My Backyard: A guide to cycling in Ballarat
The Victorian city of Ballarat, roughly 90 minutes west-north-west of Melbourne, is described by some as the home of Australian cycling. And not without reason — the Road National Championships have been held there 13 times in the past 15 years, there’s plenty of great riding in the surrounding countryside, and many pros call Ballarat home.
One such rider is Miranda Griffiths of the Holden Women’s Racing team, a woman who’s enjoyed terrific success in Australia’s National Road Series in recent years. In the article that follows Miranda explains what it is that makes Ballarat stand out to cyclists, and we share some of the most popular rides in the region.
Words by Miranda Griffiths | Photos by Paul Spurling & Leigh Schilling
Ballarat is one of the great cycling communities of Victoria and proud host of the National Road Championships. The local cycling club, Ballarat Sebastapol, is steeped in history with its origins dating back to 1879. Still going strong today, it plays host to The Fred Icke and Melbourne to Ballarat road races.
Organised club criteriums take place at Victoria Park every Wednesday evening throughout summer from 6:15pm and are complemented on weekends with alternating handicap and scratch road races. The club welcomes all newcomers and guest riders.
With a population of 100,000 the traffic in Ballarat is sparse by Melbourne standards. Pedal for 5-10 minutes in any direction and you are on quiet country roads with plenty of options to choose from. It’s reminiscent of Belgium. The roads are narrow and dissect acres of farmland that stretch to Castlemaine in the north, the Grampians in the west and through to the Great Ocean Road in the south.
Some might say that Ballarat is just as cold and windy as Belgium too and they’re probably not far from the mark. I’ve had some of my most challenging days on the bike training through a Ballarat winter but these are the days that harden the body and mind for the rigors of competitive racing.
The terrain is mainly flat to rolling with a couple of extinct volcanoes, Mt. Buninyong and Mt. Warrenheip, providing 5-10 minutes of vertical challenge at or around threshold intensity, depending on your level of climbing ability.
If you’d prefer to go bush, swap the roadie for the mountain bike and head to Black Hill, Canadian State Forest or Creswick (approximately 20 minutes down the road). For athletes of the compression-sock-wearing-multisport-variety, Ballarat has two Olympic-size swimming pools and the Steve Monaghetti track around Lake Wendouree provides for a pleasant 6km run.
Of course, one can’t ride bikes without coffee. The vibrant café culture found in Melbourne is really starting to develop in Ballarat. For the post-ride coffee stop, head to Fika or Yellow … or both. Coffee
snobs connoisseurs will not be disappointed.
If you’re staying overnight and need to refuel the quads, Forge Pizzeria has plenty of tasty pizzas and pastas to choose from. Vino? Try Mitchell Harris Winery. Or if craft beer is your preferred choice, the Mallow or Hop Temple have a variety of good beers on tap.
While Ballarat may not be known as one of the world’s great cycling destinations, I feel it’s a very underrated town. It ticks a lot of boxes both culturally and for sport and recreation, and certainly for cycling.
Rides around Ballarat
Ballarat is one of Australia’s cycling hotspots, the site of the Road National Championships for the past 11 years and home for many of the country’s best cyclists. It’s no surprise then that the regional centre and its surrounds features so much good riding.
From the volcanic hills to Ballarat’s east, to the lake at its heart, Ballarat has plenty to offer road cyclists. Here are some of the many great rides in the area:
Lap of Lake Wendouree
Lake Wendouree is located in the centre of Ballarat and is a popular destination for local cyclists. At only 6.1km for a lap, you’re best to do a few!
Mt. Buninyong/Mt. Warrenheip loop
Terrain: Flat with two climbs
Mt. Buninyong might feature in the Australian Road Nationals but the whole climb doesn’t! This loop takes you to the top of Mt. Buninyong — and a stunning climb it is too — before heading to the short but steep ascent of Mt. Warrenheip. Great views are available from both ascents.
Lap of the Australian Road Nationals circuit
This 10.1km circuit has been used for the Australian Road National Championships for the past 11 years (and for another two before that). It’s a tough course — uphill for the first couple kilometres, then rolling and downhill back to the start in Buninyong.
This popular loop takes you north east out of Ballarat, and through the Creswick State Forest to the town of the same name. It’s a flatter run back south into town via Gillies Rd.