Only a few weeks ago, my partner and I arrived back in my hometown of Bendigo in Australia. Following two and a half years of living and working in the UK, for various family and work reasons, we decided it was time for us to make the move back down to the other hemisphere.
So far, things have panned out pretty well. Despite the relocation, I’ve been fortunate enough to remain a part of the Singletrack team, and will be continuing on with my role as Technical Editor, albeit in a remote capacity Down Under. That means I’ll still be managing the UK test team, as well as reviewing bikes and gear myself, just in an ever-so-slightly sunnier location than Todmorden. I don’t expect to be getting too many requests to test waterproof jackets and booties though…
It’s been swell catching up with friends and family who we haven’t seen for a while, and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience of exploring and rediscovering old trails again. Though as we’ve arrived at the start of summer, it’s taking a bit of time to get used to both the heat and riding on dust again – that stuff is lethal!
I’ve also been getting stuck into some local group rides, and on a warm, sunny Tuesday evening the other week, I decided to take a couple of GoPro cameras along for shits ‘n’ giggles. Wanna know what some of the riding is like? This video will give you a pretty good idea;
Since arriving back in Australia, a few of you have been asking me about where I’m living, what it’s like, and how I’m coping missing out on a third UK winter. So I’ve put together a few of those questions with some answers, along with a variety of photos I’ve collected over the years to hopefully paint a bit more of a picture of the new Singletrack Southern Headquarters®.
For those not familiar with Bendigo (it’s ok, I won’t blame you), it’s a big regional town that lies about 150km north west of Melbourne. If you go west-ish in a car for seven hours, you’ll stumble across a place called Adelaide.
Although the population is apparently just shy of 100,000, you wouldn’t guess it, given everything is so vast and spread out. It’s got that typical Aussie country town vibe where all the houses and backyards take up big ol’ blocks of land, and the fat roads are double the width than they probably need to be. Makes for great bunch riding on the road bike though.
The town is most well known for being the centre of the Gold Rush back in the 1850s, at a time where the road between Bendigo and Melbourne was the most travelled in the whole of Australia. Tens of thousands flocked to the Goldfields region to find their own fortune, with some 20 million ounces of gold discovered – a lot of it quite close to the surface in river beds.
Evidence from this period of affluence can be seen around town in the over-the-top Victorian era architecture, while trails in the bush routinely follow old watercourses and historic mining infrastructure. Also connected to Bendigo’s gold-mining history is its reputation for having previously held the record for the most pubs per capita in all of Australia.
There aren’t quite as many these days, but there is still a tonne of quality drinking holes around town. The foodie culture – a big drawcard for us – is also particularly strong here, with some quality cafes, micro breweries, coffee roasteries, and restaurants drawing tourists up from Melbourne.
What’s The Riding Like?
Despite its size and population, Bendigo is surrounded by bushland, with Box-Ironbark and Sclerophyll (read: Eucalyptus) forests sprawling out in every direction as far as the eye can see. There are no big mountains in the wider region, but the terrain is deceptively undulating.
And with all that vast forest, there are a tonne of well-established trails encircling town. In fact, the Bendigo MTB Club estimates there’s now over 300km of singletrack to explore. On top of that, there’s an extensive network of dirt fireroads, 4WD tracks and moto trails, making it ideal territory for gravel grinders and bikepacking fashionistas.
The trail riding here is fast, dry and very rocky. Though there isn’t anything that steep, the riding in general is pretty technical and rough. These days most local mountain bikers are on full suspension bikes, since the rocks can be pretty unrelenting on a hardtail.
Sharp granite also has a habit of eating tyre sidewalls for breakfast, so you can tell the experienced riders by the use of reinforced casings. In the past few weeks, I’ve shredded two mid-weight trail tyres from fatal pinch-flats.
Err, How Hot Does This Place Get?
The warm and dry climate does mean the trails are rideable all-year round, though it can get pretty hot in summer with temperatures regularly in the mid-to-high 30s. We’ll also get over 40°C a few times a year – this week we clocked 44°C – yikes!
I don’t mind riding in the heat too much, though it’s generally best to head out either in the morning or evening to avoid getting sunburnt to a crisp. If you’re riding between 9am and 6pm, you need sunscreen – the thin ozone layer down this way makes the sun well harsh.
When it’s that hot, it can actually be difficult to fully appreciate it while riding, since the breeze dries up your sweat instantly. So you have to be quite disciplined to drink a shit-load of water before, during, and after every ride.
