Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure if you asked most Perth citizens, they would tell you that their city is mainly flat. It’s not pancake flat like some cities and if you get around by bike you soon become familiar with its many undulations but there certainly aren’t any climbs which would take even the slowest of cyclists more than a few minutes to get up. Whoever named Mount Lawley, the suburb where I grew up, was either having a good laugh or realised that such an aspiring suburb would never get far with the name Mild Incline Lawley.
However, if you go to one of Perth’s higher points, such as the top of Kings Park, and look east, you can see, in the distance, a line of clearly higher ground.
The escarpment runs north to south roughly parallel with the coastline and is an abrupt end to Perth’s coastal plane. It’s also where Perth’s cyclists head when they have had enough of riding around the river or up and down the coast.
Although the hills are not all that high – I don’t think they get over 300 metres – there are plenty of challenging climbs thanks to the planners apparently completely ignoring the terrain when laying out the streets. There are many roads that simply run west to east and straight up the steepest parts. To make it even more fun, the prevailing wind in the mornings, when most cyclists are out, is from the east so there are the twin pleasures of cycling uphill and into the wind.
I have no idea why but it seems to be human nature to always want to climb to the highest vantage point. Although riding uphill can be painfully slow, there is a peculiar satisfaction in it. Perhaps because there is something more tangible in pointing at a hill and saying: ‘Look – I rode up that’ than pointing at a distance of flat road or into a wind and saying the same thing.
In any case, since getting back to Perth, I’ve been trying to get to the hills to ride as much as I can. I’m usually fairly conservative about exploring new roads. Once I’ve found a few routes that I like, I tend to stick to them. Luckily, I have many cycling friends who are only too happy to show me new roads in the hills. My friend Alf has been showing me many of the hills near Perth’s southern suburbs and last weekend I joined a small group of riders from Elite Racing Cycles who took me up several climbs I had never done before. Our hills aren’t long but they can be nice and steep, with some of them getting to 15 or 16 per cent gradient.
This Sunday is the first Cyclo Sportif event of the year. Cyclo Sportif hold several rides a year in and around Perth. The rides are not a race but they are timed and naturally we pay a lot of attention to comparing our times against other groups. Although no one rides them as a team time trial, they are held in a similar manner – each group starts a minute apart and at least four riders from that group must finish together.
This week’s ride at Waroona is a hilly one so last Saturday we decided to head for the hills for a bit of practice. There were four of us – Matt, Thierry, John and me – with just Chong the only member of our Cyclo Sportif team who couldn’t make it. I’ve long maintained that there are no difficult hills, just riding partners who make them difficult by going up them faster than you can* and all three of my riding partners for the day made every climb difficult for me. My favourite was Gooseberry Hill, on which I came very close to dismounting and walking.
*In fact, since I tried riding up Mt Fuji, I learnt that there is another factor in making hills difficult and that is not having a low enough gearing on your bike. Needless to say, I didn’t get up Mt Fuji.
I took my camera with me but as I spent most of the time struggling to keep up with the others, I didn’t take it out until we were riding easily down the Kalamunda Zig-Zag – a downhill-only road on what used to be the only way to get trains up and down the Darling Scarp’s steep gradient.
But to make up for a lack of photos and to keep northern hemisphere readers jealous, I went for a ride on Sunday and took a couple of shots of the sunshine as I rode along the river cycle path.
My hope for this Sunday is that I can keep up with the others and if all goes well I’ll be able to relax that evening and watch some real men* climb some proper short, steep hills in the Tour of Flanders.
(* Should add this so I don’t appear overly sexist – there is a women’s Tour of Flanders but alas, it’s not televised. I wish they would give us highlights at least. Anyway, in the Tour of Flanders, I’ll be hoping my favourite coke-snorting, teen-dating Belgian, Tommeke Boonen can somehow overcome the cloud of smugness that is Fabian Cancellara.)