This has been a very interesting year with a few new firsts for me. Up until this season all my audax riding had been the road events but since the acquisition of ‘curly’, my composite Defy, I have had the opportunity to put gravel wheels on my alloy commuter and participate in the BVRT dirt rides and just recently I tried my hand at gravel as well.
My choice of gravel rides is a bit limited with the Boonah Triple and Dirty Boonah Double being my first two gravel rides.
My experience has been mixed so far, all my own doing.
Firstly I tried my hand at the 56km route on the Boonah Triple. It was here that I first discovered my series of poor judgement calls. I based my expectations on my road riding experience with the Fassifern Folly and Goat Track Gambol (not the Goat Track, but the dirt near the Cunningham Highway.) for some expectations of average speed. 12.5 doesn’t seem that hard to make bearing in mind my road average sits around 20 but that combined with my other choices led me to a DNF on the triple. My second error in judgement was thinking I could ride the 56km and drive to the north of Brisbane afterwards to make a noon birthday party for my twin grandsons. That only gave me three hours to get round the route but I didn’t know how bad this call was for a while. I will say, there is nothing wrong with the route at all – it is all a rider issue.
Once we kicked off, I made it onto the first section of gravel but my saddle was way too low – I still can’t work out how because I put my old saddle on and it is a but higher than the previous saddle but it was still 20mm too low. I did raise it 15mm (and it is still a bit low hence the 20mm) – go figure.
The ride up to Hoya road was pretty good but I couldn’t make the gravel pinch just before the turn so I walked the short distance to the top. I had recollections of Hoya road being a steep climb and thought that I had missed the worst of it – the second part is almost as hard a climb. This is where my fitness and weight gain has given me some trouble prompting thought about how to tackle my fitness and get my butt into gear. I should mention that there was light showers which made my progress a little slower as I needed to remove the sunnies which not only didn’t have wipers but fogged up horribly as I climbed.
I made it to the next gravel road and when I checked the time I determined that I had no chance of completing in time, so I decided to just enjoy the riding I was going to do, researched the best point to return to Boonah and then took photos on the way. I found that I did need to trapse up a few of the climbs but overall, I started enjoying the relaxed pace and scenery and especially the river beside the Beaudesert-Boonah Road. Very picturesque. I made it to Gorkow road and turned towards Boonah, taking the few turns to get me back to the start.
My second Boonah ride was the 65Km, advertising roads you can ride with 28mm tyres. I signed up, knowing I didn’t need to be anywhere near home at lunchtime luckily finishing all of my urgent work on the week evenings beforehand.
I arrived at the start to be greeted by Justin handing out Brevets. The turnout was pretty good – 28 riders with a combination of distances. I knew there was going to be a bit of climbing in this one so I relaxed and committed myself to a respectable pace that came undone pretty quickly as the pressure in my tyres was a bit low. Easily fixed but still put me behind the rider group. I had thought the first challenge would be the climb over Mt Archer but it was the little pinch at the start of Old Mt Archer Rd. Whilst tiny, it still required a short walk. Old Mt Archer Road is quite scenic and the view was pretty good, particularly as I got further up the climb. It was here that my fitness really brought me undone and I discovered my Kryptonite – not the climb, but the overcast and humid morning. This really pushed me hard but once at the top I had a brief rest then continued on. The descent towards the lake whilst a little tricky was handled really well by the gravel tyres – never losing grip. The view was quite stunning – the Lake looked still, it was in the morning and not much traffic about as well. Once I passed the next couple of pinches near the turn to the lake I was glad of the descent on the sealed road – I could cool off on the way down.
I was really impressed at the turn onto the Cunningham Hwy – no traffic to give way to – and at the second turn later, once I had stopped at the line (like the sign says to do) I had nothing to give way to there as well.
The next stage after Aratula was interesting as a gravel ride. I was followign the GPS as it directed me and I got mildly concerned when the sign said no through road. Jason did put in the brief that if you have to open gates you have gon the wrong way. Even more concerning was the GPS direction to take a turn onto what I would consider to be more of a bush track than a gravel road – this turned out to be the ‘no through’ bit for cars (but not for bicycles, pack horses, 4wd or dirt bikes). I had recollections of some seasoned riders telling me of struggling up almost impassable hills and climbing fences at night on a ride long ago (and they were really peeved at the RO for setting that part of the course). I was quite impressed by how this road degraded the further along I went – bush track (used enough) to 4wd track (washed out) to dried boggy watercourse crossing and finally two wheel ruts in 3ft tall grass. This is what it was like before the crossing and tall grass:
I found the gravel roads and route on the way back to near Kalbar to be quite good, I had picked up my pace and was riding to a reasonable time – until Kalbar where once again we turned off onto the paddock and wheel ruts but at least this was reasonably short. I navigated my way into Kalbar and had a short break while I removed the knee warmers and put more sunscreen on. The continuation wasn’t all that I had hoped for – the leg tanks were empty and I knew I had a little climbing to do and it had gotten comparatively warm at 33c. I was very disappointed near Mt French that I couldn’t keep up with the slowly walking horses (visible in the distance in the photo) until the slight downhill just before the turn onto Mt French Rd. I was quite pleased when I saw the Mt French sign – they normally put those things near the top of things and this didn’t disappoint.
Most people I ride with know that I like the down hills and Mt French descent is the type of rollercoaster ride I like – speedy downhill, keep the momentum going up the next rise and rinse and repeat. It was made even better by the lack of following cars. For those that haven’t experienced this descent, it is a reward for the climb to the top.
I do appreciate the encouragement from the two riders that kept passing me along the way (for various reasons) and it isn’t too bad a course the the fitter rider – Well done Justin. All in all, I am pleased with my first gravel success.