Friday, December 23, 2011

MGG #5 Report

Copyright (c) Dave Scarlett

Wow. That was an amazing ride and an amazing turnout. I don’t know how, but we convinced 40 people to meet us at the end of the line at Hurstbridge at 1am in the morning for an 80km ride on dirt roads through the foothills below Kinglake.

Read on for more...

Dennis Station 12 midnight
Dennis Station at midnight
Copyright (c) Scott Symes

Initially we thought we’d only get a handful of people - maybe a dozen - but in the last few days before the ride people kept on putting up their hand and it began to look more like 20-30 would turn up. We were pleasantly surprised when (once again) we ran out of cue sheets and counted 40 riders on our starters list. Amazing. The weather was great - fine and warm - and I think that played a large part in convincing people to come out.


There was much milling around and last-minute mechanical adjustments as we filled the carpark at Hurstbridge Station. Francesca put her name down on the starters list and told us “Don’t tell my mum I’m here!” Budge had just flown in from the UK, was jetlagged, tipsy from a birthday party earlier in the night and with no light mounts, no food and only one bidon cage, all of which were remedied with the help of Blakey, “The Enabler”. Nik T had even deeper mechanical issues and ended up filing his cranks to fit a chainring on, only running four chainring bolts due to one of them stripping and seizing and then shortening his chain on the train on the way to the ride. It was all sorted by the time the train rolled into Hurstbridge and he was ready to ride.

Words of thanks, warning and encouragement were spoken and then riders took off into the warm moonlit night.

Leaving Hurstbridge
Rolling out of Hurstbridge
Copyright (c) Scott Symes

Once you leave Hurstbridge and hit the dirt roads there are no street lights. It was amazing to crest a hill in the darkness and see red and white lights snaking away into the distance. It was a very still night so the dust raised by riders ten minutes in front would hang in the air - clear glasses were essential! The temperature was warm - shorts and short sleeves - and the sky was clear with some scattered cloud. The moon and stars were so bright - we were far away from the light pollution of the city.

Full of stars
Copyright (c) Andy White

What the hell are we doing?

One of the locals must have called the police at some point, probably confused by all the slow-moving lights and excited chatter on their usually empty road. Cam, Justine and Jose said they pulled over to the side of the road to let a car pass and then realised it was a police car. The cop stopped them, asked what the hell they were doing, seemed convinced by their explanation, told them they were crazy and then took off back to the station.

Checking directions
Copyright (c) Andy White

It didn’t take long for the rough roads and night-time lighting conditions to start claiming tubes. Riding under lights can mean the road surface gets washed out and it can be hard to see surface features. You ride along what you think is a perfectly flat piece of gravel road, squinting into the dust raised by the rider ahead and then BAM! you just went straight through a pothole and now you’ve got a pinch flat. Or, in the case of one rider, two simultaneous pinch flats and a dinged rim. Fortunately he was stoic about it and said that rim was close to the end of its life anyway.

Eagles Nest Road
Copyright (c) Andy White

Not many stopped at the first water/toilet checkpoint at Arthurs Creek, which may have been a good thing. I made the mistake of using the drop toilet and, of course, you have to look where you’re aiming, so the full power of my helmet-mounted Ayups was blasted down into the pit and I saw, bright as day, a horrendous sight that is now burned into my brain forever. *shudder* Eyes closed and aim by ear next time.

Tawny Frogmouth
Tawny Frogmouth
Copyright (c) Dave Scarlett

Bowden Spur

The climb up Bowden Spur was amazing. It’s a steep dirt road that follows the powerlines straight up to Kinglake Central, hovering around 12-13% for a couple of k’s. It’s loose and rocky in places and there’s a sheer drop-off to one side that, fortunately or not, couldn’t be seen due to the darkness. The consensus was that the darkness was a good thing on this climb because it, literally, kept you in the dark about what was to come. Riders had tunnel vision and just focussed on the little bit of road directly in front of them, snaking around to find the best line through the loose stuff and trying to keep their weight over the back wheel so it wouldn’t spin out. Looking up, you could see red taillights in the distance which gave you something to aim for, like a carrot on a stick. The further away the red lights were, the higher up they went. The furthest ones, the ones highest up the climb, seemed to be taking off up into the sky. The elevation change was illustrated very clearly. An amazing sight.

