Well Strathbogie Slider Day 2 was eventful. More riders, a bigger range of bikes and a bigger range of experiences.
This week 9 riders were to meet at Violet Town to catch the 8:15am train to Seymour for the start. After the scramble of last week, I was confident we were better organised this week – we were meeting on the eastern platform where the train stopped last week, and our 9 bikes were listed on the the train luggage manifest so the conductors were expecting all our bikes. What could possibly go wrong?
Firstly 2 riders were running late and went to the closer Euroa station instead – not a big deal, they just had to get back to Euroa at the finish of their ride.
Then the train pulled up at the western platform (where we were last week!). Again we had to scurry around with our bikes to get onto the train. The conductor said she was taken by surprise as well and had the train doors open on the wrong side. She said the train driver just decides which platform he wants use. It might be just me but I don’t like the idea of train drivers arbitrarily deciding what train tracks to use. Bad shit can happen – for example Violet Town is the location for one of Australia’s worst train crashes; 9 people were killed in 1969 when the southbound Southern Aurora passenger train from Sydney crashed head-on with a goods train travelling north on the same track.
Anyway off my soapbox, back to our ride. We all caught the train and loaded our bikes. Putting all the bikes on the luggage manifest worked well; there enough free bays to easily stow our bikes, 2 or 3 bikes to a bay. After Euroa all expected riders were on board. I became aware 3 riders had not read much of the prep information and were unsure what to expect. These 3 were riding more conventional road bike setups, so it would be interesting to see how these riders coped with the ride (as a guide to how much pre-ride info is necessary).
After disembarking at Seymour, we headed to the closest cafe for pre-ride coffee and a bit more chat. This was also the rendevous for riders joining us at Seymour. There was a greater range in the bikes this week – old and newer road and touring bikes, plus modern carbon CX bikes – so it would be interesting to compare how they all fared on the slider route.
The ride eventually started at 9:45am. While our target start time was 9:30, I don’t think it is possible to start much earlier. The cafe stop is important as people have traveled many hours to get to the start, and the next food stop isn’t for 2.5 to 3 hours. So unless we find a different cafe that is able to serve all the riders faster, a more realistic target start time for future rides is probably 9:45am (given the current train timetable).
The Ride – Seymour to Ruffy
The weather forecast was again good – sunny day and temperature in mid 20s. The wind forecast was a bit less favourable – East to North East, starting at 10km/hr and building during the day – meaning headwinds on our route.
My ride didn’t last long. About 7km from Seymour my left crank arm started to wobble and quickly became so loose that it came off altogether. After inspection I suspected it was just a problem with the crank nut and BB thread; but without the right tools to clear the threads and put the nut on tightly I couldn’t do much about it. I didn’t want to ride with the crank connection loose and risk the spindle and square hole in the crank becoming rounded. So I rode back to Seymour using only the drive side leg.
Although it was a shock to finish my ride in the first hour, I wasn’t so disappointed. Mainly because I had done the ride the week before. There were some positives in that I would be able to see how the riders coped with just my direction documents, and I could get my car and meet up with the riders later along the route and take some photos that weren’t just bum shots.
I can still report how the ride progressed using feedback and photos from the riders. Most riders reported that when they first started the gravel section they were quite apprehensive, staring at the 10-20m of road in front of them as though it was a minefield. As they progressed they became more confident in just trusting their bikes to keep rolling irrespective of minor changes in the surface.
There was a brief delay on this first gravel section when the next mechanical occurred. Tony describes the situation – “A pinch flat on the rear tyre of one of the road-bikes was quickly sorted out. The location was well worth stopping at anyway; in a valley by some rocky rapids in a fast flowing creek. Very picturesque.” The riders look in good spirits in the photo below ..
The physical situation of the road and landmarks was covered in the ride report for ride 1 so I will not repeat that again here.
However, I would like to make a better effort at describing the effect of the surroundings in the first part of this ride up to Ruffy. In many ways photos don’t do it justice.
I’ve concluded that it’s like riding through the golden summer of an Australian impressionist or Heidelberg school landscape. Many of these artists painted the southern end of the Strathbogie Ranges.
Many of the locations these artists painted – Heidelberg, Eaglemont and Beach Road, Mentone – have long since been urbanised. However, the idealised landscapes they sought are still able to be experienced in the Strathbogies, with little traffic or modern development.
As well as being beautiful, the ride takes you back to a time in the early 20th century when much of south east Australia looked like this and cycling on unsealed country roads was the primary mode of transport for many workers such as shearers.
With the right turn onto Tarcombe-Ruffy Road riders are snapped back to reality by the gravel climb up to Ruffy. Out on the road I find this is a strange little climb because it is hard to see where it the climbing happens, even after driving it a few times. I thought a lot of the elevation gain was at the end, but that isn’t really the case as shown in the profile below ..
The climb road starts with a short sharp hill getting up towards 10% and then comes all the way back down again. Descending the first hill you can see the next slope rising directly in front of you. It looks very daunting – the base is quite rutted and the climb gradient looks very steep (because you are viewing it from a steep downward slope). However, despite appearances it isn’t as steep as the hill just climbed, although it is a bit longer. Thereafter the climb happens in a series of short steep bursts followed by flatter sections.
The final 600m of the climb is sealed but it isn’t any steeper than other climb spurts. It is significant though because it marks the end of the climb and riders know they are only 1 easy kilometre away from Ruffy feed break.
