The Dandenongs/Double-Donna double-header

Route: Thornbury to Sky High, return
Distance: 121.5km
Duration: 4 hours 51 minutes

There wasn't much snow atop Mt. Donna Buang, but it was still awesome.
There wasn’t much snow atop Mt. Donna Buang, but it was still awesome.

I wasn’t planning on having a big weekend with lots of climbing, but in the end, that’s exactly what happened.

On Saturday morning I met the Donvale Demon in Kew and we headed out to the Dandenongs via the Eastlink Trail. We didn’t have a concrete plan — we’d just find our way out to the hills, start climbing, and stop when we got tired/bored/soaked or ran out of time.

We left the freeway trail at Springvale Road, joined up with Mitcham Road and followed that all the way to The Basin. After a short break we set off up the 1 in 20 and found a nice steady rhythm. I wasn’t particularly worried about trying for a PB up the climb and the Demon didn’t seem to be either so for the first few kilometres we took it easy, chatting and soaking up the atmosphere. It had been a while since my last ride in the Dandenongs and it was just nice to be out there again.

The Demon started to lift the pace as we hit the false-flat and when the road started climbing again, he didn’t really let up. For the remaining 2.5km to the top we pushed reasonably hard and as we approached the very top the Demon cranked up the pace once more. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to outsprint me for the win or if he was just trying to finish strongly. Either way, pride got the better of me and I pulled ahead to cross the finish slightly ahead.

The Demon climbing the 1 in 20.
The Donvale Demon climbing the 1 in 20.

From Sassafras it was on to the Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road and up toward Olinda. While it wasn’t really raining, the road was definitely wet and the intermittent showers meant we were never really dry throughout the day.

We rode through Olinda and then took a left turn up toward Sky High. The three-or-so kilometres from the turn-off to the summit are quite steep in parts and the last pinch, once you’ve turned left off Ridge Road on to Observatory Road, is no exception. In fact, that last little climb has been a bit of a nemesis of mine — every time I ride it I’m keen to hit it really hard but every time I get halfway up and have to slow right down as a result of going out too hard.

On Saturday I found a good tempo and managed to hold on until I was well inside the gate. Importantly, I’d set a PB on Strava and one that put me in 16th place out of 791 riders to have gone up there. I’ll take it. Interestingly, the KOM on that particular climb? None other than Mr Andy van Bergen. How he managed to average 32km/h up there I’m not quite sure. *coughfreakcough*

A surprisingly good view from Sky High given the miserable weather.
A surprisingly good view from Sky High given the miserable weather.

After a bite to eat at Sky High we headed back down to Olinda and then through Sassafras toward The Crescent. There are couple of climbs that connect with the Tourist Road that I’ve been keen to try for a while but just haven’t. The Crescent is one of them, Sherbrooke Road is another and so is Perrins Creek Road.

We descended The Crescent, making a note to come back out at some point to climb it. Once at the bottom we turned around and went up Perrins Creek Road. I’ll do a proper write-up of the climb at some point, but my first impression is that it’s a beauty. It’s nice and short at 2.5km, it’s reasonably steep at 7.3% and, perhaps most importantly, it’s wonderfully scenic and quiet.

Back at the Tourist Road we headed back to Sassafras, descended the 1 in 20 and started making our way back toward town. We stopped in to Croydon Cycleworks briefly at which point the Demon noticed he had a puncture in both tyres. Unlucky, but I guess there are worse places than a bike shop to discover you’ve got a double puncture.

The Demon descends the 1 in 20.
The Demon descends the 1 in 20.

While we were waiting for new tyres to be fitted I got a message from David Blom, the masochistic mastermind behind the Dirty Dozen. David met up with us just as we were leaving the bike shop and together the three of us made our way back to the Eastlink trail (at Ringwood) and followed that toward the city. David left us at Nunawading and the Demon and I continued on, clocking up another century in the process.

I got home feeling comfortable and like I could have continued on for much longer, which is good because I’ll be doing the 210km version of Around the Bay in a Day in a couple months time. While the distance won’t be a huge problem, it’s reassuring to feel comfortable riding well in excess of 100km so far in advance.

