PBs, the 1 in 20 and the joy of progress

I distinctly remember my first time climbing The 1 in 20. It was a cold and wet winter’s day sometime in 2007 and I had ridden out to the Dandenong Ranges on my dad’s 15-year-old mountain bike. I’d read a few things online about this popular 6.8km climb that local cyclists had long used as a benchmark and I was keen to check it out for myself.

One site I read suggested a time of less than 20 minutes was respectable. “That’s doable,” I thought to myself. “I’m a pretty fit kinda guy.” Dressed in bike shorts, a Bike Camp T-shirt from a high school and a long rain jacket, I must have been a peculiar site as I set off from The Basin.

I had to stop at least once on the way up but for some reason I still figured I was on track to finish in less than 20 minutes. I remember the feeling of abject horror when I reached the top of the climb, panting, and stopped my stopwatch only to see a time on the wrong side of half an hour. It was a real wake-up call.

It was also the start of an on-again-off-again relationship with this famous stretch of bitumen in the Dandenong Ranges.

1in20 - Copy

In the years before Strava, Cycle2max was the go-to site for riders in Melbourne who loved riding uphill. It was a place where you could go to log your best times on a range of climbs and see how you stacked up against fellow riders. My old Cycle2max page tells the story of several visits to the 1 in 20 in the years following that demoralising initial attempt.

In June 2008, shortly after buying my first road bike, I headed out to face the 1 in 20 for a second time. I slashed eight minutes off my best that day, completing the climb in 22:30. Two months later I went two minutes faster again with a 20:24. My initial plan of a sub-20 minute time actually seemed within reach.

It took me nearly a year to get there though, finally clocking a 19:30 in June 2009. And then my progress stalled — it would be another two and a half years before I’d manage to set a new PB.

By December 2011 I’d started using Strava and it was at that point I managed to break 19 minutes for the first time with an 18:37. Getting under 18 minutes would take another two years — I did a 17:40 in May 2013 — and then I’d have to wait nearly three more years for my next milestone.

A couple Sundays ago I was due at a family brunch out the back of the Dandenongs and decided I’d go via the hills and more specifically the 1 in 20. I’d been feeling strong in the lead-up and wanted to see whether that feeling would translate to a better time on the benchmark climb.

Another rider started the climb at the exact moment I did, quickly passing me and sitting maybe 5-10 metres ahead of me. My instinct was to ride up to his wheel and sit in, but I wanted it to be a solo effort. I stayed back when I could and moved further out into the lane when I ultimately caught him.

I’d pass him, he’d pass me, and then I’d pass him again. It was great motivation to keep pushing, all while ensuring I never rode in his slipstream.

The last time I’d set a 1 in 20 PB I’d written notes and checkpoint times on my toptube so I knew where I was at. This time I just rode the thing, judging my pacing by feel and seeing how I went. I didn’t look at the lap timer on my Garmin until the very top, something I’m now very glad about. When I crossed that line and hit the lap button I had the exact opposite reaction to the one I’d had on that first ascent all those years ago.

16:45. I’d been feeling good and covering ground well, but I didn’t think I’d be able to take 55 seconds off my PB. While gasping for air at the top I yelled out something I’d hoped would be “Yeah!” but ended up sounding far less comprehensible. The bloke I’d been riding up with looked around to see what was wrong with me.


A 55-second PB on the 1 in 20 today gives me exactly the same time as my great mate Andy of @hells500. Well chuffed with that!

A photo posted by theclimbingcyclist (@theclimbingcyclist) on

My new PB had come as something of a surprise but it made some sort of sense. Just a couple months earlier I’d finally started feeling good on the bike again.

While training for the Melbourne Marathon in 2015 I didn’t do much riding and the riding I did do felt very hard. In the months that followed I started riding a little more and finally, in late February or early March, things started to click.

I felt like I could rider harder and faster than I ever had before. I felt like I was recovering well from efforts during my rides and that I was recovering well from my rides generally. In the space of a week or two I felt as if I’d gone from “meh” to a whole new level.

And it wasn’t like I was doing big k’s in training — Strava tells me I’ve only managed 100 to 150km per week this year, and about half of that is commuting. It’s certainly less than I was doing a a few years ago. And yet somehow I’ve found myself feeling stronger on the bike than ever before.

