Cyclist converges on Adelaide and its surrounds to combat the scenic – yet savage – hills of the Santos Tour Down Under. Is this Australia’s answer to Boulder?
It’s weird abandoning something you’ve done for so long. The pre-trip ritual of getting your bike checked over – does it need a new chain? Are the tyres going to survive one more week? – is almost a rite of passage, not to mention a feasible excuse to drop a few dollars on an already over-capitalised ride. This time, however, will be different. This time, we’re just packing our shoes and lycra. The bikes are staying at home. This is going to be a weekend in Adelaide with a difference.
Velo-Porte are our hosts for the trip. They provide bikes, bidons, helmets, computers – even power meters, if you’re so inclined (we’re not, so we’ll just ride until our legs fall off). Keith, from Velo-Porte, had convinced us to come on this trip, and he doesn’t disappoint, providing a trio of new Specialised Tarmacs for the ride. George, from Unique Cycling Tours, is in charge of the route, and Dan, an Adelaide local who Everests some pretty awful hills just for fun, will be in charge of dishing out the pain.
The goal for the trip is pretty straightforward: ride as hard as we can along the roads of the Tour Down Under to see how much quicker the big boys go up the hills – and do so with some locals who can also show us some of the roads we don’t know. We’ll follow a bow-tie-shaped loop that’s never more than 30km from town but which still takes in some of Adelaide’s most famous roads. Thirty kilometres may not sound like a great distance from the town centre, but do not underestimate how much trouble you can get into in the Adelaide Hills…
Take to the Hills
Follow Cyclist’s Velo-Porte-led ride through Adelaide and its surrounds
This ride can start from anywhere in town. Make your way to Belair Road and follow in a southerly direction until the climb up Windy Point begins. Turn left onto Sheoak Road, before the BP service station, and then continue a kilometre or so before a sharp right onto Sir Edwin Avenue and into Belair National Park. Out the other side you’ll pass through Upper Sturt Road and continue travelling skyward, finally reaching the top a little after Crafers (30km).
The twisting descents and ascents through Basket Range are truly a cycling playground, so enjoy it all while keeping your wits about you – a few corners can catch you off-guard if you’re a first-timer. Turn right at the T-intersection at Deviation Road and head south, following the smell of freshly ground coffee being brewed in Mylor. After a stop at Harvest Cafe, the road heads upward again all the way to the top of Crafers where you’ll get to enjoy a great descent. But once again, it’s not over. Turn right and squeeze out the last bit of energy and battle Mount Osmond. We promise that from the top, it’s all downhill back into the city centre.
What, no coffee?!
A 5:30am start is usually accompanied by a morning cuppa, but with no cafes yet open the fresh South Australian air will have to suffice as our catalyst for waking up. Keith arrives bang on time and unloads three fresh Specialized Tarmac Experts for the three of us to test out on the hills over the coming day. While we’re missing our own bikes, no one is knocking back the chance to hop aboard something new and give it a thorough test. I love the smell of a fresh ride in the morning.
We set off early enough so that when we hit the other side of the mountain range we’ll have time to ride across the ridgeline and find the best location from which to take it all in. Surrounded by vineyards, it won’t be difficult to find the road less travelled. From hairy gravel descents to famous climbs, it’s all at our disposal.
We leave the CBD for a circa-110km round trip that, as mentioned, looks kind of like a bow-tie; though with more crooked lines than a Mr Squiggle tele-marathon, we know it means a lot of climbing. Adelaide is a special place when it comes to cycling – it’s home to some of the most beautiful roads in the world. It’s the first place I saw what real pros looked like, and it’s the first place I realised the stratospheric speed with which they dispatch the hills. I often tell family and friends that “Radelaide” (as it’s often called) is like a coffee mug – no matter what direction you head from the centre, you’re going up. Geographically that’s not quite true, but you get the point: lots of climbs.
As we leave the city, the sound is the first thing we notice – there isn’t any. Aside from the odd car passing (with more room than we’ve ever been given), the transfer ride out of the city is tranquil. It gives Dan and George a chance to talk us through what the cycling lifestyle in Adelaide is really like. It really is a way of life down here. The crisp morning air and near-silence make for some great tracks to the start of the ascent to Windy Point. The air smells fresh; not like freshly cut grass, but like Australian bushland when no one’s around. Clean – just how we like it.
Belair Road is first on the list. It’s a punchy little climb with some respite in the corners, but despite the fact our legs are a little cold, we know the view from the top at Windy Point will be well worth it. There’s not much room on the ascent; we’re in tight single file. We’re close to the rock face on one side; on the other side of the narrow lane is a drop that gets steeper and steeper the further we climb. Murmurings of an old quarry ensure none of us creep any closer to the edge than we absolutely have to.
