Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Cycling Fashion Fails – Part 1

Looking good on the bike comes naturally to some and not so to others. As cyclists, we are already misunderstood creatures – the general population don’t get why we wear Lycra and our partners probably don’t get why we wear bib-knicks (or like mine, likens you to a little Mexican wrestler). Let’s not make the issue worse by looking like complete clowns. Instead, follow a few simple rules around what you should and should not wear while riding your bike.

Team Kitteamkit

In contrast to some other sports, like football or basketball, team kit is for team riders only. If your name is Simon Gerrans, you can wear an Orica GreenEdge kit. If your name is Richie Porte, you can wear a Sky kit. If you ride for a team, go for it,  otherwise steer clear. This rule also extends to National jerseys – you can only wear the stripes if you earn them.  Sorry to break it to you every Englishman that rides a bike, but you are not actually Bradley Wiggins.

Matching Kit
matchy

At a very minimum, your jersey should be matching your shorts – keeping in mind that most things match plain black. Worst case scenario is mixing team kits (breaking two rules at once) – I have actually witnessed someone mix an light blue Astana jersey with green Cannondale shorts. I was too busy throwing myself under the nearest car to take a photo.

Sockssocks

I have previously written a very in-depth guide to socks, which you can read by clicking here. In summary, a tall sock is ideal and a mid-height sock is a pass mark.  Ankle socks, knee high socks, compression socks and fluffy woollen socks are all frowned upon. Not wearing socks, a common practice by triathletes (strange human beings) is inexcusable.

Jerseys
sleaveless

One for the banned list.  Your jerseys must ALWAYS have sleeves. They can be short or long (winter only), but your upper arm is always to remain covered. Riding in hot temperatures is not an excuse either – there are plenty of lightweight options available.  I don’t see this very commonly on men, but I do see a lot of female upper arms. Trying to use your tan lines to give the impression of sleeves (as pictured) is only going to end in tears.

Leg Warmers
warmers

I could almost write as much about leg warmers as I did about socks, so I will attempt to summarise. Firstly, knee warmers are preferable to leg warmers, which should only be worn in extreme climates (i.e. riding in a blizzard up the French Alps, or in Canberra in winter). As with all kit, make sure the leg warmers match your shorts (black and black is the safest bet). Unless you are a team rider and are contracted to do so, do not EVER wear bright red, yellow or blue leg warmers. Always ensure the warmer sits under the short and that there is no gap between the two (the skin must never show – keep that gap closed).

Overshoes
overshoes

This is really quite simple – don’t wear plastic bags as overshoes.  I have heard of some cultures (the English in particular) placing plastic or tin foil on the inside of shoes, which is acceptable if evidence is never sighted. When looking to prevent wind or rain from infiltrating your shoes, your best bet is to buy some proper overshoes that are going to match your kit. Oversocks are cool too – just keep them clean!

National Women’s Road Development Team Camp – Days 5 and 6

Day 5 – Wednesday

Day 5 was thankfully not a repeat of Day 3 and Day 4 (I might have cracked if it was). Although I didn’t have any resting metabolic testing scheduled for the morning, I was still required to be up before the sun in order to help prepare food and 150 bottles for the mystery activities in plan for a windy and chilly Day 5.

Preparations done slightly ahead of schedule meant we could actually sit down, enjoy breakfast as a team (an unusual phenomenon) and speculate as to what the coaches had planned for today.  A long ride to an unknown destination had the lion’s share of the votes. Soon after breakfast we headed over to the Biomechanics dome, kitted up and ready for whatever was going to be thrown at us.

Our initial instructions were to ride as a group over to Mt Stromlo via Coppins Crossing.  The sun was now out, but the wind was fierce – crosswinds that apparently rivalled those in Dubai. The small peloton of women was being tossed around like autumn leaves in a cyclone. Once at Mt Stromlo we were to complete a Prologue (like an Individual Time Trial). The course was technical in nature with some tight corners, made even more difficult by the windy conditions. At times, you actually felt like you were going backwards.

