Sunday, 2 April 2017

Weekend Training Bikes Around Melbourne

Before my big bike tours of Australia and New Zealand last year, I needed to do some practice runs.  There was plenty to discover; how far I could ride, camping routines, what I needed or what I didn't need, and generally what to expect.

I find I need a target of a big trip to get me out and about around Melbourne, as the areas around Melbourne aren't as spectacular.  However, there are still some really excellent areas to go and do long one day and two day tours.  Here are some of what I have done, both before and after my two big tours so far.

Lilydale to Moe

This was my first overnight camp with an almost fully-loaded bike.  Including all the bikes to and from train stations, the cycle totaled about 90Km on day one and about 60Km on day two.  

Everything east of Melbourne starts to become quite hilly and even mountainous at times, so there were some very testing sections on this first ride, including a 6Km section of climb after Noojee of about 1000 metres ascent, not easy.

Camping at Noojee Trestle Bridge

I didn't know what to expect on this first outing, but gained a lot of confidence fairly quickly after a (quite literally) shaky start on the loaded bike.

St Kilda to Cape Schanck

My first day of over 100Km on the bike and I was rewarded by a beautiful sunrise after a sneaky wild camp and loads of ring tail possums for company.  Some surprisingly arduous hills after that, but it was all character building stuff.

I'm not a great fan of riding through the city so I got a train back from Frankston and on that train, as fate would have it, I met a quite extraordinary woman.  She was quite a small 77 year-old lady and she started up a conversation with me about cycling.  She told me that she does the same as me and I just assumed that she was one of the many weekend cyclists in the city.  However, she revealed that she had completed a number of cycle tours around Australia herself, some in groups and some solo.  She had done Adelaide to Darwin following the same route as I would be doing (just in the other direction), Darwin to Perth, Melbourne to Sydney, Perth to Melbourne along the Nullarbor Straight, and a whole host of others since she started cycling in this way when she was 62.  She obviously couldn't do the sort of miles daily as I could, but with careful planning she explored some real hardcore routes through Australia, on dirt tracks, camping rough, and going through some of the most remote and dangerous areas of Australia.  Truly inspiring, and if she can do all this in her 60's and 70's, surely I can do it in my thirties.

Wilson's Promontory

I headed out of the city first on the train and then back from a different location.  Over 300 Km total, and 130Km on the first and last days with a big hike in the middle. This trip was incredibly hilly, but it was important to hit my needed average before I went on the big one through the Outback last year.  This trip was long overdue as I was thwarted by extremely wet and wild weather throughout June, which hampered my ability to get out on the bike at the weekends.  Two nights wild camping also, and I still managed to hit my daily goal with plenty of time to spare.

The ups and downs of the Strzelecki Ranges

The cycling was actually pretty difficult as my route crossed the Strzelecki Ranges, a low mountain range that forms part of the Great Dividing Range east of Melbourne.

A good test for the last of my preparation rides before the big ones and a beautiful destination in Wilson's Prom, the most southerly point of mainland Australia.

There was a heck of a lot of wildlife in Wilson's Prom, and a lot on the side of the road while cycling.  So much so that I actually witnessed a kangaroo being hit by a car in front of me, poor thing.  It was still alive, unconscious but clearly breathing, on the side of the road as the driver checked it and called for assistance.  I never saw the kangaroo on the way back and hoped that it survived, which I guess was a possibility, as it was a pretty sturdy animal. It did give me pause for thought about what might happen to me if I hit one at 50Km/h going downhill.  I'm guessing I might have come off second best. I proceeded with due vigilance from then on.

I did get to see plenty of wildlife in good condition, though.  Kangaroos watched on as I biked by and wombats greeted me a Tidal River, as well as some deserted and gorgeous beaches.

The cutest animal in Australia

All the previous routes were completed before my big tours of Australia and New Zealand.  I took a few months to settle back into normal life, but now I am keen on a couple of shorter tours this year.  Both are potentially very tough, though, with lots of ascent, so I needed to do some training runs.

The Lilydale Loop Via Mount Donna Buang

This is a challenging ride.  Only 105Km, but with a huge climb of over 1200m in the middle.  I actually have been up the mountain on this route before; I ran up it last year on the hiking trail, and then ran down the road I will be cycling on.  I did this as training for my ultra-marathon.  That time, I had to contend with hundreds and hundreds of leeches on the trail, this time I'll just have to go up the road I ran down.  I saw many a cyclist struggling up the road that day, on light bikes with no baggage.  I was on a heavy bike with a bit of baggage, so I could simulate a long climb with the weight of my equipment on the bike for my upcoming tour through the mountains.

I was actually quite pleasantly surprised, firstly how comfortably I managed the summit of Mount Donna Buang, and also how beautiful the ride was.  It was a stunning morning on the Lilydale to Warburton rail trail with great valley scenery in the morning light, and then some fantastic views at the top of the mountain.  Another thing, that pictures don't tell, is the amazing smells of Australian forests.  They are so fragrant in the right conditions, smelling of eucalyptus right the way through the forested mountain.

From the bottom.....

To the top.

At the summit I was joined by a number of cyclists, who were riding up from Warburton and back down, some even doing it twice, would you believe.  I was taking a different route down to Healesville via a dirt track through the forest.  Although the other cyclists were quicker than me, none could do this track as it was too rough for their bikes.  My wider tires and robust frame can handle well-maintained non-sealed roads, and that road was a very pleasant and isolated road down the mountain.

Absolutely superb training run, one of my favourites to date; great scenery, challenging climbing and about 50Km or so of unsealed track to boot.  Just what I needed for my trip through the Snowy Mountains.

Hurstbridge Loop Via Kinglake and Healesville

Very little traffic, plenty of testing climbs, nice roads, and lovely scenery.  I chose this for my first training ride back after a few months off after my tour of New Zealand.  I was after hills, and this was a testing, but not overly steep reintroduction to hill climbing.

The first section from Hurstbridge to Kinglake was a steady 600m climb over about 20Km through the Kinglake Ranges.  After that there were a few gentle ups and downs to Toolangi and then a long, steady descent all the way to Healesville, which was really pleasant.

The hills continued through to Yarra Glen and then another stiff climb came shortly after.  By the time I was back to Hurstbridge, I knew I'd had a day on the bike.  The whole ride took just short of 6 hours to complete, with the odd short rest stop on occasion.

Dandenongs (Multiple different rides)

Probably the most accessible training area for hill climbing around Melbourne, and a place where I did most of my ultra-marathon training last year.  The ride I post here is my most recent and longest one through the region.

The Dandenongs is a nice natural area of tall gum forest not too far from Melbourne. Some of the hiking trails get pretty busy at the weekends, but the further you go, the quieter it gets.  In certain areas the wildlife is amazing, with the highlight the famous lyrebird, which can be heard and often seen going through its amazing repertoire of calls, mimicking all the other birds of the forest - and other bizarre sounds, like car alarms, cameras and chainsaws - with seemingly 100% accuracy.

There are some challenging climbs in the area, which is quite popular with cyclists.

So these are a few of the rides around Melbourne I do to get my body and mind prepared for the longer trips to come.  Coming up in a couple of weeks (at the time of writing) will be 6 days in the Snowy Mountain wilderness, with some of the biggest climbs I will have done to date.

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