As the name suggests, the ‘harbour city’ is blessed with one of the world’s more spectacular waterways. But while swimmers, sailors and fishermen might rejoice at this resource, for cyclists the harbour itself holds little in the way of practical attraction.
That is not to say the incredible vistas of Port Jackson are beyond us; in fact it is a similar waterway just to Sydney’s north that provides the natural terrain for one of the city’s, and my, favorite rides.
The four-gorges ride is a staple for any Sydney cyclist worth their weight in carbon, and just like grades of carbon weave, there are many variations on the route. Four gorges can become three, five or six, not too mention your choice of direction and hidden extras. But for terrain, traffic, flow and coffee you’ll be hard pressed to beat the four-gorges loop done clock-wise.
There isn’t a more ‘Sydney’ meeting spot then the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and 9 times out of 10 this will be your jumping off point for any group ride going north. Indeed if you receive a text the night before with your meeting location described as “SHBS”, your pal is referring to the horribly designed, yet widely known Sydney Harbour Bridge Steps on the north side of the bridge cycle-way.
Unfortunately our first 20km will be trip due north, up one of Sydney’s main arterial routes, the Pacific Highway. The road flows well enough at an early hour, but keep your wits about you as you come through Chatswood and Hornsby as both these suburbs have major shopping outlets which carry with them major shopping traffic.
It will not have gone past your attention that you have spent the entire time on the Pacific Highway climbing, thankfully you can be safe in the knowledge that this is your return route, so these kilometers will pass much easier at the backend of the ride.
It isn’t until we make a right turn onto the resurfaced Bobbin Head road (20km) that you will start to feel the ride proper has begun. In a matter in minuets you go from the hustle of a main road to the sound of whip birds and the smell of eucalyptus.
Riding in Sydney has a number of oddities about it, none more so then the fact that we descend to cold and climb to warm. The gorges seems to act like a freezer trapping dry cold air all year round, so after you have rugged up for the plunge into Bobbin Head, you’ll be only too keen to get the legs warmed up coming out the other side.
Each gorge climb has its own characteristics, however they all tend to be 3km long ascending roughly 200m each. Not the sort of figures to send shivers down the spine of mountain goats the world over, but as you’ll discover climbing out of Bobbin Head, they are not to be underestimated.
The first gorge ticked off the list and we turn due west to link up with Galston Rd. You wont find this road as peaceful as Bobbin Head, especially on a Saturday morning with school sport runs being made, but that won’t take away from the thrilling descent into Galston Gorge.
Over the rickety Galston bridge and you enter a different climate altogether, one with fauna that will have you thinking you have dropped into the Daintree Rainforest.
As you make the 3km ascent out of Galston, make sure you keep enough in the tank to fend off your rivals towards the summit as little pinches of 10-12% around the 2km mark will act as a perfect launching pad to KOM points.
Catching our breath we first head north, then east on Bay road where you can be forgiven for forgetting you are still in a city of 5 million people. Large country estates, tree lined roads and cattle going about their business add to the feeling of escapism.
10km of rolling terrain later and you can really let your hair down on the descent to the Berowra Waters ferry, just remember to change into your small ring because on the other side of that body of water lies your 3rd challenge.
Whilst the ferry might be a great chance to refuel and take the obligatory #wishyouwerehere photo, it is also a stark reminder of the type of terrain you are riding. Big gullies and gorges cut out of sandstone over a period of time much longer then electronic shifting will be in vogue.
Many people regard the eastern side of Berowra as the easiest of all the gorge ascents, however in my experience that has only giving your mates more incentive to ‘try something’ up it. If you are planning something up here, be bold and go from the switchback 500m into the climb.
Back onto the old Pacific Highway you will face a number of rollers, so best to stay together and work as a group through here before retracing your steps and dropping back into Bobbin Head this time from the west.
With the smell of coffee and pastries now firmly taking hold, this might be your chance to show who really is the boss. Bobbin eastside will lull you into a false sense of security before hitting you right at the top with a short stinging 10% section on one of the last left-handers.
Given you have now broken the back of the days’ climbing with only the meandering descent down the Pacific Highway remaining, now is the time to begin assessing the groups wellbeing and acute desire for caffeine. The most immediate fix can be sourced in north Turramurra, but for those of us travelling back towards the city, it is often worth remounting and making your way further down the highway.
Crows Nest, 15km further down the highway and only 5km from the Harbour Bridge has a great mix of cafes and bakeries, many with options for sitting outside near your prized possession.
By the time you have returned to the bridge cursing the fact you are lugging your bike up a set of stairs on a main cycle-way, you will have done just over 100km and around 2,000m climbing. Along with a set of numbers will come a pretty good understanding on the terrain around the northern reaches of Sydney, not to mention a great couple of hours with friends doing what we all wish we were doing right now.