There was to be no riding in the dirt at Stromlo today.
There was to be no riding in the dirt at Stromlo today.

After completing the Prologue, the riders all headed back to one of the support vehicles and started consuming some of the pre-prepared rations. I was 95% through a large Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich when it was announced we would be completing a second lap of the Prologue, but with tighter corners. Those who spent the time doing course reconnaissance and practising their lines were the ones who ultimately reigned supreme.  I managed to hold on to my lunch – but only just.

Next up, we were informed it was crit racing time! The course was the 1.8km Stromlo criterium course, with points awarded on sprint laps (laps 2, 4, 10, 12 and 14) of a race totalling 14 laps.  I started nutting out a plan in my mind – surely the sprinters would looking to hang on until the sprints. The weaker girls (which included me) would look to stretch the elastic and maybe even try to attack early and get away for a lap or two.

My plan was cut to pieces coming around the first corner when a violent shot of pain shot up through my thigh. Falling off the group almost immediately, I struggled to get back on for another 7 or so laps, eventually pulling over to find a medic. Later diagnosed as a small tear in my VMO muscle, the physiotherapist at the AIS stuck a few needles in and strapped me up, ready for the afternoon session, whatever that may be.

Part of "Gravel Hell" - which was made up of Fairlight Rd and Mountain Creek Rd out near Uriatta Crossing
Part of “Gravel Hell” – which was made up of Fairlight Rd and Mountain Creek Rd out near Uriatta Crossing

Jumping in the cars, the squad commenced the mystery journey to the next location. Meeting at the intersection of two country roads, we drove along a long sealed road for about 9km. After passing Uriatta Crossing, the vehicles struggled up a relatively steep climb, before hitting dirt road. We followed this pot-hole filled gravel track for another 9km until reaching the starting point again. Just in case it wasn’t clear, that was the loop we were going to have to ride three times. As a race. With a 12 minute cut off. On our road bikes.

The sealed part of the road was stunning - not that anyone had time to admire the view.
The sealed part of the road was stunning – not that anyone had time to admire the view.

The group set off together, staying well-organised until the first climb, where a number of riders took off. Struggling up the climb with my previous injury, I found myself with four girls in a chase group. It wasn’t long after hitting the gravel for the first time, I heard the familiar sound of air escaping my rear tire.

Puncture number one – but as quickly as I got off the bike to commence the fix, a car pulled up and replaced my wheel (a service I could get used too)! Off I went, on my own, but soon to find another two riders who had run into the same fate. We formed a group and finished the first lap about 3 minutes off the leaders.

Trying to make up time on the sealed road and the climb (which was still hurting like hell), we hit the dirt to commence round two.  Loosing one rider, two of us put in a solid effort to try and bridge back and/or stay within the cut-off time. This worked well for a long while, until air escaping my front tyre caused me to pull over for the second time. While I was comfortable riding on the rough surface, I did not have the right tyres fitted. However, like magic, a vehicle brimming with spare wheels arrived to get me going again.

Coming through for the final lap, I had suffered the fate of having to work either alone or with one other and was now 7 minutes down. It was going to be a stretch to finish within the cut-off. Again passing riders who had punctured, I was on the final section of lap number three. Keeping with the theme, my front tyre went again, but seemingly only partially as I was able to shoot a CO2 cannister in and get myself home.

Just to keep things interesting –  as the sun was setting in the background – it was revealed one of the service vehicles also had experienced a flat tyre. You could probably guess that it was the group of female bike riders tasked with fixing it!  Finally solved, we drove back to the AIS for dinner, debrief and bed. The only instructions – have yourself fully packed and all your gear labelled and ready to go for the morning. Sounds ominous.

Class of 2015
Class of 2015

 

Day 6 – Thursday
There were some anxious faces around breakfast on Day 6, as all signs pointed to today being the day of the big cut – a process where the AIS would identify the final 8 riders to progress through to the end of the camp and send everyone else home.

