More bikes than cars (a cold ride in the Dandenongs)

Route: Thornbury to Camberwell & Boronia to Thornbury via Emerald and Belgrave
Distance: 105km
Duration: 3 hours 58 minutes

Douggie (l) and Fletch (r) set the tempo on the way toward Emerald.

I miss summer. I miss those warm nights where you don’t need to wear ski gear just to sit on the couch and watch TV. I miss those few precious hours of daylight after work, perfect for a quick ride before heading home. And I miss riding to work without having to don 18 layers of clothing just to prevent frostbite.

So when Sean Sampson of Brisbane2Melbourne fame (and recent team eQuipo tranQuilo recruit) suggested we meet at 8am last Saturday for a few hours in the Dandenongs, I was prepared for a cold one.

I was also prepared to do everything I could to be there as close to 8am as humanly possible, given my embarrasing tardiness the week before. I toyed with the idea of riding out to The Basin (where we were meeting) but when Fletch suggested we catch the train out, I leapt at the opportunity.

I left home a little before 6.30am and battled through the frigid air to get to Camberwell station. I’d had visions the night before of missing the train by mere seconds and I was very keen to avoid such an outcome. In the end I got to the station about 20 minutes early and after waiting in the pre-dawn frost, I boarded the train and joined Fletch for the journey to the foothills of the Dandenongs.

If it was cold in Camberwell then it was positively arctic in Boronia and Fletch and I shivered as we got off the train and made our way to The Basin. It didn’t take us long to warm up, thanks to the short, sharp rise out of Boronia and we got to The Basin right on 8am feeling pretty comfortable.

Fletch getting the job done.

At the shops at the start of the 1 in 20 we met Sean, Douggie and Douggie’s uncle Richard: a five-strong turn-out from Team ET. After a few introductions and some small-talk we mounted up and got stuck into the 1 in 20. I wasn’t planning on having a crack but when Richard took off I felt like I should probably tag along. After a while Fletch and I slipped off the front.

The group was all brought back together by some roadworks a few kilometres in but after that it was back to a reasonably hard effort up the hill. I finished the climb in around 19 minutes 40 seconds, which included nearly a minute at the roadworks. I reckon I could be a chance of breaking by best of 18 minutes 31 if I gave it a red-hot go in the coming weeks.

We regrouped at Sassafras and turned on to the Tourist Road and headed toward Olinda. The plan was to descend The Wall to Monbulk before taking the wonderfully scenic route to Emerald. We did just that, flying down The Wall at speed while still admiring the great views of cloud settling over the valley.

The Emerald-Monbulk Road is a terrific 10km stretch which includes a couple kilometres of descending and a couple of climbing. It’s a road I’ve only ridden once or twice and one that I’m keen to visit again.

At Emerald we stopped at a local bakery for a quick snack before heading off again — none of us were keen to cool down entirely. We hadn’t noticed the temperature too much since The Basin (frozen toes nonwithstanding) but once we stopped moving in Emerald it became clear: it was freaking freezing up in the hills.

Another thing we noticed as we rode from the Basin to Emerald was just how few cars were on the road. There were considerably more cyclists than there were cars, despite the freezing cold and despite the early hour. The 1 in 20 was particularly busy at that time: we must have seen at least 50 cyclist from the time we arrived in The Basin until we reached Sassafras.

Quiet roads = happy riders.

From Emerald we jumped on to the Belgrave-Gembrook Road which was carrying considerably more car traffic that we’d seen so far that day. We all enjoyed the sustained descent through Selby and under the famous Puffing Billy trestle bridge  before climbing toward Belgrave.

As we neared Belgrave, I started to have flashbacks from the carnage the previous weekend in the Dirty Dozen. I couldn’t help but shake my head when we came face-to-face with the hideous first ramp of Terrys Avenue which rises with a disgusting gradient from the main street of Belgrave.

