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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
In short: Avoid it.
9. Olinda to Sassafras
Short, non-challenging, too much traffic, bleh.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?