I put that improvement down to a few things: doing the occasional hard Friday lunch ride with the CyclingTips crew (great for developing one’s top end) and the fact I’ve lost a few kilograms.

In August 2014 I wrote a piece here detailing my experience of trying to lose weight over the course of a month. It was a challenging process, counting calories and logging every bit of exercise I did, but at the end of it I had shed 3kg, taking me down to 78.4kg.

In the course of training for the marathon last year I lost another kilo or so and then, towards the end of last year, I weighed myself and discovered I was down to 75kg. Somehow.

It was strange to lose weight without trying, given how hard it had been when I was trying. But once I lost the weight, I found it easy enough to keep it off.

And as I’ve written before, if you want to go faster uphill, losing weight is a pretty good way to start.

If you’re thinking it’s a little self-indulgent to write such a lengthy post about a personal-best time on a popular climb, you’re right. But I’d also argue there’s a message in here for everyone.

Whether we realise it or not, all of us cyclists are on a journey of some kind. From the moment we first jumped on a bike we’ve been learning about what it means to be a cyclist and what we can get out of this great sport.

Since you started road cycling you’ve probably changed what you wear on the bike, the bike itself and I’m willing to bet you’ve also become more competent and confident as a rider. You’ve almost certainly become a stronger rider in the process as well.

Weโ€™re all on our own journey through the sport. Some might be climbing a mountain for the first time, others might be trying to set a PB.
Weโ€™re all on our own journey through the sport. Some might be climbing a mountain for the first time, others might be trying to set a PB.

Your relationship with cycling might have changed along the way. What started as a commute to work might have evolved into commuting plus racing on the weekends. Or maybe you used to race competitively and now you ride simply for the joy of exploring new roads with your mates.

For me, it started with the challenge of climbing mountains. Since then I’ve also been motivated by different things at different times: the desire to explore, the desire to challenge myself against others, the desire to meet other like-minded folks, and the desire to bring the cycling community together in fun and interesting ways.

But throughout it all there’s been one motivating factor that’s stayed constant: the desire to get fitter and stronger. That is, the desire to improve. Last Sunday, on the 1 in 20, I took a huge step forward in that goal.

Sure, it’s not like my time on the 1 in 20 is all that impressive in the grand scheme of things (although my 2007 self would certainly be very impressed). But it’s a big step forward and for me, that’s one of the most satisfying things about cycling — a sense of progress.

But that’s just me. As I said, we’re all on our own journey through the sport and all motivated by different things. I hope you continue to get as much out of riding your bike as I do.

Speaking of which, I really need to head out to the hills to try and set some more PBs before this form wears off!

If you’re a Melbourne-based cyclist, what’s your relationship with the 1 in 20 been like? For those of you outside Melbourne, do you have a similar climb you revisit regularly?

37 Replies to “PBs, the 1 in 20 and the joy of progress”

  1. Hi Matt,

    Great blog on your 1/20 progression. Enjoyed reading.

    I started riding early 2015 and within a few months had posted a 20:50 for the 1/20. My goal naturally fixated on a sub 20min but for the remainder of 2015. I got that down to 20:17 by end of August but was a little disappointed given the training I had done. I didn’t give the climb a real crack again but posted a 20:20 on xmas day morning by just riding hard in the middle of a long ride.

    Two weeks later in Jan 2016 I broke my neck in a cycling accident and spent 7 weeks in hospital.

    The next time I rode the climb would be Aug 2017. My first time back on a road bike with a new and shiny toy. I had to stop 4km in as I didn’t have the fitness to climb the whole way. I was devastated and angry that my accident had robbed me of so much fitness. The next 3 months on the bike were the hardest mentally and physically. Constantly comparing myself to the fitness I had pre-accident a lot of my rides made me feel dejected, overweight and unfit.

    In Feb 2018 I posted a surprising 22:15 and then 6 weeks later a 20:29 which I was over the moon with. I was in reach of a pb (20:17) and could taste a sub 20 min.

    Another 6 weeks later I gave it another crack and bearing a disaster I knew at least a pb was in order. Looking at my watch following the climb I was elated. 19:46.