Upon reaching the top, Windy Point doesn’t quite live up to its name, with little more than a gentle breeze accompanying us as we look back over Adelaide. The city lights gleam in the distance as the city wakes from its slumber. It’s pretty damn impressive on a slightly frosty morning; we can only imagine what it’d be like at nighttime with the city alight. You’re okay, Adelaide.
Fuel for the ride
A not-so-quick stop at Harvest Cafe, Mylor
When a cafe has bolted a bike to a eucalyptus tree it’s a sure sign that you’ve come to the right place. When the coffee is better than most, it’s even better – even if it did take us over 60km to get there. You can however, travel a more direct 30km route straight from town. The team at Harvest Cafe certainly know how to look after the customers so they stay and order another round. We shared an initial laugh at the offer of a soft crochet rug to wrap around ourselves, but after consideration – and seeing locals using them – it seemed like a good idea. It can get a little chilly here. And the coffee is spot on – maybe that’s why the TDU ventured through three times this year.
As we move past Windy Point and drop into Belair National Park, we realise we’re not alone – and we’re not talking about other cyclists. Easing back the pace, we watch as kangaroos, emus, koalas and pretty much every other animal you’re shown in an Aussie children’s book saunter around the green space. Adelaide might be waking up, but it’s peak hour for these natives. This is pure bushland, untouched save for a single paved road and a few discreet walking tracks. What’s more, we’re only 15km from the CBD.
BNP, as the locals refer to it, offers a huge array of cycling options. It’d be a perfect day out on your CX bike or your roadie, and the variety of trails and directions means it can spit you out at any one of a number of exits ready for the next part of your journey.
At the other side of the park, things get a lot steeper. The heat starts to rise, our groans are coming at more frequent intervals and the pace starts to drop – at least until we happen upon a human-sized kangaroo. Taller than our photographer, Marcus – who was not keen to stick around and ask Skippy how his morning was going – we decide to lift the pace. Everyone remains stoically silent so as not to upset the big fella as he tucks into his morning meal. Most tourists are frightened of spiders and snakes, but we reckon Skip could force his way up the list of Aussie animals that can render you incapacitated if he so chose.
After our brush with the Australian coat of arms we’re all more or less on high alert, when Dan comes to a stop. He has locked onto what looks to be an absolutely perfect gravel road for a CX bike. The only issue is that none of us are on CX bikes. Still, it’s going to take one of us to chicken out, and no one wants to be the one to make the call, so over we go. What looks like a fairly well-maintained fire trail soon descends into something closer to an MTB single track.
We press on, the Specialized Tarmacs doing very well for road bikes running standard 24mm Specialized tyres. We feel pretty much every bump, rock, stick and trench along the way, but as we approach the end of the trail we all feel it has been well worth it. On reflection, a larger tyre – say, a 28mm – with a little less pressure would have made for a nicer ride, but either way it’s a lot of fun – at least until we hit a dead end. Time to turn around and go back up. Physics never was much fun.
Coming down a lovely set of hills, we spy what can only be described as the berg of all bergs – a hill with a gradient of more than 20% (which soon became more than 25% during post-ride pub lunch) that just kept twisting and turning. Somewhat fittingly, at the foot of this beast we stop to refuel and refill bottles and run into some creatures more accustomed to scaling hills like this: goats. Gary and Graeme, as we name them, are busy mowing a field at the bottom of the climb and look pretty hungry. As we munch on a couple of biscuits, our trusty photographer, Beardy – never short of some food – passes over his half-finished banana, which goes down a treat. My question: can they really eat anything?
With the animal bonding done, we head up what turns out to be one of the most awful hills in Adelaide: Heather. Such a cruel mistress. We feel like we’ve had a bit of everything at this point – we’ve tackled some hairy ascents, descended some amazing roads, and enjoyed treelines, sunshine and local wildlife. But Heather is something different entirely. It gets really steep really quickly, and soon the chatter level drops to zero, everyone focusing all of their energy on reaching the top. Note to self: next time, save biscuits for later.
On the way out and over the top, it seems like we’ve stumbled onto a European training camp with loads of NRS and Pro teams around. The guys from the now-defunct Budget Forklifts team and a lot of guys from Orica-GreenEDGE are hanging around the area. They look fairly relaxed in contrast to our sweating, puffing selves. We’re not sure if they scaled Heather with ease or if they were smart enough to skip it altogether. For the sake of our egos, we choose to believe the latter.
At 727 metres, Mount Lofty is the highest point in the ranges to which it lends its name. At first, we out-oftowners aren’t sure what all the fuss is about, but once we arrive it becomes pretty clear: just take the thrill of Windy Point and then double it. Depending on which way you go, Mount Lofty is around 18km to the east of the city and looks out over all of Adelaide.
As we ride, we chat about our favourite destinations and come to the realisation that none of us have ever ridden anything quite like Adelaide. Where else can you find so much beauty combined with epic roads – both descents and climbs – so close to the city? We ponder on whether Adelaide is Australia’s Boulder, our very own version of cycling’s spiritual home. The Sydneysiders in the bunch have a hard time admitting it, but soon concede the title. Adelaide is simply amazing.