Leaving Terrys Avenue behind we joined Burwood Highway and headed toward Tecoma. I was keen to try my hand at The Serpentine again after taking it pretty easily the week before (to save myself for the final climb of the day: Terrys Avenue). The others were happy (or at least willing) to indulge me and so we took a detour via Sandells Road and climbed The Serpentine (except Sean whose knee was giving him some grief).

It’s a gorgeous bit of road The Serpentine but there are some corners there that are just stupidly steep. The second left-hander is particularly silly and it must get close to 20% for a couple of metres there. But at only 700m in length, it’s the sort of climb you can go pretty hard on, safe in the knowledge that you won’t be hurting for long.

I did just that, giving it an absolute max effort. I managed 7th place on the Strava segment, placing me ahead of Ned Powell who’d been so dominant at the Dirty Dozen the previous weekend. Sure, Ned might have had 30 other riders to find his way around and the ground might have been soggy for him but hey, I’ll take a place higher than Ned any way I can!

Sean (front) and Richard lead us toward Belgrave.

After descending The Serpentine and heading back out to Burwood Highway we started making our way back toward The Basin. The group split up at Boronia junction with Douggie and Richard heading back to The Basin where they’d parked and Sean, Fletch and I heading back toward the city. The three of us took Dorset Road to Mountain Highway and followed that until it joined with Burwood Highway. Sean left Fletch and I at the intersection of Burwood Highway and Blackburn Road to head back to Mount Waverley.

Here’s a bit of free advice for those of you thinking of riding along Burwood Highway toward the city. The road surface is alright until about Middleborough Road at which point it becomes quite rough. There aren’t any potholes or cracks as such, but there seemed to be raised sections running right across the road, perpendicular to the curb, which made for a less-than-smooth ride.

I left Fletch at Camberwell Road and made the slow grind through Camberwell and Kew before riding past Yarra Boulevard and off toward home.

I’m not a huge fan of early mornings but there really is something to be said for getting up early and going for a ride. Sure, it might be a struggle when that alarm goes off at 5.30am but when you get home around lunchtime and you’ve already got 100km+ under your belt it’s a double win: you feel like you’ve done something constructive with the day plus you’ve still got the afternoon to play with.

Douggie reaches the top of The Serpentine as Richard takes a breather.

Thanks to the eQuipo tranQuilo lads for a great ride and thanks in particular to Sean for organising the ride. It was great to check out some new roads and to get in the first century I’ve managed in quite a while. I’m keen to get out and do some more longer rides in the coming weeks.

If you haven’t already, come and say ‘hi’ on Facebook and/or Twitter, feel free to leave a comment below and if you like, you can follow me on Strava.

Until next time, stay safe (and warm!) on the roads.

5 Replies to “More bikes than cars (a cold ride in the Dandenongs)”

    1. As long as you’re prepared for minus conditions at the summit.

      Maybe you’re better off turning around at Cement Creek (do two laps if you want to or doing the Reefton Spur.

      Otherwise Matt’s ride above is great, and you can extend it by going to Gembrook, riding Gembrook-Launching Place road to Launching Place and on to Healsville for a well deserved coffee or lunch.

      Then take the ‘easy’ way home via Yarra Glen and Skyline road, or the hard way by riding to Kinglake via Tolangi.

      You’ll still get 2000+m of climbing and no black ice or hyperthermia.

      1. For some stupid reason I have made it my annual duty to ride up to the summit of Donna when it’s been snowing. I’m really hoping there is snow up there or I’ll have to do it again in a months time.

        Did it last year and was pretty cold coming down but not too bad, will be better prepared this time round.

        1. There was no snow up on Donna last week – but that may have changed in the past few days.

          Speaking of snow covered hills, does everying just give up any thought of riding up Baw Baw after it’s been snowing? I’m looking at the weather and it’s going to be lovely up there on Monday. Am I stupid? Is it just too dangerous?

      2. Hello! Just looking at your route suggestion – front skyline road what route would you suggest? I would be heading back to Ferntree Gully. I am new to road cycling and finding it hard to work out routes as can’t fond any sort of list of safe roads and roads to avoid. Would appreciate any thoughts. Thanks 🙂

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