    To have something taken away from you not knowing if you will be able to experience it again, and then, nailing a goal which took over 2 years longer than planned due to a hiccup, was very satisfying.

    I am now more motivated than ever and training more than I ever have.

    Being able to ride feels like a gift and a second chance.

    Thank you Climbing Cyclist web site which I find extremely informative and motivating.


  2. Hi Matt, my very close cycling friend, known as The Persuader, has painted the kilometre markings on the 1 in 20 for many years now. His spelling wasn’t his greatest asset and when he spelt the finish line as FINNISH many years ago, his Cycling Sledge mates gave him plenty of stick. Unfortunately, The Persuader had a fall from his bike in Taylor’s Lane Rowville in October 2016 and never regained consciousness. He ultimately passed away on the 18th October. As a tribute to him, the Cycling Sledgers have taken up where he left off and we are now maintaining the km markings. We have renamed the finish as FINNISH in his honour. We have also marked a corner on the false flat as “Lou’s Cnr RIP” as some time in the future, his ashes will be scattered in the nearby bush land at this corner. A truly great man who loved cycling and loved the 1 in 20.

    1. Thanks for the post about Lou.. I am an oldie that regularly grinds up the beautiful road to Sassafras and always appreciate those km marks. Will have special thoughts for your friend Lou.

  3. Hi Matt. I tried this climb 2 weeks before the Lake Mountain event to give me an idea on what it is like to climb since most my rides have been fairly flat though long distances. I was confident that I would come close to 20mins but alas on my first attempt it took me 30mins and I was smashed. Looking forward to doing it again soon and now knowing what to expect, hoping to do a better time but my new goal inspired by your website is to do more climbs in my cycling

  4. Matt, Great article.

    I started riding in 2013 at the age of 30 and am just about to clock up my 100th trip up the 1in20 as i live locally. I have plenty of mates to compete against and currently my PB is only 18:01. I average this year only 85kms a week but feel i am close to a PB also…..maybe my 100th ride up ?

  5. Hey Matt, thanks for still posting here. I know you must be busy with your day job but it’s nice to read about real life cycling in what is pretty much my backyard. Actually I think this sort of local colour should have a bigger audience than endless BS about electric motors and disc brakes.

  6. Great article, Matt.
    I have a bitter/sweet relationship with the 1:20. I love the scenery every.single.time, I love the eery feeling I get riding it solo at night, when no cars pass either way, and I think “i’ve got this road all to myself”
    I am bitter about it though. I’m 74kg, carry a reasonable amount of fitness year round, but can never seem to acheive consistency with the the 1:20. I can get up Baw Baw in 40-odd mins, but always struggle and suffer to crack 19 min on the 1:20. But, it’s such an alluring climb, that I still have a sub 18 goal. One day perhaps, with a roaring tail wind!
    I find it a very unique climb because all different shapes and sizes can ride up it in a very similar time. Also, probably the most social road around Melbourne.

  7. Great read Matt.

    I’ve tried the 1:20 every which way. Big dog and grind to the top, small and spin, in the seat, jump up for 60 beats every 250m. Nothing seems to work. I wish I could make the improvements like you have.

    But that isn’t really what I wanted to say. The fact that I am climbing hills (and loving the challenge of trying to do it faster) is due to you guys and the support you gave me getting up the 7 peaks a few years ago. I would never have been able to do it without you.

    And I got a sub 13 at 3peaks Falls Creek this year. At the end I said never again but l am already registered for 2017. I think sub 12 is doable ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I’ve ridden it a few times:) on some outstanding more than a few. After 36 laps of the sucku it’s still fun.

  9. Great write up as usual Matt. I’ve only ridden the 1 in 20 a handful of times – I just find riding in the Dandies really busy with the traffic there – plus I’m still not sure of the best route to and from the CBD – any suggestions?

    Having said all that, my favorite climbs are closer to home in the Bass Hills. Come for a visit some time and we’ll ride the Gorge, Trew rd, Mill rd, even Mt Misery!

    1. Sounds great Owen! You’ve got some awesome riding down that way.

      In terms of best way to the Dandies from the Melbourne CBD, Canterbury Rd isn’t a terrible option.

