What’s the best cycling day you’ve ever had?
I was pondering this question last week while cycling from Nerang to Murwillumbah, crossing the border from Queensland into New South Wales.
Some of my most enjoyable cycling days have featured a quick post-work flip around Sydney’s Middle Head on a balmy evening.
Over the course of 70 kilometres, what begins as a busy two-lane road in the Gold Coast area slowly condenses into a narrow rural lane, skirting the edges of Advancetown Lake and rolling through open farmlands before a steep descent into a tree-lined back route that leads to the surprisingly suburban outskirts of Murwillumbah.
On a warm, calm and sunny day, it was the kind of journey that one can only truly savour on a bicycle, as opposed to the confining atmosphere of a car or the noisy aura of a motorbike.
So much of what we read or hear about cycling, especially lately it seems, relates to conflict and drama. Accidents, deaths, hostile interactions with motorists and pedestrians, arguments over infrastructure, foolish calls for registration, and so on. All of these issues were left in my eddying slipstream.
It was also a good time to think about other great days on the bike. The Nerang-Murwillumbah road was certainly the finest day of a five-day tour of the Border Ranges, besting the afternoon spent rolling along Running Creek Road on the way to Rathdowney and Beaudesert. But the best day ever?
Some 70km of cycling allows for a lot of reflection. Still, I surprised myself by recalling a near-forgotten first bicycle adventure – circumnavigating Israel’s Sea of Galilee on a rented (and way too small for me) bicycle while backpacking in the 1990s. I was still mired in the soulless depths of my cycling atheism, and on reflection it surprises me that such a superb day in the saddle didn’t convert me on the spot.
Jump forward a decade, and I’d have to think that a contender for the most important day in my transformation from foolish non-cyclist to cycling fool was my first tilt at Melbourne’s Around the Bay in a Day.
I can still recall the 6am horror (after a sleepless night) when I realised I was going to somehow attempt to cover 200km using nothing more than a bicycle, my legs and a pocket full of PowerBars. I’m not saying it was all enjoyable, but it showed me that, with time and willpower, you can cover almost any distance on a bicycle.
This year’s Audax Alpine Classic in Bright would have to be a contender, too - merely for the pleasure and satisfaction of getting through it. Bushfires in the Victorian Alps meant the usual multi-peak event was condensed into three ascents of the 1100-metre Mount Buffalo, in searing heat. Even if it wasn’t my best day on a bike, it was possibly the best ever feeling when getting off a bike.
But does a “best day” have to be a full day, or even a long ride? I know a bloke whose most enjoyable cycling days are commutes. After all, how could you keep from smiling when you’re passing hundreds of motorists while getting a workout?
As my touring partner and I chilled out in the township of Chillingham, I realised some of my most enjoyable cycling days have featured a quick post-work flip around Sydney’s Middle Head on a balmy evening, with yachts and ferries bustling in the harbour and all the day’s stresses suddenly forgotten. And let’s not forget that even some of the worst days on a bike are still better than the best days doing other stuff.
But as we rolled into the Murwillumbah campground, I’d found my likely winner. A few years ago, after a guided holiday focusing on the Tour de France, I spent a week in Switzerland’s Interlaken. Days of hiking and cycling were alternated, with some memorable outings, including the stonking Grosse Scheidegg.
On my last day, I cycled up to the top of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and spent the afternoon rolling back down, with my bike saddle the best seat in the house for 360-degree views of snowy peaks, rivers and green meadows. It was like saying goodbye after an all-consuming holiday romance.
What was your best day on a bike? Go on, inspire us ... or make us jealous.