make virtually car-free climbs in the Dandenongs seem like crowded city streets.
On Saturday and Sunday I headed out on two long rides into Melbourne’s northeast. These rides were totally different in many ways but they shared one thing in common: some terrific, quiet back-roads.
On Saturday morning I met Brendan in Thornbury and together we headed out along Plenty Road toward Kinglake. Brendan’s request earlier in the week had been a simple one: he wanted a ride roughly 120km long which included the main Kinglake climb. I figured we’d head to Kinglake first and from there, head up to Arthurs Creek and back to Melbourne via Mernda and Plenty Road. That plan didn’t eventuate, but what we ended up with was equally as fun.
The suburbs of Greensborough, Diamond Creek and Hurstbridge all passed by as we chatted, and the Kinglake climb got ever closer. My plan was to take things pretty easy for most of the day — I had another 100km+ ride to go on the next day and it was a ride I’d need to save some energy for. While I managed to take it easy for virtually all of the ride, the chance of setting a new PB on the Kinglake climb proved too enticing.
I took off hard at the bottom of the climb, trying to find a rhythm as early as I could. A few weeks earlier I’d written about wanting to set a PB of sub-21 minutes up there (my previous best was 21 minutes 41 seconds). I knew it wasn’t going to happen on Saturday but I was keen to see how far off I was.
A few kilometres into the climb I was already deep inside the pain cave, my head down, fighting into a slight headwind. Everything was hurting and I found myself wondering why I was even pushing so hard. Was it really worth it? So what if I got a PB? Was it worth the 21 minutes of pain?
But I kept going, comforting myself with the knowledge that getting to the top, and stopping riding, would be a tremendous relief and a terrific feeling. I was able to hold my speed above 20km/h for the first 5km or so, reminding myself that things would be harder for the rest of the climb. Sure enough, after about 4.8km the road ramped up and my speed dropped — but the pain didn’t get any worse. I told myself things would get easier once I got through the brief steeper section.
They weren’t. Sure, the road flattened off slightly, but I just ended up pushing harder, giving it an absolute max effort as I lunged for the line. I’d completed the climb in 21 minutes 26 seconds — a PB by 15 seconds. Or so I thought.
Turns out the 21 minute 41 second PB that I’d got a few months back was on a Strava segment slightly longer than the one I was measuring on Saturday. The 21 minute 26 second effort was for a segment I’d done four seconds quicker than that during my previous best. No PB for me.
Brendan and I regrouped at the top and went to a local cafe for a bite to eat. As I went to grab out a couple of business cards to hand out to a pair of cyclists in the cafe (‘It’s a free site for cyclists; check it out; tell your friends’), I realised one of them was Charlie Pickering — stand-up comedian, co-host of Network Ten’s The Project and strong cyclist in his own right.
I gave a card to his mate Brad and when Charlie came back to the table I heard him say ‘that could be really useful’ while looking at the business card. At least that’s what it sounded like. I could have been imagining it in my state of post-climb delirium. Anyway, here’s hoping Charlie and Brad check out the site (hi if you’re reading this!) and tell their friends.
Brendan and I descended Kinglake in the cold and started making our way back toward Hurstbridge. Brendan suggested that, rather than heading through Arthurs Creek and having to head down the boring and sometimes-dangerous Plenty Road, we should go via Eltham and Mt. Pleasant Road.
I agreed, but we had to get their first. I suggested checking out Flat Rock Road, a terrific 3km stretch that links Hurstbridge and Kangaroo Ground and includes a couple of nasty pinches. Despite riding a 39×25 (a discovery he made a week earlier, having thought he had a 39×28) Brendan was keen and we headed in that direction. If you haven’t checked out Flat Rock Road yet, you should. It’s a challenging little stretch, but it carries very little traffic, it’s a nice way of cutting back toward the city from Kinglake, and the climbs are very rewarding.
At Kangaroo Ground it was time for another decision: we could either head through to Research, take a left and then head down Mt. Pleasant Road, or we could take the harder option of going via Warrandyte and the two nasty climbs on Warrandyte-Research Road. To Brendan’s credit, he was happy to do the latter, and we set off in that direction.
Warrandyte-Research Road’s another stretch that’s well worth checking out. Again, it’s tough, but there are some wicked descents to enjoy and besides, the climbing is great fun. The only downside is that it carries quite a bit of traffic.
On Mt. Pleasant Road — another amazing road — we climbed and descended toward Eltham, enjoying the lack of traffic again. Such joys would be short-lived however, and from Eltham back to Thornbury it was back to sharing the road with cars. Plenty of cars.
On Rosanna Road one particularly aggressive driver felt the need to abuse us for some unknown reason while we were waiting behind him at the traffic lights. I say ‘aggressive’ based on the body language he exhibited when he turned around to look at us through the rear windscreen. We couldn’t actually hear what he was yelling about (he had his windows closed), but it was clear his vitriol was directed at us.
I got home feeling more fatigued than I’d hoped, probably due to the effort on the Kinglake climb. I would certainly pay for my efforts the following morning.
Route: Thornbury to Strathewen and Kinglake, via Warrandyte
Duration: 5 hours 30 minutes
The plan was to meet Dougie, Fletch, the Donvale Demon and Evan (from Hells 500) at Warrandyte at 8am. Given I’m trying to ride 10,000km for the year (223km/week) it made sense to ride out there and clock up some extra kays.
