It may only be an hour’s drive from Melbourne, but Geelong and the Surf Coast have been put on the map by various big road cycling events, particularly the annual Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (a World Tour race).
In this article, friend of Epic Road Rides, Chris Grabyn, shares his insights on cycling in this corner of Australia, from the perspective of a passionate cyclist, born and bred in Geelong.
A huge thank you to Chris for having taken the time to work with us on this!
Why should cyclists visit Geelong and the Surf Coast?
Geelong and its surrounds have been a fantastic region to visit for years. In more recent times the area was put on the cycling map by hosting the 2010 UCI Road World Championships, followed by a 2011 Tour de France win from local resident Cadel Evans. The area is now the backdrop for the annual World Tour race in his name.
However, there is a lot more to the area than just these events – the iconic Great Ocean Road for example, where the Otway Ranges drop into the turquoise waters of Bass Straight. There are also world class beaches highlighted by Bells Beach which hosts the Rip Curl Pro world tour surf event annually on the Easter long weekend.
The region is only an hour’s drive from Melbourne and is the gateway to beautiful surroundings, including the Bellarine Peninsula and the Otway Ranges.
Tell us about Geelong and the Surf Coast’s cycling routes
There are many many ways to tackle this area on two wheels, and it largely depends where you have decided to base yourself.
Staying in Geelong? Then why not ride the Cadel Evans Road Race route, or head east and do a lap of the Bellarine Peninsula with a stop in historic Queenscliff.
Decided to stay on the coast in Torquay? Then you can still do the Cadel loop, ride the Great Ocean Road or head east along the beaches to Queenscliff.
Want some hills? There are plenty of short, punchy climbs featuring double digit gradients in the Jan Juc – Anglesea area, or head south west out of Geelong into the Barrabool Hills (both part of the Cadel loop).
Geography of the city/region
Geelong is literally a city by the bay – Corio Bay. It’s a picturesque city built around a lovely waterfront.
To the west there are rolling rural hills, to the east is the Bellarine Peninsula and only 20 kilometres away to the south is the Surf Coast.
The Bellarine Peninsula is relatively flat and you can do a loop that basically hugs the coastline near the whole way, and at times ride right on the water.
The western and south western suburbs of Geelong are relatively hilly and the gateway to some great riding on quite rural roads with plenty of rolling hills.
Heading south to the coast, you can stay on the flat stuff riding past some beautiful beaches, or, go west from Torquay and Jan Juc and find the world famous Bells Beach. Here you can find some punchy climbs including the KOM/QOM for the Cadel Evans Road Race.
Keep following the coast westward and you will land yourself on the Great Ocean Road. It’s arguably the most scenic continuous stretch of road in Australia (if staring at beautiful water and spotting dolphins or the odd whale is your thing!).
What are the roads like?
The roads in Geelong and the surrounding towns are generally in good condition, but expect some grip. The connecting roads and the quieter rural roads (of which there are many) are made from a kind of asphalt not known for its speedy qualities… Hit some headwinds on these roads and you will be in for an energy-sapping ride, but the kicker is most of the time the scenery is so nice you (probably!) won’t care.
Also be aware that the east coast of Australia received months and months of record rainfall in 2022, and as I write this in early 2023, the roads have noticeably developed potholes after the wet weather. But that said, riding here for a week around Christmas did not pose any issues for me.
In addition to the roads, Geelong also has some decent trails but these probably won’t be the first choice for the road bike. There is also a rail trail from Geelong to Queenscliff that has some unsealed sections that can be ridden on a road bike.
What are the must-do cycling climbs/routes?
Cadel Evans Road Race Loop
Why ride it?
If it’s good enough for the pros then surely it’s good enough for us, right?! The answer is yes.
While not an exact replica of the pre-pandemic road race course, this route is pretty close. The Cadel Evans People’s Ride also previously used this loop.
I love this route as it takes you through so many different landscapes; you start in the biggest city in the region, cross rivers, take in rural countryside, hit the surf beaches and tackle some decent climbs. It has a bit of everything.
Starting at the Geelong waterfront you head through Eastern Park before you make your way to Barwon Heads, the home of Cadel Evans and where the Barwon River meets Bass Straight. After Barwon Heads you ride along the beautiful 13th beach through the sand dunes onto Torquay.
You can take a coffee stop at one of Torquay’s many beachfront café’s before tackling the climb out of town past Jan Juc onto Bells Beach. This section of road is highlighted by a couple of lightning fast descents and short, sharp and steep pinches.
Heading toward Anglesea, take a right onto Forrest Road, enjoy a 11km meandering run through natural bushland then into the rural farming area of Moriac. Leaving Moriac behind you start the run back to Geelong through the Barrabool Hills where you will find a couple of punchy climbs and quick descents.
Landing in the outer Geelong suburb of Highton, the GPS file below takes in the famous and nasty climb of Challambra Crescent, which tops out at 18%. However, if that’s not your cup of tea then take a left on the descent into Highton at Scenic Road when you rejoin the route at The Ridge roundabout.
Yet another super quick descent takes you across the Barwon River at the Queens Park Bridge. It’s a single lane bridge, and so on a bike you must cross on the pedestrian part of the bridge, not the road deck. There’s one last short climb hitting 20+% on Melville Avenue before heading through Manifold Heights before turning right onto Church St. From here you enjoy the downhill run back to the waterfront to finish this spectacular loop.
