This is a guest post by Matt Turner, a Creswick local. Matt has organised public rides using this route in 2017/2018. Hopefully there'll be another edition in 2019. To keep up to date with developments, sign up to the mailing list (in the sidebar).
Where: Creswick, Ballarat, Skipton, Beaufort—Central Victoria
Terrain: Flat with a couple of short hills
Surface: Sealed road, gravel, hard packed dirt, rail trail. Best suited for CX/ gravel bikes or anything that will take at least a 32mm tyre.
What: Vast open farmlands, historic trestle bridges, quiet back laneways
This ride was designed to take in the entire length of the Skipton Rail Trail and to use as many dirt roads and quiet back roads as possible to minimize interaction with vehicle traffic. The route is a loop which starts in Creswick (because that’s where I live) but you can start the ride from wherever is convenient for you.
From Creswick you head west for 8km on sealed road before turning south for your first taste of gravel. Already we will be in the flat open farmlands with Cyrpress-lined laneways hopefully giving you some shelter from the wind.
The only busy traffic you are likely to encounter, depending on the time of day, is when the route brushes through the outskirts of north-western Ballarat to get to the official start of the Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail. From here you are good to tune out and settle into your riding rhythm as you have 53km of meditative big ring rolling, but you will need to pay attention at the occasional road crossing.
The rail trail is a good opportunity to pass through some quiet little historic gold mining era towns that are just starting to re-invent themselves in an era of micro-tourism. You will find food and water at Smythesdale, Scarsdale, Linton and of course Skipton which is the larger of the towns along the rail trail.
Now that you have completed this long uninterrupted stretch of the ride it’s time to pay attention again as you pedal north on 5km of main sealed road heading towards Beaufort. You will turn off this road onto Stockyard Hill Road and back onto the haven of gravel, this time in a tasty caramel flavour. You will have the visual landmark of Mount Emu on your right, but mostly you will see a view of a seemingly endless, slightly undulating dirt road in either direction. It’s time to embrace the solitude, without ever actually being that far from civilization.
Next up is one of the only major climbs for the route at around 2km long before a lovely descent into Beaufort where you will be able to take a final resupply before criss-crossing your way through mostly sealed roads via a little pinchy surprise at Learmonth. At this point you might understand why they decided to build a wind farm out here—hopefully for you there will be a tailwind that day!
The little towns along the rail trail offer some quirky cafes, fine examples of gold rush era architecture in banks or post office buildings, and an antique/ second hand shop at Smythesdale which you will probably want to come back and visit with the car another day. There are also impressive pump tracks and skate ramps at Smythesdale and Linton along the rail trail which would also be worth visit with the kids.
The centrepiece of the ride is probably Nimmon’s Bridge, one of the largest surviving timber trestle bridges in Victoria. Definitely worth riding the detour around the bridge so that you can get back and have a good look at it.
I did a group test ride of this loop on the worst day of winter in sleet and freezing rain. We all lived. Of course nice weather is nice to ride in but you can ride this at any time of the year. With one word of warning, in heavy rain the rail trail surface can turn to porridge so a wider tyre will make life easier to ride on this surface.
As previously stated the route can be tackled from any starting point although it is definitely designed with a start and finish in Creswick. V-line trains will service Ballarat and Creswick, or drive to a starting location of your choice.
- Download GPX Track file of this route
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Disclaimer: Should you choose to cycle this route, you do so at your own risk. Although all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure its accuracy at the time of writing, Adventure Cycling Victoria cannot guarantee that the information herein is 100% correct. The information published is meant as a guide only, and should be combined with your own due diligence and planning. Adventure Cycling Victoria and its contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following this route.