If you’re thinking G for gravel, and you’re happy to travel a few hours east of Melbourne, start thinking G for Gippsland. It’s an awesome area of Victoria, with a great mix of terrain just ideal for
. Its mix of hills and flats (especially on its rail trails) offers rollicking valley, forest and ranges views, and gives gravel riders of all levels plenty of options.
Beginner starting out with a craving for quiet unsealed roads? It’s the perfect starting place. Gravel-addict? Get Strava out and start your quest for the roads less travelled. Australian National Criterium Champion with two Paris Roubaix’s behind you? Welcome to an excellent training ground.
Who says? Well, Brenton Jones, a Gippsland local who currently rides with the UCI Continental Team Canyon DHB P/B Soreen. While he’s usually based overseas for eight months a year (in France and Britain, mostly), when he’s back home in Gippsland he grabs his
and hits the gravel.
“You just don’t have any road traffic,” explains the 2019 winner of the National Criterium Championships. “The best thing for me is when I ride from Jindivick just over an hour east of Melbourne to Gembrook in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges and back, on my gravel ride. I look at that and go, well, wow, that’s a 100km ride and I’ve seen more wallabies than cars! It helps appreciate what gravel riding provides in terms of the serenity and nature.”
Jones says one of his favourite road rides is Grand Ridge Road, from Hallston, all the way through the hills and Korumburra, to the beach in Inverloch on his
. But he can switch it to gravel easily after a bit of research. “I use Strava to map it out, but also use local knowledge. I do a few scouting rides myself, and work out which ones have been tarred, because sometimes Google maps will show gravel but it’s been tarred since. So a lot of scouting and trial and error,” he explains.
Jones sees gravel riding as quality training, especially when he’s preparing for events like the Paris Roubaix, which he completed in in 2018 and 2019. “I was using gravel riding as a lot of my training on endurance days. I’d go out for four to five hours on the
on the Gembrook loop, and the resistance is a lot harder than when you’re on the road,” he says. “I’m pushing out power that’s a lot harder than when I’m on a nice smooth surface on the
Plenty of steep downhills in Gippsland mean it’s also made for mountain biking, and there’s nothing stopping you taking your
on Gippsland’s rail trails – they’re some of Victoria’s best. The Great Southern Rail Trail starts in Leongatha and covers 74km of fine gravel; the East Gippsland Rail Trail reaches for 94km from Bairnsdale to near Orbost, and the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail is the shorter of the three at 63km, arcing from Stratford to Traralgon.
These mostly flat and well-maintained rail trails are great for newbies and families hitting unsealed trails together. They’ve got good start/access points (some are even accessible by train from Melbourne), good signage, and offer infrastructure to keep riders fuelled and rested (think parma-serving pubs with accommodation) not too far off the trails.
Whether taking on Gippsland’s gravel roads or rail trails, there’s nothing like experiencing the joys and serenity of a long ride on a gravel road. “It’s amazing there, so go out and explore a new ride or a new route,” says Jones. “Sometimes I’ll go for rides with not much of a route plan and just enjoy riding my bike. Not getting lost because I always know where I am, but just going down roads I’ve never been on to find out where they come out.“
Brenton Jones’ tips for getting to know Gippsland’s gravel- With gravel riding you’re probably going to be riding a bit slower than what you would on the road, so if you plan out a 90km loop don’t expect to do It in three hours. - A gravel ride is probably going to be more remote, so pack snacks and make sure you’ve got sufficient water – maybe ride with a Camelbak.- Jump on my Strava and check out some of the routes I’ve done in Warragul 100km from Melbourne and Gippsland for inspiration.
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