Tony describes Ruffy as a welcoming oasis – “The café at Ruffy is an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Expansive old oak trees shaded the outdoor lunch tables. Permanently installed retro bikes adorned the cafe’s fence and added to the atmosphere. Occasional acorns dropped in our vicinity, and bike helmets may have come in handy if one of them dropped on a rider’s head. Nixtrader had set up a much appreciated water refill station at this café the previous day, so our bidons were replenished as required. The food, drink and service were great at this lunch-stop. We could easily have called it quits there, as it was so relaxing sitting under the oak trees enjoying good food, drink and company.”
Ruffy to Galls Gap Road
The riders continued to make good time compared to last week. Again they were happy with the unusual terrain variations in Sinclairs Lane.
Unlike last week this group attacked the gravel descent down Killeens Hill Road a bit more – the riders on modern CX bikes leading the way.
The nature of the descent – a series of steep, tight corners, with deeper gravel towards both edges of the road – means that it is safest for riders to string out in a line a few seconds apart. One rider on a more conventional road bike had 2 consecutive pinch flats along this descent and was left behind for a while, until his companions came back to look for him.
Shortly after this the 3 riders on conventional road bikes decided to leave the slider route and head for Euroa. Although they all enjoyed the ride so far, one had an appointment in Melbourne he had to return to, and they didn’t have many spare tubes left between them. However, with the map provided they knew where they were, and were able to navigate their way back to their cars easily. Circulating mobile numbers pre-ride also worked out well; these riders were able to sms that they were leaving so the other riders were not concerned about what had happened to them. I got their sms when I was on the train back to Violet Town where my car was. So I also knew what was happening on the ride even though they were in an isolated area.
After both rides we can say that tyres have an effect on the ride experience for this route. In general, wider tyres, a bit of tread and lower air pressure provide a more stable contact area and easier steering on gravel roads, and more comfort on the occasional corrugated sections. Sharps on the road didn’t seem to be an issue; all three punctures across both rides appear to be pinch flats on conventional road tyres. So a suggested guide for future riders is that your bike should have bigger tyres with enough wall stiffness that you can run a lower pressure, but still not bottom out and squeeze the tube on corrugations, or when the tyre rolls across the rim on tight corners. That suggests a 28mm touring type tyre is probably the minimum practical tyre for this ride – unless you are prepared to change a few flats or ride fairly slowly.
Galls Gap Road climb
The remaining riders progressed to Galls Gap Road and the base of the steep climb onto the Eastern Strathbogie plateau.
However, the word ‘riding’ is a conservative description for what she was doing – head down, butt up, smashing it up the climb as hard as she could. As she rolled past on a descent we had a brief conversation that went like this ..
Her – Hi
Me – Are you doing hill repeats of the last part of this?
Her – Yes
Me – You’re crazy!
Her – Thanks!
It is what I call an inclusive climb – it has enough bite to attract and excite people who enjoy steep gradients and high heart rates, but it is still short enough that less able ascenders can scramble up it somehow and so it isn’t a deal breaker to prevent them wanting to do the ride.
From the turnoff, there is a slight downhill across a narrow bridge. The next 1.5km at a steady 5% provides a warm up for what is to come. The fun starts half way up the climb with a 300m long step at close to 15%. This left bend is what the start of the step looks like on the road …
This took a toll on riders – some zig-zagged, some stopped for a breather, some walked. Most wondered whether those Ruffy sausage rolls might have weighed half a kilo. Heather reported her Garmin showed 20% at one point and I think that is probably accurate.
After regrouping at the top, the riders headed straight to Strathbogie town. By this time the forecast stronger head winds had arrived and, scenic though it was, the riders just wanted to get that section over with and have another break.
Strathbogie was also where I caught up with the riders again after getting my car at Violet Town station and driving the route in a reverse direction to find the riders.
We exchanged stories over muffins and milkshakes. Bidons were replenished. The riders were well ahead of the slowest time guidelline, so time wasn’t going to be an issue this week.
The riders decided to split into two groups. Some elected to progress straight to Violet Town taking the shortest route which involved all sealed roads and the very pleasant Harrys Creek Road descent.
Two riders chose to continue the challenge of the slider route.
Strathbogie to the plateau edge
There are 150 metres to climb in 20km, but that is net – actual climbing is more like 300 metres with 150 metres descending. And the climbing happens in short sharp hits. By this point riders have been at it for at least 4 hours, including some steep climbs, so are quite tired. The feeling I had along this section is that it is like a struggling through a shore break and repeatedly getting hit by a series of big waves. The climbs and descents are frequent enough that it is hard to get into a rhythm. Many climbs are sufficiently steep that I tended to just freewheel down the backs to catch my breath rather than continue riding.
The first gravel sector, Brookleigh Road, has an initial hill that descends to a very basic bridge over a creek. The gravel road condition is a bit worse on the other side of the creek where riders have to climb back up out of the creek gully again ..
Descent to Violet Town
Although riders still need to be attentive, this descent is a lot easier than Killeens Hill Road. There are occasional rocks and corrugated patches, but mostly its smooth and fairly straight, and steep enough riders only need to pedal rarely, for over 8 kilometres. It passes through natural bushland alongside a rocky gulley. It’s a great way to finish the ride.
On this ride, progress was stopped by a large brown snake on the road. It eventually moved on when we moved back up the hill a bit. We initially moved up the hill with the intention of getting a bit more speed in order to ride passed the snake. However this movement away acted as a release for the snake. We were now far enough away not to be an immediate threat so it moved off the road by itself.
Both groups met up again at the pub in Violet Town. The riders finished close to 5pm so the timing issues were resolved this week. The other group completed their ride without incident. Our general awesomeness was the main topic of conversation. Cold beer, soft drinks and chips were popular supplements.
All-in-all another successful ride day on the Strathbogie Ranges, and another great group of riding companions.
Thanks to Heather, Greg and Andrew for photos, to Tony for his extensive ride report, and to all the riders for their feedback.