*Words: Caz Whitehead | Images: Andy Rogers*
Arriving at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, the unmistakable flash of hi-vis pink caught my eye. There was, already, a group of women waiting, bikes by their sides, well-dressed and ready for adventure. The group consisted of the usual Thursday morning crew, plus some faces new to me. A feeling of excitement hung in the air and we were eager to get to our departure platform.
With a whole carriage kept aside for our bikes, we filled it quickly, carbon upon carbon against the old steel walls. Clasping helmets around the bikes and securing them to the hanging chains would hopefully keep our machines balanced until our destination.
Designed to a overcome a problem common to city-based road riders in this vast continent, Rapha transfer rides use trains to escape the city limits and get out into the spectacular, yet often remote terrain Australia has to offer.
Once aboard and with the train rolling, some of the missing details were filled in. We were taking the Swan Hill-bound train halfway, starting our ride in Woodend and heading back to the city. The journey would be around 60 kilometres and our priorities were as much geared to taking in the scenery as focusing on the road.
Soon enough, Woodend station appeared in our windows and we dashed to the freight carriage – all bikes were upright and unharmed. The sun was shining through scattered clouds and the temperature was perfect.
In the car park, we had the full run-down and the planned route sounded fantastic. I’d ridden a little of the course previously but most of the women would be riding new ground. They didn’t know what to expect and it showed on their faces; some apprehension, a little concern but mostly excitement at the day ahead. Snacks for mid-ride were presented and we were quickly on our bikes and off down the road. Those who weren’t acquainted already were soon chatting away and the conversation flowed up and down the bunch.
Rising 3,284ft, Mount Macedon loomed beside our group as we began to get going. Riding north, we escaped the shadow of the mountain but only temporarily, for soon we faced it directly and rode right up the centre. There had been mention of this climb and all the signposts, stating the gradient at 10%, confirmed we were in for a little bit of hell. On mostly cold legs, the group split apart and smaller bunches formed. Just when I felt sure my legs had had enough, we came to a junction where the climb continued on to the left. Immediately, the road flattened out to a more reasonable 6% and my legs gave an almost audible sigh of relief. The hardest part was behind us and it was still early.
The next part of the ride seemed to zip by. I caught up to the lead group at the point where the road disappeared downhill. This side of Macedon is known to be tough to climb, a fact that was easy to recognise by the speed my bike gathered on the descent. Within what felt like a brilliant 30 seconds, we were back at the bottom. We regrouped and continued.
Onwards we travelled, through some stunning scenery; rolling hills, a heavily tree-lined dirt road, twists, potholes and only one wrong turn. The sights were amazing, silent and car-free. Zigzagging through various backroads, we encountered a mild headwind, mild sidewind and best of all, a bit of a tailwind. Suddenly, we popped out on to a main road. Shops, cars, Gisborne. We didn’t stay long.
The roads were skinny and unmaintained. The grass was long. The sun was beating down, allowing us to re-establish tanlines after a long winter. The chatter continued within the group, we’d had time to speak to most others by this point. We rounded a corner and a cluster of buildings came into view. Almost done, and the computer read 55 kilometres. Houses started creeping back on to the roadside. Sunbury.
Our final destination was the train station and suddenly it appeared ahead of us. We were at the end point of a well-planned route. Bikes were propped up against walls, bottoms found grassy patches under the trees. Lunch was presented, then hungrily devoured by all. We sat and soaked up more sunlight before the clouds rolled in. The warm weather had stayed around long enough for our adventure, then it was done. It seemed the clouds knew our schedule. As we piled in to the train, the first droplets appeared on the windows; we were all safely home before the downpour began. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day.