After moving our bikes and bags into a central location, we gathered together and were led into a big meeting room in the basketball complex. One by one, names were called out and girls asked to leave the room. After eight names were called, it became obvious that those left, which included me, would be going home.

board
The final 8 selections (top line) and those who would miss out (bottom line), for this year at least

Immensely disappointing, but at the same time, reflecting on it, not entirely surprising. Those who were picked for the final round absolutely deserved it – showing strength, power and tenacity throughout the duration of the camp, in addition to being incredibly talented athletes.  We were reminded by the coaches that even just getting accepted into the camp was a huge achievement – just because we are not part of the elite few to race overseas now, doesn’t mean we won’t be in the future.

Reflections
These six days were some of the toughest I have ever experienced from a training point of view (it can easily be compared to National Flog Week). Add in the mental and emotional challenges, including having to operate in a constant state of chaos, and you have a really uniquely punishing experience. That said, this is an amazing experience that if embraced, makes you stronger and more self aware.  I am very thankful for the opportunity, proud of my achievements and after the camp, even more motivated to get better, faster and stronger than ever before.

National Women’s Road Development Team Camp – Days 3 and 4

As you might have already read in the first article, my first two days at the AIS were jam-packed with V02 Testing, Judo, full body scans, urine pots, blood vials, monitoring devices, hill repeats, track riding, bike skills, improv acting and a few hours of interrogation.  Here is a look at the next two days – days 3 and 4.

Day 3 – Monday
Being woken prior to dawn (again) for a continuation of the resting metabolic testing meant that I didn’t nearly get enough sleep. In fact, the early starts and late finishes appeared to be very deliberate – designed to keep us in a constant state of severe fatigue. Which was seemingly working.

Get whatever rest or sleep you can. Where ever you can.
Get whatever rest or sleep you can. Where ever you can.

We usually don’t get given a schedule ahead of time – if we do, it is to ensure we know where to be early in the morning. If we do get an “extended” schedule, it doesn’t always make sense. I am also pretty sure one of the schedules provided deliberately conflicted itself, just to keep us guessing.

Day 3 was focused on further testing in the lab – both to measure our athletic ability in a controlled environment and to collect data for a number of research projects. After meeting some expert nutritionists for breakfast we spent the morning on the Lode bikes, each session culminating in a 4 minute interval, holding close to V02 Max for 2 minutes (controlled by the bike), followed by a maximum effort for the remaining 2 minutes. We did the same session twice before lunch. Blood lactate was measured at the same time – reflecting now, it is quite unusual to have a research assistant take blood from your ear while you are absolutely hammering it out on a bike.

After lunch was thrown down, we were back at the lab for the afternoon session – measuring the impacts compression garments have on recovery. It involved spending a fair bit of time with your leg in a bucket of water (to measure volume) and the interval session from hell:

Warmup: 2mins 100w, 2min 150w, 2min 225w. 2min 100w.
10sec sprint at 80%, 50 sec off,
10sec sprint at 90%, 50 sec off,
30sec all out sprint, 2:30min time trial.

Session: (Sprints are at 100% and you must maintain consistency)
5sec sprint / 5sec off x 12, 2min at 100w,
10sec sprint/10sec off x 6, 2min at 100w,
15sec sprint, 15sec off x 4, 2min at 100w.
5sec sprint / 10sec off x 12, 2min at 100w,
10sec sprint/20sec off x 6, 2min at 100w,
15sec sprint, 30sec off x 4, 2min at 100w.
30sec all out sprint, 2:30min time trial.

Cooldown: 10min at 100w

After crawling off the bikes, we spent the next 90mins with a bike mechanic, which I personally found extremely valuable. A lovely man in a Shimano cap demonstrated most effective way to clean your bike at the end of a race (or stage), provided some expert tips on maintenance and assisted with the identification of critical bike measurements and how to get them. The biggest challenge of this particular session was simply being outside in gale force winds and trying to keep the work-stands upright.

My handwriting skills also copped a workout across the camp.
My handwriting skills also copped a workout across the camp.