View from the spur
Copyright (c) Andy White

Some found the gradient too challenging even with low low gears. Justine clicked down and down gears but ended up going so slow on the loose rocky climb that she had trouble balancing and fell over sideways a few times. She was still in high spirits but decided that the coffee at the top of the climb wasn’t worth the gravel rash so she, Cam and Jose decided to turn back down the hill towards Hurstbridge.

City lights
Copyright (c) Andy White

Some found the gradient challenging but managed to muscle up it anyway. Perennial single-speeder Piers was witnessed honking up the hill on his Steamroller and wearing skinny jeans in a display of strength and style. Ok, so he walked a bit of it but then, so did a lot of riders who had many more gears to choose from.

In a bizarre mechanical, Andy was happily spinning up the hill when BANG! PSSSSsssssss. His first thought was a rear flat but the tire was still hard. Turns out his choice of bike had bit him on the arse - he’d blown the rear shock on his dual suspension MTB and was now sitting way down in the back seat with no travel at all. Should have brought the roadie!

KOM Kinglake

At the top of the climb was the halfway checkpoint. Jason and Linda had heard we were planning a ride nearby so they contacted us and offered to open up their place all night so we could stop in for coffee, food, water, toilets and a comfy place to rest our bones. Their place, KOM Kinglake, is housed in a big garage which was all lit up especially for us. The coffee machine was running hot and the cakes and cold drinks were disappearing rapidly. There were bike racks for our bikes and couches and comfy chairs scattered around so we could stretch out and relax. There was even a lounge room with some couches and a big screen TV playing classic cycling DVDs.

Coffee at the top of Bowden Spur
KOM Kinglake
Copyright (c) Dave Scarlett

There was much milling around and talking about the climb and what we’d seen in the darkness, wombats, foxes, owls. It was a great place to hang out and catch up with friends but, it was the middle of the night and we couldn’t stay there shooting the breeze forever so the steady stream of dusty riders rolling in was met by a steady stream of dusty yet refreshed riders rolling out.

The descent back down Bowden Spur Road was either fun or scary, depending on your bike and handling skills. Fat tires and disc brakes inspired a more confident descent while those on skinny-tired roadies had to grab two fistfuls of brake and feather their way down the steep, loose grade trying to keep their speed in check without letting the rubber break free from the road. Fortunately everyone got down in one piece. There was one report of a scary pinch-flat on this descent that was just saved before the rider went down. Others reported that they got down ok but ground away a few months worth of disc pad material and had them steaming in the night as they poured water over their rotors to cool them down.

The moon at dawn
Morning moon
Copyright (c) Dave Scarlett

Back to Hurstbridge

A bit of rolling terrain later and our route intersected with the main road back to Hurstbridge. This was marked on the cue sheet as a possible bailout point and quite a few people took this option and rolled straight back to Hurstbridge on the blacktop. The only rule on these rides is you have to have fun - bailing out at any point is not only allowed but encouraged if it will keep a smile on your face.

The riders who kept going on the full course met the sunrise over Sugarloaf Reservoir. What a beautiful way to start the day. The course was carefully designed to include a short out’n’back section that skirted Sugarloaf Reservoir and took riders past a water checkpoint. It seems most riders who got to this point read the cue sheet, realised it was an out’n’back section and decided to skip it. You all missed out! The ones who did the full course are STILL talking about how stunningly beautiful the sunrise was over Sugarloaf.

Ok, maybe they’re not still talking about it but it was good.

Ok, ok, no more pointless out’n’backs next time.

A few stragglers
Tired but happy
Copyright (c) Dave Scarlett


Riders started rolling into Hurstbridge Train Station around five or six. We didn’t note down finishing times this time because a) we’re a bit lazy and b) it’s not a race so it doesn’t really matter. There was great banter in the carpark as we waited for the shops to open so we could get coffee. Riders kept rolling in with grins on their faces, covered in dust and raving about the wombat they saw, the hot air balloons that everyone else missed out on, the kangaroo that joined their peloton and bounced along the road with them.

