Recently I moved from Melbourne to Sydney. And although I’ve moved within Melbourne a couple of times, it didn’t have much impact on my riding. It only forced me to find a new local cafe and grocer really.
The move to Sydney meant that my catalogue of rides in and around Melbourne had become obsolete. It was time to start over finding new local loops.
Over the years I had carefully curated resourceful bookmarks and route files exploring Victoria’s finest gravel roads. Apart from Curve’s route library, a couple of other pearlers such as adventurecyclingvictoria.com, gravelmob.com.au, melbournerandonneur.org, ridingforthegreatforest.com and therewillbedirt.com were scouted often for a sense of direction. And inspiration.
For example, my last year’s route across the Australian Alps was a result of linking a range of routes from these wonderful sources. Go and check them out!
But back to Sydney. Where to begin? Well, besides a basic “best Sydney gravel” online search, based on my experience personal blogs, cycling clubs and bike shops tend to be great sources for some research.
Soon I discovered Sydney Uni Velo cycling club offering plenty of ideas on road rides in and around Sydney. And Omafiets bike shop complementing it with a range of multiday bikepacking and overnight flashpacking routes often only a brief train ride from the city.
With a mixture of excitement and anxiety I headed out on my first road ride in Sydney. Towards the hilly eastern suburbs and beaches covering 50-ish kilometers and 750-ish vertical meters.
Compared to Melbourne, Sydney’s road network feels much more organic. Flowy, like some fine single-track. That said, the road surface in most places is as bumpy as a teenager’s face. Cracks, potholes and gullies with grooves in riding direction that perfectly accommodate narrow road tires.
In summary, I found a challenging Belgie equivalent ride in Sydney’s east that I’d like to call the “Bourgie” after Belgium’s neighboring country Luxembourg. It’s got a good ring to it, don’t you think? The “Bourgie”!
But what about gravel? Well, it turned out the oak of oaks Ryan Flinn from Curve was in Sydney recently. Fast forward to a message I received from him: “Hey buddy! Are you up for a gravel ride in Sydney’s backyard organised by our mates at Sticky Bottle?”
But of course, another great source to explore a new area is to join shop rides. Honestly though, I have had doubts and excuses about committing to join these. Not knowing the route or the riders have resulted in self-inflicted deterring thoughts. Is it steep? Are they fast? It’s too far! It’s too early! Yeah, nah! Trust me though, I’ve found that the people on shop rides are all there contributing to a really welcoming vibe for strangers. It’s worth it!
Still invigorated with the excitement to explore beyond the “Bourgie”, I didn’t have any doubts and couldn’t come up with any excuses. I replied to Ryan’s message with an all-caps “YASSS!”. And so I took the train from the city to Sutherland station where the gravel ride through Royal National Park would start at a reasonable 8AM with 50+ riders.
Up, Up and Stitch-Up
Despite adventuring through a remote area of the park I could still sense the connection to our lives back in the city. The pipeline trail we followed, for example, is part of the Woronora Dam infrastructure providing Sydney with water since its construction. And water was one of the main features along the route. We had to cross several streams. All relatively shallow and perfectly fine to cross despite the occasional wet feet.
The route took us across sections covered by large loose stones you’ll typically find lying along train tracks challenging us to maintain a straight line. Also challenging were the steep treacherous climbs where the lack of tyre traction took a toll on my conviction of staying upright in front of a crowd, forcing me to hike-the-bike. A well-known go-to activity for us adventurers. Reaching the top I could catch my breath and soak up the scenery of others struggling similarly. A Sticky Bottle stitch-up.
A week or so later I decided to ride the route again taking a detour to Woronora Dam and Garie Beach. Continuing to explore. Although the beach is a decent detour, it’s well worth it particularly for whale watching. And simply its breathtaking surroundings. You can check out the full route on Strava or catch a glimpse of this route, right here, on YouTube.