Day 3 was also the introduction of the written tactical exams. We all received three scenario based questions at lunch time, which covered aspects such as race planning, logistics, race tactics, analysis and more (as well as some more random questions thrown in, just to test your thinking). As someone who spends a lot of time on a mountain bike, I found these really challenging, but at the same time, an extensive learning experience. Any spare moments found during the day were spent on the tactical questions (they were due at debrief later that night). Not surprisingly, most of the girls were eating dinner with one hand and scrawling down answers with the other.

Another intense debrief session and I found myself in bed after 11pm (I made a personal pledge to ensure my food and sleep diaries were updated each night so that I wouldn’t fall behind). My alarm was set for 5:30am the next day so I could be ready for further resting metabolic rate studies.

Day 4 – Tuesday
I woke up exhausted and aching after an intense Day 3. Again, with minimal sleep and no time for proper recovery (even though the most advanced sports recovery centre in Australia sat next to the residence halls) we trudged over to the lab to commence our prescribed breakfast and find out what was in store for the day.

Mentally and emotionally we were all being challenged. We work in a constant state of chaos, with time pressures which sometimes meant we had to sneak food out of the dining hall in order to get back in time for the next session (It’s not often you find yourself with raisin toast down your jersey).

Measuring the volume of your leg - even with all the advancements in science, the most effective way is still with a bucket of water.
Measuring the volume of your leg – even with all the advancements in science, the most effective way is still with a bucket of water.

Today’s challenge was that we were going to repeat yesterday’s challenges. 

The two sessions which culminated in a 4 minute V02 Max effort, a repeat of the interval session from hell and more tactical questions to answer. The hardest thing was knowing what to expect – when you climb on a bike you know how much it is going to hurt. You know how long it is going to last. You know that your legs are weak but that you also need to strive to equal or exceed what you achieved yesterday. You know that when the sessions are over, there is no time for a shower and a stretch, as you have more written tactical questions to answer.

Like previous days, we completed Day 4 with an intense debrief session. Girls who showed signs of starting to fall asleep were called out and asked even more direct questions.  Another late night, although that is starting to become expected.

Stay tuned for the final article which will cover Days 5 and 6.

National Women’s Road Development Team Camp – Days 1 and 2

The Australian Institute of Sport is a pretty incredible place to be, no matter what sport you play. Our nation’s greatest athletes have all trained here at some point, under the guidance of the best coaches, mentors, doctors, scientists and sports administrators in the business. As one of 18 young women to get the call up to attend the High5 Australian Road Development Team selection camp, it’s fair to say I was already feeling both honoured and privileged before the camp had even begun.

olympic

The camp itself would go on to utilise military-style training methodologies in order to identify the six riders who have what it takes to compete professionally abroad as part of an Australian Team. I was expecting it to be physically tough, but what I actually experienced was so much more than that – mentally challenging, emotionally draining with minimal recovery, sleep deprivation and at times, near starvation.  It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life!

Day 1 – Saturday
After checking in at the AIS, we made our way to the Biomechanics dome to grab some kit, a range of monitoring devices and to prepare for the first test – the Step Test.  After a brief warm up, the bike is set up to start at 125 watts and increase 25 watts every 2 minutes. The rider pedals until they can no longer sustain a cadence of at least 70rpm. This final wattage, at the point of failure, is your Maximal Aerobic Power (which is used throughout the rest of the camp). Although it starts quite comfortably, the Step Test ends with a  great deal of pain and suffering as you fight to keep your legs moving.

The Step Test – each rider had a “helper” who would provide encouragement (good) and call a halt to the test when you fell below 70rpm (bad)

After the Step Test, we were sent to the Gymnastics Hall where we met an ex-soldier and an Olympic representative in Judo. The purpose – to learn how to fall off your bike effectively, minimising potential injury. The group spent two hours front falling, front rolling, side rolling and generally flying through the air tucked up into miniature balls. It was a really valuable session in terms of it’s intended application – how to fall without breaking bones. I also have developed a new level of respect for gymnasts (I was one of a few girls who became “sea-sick” and couldn’t hold on to their stomachs).