      1. You can take the Eastern freeway path all the way(almost). Cross diagonally across Eastlink at Canterbury road, continue and cross ther creek for the dadenong creek trail but turn left over the bridge not right.

    2. I take the bike trail along the eastern freeway and then jump on the mountain highway at bayswater near the football oval.

      No cars for the majority, no stress and a decent surface

  10. I just started riding a couple of months ago with a general plan to train for 3 peaks. I did Fitzroy to Humevale for 100km at the weekend and plan to tick of the 1 in 20 in the next week. Baby steps on the climbing ladder!

    What’s you think is the best route out to the 1 in 20 from the north city?

    1. I’m quite a fan of Bell St > Manningham Rd > Doncaster Rd > Mitcham Rd > Boronia Rd > Forest Rd > The Basin. Bell St in particular can get very busy during the week, but it’s not bad at all early on the weekend.

  11. rode up this only a few months ago- Im from nsw , lights went dark as I approached so i did the first Km by street light then my eyes adjusted and I had a magical dark ride up through the trees. Was so nice, I immediately went down and rode it again. Its a perfect hill for single speed, though you do spin out a bit on the descent.

  12. Nice self indulgent story Matt. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Here’s my equally self indulgent comment…

    Your story certainly struck a chord with me. One of my earliest cycling memories is as a 13 year old and I decided to “ride up One Tree Hill” just to see if I could. I was staying with family friends in Ferntree Gully so not far but still, the Tourist Rd and then Chuchill was a big challenge. But I did it. Most of early cycling revolved around conquering a hill or a certain distance but then I discovered racing at age 16 and every ride was “training” and it did take some of the fun out of it. I don’t race any more but still driven by the desire to improve/succeed, tackle new challenges etc. My 1 in 20 PB was approx 15:50 set at one of the Blackburn CC organised TT’s about ten years ago! I have fond memories of riding up it in the big ring seated with some mates back when were were fit and racing. It’s surprisingly doable – a solid SE effort! For me though, it’s always been Donna. I first climbed Donna back in 1989 with some club mates as a Good Friday ritual. I’ve been back nearly every year since.

    1. Nice one Dave! Yep, I think I need to head back to Donna and see if I can go under 1 hour 5 minutes. Tis a great climb!

      And climbing the 1 in 20 in the big ring certainly sounds possible, if a little grindy!

      1. And then sub 1 hour? I’ve found what works well, especially with a mixed crew (abilities) is to ride as a handicap. You seed yourselves based on your PB or goal time or recent time. Slowest heads off first and fastest last. Gives all bar the first rider a nice carrot to chase. I’ve found it tends to bring out a better time/more focus and the bonus is you’re all at the top together (give or take 5mins depending on how well you seed). Not sure if you’ve done that before? As a solo effort it’s really hard to maintain the mental focus for the whole hour I think.

  13. Great story. I find that the same climbs never get boring, because no matter how fit you get, there’s always the never-ending challenge of going just a little bit faster than last time.

  14. that’s a remarkably quick time for someone only doing 150km a week! well done. certainly quicker than me and I’m racking up a fair few more km than that. #fatty

  15. Nice article Matt, my riding story began with short commutes to work that over time grew to long all day rides in the Yarra Valley and a couple of stabs at Peaks Challenge Falls Creek.

    My first it out at the 1 in 20 was a cold wet Melbourne Cup day, not even close to 20 minutes, but since then it’s been a good indicator of form for me. I’ve since broken 20 minutes but both times it’s when I went on to ride the Crucifix, I guess when you’re are feeling good, you can ride all day.

  16. Which segment are you looking at – I see one at 16:41 – another 4 seconds (for you !)

    I had a PR in January – down to 20:47 – nearly 40 seconds off – and yes, I was pleased.
    A sub-20 is still a goal – I’m amazed at you guys who do FOUR mins faster…!

    1. Sadly my powermeter wasn’t working on the day! But I would imagine so, yes. I can see on Strava that when I did a 17:53 my average power was 330W. So I’d guess somewhere in the vicinity of 340-350w?

      A quick estimate with the Bike Calculator app gives me 348W.

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