Visiting : Warburton, Starling Gap, Noojee, Toorongo, Forty Mile Break
Distance : ~128km
When : Sunday 28th February 2016, 8:00am @ Warburton Information Centre

I’m not too familiar with the country east of Warburton so this ride is all about new (to me) roads and finally putting faces to the names I’ve read on maps. Starting out of Warburton we’ll climb up to Starling Gap then bomb down to Noojee for a refuel. From there it’s up Ridge Road through some logging areas before joining Forty Mile Break for some awesome ridgeline riding along the border of the Upper Yarra Reservoir catchment area. This whole area is full of lyrebirds, eagles, roos, black stinkers, black cockies, Wonga Pigeons, Sambar Deer etc. etc. etc. Such a beautiful part of the world.

There’ll be something like 3000m of climbing and the roads will vary from buff gravel to rooty 4wd track. I haven’t ridden a lot of these roads but I reckon CX will be fine and MTB will be cushy. I’ll be on fat tires and gears for this one and I’m guessing it’ll take about 8 hours depending on how many photos I take and how many lyrebirds I stop and listen to. Pace will be slow and steady – don’t expect a smashfest but do bring your climbing legs.

There’s only one refuel stop in Noojee (~48km) but plenty of water in creeks along the way. Bring enough food/water/spares to save yourself because no-one else will.

We’ll roll out at 8am from out the front of the Warburton Information Centre. Bonus points if you catch the train to Lilydale and do the Warby Trail commute. Double bonus points if you ride all the way to Warby from home. I’ll be driving to the start because I’m lazy and want to get home in time for dinner.

See ya there!

Top ride.

I didn’t take a single photo so I’ll keep the words to a minimum.

About nine of us rolled out of Warby – the usual #summerofgravel types plus a few new faces. The climb up to Starlings Gap is nice and steady, great surface, minimal traffic. The descent down McCarthy Spur was a ripper – fast, smooth dirt road with so many sweeping corners – great road to practice your gravelly descending on, and I clearly needed the practice – I overcooked it and hit the deck twice. No skills. We didn’t see any cars on the way down McCarthy Spur but apparently it’s a popular road to get loose on if you’re a young petrol-head – watch out for blind corners!

Noojee was full of tourists, as you’d expect. I got a ham and cheese toastie from the cafe and was mightily disappointed! I expected bread, slice of ham, slice of cheese, something I could have half hanging out of my mouth while riding. What I got was a half kilo slopper that was full of dripping tomato and had a truly American amount of ham stuffed into it. I mean, this thing was packed! I ended up chucking half of it in the bin much to the chagrin of some of the other riders. Thumbs down Noojee!

The climb out of Noojee on Ridge Road was awesome. Nice and steady grade, zero traffic, beaut scenery. The road gets pretty cobbled out as you pass through some exposed logging areas but there’s some great views from up there.

Up at Toorongo Road we filled up water at Toorongo River. Two riders apparently came down sick a day or two after the ride and blamed this water. I dunno. Others drank the same stuff and were fine. I used Aquatabs and was fine. Go figure.

Toorongo Road is a gravel superhighway but we didn’t stay on it very long before turning onto Forty Mile Break which is, er, definitely not a highway of any kind. It’s less-travelled, less-maintained, full of roots, bark, ruts and gnarly rocks about the size and shape of railway ballast. Probably great for motor vehicles, not so good for bicycles. Also, there are some steep pinches on this track that had everyone with less than MTB gearing in hike-a-bike mode. It was pretty rough going trying to stumble up the hill, cleats slipping and sliding on loose chunky gravel in the heat of the day. Def make sure you’ve got plenty of water for this section as there’s no water up there and it might take longer than you think.

We reached the high point of the ride, the clearing/trig point at the summit of Mt Horsfall. I got there a little after the bulk of the group so I missed the naming ceremony but apparently this place is now called “the bush doof”. A couple of riders were struggling a little and I was in a hurry to get back home to the BBQ my wife had organised at our place so I foolishly raised the possibility of a shortcut. Except there wasn’t really a shortcut back to Warburton and everyone was still keen to follow the route as planned, despite their struggles. I totally shouldn’t have brought it up. Lesson learned.

The group split at this point, with some faster riders shooting off the front and a couple of people getting flats. We were unsure if Forty Mile Break would continue to be really pinchy and hike-a-bikey after the bush doof and I’d been saying throughout the day, “It trends downwards after our high point”, emphasising the word “trends” because I didn’t know myself how pinchy it was going to be. We needn’t have worried – it was mostly fast downhill and our biggest problem was probably going TOO fast on the rocky, rubbly, loose terrain. The sharp railway ballast rocks claimed a couple pinch flats and I have no idea how those on CX bikes didn’t flat too. Skills. This section is do-able on a CX bike but, for me, I’d definitely put it firmly in the “type 2 fun” category. Take plenty of spares!

The ride was blown apart now and the serious-looking Melbourne Water gate over the track probably didn’t help the situation. On-the-fly re-routes were performed and some riders ended up bagging an extra 50km and 1000m of climbing for the day. Nice work! I ended up with a group of four, rolling turns on the main road back into Warburton. One of the others had an unfixable flat (tubeless, spare tube was flat, patches were old and crusty) and ended up doing the final descent by himself on a flat rear tire. Ouch. Another lesson learned – even when someone waves you on and says, “Nah, I’ll be fine, you guys keep going!” it’s probably a good idea to wait.

The group I was in got back to Warburton about 5:20pm. About 9 hours all up. Not bad.

Thanks everyone for coming out, hope you all had fun.

Would definitely recommend this loop but with a re-route to avoid the gated Melbourne Water land after the bush doof. Top area, top riding, go check it out!

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