Judo was held in the AIS Gymnastics arena. The colourful flags were at times a welcome distraction from wanting to throw up my guts.

Although not overly enthusiastic on the idea of dinner after the Judo session, the early start and a long drive to get down to Canberra meant I was very enthusiastic when it came to getting into bed. Before that however we were treated to a fun session with an “improv” actor, who helped get us in the mindset of thinking on our feet.

Day 2 – Sunday
I was woken up well before sunrise to have a mouthpiece inserted and a clip placed on my nose (in addition to the sleep monitor on my right wrist and the activity monitor on my left arm). After filling two bags with air straight from my lungs, I was then sent to the lab to have blood and urine taken, before being scanned from head to toe. A cursory breakfast at the Food Hall and we set off to Black Mountain.

The girls prior to riding over to Black Mountain.
The girls prior to riding over to Black Mountain.

Black Mountain is the principle climb for the AIS. Gerrans, Evans, Porte, Meares, Gilmore and more have all been here before us. The task today was communicated (usually we don’t find out what we are actually doing until we come to doing it) –  we were going to complete an Individual Time Trial up the climb, spin the legs out for a few kilometres and then race up as a group.

Black Mountain is certainly a tenacious climb, with a number of steep pinches that try desperately to prevent you from reaching the summit. My heart was beating out of my chest and my legs on fire for the duration, especially considering one of the steepest bits is right at the start.

blackers

Black Mountain conquered, we headed back to the AIS for lunch and for the afternoon’s sessions – a 4.4km Time Trial on the track and a skills session on a synthetic football pitch. Both in the plodding rain, blustery wind and freezing cold. I was a bit nervous having never raced on the track before, but quickly realised it’s just about keeping your head down, limiting your body movement and following the white line. While trying to breathe, which is potentially the most difficult part.

bus
The bus ride back from the track at Queanbeyan Park – selfie photo credit goes to Kimbers

The skills session was a great deal of fun – learning how to ride shoulder to shoulder, nudge and be nudged, touch wheels without crashing, jump curbs and my new favourite skill, pick up bottles from the ground while riding. A little bit of a party trick, but also highly practical, the water bottle retrieval is a skill I will certainly continue to practice.

Exhausted and insatiably hungry, we had a quick shower, demolished a plate or two of food and headed to the first debrief session. Honest, factual and realistic, we are probed by our coaches (one of who is a physiologist) on our behaviour and decision making throughout the day. Referred to only by your numbers (I now answer to “number 26”), it is not uncommon to be asked why exactly you made a certain decision in a race, who you find annoying, who didn’t work as part of the team and more. Nothing is off limits.

You can read about Days 3 and 4 here.

The 8 Stages of Injury

Injury is a fact of life for athletes, but that doesn’t make it suck any less. As a bit of a pro at crashing and generally breaking myself, I thought it might be useful to document the official* eight stages of injury. *not actually official

Phase 1: Pain
There is no denying that when you fall of your bike, it hurts. Whether you fail to unclip in time (we have all done it), fall off at slow speed (common for mountain bikers), slide out on a slippery corner or collide with other riders (or other vehicles for that matter), hitting the ground is not comfortable.  Blood is usually involved. In many cases, so is swearing.  Those first 10 seconds are absolutely the worst. Sometimes after that, the pain starts to subside – other times, not so much.

 

Phase 2: Assessment
“Am I alive?” If you can clearly see your surrounds, hear the laughter (sorry, the concern) of your mates and feel the sting of pain, the answer is probably yes. The second most important question to ask yourself is “Am I still beautiful?” Touch your face, make sure your nose and teeth are in place. A lack of lumps, bumps and blood in this area might mean you can front up to work tomorrow after all.

Faceplant
Does anyone have the number of a good dentist?

 

Phase 3: Denial
I was always taught to be positive – if we tell ourselves it’s not as bad as it might be, surely that will help the situation. My knee makes a grinding noise when I walk up stairs – that’s not a problem is it? (Actual: Cortisone injection and six months of rehab).  I can feel my collarbone and it isn’t where it was five minutes ago – it might be dislocated (Actual: Full shoulder reconstruction). Wow, there is a lot of blood – it probably just looks bad because it’s raining (Actual: Large gash, exposed bone, stitches, crutches and two and a half weeks off).  