More stories came out as we swapped notes about the ride. Chris experienced some sort of cassette explosion and had about half a dozen people all crawling around in the dirt shining their lights on the ground trying to find a washer. Pete felt a bit tired at one point so he decided to hobo camp somewhere up near Kinglake for a few hours but couldn’t sleep because it was too bright so he ended up rolling back down the Hurstbridge and got to the station just as the last few riders were rolling in.

Dawn Cherry Tree Rd
Dawn on Cherry Tree Road
Copyright (c) Scott Symes

It sounds like a great time was had at the pointy end of the ride too. Alex and Jesse - two very experienced 24 hour MTB riders - were joined by Scott on his self-made rando machine. The three of them set a good pace and apparently the banter didn’t stop all through the night. Alex and Jesse had ridden from Brunswick out to the start at Hurstbridge, done the ride, then rode all the way home again via a loop of Westerfolds Park and then the Yarra Trails making it over 200km for them, largely on dirt or singletrack. Reportedly Alex fell asleep in the bath when he got home. A couple of days later Jesse rode his singlespeed to Adelaide, non-stop, by himself. That’s about 850km.

Eventually the carpark started emptying as the riders who rolled in got on the train and rolled out. Everyone seemed to be really stoked by the ride. And tired. Nik was stoked on mince pies and hot jam donuts from the Hurstbridge bakery. Leigh said he made a point of waving to every roadie he saw as they rolled back into Hurstbridge but very few of them returned his wave because they looked “way too serious to wave back at grinning, pannier-laden, vintage-jersey-wearing riders at that time of morning.” One old guy got off the train and started preparing his tiny-wheeled folder and asked if we were part of a club or something. We said, “Yeah... kinda.” Then he asked where we were going. His eyes were like saucers when we told him that we were just finishing up our ride that we’d started at 1am.


We didn’t note down everyone’s bike type this time as we’ve done in the past. My impression was that there were more touring bikes this time and less cyclocross. Mountain bikes were well represented as usual. Less singlespeeds this time - I think Piers was the only one? More 650B than ever too - Blakey and I on our Rawland rSogns; Jed on his Rawland Drakkar, Scott on his self-made rando rig and Luke on Tristram’s beautiful-looking self-made rando machine. I guess Tristram figured if he couldn’t make it then at least his bike would.

That’s it for the year

So, to sum up, a great ride was had by all. We were blown away by how many people turned up. Thanks to Jason and Linda for opening up KOM Kinglake for us, your hospitality was amazing. Thanks to all the riders for coming out to meet us at such an ungodly hour and thanks for your support on all the rides we’ve hosted this year.

We’re so stoked that so many people like doing the same sort of rides as us. And we seem to attract a very diverse and inclusive group of riders, from hardcore, national level racers to casual recreational riders, and across all the different cycling disciplines, roadie, MTB, CX, rando, tourer, fixed, everyone turns up and everyone has fun. Needless to say, we’ll be continuing these rides in 2012.

Until then, Happy Holidays!

Mik's photos

Andy's photos


  1. love the photos! what cameras were used? was HDR involved? maybe I would be crazy enough to do this again :)

  2. Backpaqer - If you're referring to the first photo, I didn't use HDR/tone-mapping, but the foreground was definitely brightened. In the original image, the foreground was much darker, and you could only just make out the shapes of the bikes.

    The full details: Since I shot it at ISO 80 and in RAW format (on a Canon Powershot G12), I could brighten it a lot without losing image detail. I converted from RAW to JPG (with Adobe Camera RAW) using 16 bit colour depth and setting the black level low enough to avoid discarding any detail, then used Photoshop to mask off the foreground and apply different levels to it than to the sky. This allowed for a reduction in dynamic range necessary to have detail in the foreground without blowing out the sky, but in a much more subtle and realistic way than HDR/tone-mapping. It is a lot more work though.