The Demon was doing a similar thing and so at 6.45am we met up and headed out there. I was keen to save as much energy as I could before getting to Warrandyte and so on the many rollers we came across, it was the Demon that invariably pulled ahead and reached the top first. At the time I chalked this up to my efforts to conserve energy, but as the day wore on, it became clear that the Demon has become even more worthy of his nickname than he already is. Impressive.
We got to Warrandyte with plenty of time to spare and tucked into a pastry or two as we waited for the others. After a bit of a faffing about from all concerned, we mounted up and got stuck into the rolling climb to Kangaroo Ground. It was good riding in a group again and with the pace at a reasonable ~20km/h I started to think my efforts from the day before weren’t going to be an issue.
At Kangaroo Ground we headed toward Wattle Glen along a wonderful 4km-long stretch of road that undulates beautifully and allows you to maintain a fairly high speed. Things were starting to heat up in the group and my legs were starting to feel it every time the pace increased. At Wattle Glen we took a right and headed toward Hurstbridge.
At Hurstbridge we took a left and headed toward Nutfield and Arthurs Creek. Dougie, Brendan and I had ridden in the opposite direction a few months earlier and I was keen to check out the road from south to north. I was certainly impressed and judging by the comments from the rest of the guys, so were they.
Through Nutfield and Arthurs Creek and up toward Strathewen the roads twist and turn their way through farmland and native bush. We saw almost no cars as we headed north but we certainly saw plenty of cyclists. In fact, I’ve never seen so many cyclists out that way before. Not just groups of two or three, but big groups — maybe 20 or 30 at a time — would roll past us in the opposite direction, plenty of ‘G’day!’s being exchanged as we passed.
Riding those quiet backroads was the clear highlight of the day for me. We were able to spread out across the road, enjoy the scenery, enjoy each other’s company, and really relish riding in a beautiful part of the world.
We reached Strathewen and just before turning around to head back, Evan said ‘I wonder what’s up there?’. A steep-looking road disappeared into distance and it didn’t take long for us to decide to check it out. It probably only extended 500m, but it must have been above 10% for a fair chunk of that distance. Evan flew ahead, demonstrating his superior climbing skills, and not for the last time that day.
We regrouped at the top before heading back to Strathewen and through to Cottles Bridge. Just like the road through Nutfield, the Cottles Bridge road is nice and quiet with some great undulations and a reasonably challenging (but short) climb toward the end. I highly recommend it.
Back on the main road it was time to head for Kinglake. I suggested we ride single file, given how many cars use the Hurstbridge-Kinglake road, which lead to a bit of a paceline forming. Sure, we weren’t flogging it but with tired legs I was doing a fair bit of work just to hang on to the back. At the short, sharp rise before the main Kinglake climb I decided I’d have a bit of a dip. My effort lasted until the halfway point where I had to get out of the saddle and grind the rest of the way to the top.
Well before we reached the start of the Kinglake climb I’d decided I would just take it nice and easy. Evan and the Demon rode off into the distance, the former showing flashes of the ability that netted him a sub-17 minute 1 in 20 time the day before, the latter showing he’s now a force to be reckoned with on the climbs. Gone are the days when the Demon would get dropped at the start of the climb and we wouldn’t see him again until we reached the top.
Throughout the climb I rode with a combination of Fletch and Dougie, sometimes both. It was nice to be able to sit up and chat while enjoying the climb — a far cry from the experience I’d had the day before.
At the top we all smashed down some food and drink before heading down the hill. When we all regrouped at the base it was game on with the pace being driven by Fletch and Dougie. Again I was battling hard to stay connected with the bunch and it was almost a relief when we started climbing the first rise of Flat Rock Road.
The feeling of relief didn’t last long and before I knew it, I was out the back, climbing on my own, my legs devoid of any power. I’d catch up to Dougie a bit further up the road but Fletch, Evan and the Demon were long gone … and so was my energy.
I limped my way back through to Kangaroo Ground at which point the pace was on again. The other four powered their way down to Warrandyte and while I was able to stay in contention for a few minutes I decided I’d save my energy — I still had another hilly 23km to go once we got to Warrandyte and I was fading fast.
At Warrandyte the Demon and I said farewell to Fletch, Dougie and Evan and it was left to the two of us to find our way back toward the city. The Demon was good enough to sit at the front and drag me along but to my surprise (and relief) I managed to find some strength soon after. I managed to get over each of the climbs far easier than I’d expected and before I knew it we were back in Thornbury.
It was a tough day in the saddle, that’s for sure, and I slept well on Sunday night. But they say the best training is done on fatigued legs. If that’s true, the weekend was a roaring success.
It was great to get out for a ride with a few of the guys again, and with Brendan on Saturday, and to spend some time on the many great roads northeast of Melbourne. I’d really like to spend a day out there soon without a concrete plan; just riding around, trying out new roads, seeing where they lead.
All in all I managed 261km for the weekend with roughly 4,000m of climbing. My weekly goal is 223km with 2,500m so when you add my commutes and another ride on Friday, it’s been a pretty big week. I’m hoping to put together another couple big weeks in the coming months just to build a bit of a buffer for myself.
Thanks very much for taking the time to read this post — I hope you enjoyed it. In case you missed it, I published a piece last week about my six-week Pilates course and the effect it had on my cycling. Take a read and let me know what you reckon.
Until next time, stay safe on the roads.