I'm good bro. Just a scratch. I'll be fine.
I’m good bro. Just a scratch. I’ll be fine.

 

Phase 4: Pride
I am such a badass.
Note that this phase is usually only realised prior to full medical consultation or before the full implications are realised. As such, this phase is also usually rather short.

Did you see that? Skillz!
Did you see that? Skillz!

 

Phase 5:  Realisation
The realisation phase is usually experienced once proper medical attention is sought (your mate making ambulance sounds doesn’t count). At first you might not comprehend what the doctor or nurse is saying. Then you simply don’t want to accept what they are saying. Terms like “ruptured”, “broken” and “surgery” can be thrown around like confetti. The first question most athletes ask is “When can I start training again?”. Often the answer to this question is one you don’t want to hear.

But I have a race in two weeks! I booked accommodation and everything! My life is OVER.

 

Phase  6: Sadness
Once realisation has fully set in,  complete and utter sadness begins. If you can’t ride you can’t hang out with your cycling mates. You can’t feel the wind in your hair or experience the high of endorphins in your system. You will have to catch public transport to work. Your bike sits lonely and meaningless in the garage. The $2000 surgery bill could have bought new carbon wheels. You are going to spend more time on your wind trainer. And the worst of all – you can’t dare eat anything for the next month because you’ll get fat.

Complete and Utter Sadness.
Complete and Utter Sadness.

 

Phase 7: Anger
Sadness turns into anger (to be fair, the two phases often continue in parallel). Why did I let myself do that? Who put that rock there?! Why didn’t he hold his line?! Why didn’t I get off and walk that section?! Why didn’t I put on tyres actually suited to the conditions I am riding?! Things might get thrown. Things might get broken. Just don’t try and punch a wall, you are a cyclist with no upper body strength afterall.

WHHHYYYY???!!!!
WHHHYYYY???!!!!

 

Phase 8: Mourning
This only applies in certain circumstances where the only thing more precious than you is damaged – your bike. We experience so much with these carbon and steel contraptions between our legs. Pain. Suffering. Tears. Joy. Exhilaration. Euphoria. There is an emotional connection between bicycle and rider. When said bicycle is scratched, damaged or heaven forbid, written off, there will be a period of mourning. A candle will be lit, stories and memories will be relived and a framed photo hung in a special place on the wall.

Priorities.
Priorities.

 

And then, at the end of all the suffering and sorrow, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A broken bike means only one thing.

New Bike Day!

Magoo on Film

When expert photographer and all around nice guy Gilbert Romane contacted me asking if I would be a willing participant in a photo shoot and profile for his blog, I absolutely jumped at the chance.

Gil is doing a series of photo blogs focused on “Athletes in Action” – where he shoots different athletes away from a race environment, giving him a chance to play with new ideas, try new techniques and capture a little more about each of us in terms of our drivers and goals, as well as providing a bit of an insight into our personalities.

GRP_1487

I originally met Gil through a lot of the racing I did throughout the year. He and his partner Richard (together they make up Outer Image Collective) are usually found perched on a rock, curled up in a ditch or peering through the bushes at a number of races and events. While their locations are often laughable, their photography certainly isn’t – both are very gifted behind the lens and I think I speak for a great number of riders when I say I am consistently impressed and incredibly thankful for the moments, emotions, and memories they capture on my behalf.

GRP_1383

Gil and I met up just after dawn at a mountain bike track up in Sydney’s North. We both had some ideas on the types of shots and potential locations we wanted to capture, including some portrait style photos and some action shots. It was really cool to be able to provide input to what we were doing (even if I was far from the subject matter expert).

GRP_1337

I took both my cross bike and my mountain bike with me. With Cyclocross being a bit of a niche sport in Australia (and a super fun one at that), it was a good opportunity to showcase some roadie style stuff on the trail and do something a little different to the norm.

