If I had to nominate the 7 Peaks climb I’m most looking forward to riding this spring/summer, it would have to be Mt. Baw Baw. It’s probably the hardest of the 7 climbs, but there’s something about the ridiculous, unrelenting gradients that has great appeal.
Of course, there’s also the awesome ride between Noojee and the climb to look forward to — in fact, that’s probably up there with the best roads I’ve ever cycled.
So in the lead-up to this Sunday’s tilt at Mt. Baw Baw as part of the 7 Peaks Domestique Series I’m organising with Andy van Bergen of Hells 500, it was great to have a short taste of what was to come — the Mt. Baw Baw Sampler Pack.
Of all the organised rides I’ve been part of, this would have to be the shortest — a snappy 28km in total — but it was still a great ride. The plan was to give riders a sense of the gradients they could expect when they hit the Baw Baw climb on Sunday.
To simulate the first 5.7km of the Mt. Baw Baw climb — a gentle ~4% rise that most people forget about — we headed up the 1 in 20. A couple of riders went off the front in search of a new PB, including Matt ‘Fletch’ Fletcher who was just back from his Sydney to Melbourne ride and keen to test his legs. I took it relatively easy with the Donvale Demon, getting to the top with a time right on 20 minutes.
From there it was a quick hop down the Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road to One Tree Hill where we climbed up to the end of the Devil’s Elbows climb before descending back to the Tourist Road. We then headed down Hughes Road to Burwood Highway to face the ride’s real challenge — Mast Gully Road.
My only other time up Mast Gully was as the seventh climb in the first ever Melbourne Dirty Dozen back in May. That particular climb didn’t go too well — the road was wet and I’d struggled with back-wheel spin the whole way up. As I neared the top my back wheel started slipping again and I tried to unclip, but it was no use. I hit the deck in a most undignified fashion before pulling myself back onto the bike for the final pinch to the summit.
So when I started the climb on Sunday, I was pretty keen to stay on the bike the whole way up. Unfortunately, a light drizzle was falling as we hit the climb and the road was probably even wetter than it had been for the Dirty Dozen. I reminded myself to keep my weight as far back on the bike as I could, particularly when I was standing.
That first pinch after the right-hander is an absolute brute. I went out reasonably hard, chasing Evan Henley and Donna Done Dirty KOM winner Joel Nicholson up the 20%+ grade, but both were too strong. As we crested the first ramp, breathing hard, we turned left and set about climbing the longer second ramp.
It seemed that the best way of keeping my weight back was to stay seated for as much of the climb as I could. So I did just that, grinding away at a cadence that felt like it could have been in the single digits.
Mast Gully is one of those climbs that’s just so steep you’re at your absolute limit just trying to keep moving forward. It’s hard to find a rhythm when the road’s disappearing ahead of you at 20% or greater, so it becomes a real case of survival.
As I passed the point where I’d come a cropper in May, I made a concerted effort to keep my weight over the back wheel. Thankfully, I managed to get through the climb in one piece, without a single bit of wheel-spin and, as a bonus, I’d beaten my previous time by 2 minutes 40 seconds. (To be fair, I did spent a little while on the ground, picking myself up and trying to get going again on my first attempt at the climb.)
Kudos to Evan and Joel who made the climb look easy — ‘I was feeling pretty good actually’, said Evan afterwards — and to everybody that got through the climb in one piece.
Sure, it’s shorter than Mt. Baw Baw by a fair margin, but I reckon it’s easier to find a rhythm (a slow one, but a rhythm all the same) on Baw Baw than it is on Mast Gully. Mast Gully Road’s probably a tad steeper as well. In summary: if you can get through Mast Gully without too many troubles, I reckon Baw Baw is achievable.
After we all got to the top of Mast Gully Road the group split — most of the 20-strong group were heading back to The Basin for coffee while four of us — myself, Fletch, Evan and my brother Brendan — headed to Churchill Road to climb the second half of the Devil’s Elbows. It was a slow climb, but everyone seemed happy to take it easy and have a chat. Back at the Tourist Road we headed down The Crescent before climbing back up the deceptively steep Perrins Creek Road.
Back at The Basin it was good to see some familiar faces and also some not-so-familiar faces. There was some chatter about the Mt. Baw Baw ride with discussions of appropriate gearing, gradients and the climb more generally.
The Baw Baw Sampler Pack was a short ride but one that still had a really nice vibe to it. It’s been great organising a bunch of rides with the Hells 500 crew and if Lake Mountain and Sunday’s ride are anything to go by, there’ll be a great buzz at Mt. Baw Baw this Sunday as well.
If you’re interested in coming along, please do! It’s totally free and we welcome anyone that’s prepared to give the mountain a crack! Make no mistake — it’s a very tough climb. But if you’re committed to getting through the climb, we’ll make sure you don’t get left behind! More information is available here.
Finally, a quick shout-out to the dozen-or-so girls that braved the cold, wet and miserable conditions before the Sampler Pack on Sunday morning for the Hells 500 girls-only ride. Despite the terrible conditions it sounds like a good time was had by (almost) everyone! Be sure to ‘Like’ the Hells 500 Facebook page to stay posted for more girls-only rides in the future — with any luck the weather will be better next time around!
Until next time, thanks for reading, please stay safe on the roads and I hope to see you out at Mt. Baw Baw on Sunday!