There’s gold in the hills of central Victoria, but not the kind you dig out with your hands.
This gold is quiet, single-lane roads and restful, bucolic countryside. It’s sleepy towns and good wine, granite tors and the racket of white cockatoos. It’s the sense that nothing moves too quickly out here, except when you’re flying downhill. It’s the Strathbogie Ranges, a plateau of low, rolling hills an hour-and-a-half north of Melbourne.
OK, an admission: I’m biased. Those rolling hills have great sentimental value for me. When I was 18 I fell in love; first, with a girl from Euroa, a town that borders the Strathbogies, and then with the countryside itself. The first time I went to visit her, we went out riding, her on a full-carbon Diamondback, me on my dad’s vintage Hillman, a big old white thing with paint chips and a luggage rack.
I’d always been pretty good at endurance sports, and I usually whipped my mates when I was out riding with them, but my new girlfriend was used to riding distance, and could leave me behind at will. She would fire the afterburners and I would be there, thrashing away at the pedals, helpless. It was awesome.
It wasn’t long, though, before I developed my riding legs. Up until then I’d ridden almost exclusively in the city, a stop-start affair without any big hills. Being on roads where you could ride for hours on end and tackle 500 metre climbs was a shock to the system, and improved my fitness rapidly.
Over the years, as I explored the Strathbogies on my bike, I also became familiar with the person who had become such a big part of my life, and in turn, myself. Slowly, the crazy, passionate love morphed into something closer to affection, and we both sensed that things were winding up, that we’d outgrown each other.
My relationship with the girl from Euroa ran its course and ended (amicably – we are still good friends). But I never outgrew pedalling through the Strathbogies. I never outgrew the yellow of the trees in autumn and the sheep in the paddocks and the hunks of rock thrusting from of the hilltops like leaven bread.
So, like I said, I’m a bit biased when it comes to the Strathbogie Ranges. But I reckon that if you go there, you’ll become a bit biased too. Here are a couple of my choice routes in the region.
Seymour to Violet Town via Euroa and Strathbogie – 159km
Mainly on sealed roads, this ride is doable on a road bike but with a couple of short sections of gravel which can be a little rough. It can be done in one long day, or split into two days, with Euroa as a mid-point. Euroa, as well as the start and end of the ride, are serviced by trains to and from Melbourne, so getting there and back is easy. Check out the V-line website for timetables.
It’s a fairly hilly ride without being too formidable. You’ll tackle one of the hardest climbs in the ranges on the road between Euroa and Strathbogie, but once you get to Strathbogie you can treat yourself to ‘the best coffee in town.’ Disclaimer: it’s the only coffee in town. For most of the rest of the time you’ll be enjoying rolling, single lane roads and a lovely view. For a detailed guide to this ride, visit: adventurecyclingvictoria.com/ruffy-rider
Benalla to Seymour via Strathbogie and Ruffy – 148km
One for the gravel enthusiasts, this is a more remote ride that can also be done over one day or a two day bikepacking trip. You really feel like you get into the back blocks on this one, travelling on roads usually used only by locals. There are a couple of steep climbs that will get the heart rate up without being too backbreaking. The surface varies a bit, but never gets too gnarly. I did it on 28mm slick tyres once, and it was okay.
Highlights include the Ruffy Produce Store, a cafe and restaurant that serves and sells a variety of local delights including chutney, cakes and wine, all in a quiet and leafy location. It’s gorgeous, but check their website for opening times as they are limited. Shortly after Ruffy you’ll descend to Hughes Creek and enjoy a gradual, winding downhill through a steep-sided gorge, before rolling to the end at Seymour.
For a detailed guide visit: adventurecyclingvictoria.com/rougher-ruffy-rider