GRP_1375

Overall it was a great day out – although I have a new appreciation for the guys who did this more frequently for magazines, advertising, movies and online publications! if I had a dollar for every time Gil said “just one more time…”.

I think the results speak for themselves – some great shots, both a mix of action and portrait, MTB and CX. Needless to say, if you are looking for a photographer who not only produces awesome results but will put up with bull ant attacks in the pursuit of a great shot, get in contact with Gil.

GRP_1452

You can view my Athlete in Action post by clicking here. Below is a collection of my favourite images from the day.

 

Riding the Centenary Trail – 150km

As a bike rider, our Nation’s Capital has become a favourite (and recently, very regular) destination of mine. Kowen Forest, Sparrow Hill and the amazing Mt Stromlo are but a few of the great trail networks in the region. Over the recent long weekend I have discovered yet another trail that has simply blown me away, for completely different reasons to the others.

The Canberra Centenary Trail is a 140km self guided mountain biking (and walking) trail that covers all corners of the state, taking you past and through a whole number of iconic urban and bush locations. It is really well signed in the bushland areas – while it can get a little confusing in urban areas, maps and GPX files are readily available.

Follow the signs - these guys are scattered right across the trail, which was really helpful.
Follow the signs – these guys are scattered right across the trail.

It is recommended the average punter rides the Centenary Trail over a period of three days, which obviously presented up the challenge to do it in one. Throw in a hot lap of Mt Stromlo (going to Canberra and not riding Stromlo would be like going to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and not chasing with an Oompa Loompa), meant that the total commitment for the day was going to be around 150km.

The Centenary Trail is well marked and maps/gpx files are readily available
The Centenary Trail is well marked and maps/gpx files are readily available

Leaving our hotel in the CBD at about half-past six, our small party of four headed straight for the War Memorial. After a quick hello to Simpson and his Donkey, we jumped on to the start of the track, which starts just behind the War Memorial grounds. Like mentioned before, the trail very deliberately takes you past (and often through) iconic locations – the War Memorial being the first. Lest We Forget.

These guys were everywhere - stopping to stare at us as we rode past. Image copyright ajhaysom.
These guys were everywhere – stopping to stare at us as we rode past. Side note – I want a joey!  Image copyright ajhaysom.

Not even ten minutes out of the city and the landscape became scattered with grey kangaroos.  I was suffering from major cuteness overload at the sight of little joey heads sticking out of mum’s pouch. It already felt we were fully immersed in bushland, even with the CBD a stone’s throw behind us. I guess that is why Canberra calls itself “the bush capital” huh?

ainslie

Mainly on fireroad and singletrack, we climbed up and then flew down both Mt Ainslie and Mt Majura.  Navigating through some grassy fields, we reached what looked to be prison grounds, surrounded with a decent sized electric fence and razor wire. Turns out this was not a place of incarceration – rather a protected area for fauna and flora. It felt like an open plain zoo and that we were going to be attacked by lions at any moment – luckily we survived the ordeal.

After jumping on a cycle path for a short distance, we hit the dirt again on route to the Northern Border Campsite.  This section of the trail has some awesome single-track ascents and descents which snake through a whole lot of private property (and gates, which were to become a theme throughout the day). The Northern Border is exactly that – we rode along a fence line which separated the ACT from NSW. After climbing a rather steep hill, we stopped to both admire the first stunning view of the day and have a bite to eat.

Twisty and flowing trails make up the section around the Northern Border going into Hall
Twisty and flowing trails make up the section around the Northern Border going into Hall

It wasn’t too long after the Northern Campsite that we came across some local Mountain Bikers riding in the opposite direction (one had some shin guards I was eyeing off). According to them, there was a bit more climbing to come, but the single-track descent along the ridge into the suburb of Hall was more than worth it – just watch out for walkers. Turns out this advice was 100% correct on both accounts (I was having a bit too much fun and almost took out a group of Chinese tourists).

ridgetrack
Some of the track running along the side of the ridge

From Hall, we jumped on another bike path, made a point to overtake a roadie on a Cervelo (one of my favourite things to do on a Mountain Bike) and set out in search of food on the waterfront at Belconnen. While the service wasn’t exactly fast (I am such a demanding Sydney-sider sometimes), the raisin toast drilled in golden syrup and dusted with icing sugar was a little bit amazing.