Route: Mt. Donna Buang (x2) from Launching Place + Martyr Road
Distance: 101.9km
Duration: 4 hours 58 minutes

Not far to go now ...
Not far to go now …

On Sunday morning Brendan made his way to my place in Thornbury and together we drove out east. We were headed for Mt. Donna Buang in search of some snow, after last week’s Donna Done Dirty  yielded plenty of adventure and fun, but almost zero white powdery stuff.

We parked at Launching Place and warmed up on the 12km to Warburton before getting stuck right into the climb. The tentative plan was to climb Donna Buang twice (a ‘Double-Donna’) so we started out at a comfortable pace, speculating about whether we’d see any snow toward the top.

As always, the final few kilometres before Cement Creek were the most challenging of the climb and the last kilometre or two to the summit was also tough. But we both got through the climb in great shape and enjoyed a light dusting of snow beside the road in the final 7-8km to the summit. To our great disappointment, the summit was bathed in bright sunlight so any remaining snow at the top was more or less gone.

After rugging up against the cold (it was about 5° at the top) we bombed down the mountain and headed for the Warburton Bakery. A quick snack and drink later and we were back on the mountain, climbing toward the summit for the second time that day.

Views from the Mt. Donna Buang climb.
Views from the Mt. Donna Buang climb.

I don’t know if it was the 120km the day before or the fact we’d already climbed it once, but a few kilometres in my enthusiasm started to wane. It wasn’t that it was too hard or that I was too tired (although the fatigue was certainly building) I just wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort. ‘I’ve already done a bunch of climbing this weekend, why don’t we just go home?’, I thought to myself.

But we got through to Cement Creek and from there it was a case of ‘well, we’re halfway there — we might as well continue.’ Those final few kilometres to the summit were certainly a challenge and it was a great feeling to reach the summit for the second time.

Special credit should go to Brendan who, it turns out, has been unknowingly riding with a 39 x 25 setup for the past few years. He was convinced he had a 28-tooth gear on the back but while cleaning his bike after Donna Done Dirty, he discovered that he was three teeth short. This is even more remarkable when you consider that he got through 3 Peaks last year on that gearing.

In a strange coincidence, I also discovered this weekend that the gearing I thought I had was not the gearing I actually have. Ever since I got the bike I was convinced I had a 34 x 28 setup, and indeed in many previous blog posts I mentioned how I was grateful for the 28. But when I was cleaning my bike after Saturday’s ride, I did a quick count and discovered that I too have been riding a 25 all this time. Sure, I’ve got a compact crankset but to find that I was riding a harder gear than I thought was pretty cool.

Brendan climbs off into the distance.
Brendan climbs off into the distance.

After descending Donna Buang for the second  time that day, we grabbed another snack in Warburton before heading for Martyr Road. I was a little apprehensive of the climb (300m with a lot of it above 20%) particularly after two big days in a row, but I needn’t have worried. I managed to get up the climb in one go — a first for me — and got back down without incident (riding down Martyr Road is a challenge in itself).

And here’s something interesting. My maximum heart rate is about 196BPM and I only see that when I’m climbing on the steepest climbs and going full-bore (a maximum effort, if you will). But on Sunday, when I was climbing Martyr Road, I was at my absolute limit and yet my heart rate never got higher than 178BPM.

I know your heart rate doesn’t go as high when you’re fatigued — as this example shows — but what would have happened if I’d hit Martyr Road fresh? Would I have gone the same speed but just with a higher heart rate? Or would a higher heart rate have meant I’d have been able to faster as well? I’m keen to hear your thoughts — leave a comment below if you’ve got some info!

As I said earlier, it was never meant to be a big weekend on the bike but that’s exactly how it turned out. I managed 223.4km over two days with 4,411 vertical metres of climbing and boy did I sleep well on Sunday night.

Just a light sprinkling.
Just a light sprinkling.

Before I wrap this up, a quick reminder that you can follow The Climbing Cyclist on Facebook and Twitter, you can follow me (Matt) on Strava and you can leave comments below. For those that missed it last week, I added a new climb to the site (finally): Tawonga Gap (Bright side). Check it out and let me know what you think.

