After hearing stories of gravel rides to and from Toodyay, I decided I had to suss out this route for myself. I wanted to do about four hours, so it would be only a taste of the trail to plan for an overnight ride another time.
I set off from Darlington at 7:30am. I’d planned a route that used all the quietest back roads to get to Herne Hill. Which was all very well and good, but it turned out they were also the hilliest roads perched on the edge of the scarp. There were a couple of hills that I got up only by refusing to stop. My route took me through Jane Brook, and a new subdivision out there. Unfortunately the road I needed to take didn’t exist yet… So I had to backtrack to some of the busier roads. Looks like I’ll have to find a better way back home!
Eventually I got out to Bells Rapids, which is where the gravel fun began. It had taken me 1.5 hours to get out here, with detours, steep hills and stops. I don’t remember ever going to Bells Rapids before. Clearly an oversight as it is beautiful out here!
I got onto the railway maintenance road here. Although the road follows the railway, don’t make the same mistake as me and assume it will be flat! It was quite undulating with some steep pinches over 10%. It wasn’t as bad as those other climbs I’d already conquered though!
The road surface is compacted gravel, but it is quite corrugated and potholed and there is loose blue metal on the surface. It would suit a gravel bike or a mountain bike but would not be much fun on a road bike. Due to the steep climbs, the lighter your setup the more enjoyable it will be.
The worst bits are where it is corrugated on the hills – so if you’re going downhill you have to control your speed and keep a tight grip on your handlebars. If you are going uphill, well, just try to keep a steady power output in spite of losing traction over the bumps.
Having said all this, the scenery was spectacular and it slowed my progress because I kept stopping to take photos. As well as the river, there was the railway, gorgeous hillsides, and a plethora of wildflowers.
I continued along the railway road for an hour, which was probably a little under 20km. I figured I was pretty close to halfway to Toodyay by this time, having done 41km of the 82km route I’d mapped to Toodyay. So I turned around and headed back.
Upon turning around, I discovered that I’d had a tailwind on the way out. Luckily with all the climbing up and down the headwind wasn’t such a big factor to contend with on the return trip. I also made better time on the way back because there were less photo stops!
Reaching Bells Rapids, I took a different route into the Swan Valley. I followed the flat and quiet Cathedral Ave then Railway Cres and made my way to Talbots Art and Coffee House for well deserved coffee and lunch.
After a quick lunch, I continued on flat roads through Herne Hill, onto Talbot Rd, then up Morrison Rd climb and back to Darlington. I’d done 81km and 1100m of elevation gain all up in just over 4.5 hours, with an average speed of around 18kpm. It was a lovely ride and has definitely whet my appetite to explore all the way out to Toodyay.