The next location on our journey was Black Mountain – the home of Telstra Tower. As an employee of Telstra, I assume I can therefore claim that I visited a work site, this was therefore a work trip and I could therefore claim all expenses (not sure my boss would agree). I am aware there is a whole heap of single-track at Black Mountain, but we stuck to the GPS course which took us up, around and over.

I'm working boss, I swear I am!
I’m working boss, I swear I am!

From Black Mountain, it was time to commence the patronage to the home of Mountain Biking – the glorious Mt Stromlo. This was via a few little climbs and descents, including one up to the National Arboretum. The Arboretum includes some wonderful architecture nestled on top of a hill, a whole lot of tree plantings (exciting for some people I guess?) and some pretty cool public art. I later learnt it was built after the area was decimated by the bushfires in 2001 and 2003.

The acron playground - why did this not exist when I was a child?
The acron playground – why did this not exist when I was a child? Image thanks to TCL.

Up to this point, we had traversed fire roads, pine forests, single track, red dirt, white dirt, brown dirt, shale, grassy areas, wooded areas, bike paths, urban areas – you name it. We had spotted a range of birds, lizards, kangaroos, wallabies and a handful of humans. None of the riding to date had been overly technical, but there is just so much variety. Not to mention some amazing views.

One of the many stunning views. The pictures don't do it justice.
One of the many stunning views. The pictures don’t do it justice.

As I mentioned before, it’s slightly wrong to go to Canberra and not go to Stromlo. The Centenary Trail runs across the bottom of the mountain bike park, but it was decided we would take a detour up the mountain and then fly down the famous Skyline and Luge tracks. I did this a total of 12 times as part of a 7 hour race not long ago, but it certainly doesn’t seem to get old!

Probably a bit too technical to be included on the Official Centenary route - but a must do anyway.
Probably a bit too technical to be included on the Official Centenary route – but a must do for anyone with intermediate MTB skills.

The next section of the Trail takes you from Stromlo to Tuggeranong, via the Murrumbidgee River.  Three of the four of us were completely out of water by the time we got to the “Beach” (there is actually a beach in Canberra, on the banks of the river). We took a little bit of a risk, filling up our packs with tank water. I am still alive and writing this, so it appears the risk was worth it. For everyone else, make sure you fill up at Stromlo!

Section 6 to Tuggeranong comes with a warning that it is the most technical section of the entire Centenary Trail. I wouldn’t say it was super hard, but it does involves a lot of pinchy single-track, some fast descents and some bridge crossings, making it super fun! It took a lot longer than expected (and was interrupted on a number of occasions by gates you needed to climb over), but riding along the ridge looking down over the Murrumbidgee was one of the highlights of the day.

Looking down over the Murrumbidgee River
Looking down over the Murrumbidgee River

After another food stop at Tuggeranong, our party of four set off for the final section of the course. Through some urban areas, a pine forest or two and across a small mountain, we eventually rolled over the peak of a hill to be confronted by Parliament House in the distance (after 145 odd kilometers, mostly off-road, I have never been so happy to see that building). Keeping an eye out for our Prime Minister, it was time to get up to some shenanigans on the lawn, up and down the steps and through a water feature. While some guards looked on, I can confirm no tasering was required.

grass

All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable days I have had out on the mountain bike. The terrain was so varied – the course has bits of everything. You get to see some amazing sights, both urban and bush orientated. I’m not a person who normally enjoys visiting famous landmarks, but the way the course takes you to a stack of iconic buildings and locations was pretty cool.

It’s a big day out – we covered 150km in a total time of about 11 hours (including stops). I was absolutely shattered by the end, but it was worth it. Not bad Canberra, not bad.