Thanks very much for reading.

Brendan grinds away with his 39x25.
Brendan grinds away with his 39×25.
Brendan on the second half of the Mt. Donna Buang climb.
Brendan on the second half of the Mt. Donna Buang climb.
Riding through the fog on the second ascent.
Riding through the fog on the second ascent of Mt. Donna Buang.
The final kilometre of the Mt. Donna Buang climb.
The final kilometre of the Mt. Donna Buang climb.
Brendan descending Martyr Road.
Brendan descending Martyr Road.


20 Replies to “The Dandenongs/Double-Donna double-header”

  1. Regarding the Matyr Road heart rate being lower, it’s most likely because on very steep climbs you are relying on muscle power rather than aerobic capability. If it were a flatter road and you were putting in the same amount of effort then your HR would probably be higher as you are turning the pedals more often. Grinding pedals, particularly over a short distance, is like doing strength work in the gym; you are working hard but it’s your muscles rather than your heart that are working most.

  2. Hi Matt,
    Great write up and pics. Regarding heart rate, you will almost always struggle to raise your heart rate if you are fatigued or about to come down with something.
    A good test is checking your resting heart rate when you wake up daily, after a few days you will have a good idea of what your RHR is, the fitter you become the lower it will be. When you are fatigued or about to be ill, your RHR will be about 10-15 beats higher than usual. A sure sign scheduling an easy ride or total rest day.

  3. Hey Matt,

    Another great area that will get your k’s and vertical metres up is out beyond Emerald. Start at Emerald and head out through Cockatoo and Gembrook. Gembrook to Launching Place is awesome. Quite tough climbs and very quiet. Then do your Donna summit and return. Old Warburton Rd is a great addition either on way out or back or both.
    Only downside is the drive out and home but you gotta do it sometimes to get to the good stuff.

    My goal for the remainder of the year is to do more than my commute rides and drop the 8kg I’ve put on since becoming a Dad in March!

  4. Nice work guys, I’ve gotta get some climbing in one of these days..
    *i know how Andy got that KOM 😉 hah

      1. Apart from applying some awesome brute strength (and after setting a decent pace up the 1:20, mind you) we didn’t start the climb from a stand still, which is not a requirement of a strava segment 😉 Andy powered on and I gave up shortly after we started the climb.. It was my first ride through the Dandenongs and kudos to Andy for showing me the ropes.

        1. I actually held the KOM prior to setting the current one – but John wouldn’t believe that I’d set it – his doubt helped me take another second off the time!

  5. Agree Donna was beautiful on Sunday, no wind, a little sunshine and a little snow on the side of the road. We were both going up the base of Donna for a little while, thought it was you, I should have called out …
    Thomas, Dirty Dozen.

  6. Promote that Perrins – Crescent – Sherbrooke triple on Facebollocks, I’d be keen to join (read slow you down) for that…Would be a great ride

  7. Love Martyr road… it’s a killer! I did it once before doing the Donna climb. I can’t really recommend it as a suitable warm up.

    I reckon if you’d done Martyr before the Donnas you’d have hit a higher heart rate and gone up faster for the same perceived effort.

  8. Loving the write-ups!
    I did perrins creek on Sunday after completing Devils Elbow for the first time! Was tough but it’s one of my favourites, especially early on a summers morning with the sun coming through the ferns.
    We also decended Sherbrooke Road. Surface was very unforgiving at the top but would be a good climb, especially the initial kick out of Kallista.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Hodgey! Perrins Creek Road is a belter. I reckon I’m going to head out there soon and do Perrins Creek Road, The Crescent and Sherbrooke Road in one ride. Amazing roads!

      1. How about Start at Ferntree Gully, head to Belgrave, go to Menzies Creek, turn left at Grantula Rd. Do a side visit to the John Hill Lookout (worth the effort). Head to the Patch – Do the Patch climb, then Sherbrooke Rd, The Crescent and Perrins Creek. Do The Wall and descend the Tourist Rd back to Ferntree Gully. Not lung busting like the dirty dozen, but still some good climbing and fine scenery.

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