Once we’ve had our fill of the view (and that took a while, let me tell you) we depart again, this time in the direction of Mylor, our eventual target for a park-up. With the Basket Ranges and Mount George looming in between – and the promise of one of the sweetest brews we’ve ever had waiting for us at the end – we push on.
Taking it in turns to drive the uneven-numbered bunch up the hills, we’re met with yet more changing conditions. It seems as though every few kilometres, Adelaide has a different environment for us to face. The changing conditions make it so much more enjoyable – you can go from pine trees and undulating roads with gentle puncheurs; to almost rainforest-like coverage and steep, steep grades; to heavily cambered gravel roads that just beg you to hold on tight and bomb it. Then, you suddenly open up to some of the most picturesque vineyards you’ll see anywhere in the world. The views are never the same, the smells never static, the kilometres never boring.
Dan asks if we want to hit some rollers. It’s a loaded question, but with no one willing to say no we veer a little off-course and hit Tregarthen Road. If you’re ever in the vicinity, do it. With some seriously steep grades and genuinely huge rollers, Tregarthen embodies that fine line between pleasure and pain. Proper power climbs are followed by scarily fast descents and still more power climbs – it’s an all-out smash fest, and one that hurts like hell and dominates conversation post-ride. Especially for he who gets up first.
And so, after spinning a little and getting some feeling back in the legs, the pre-ride agreement of riding only as fast as the slowest guy goes out the window. We hit the next section of the ride as hard as we’ve ridden all day. Maybe it’s the heat and the need to get a little air moving over the body, but the next 30km fly by in a flash, each of us spurring the other to dig a little deeper, to hold the burn just until the top of the next ridgeline. We soon settle in, and as we near Mylor, our thoughts turn to how many beers would be required to quench our growing thirst – as the day goes on, it’s starting to seem more like the Tour of Oman than a ride through the leafy Adelaide hills.
Like every meticulously mapped ride ever taken, it hasn’t gone quite according to plan, but sometimes the lure of the road less travelled – or the gravel grinding when the head says ‘no’ but the heart screams ‘hell yes’ – is just too much to dismiss. Amazing weather, some of the best scenery anywhere in Australia (and probably the world), and the company of mates pushing each other on – our Adelaide Big Ride has definitely had it all. We’ll be back, that’s for certain; there are many roads we didn’t get to try this time – Gorges, Old Willunga and Checkers to name but a few. But for now, it’s back to Adelaide and to the pub for a well-earned drink or – let’s be honest – two.
The Writer’s ride
Specialized Tarmac Expert, $230 (two-day hire), velo-porte.com
With my own Tarmac left safely back at home, Velo-Porte hand-picked the Tarmac Expert, fitted with a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed groupset for the team at Cyclist to use across the two days of riding and shooting. The Tarmac falls under Specialized’s Competitive line while still providing a versatile enough geometry that should suit most. We chose the standard wheelset model, equipped with Fulcrum S4 alloy clinchers. However, if you’re looking for something with a little more speed – and want to record your data at the same time – you can upgrade to a pair of Mavic Comic SLs and also have the guys install a Garmin GPS computer.
Delivered to your accommodation (within the central Adelaide area, we should note!) on arrival, it’s sized to your requirements and collected again on departure. All you need to do is bring your riding gear – your bike will come ready with bottle-cages, spare tube, pump and even helmet if needed – and you’ll be ready to venture into the hills.
Looking for an Adelaide escape? Give the folks at Velo Porte a yell.
How we got there
We flew Qantas return to and from Sydney, but all major domestic carriers will get you directly to Adelaide in two or three hours, depending where you are in Australia. The cab into the city in less than 20 minutes at any time of the day. We’re not actually sure if Adelaide has a peak hour.
We stayed at the Clarion Soho Hotel on Flinders Street. Rooms start at around $170/night or relax after a hard day in the hills with a Spa Suite ($300/night). With freshly re-designed rooms and plenty of space, it was just what we were after for our short visit. The pool on the roof has views of the city skyline and is perfect for a dip on a hot day.
FOOD AND DRINK
Adelaide city has a great variety of culinary delights, most of which are walking distance from within the CBD. With burgers, organic pizza, schnitzel and plenty more, the Duke of York on Currie Street was voted Best on Tour.
Velo-Porte is an Adelaide-based business providing high-end bicycles and equipment rentals. They’ll deliver to your hotel, fit you to the bike and pick up the gear when you’re done. It’s the bike you take on a holiday when you’re not taking a bike. Owner Keith is a cycling die-hard, having grown up riding bikes, and he isn’t short of a story about how he used the bike as a means of escape when growing up in Scotland. The only rule? Home by dark.
In need of a double-shot in Adelaide?