Bendigo doesn’t get a lot of rain, but when it does rain it tends to pack down the dust nicely. The sandy soil composition also drains exceptionally well – it very rarely gets properly muddy here. And I’ve got a pretty good basis for comparison. Actually, winter is probably one of the best seasons for mountain biking if you prefer riding in cooler conditions.
There’s a solid riding community across road, track and mountain biking disciplines. Gravel is just starting to take off, mostly as a means for road riders to get away from cars. But competitive road racing retains a strong presence in Bendigo. If you’re familiar with Pro Tour, then names of young riders including Jack Haig and Chris Hamilton – two very promising local fellas – will be familiar to you.
XC racing is particularly popular in Bendigo, with the local club getting over 150 riders to each round of the Summer Series dirt criterium races, held on every second Tuesday evening after work. The junior representation is mind-boggling – most of those regular competitors are under 18, with a load of tiny tots scooting around too.
The club also hosts bigger events, with the largest being the Golden Triangle Epic in April, which each year attracts over 500 competitors to take on a 50/100/150km marathon-style race categories. There are also plans to get an Enduro-style event going this year, which I think will be very popular.
I quite like this fast and furious style of trail riding, and it’s made for quite the change from the last couple of years of riding in Calderdale. While I do miss the steep valley trails around Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, it’s been good to switch things up a bit and get back into some faster and longer distance XC ripping. Spicy variety and all that eh?
What Else Is Around?
There’s more variety within a pretty short distance though. If you’re coming up the road from Melbourne, there’s a bunch of other riding destinations along the way, including Mt Macedon, Woodend and Castlemaine.
Just outside of Castlemaine there’s a brand new MTB park in Harcourt called ‘La Larr Ba Gauwa’ – that’s the local Dja Dja Wurrung language and it translates to ‘stones and mountain’, which is a pretty apt description. There are 11 purpose-built trails at the La Larr Ba Gauwa park totalling 34km and the riding there is quite technical and challenging, with a lot of steep and granite-lathered climbing to contend with.
Next door in Castlemaine, there’s some seriously nadgery singletrack in ‘The Pineys’ – an area well known for being steeper and more technical. Compared to rocky Bendigo, the soil there amongst the pine plantations is much softer and loamier, providing a good contrast to the trails.
The Goldfields Track
Bendigo also forms the northern hub of the historic Goldfields Track – a 210km trail that begins in Ballarat and winds its way through old Gold Rush towns including Daylesford and Castlemaine. This 3-day mountain bike ride is recognised for its state significance, and it’s arguably one of the best multi-day rides in the country. I did this ride a few years ago, and wrote a story for Singletrack that you can read here.
Longer term, the Goldfields Track will also serve as a link between five mountain bike parks, with the proposed Spring Gully MTB Park forming the end point in Bendigo.
Speaking of the Spring Gully MTB Park plan, the only real bummer in Bendigo is that 99% of the singletrack trails are unmarked. You’ll find them on ride-sharing apps like Strava, but as of yet there’s no detailed trail map to point new riders and visiting tourists in the right direction.
The Bendigo MTB Club is working on a fully-fledged Master Plan for mapping some of the existing singletrack, while developing new sustainably-built trails as well. This process of course takes time, and thanks to some vocal opposition (a story familiar to mountain bikers in the UK and elsewhere), things are taking a little longer.
But with such a strong existing riding community in Bendigo along with the growing lure of adventure tourism, it’s surely only a matter of time now. I recently rejoined the local club and am keen to help out with trail advocacy where possible, as I’m particularly excited to see the sport grow and evolve in my hometown.
So there you go. Hopefully that paints a bit more of a picture of my new (old) home, where I’ll be holding the fort and testing bikes for the Singletrack Southern Contingent!
Like the bad smell of the changing room at Singletrack Towers, I won’t be going anywhere. I’m working on numerous bike and gear reviews that’ll be popping up on the website, and I’ll also be producing more video reviews and VLOG features for our YouTube and Facebook channels. We’re starting to get some regular Live Q&A videos rolling (like the ones below), so if you haven’t already subscribed to our YouTube channel, head over there and subscribe to see all the videos we’ll be publishing over the coming months!
Got any questions for me about what we’re up to Down Under? Let me know in the comments section below – my laptop is already turned upside down in preparation.