Why ride it?
I love this route as it offers the unique opportunity to trace the outline of the peninsula and visit lots of towns along the way, taking in coastal views of the bay and the ocean.
Like the Cadel loop, you can easily start anywhere along the loop if you aren’t staying in Geelong.
Again, starting at the Geelong Waterfront, whizz past Eastern Beach and through Eastern Park before heading down Portarlington Road through the outskirts of Leopold before then joining the rail trail at Curlewis. Take the trail for 3.5kms, then take a left turn at Jetty Road and enjoy the downhill run straight to the bay.
Make a right turn at the bottom and head back uphill past the Clifton Springs golf course rejoining Portarlington Road at the end of Whitcombes Road. Follow the scenic rolling “Port Road” to Portarlington – it’s a particularly fun stretch of road with a south westerly tailwind! From Portarlington, with a belly full of doughnuts, you literally hug the waters edge of Port Phillip Bay around to St Leonards.
From here you make your way to Point Lonsdale then onto the “in and out” section to historic Queenscliff. A roll around this beautiful town reveals a steam railway, stunning colonial era architecture, a historic fort and classic view of “The Rip”, a famous waterway that connects Port Phillip Bay to Bass Straight.
After Queenscliff make your way back for a lap around Point Lonsdale with one of the best views for a main street as it goes around the 120 year old working lighthouse. From Point Lonsdale head to Ocean Grove then cross the Barwon River at Barwon Heads – look left for a great view of the bluff and river mouth. Following the road through the sand dunes along 13th beach, take a right turn onto Horseshoe Bend Road to make your way back to Geelong.
Great Ocean Road, Torquay – Lorne – Torquay
Why ride it?
I love this route as you get to ride one of the most picturesque roads in the country, passing through some idyllic villages and turning in Lorne – one of the most beautiful beachside havens you will find.
The Great Ocean Road is arguably the most iconic piece of road in Australia. It’s also the longest war memorial in the world (it was built as a memorial for all those who died during World War 1).
You can take this on in multiple ways – from Apollo Bay, Lorne, Anglesea or Torquay. This description starts in Torquay as it’s closest to Geelong. It starts on the same stretch as the Cadel loop from Torquay past Bells Beach, but rather than turning onto Forrest Road, you head to Anglesea and enjoy the 3km descent into town.
Roll through the picturesque town on the river of the same name and then take on the short climb out with views of Point Roadknight to the left. Now you ride right on the ocean and it basically continues that way until Lorne. Moving past stunning beaches you go through Aireys Inlet, home of the lighthouse from TV show Around the Twist.
More stunning beaches await after Aireys Inlet, as does the famous Great Ocean Road arch just after Moggs Creek. Now the road really starts earning its reputation as you head up on top of the cliffs and the views become even more panoramic. Rolling in and out of coves and getting back to the water level just seem to be the norm now as the views don’t fail to disappoint.
Following the road into Lorne, a beautiful little town on the beach, you’ve reached the turnaround point. You retrace the same route back with the exception being a little detour via Jan Juc after Bells Beach. However, seeing the same views from a different direction does make it feel like a new road.
For the climbers, as you leave Lorne you can take a left turn at the roundabout after the bridge and tackle the Benwerrin Climb, a 10km climb at 4.1%. Turn around at the top for the wonderful full throttle flowy descent back into Lorne.
For those who want to go large, I have included the 188km return route to Apollo Bay below as well. Essentially it’s more stunning roads and stunning scenery on quieter roads (as a lot of traffic doesn’t go beyond Lorne) that I would definitely recommend if you have the legs.
I would also strongly recommend leaving early to beat the tourist traffic heading towards Lorne, and then you will also find yourself riding against that traffic on the return leg which makes for a much nicer and safer experience.
The GPS file above is for the Torquay Lorne Return ride. Other variations:
GPX – Torquay Lorne Return with Benwerrin Climb
GPX – Torquay Apollo Bay Return
Amys Gran Fondo Loop, Lorne – Forrest – Lorne
Why ride it?
Cyclists that take part in the UCI World Championships qualifier Amys Gran Fondo are treated to one of the best loops you can hope to do.
I love this loop as it is really challenging but also stunning, with riding through rain forests, undulating rural farmland and taking in the Great Ocean Road. If you are in the area and up for a tough ride, you should give this a crack.
The GPX is anti clockwise, however the loop can also be done clockwise. Starting with the Benwerrin Climb out of Lorne you cross the Otway Ranges and drop into the little village of Deans Marsh. Take a left turn and enjoy the rolling rural countryside as you meander to the town of Forrest, the mountain bike capital of Southern Victoria.
As you leave Forrest you immediately begin the 22km climb back over the Otways to the top of Mt Sabine. Don’t be fooled by Strava’s average gradient of only 1.4% for the climb, it is a very rolling climb with some steep sections reaching double digit gradients.
Once you begin the descent, you are rewarded with some absolute “wow” moments as expansive views of rolling countryside and ocean are revealed which have the potential to take the concentration off the descending task at hand.
These views simply have to be seen to be believed. Hold on tight, some tight corners make this a white knuckle drop into Skenes Creek and back onto the Great Ocean Road. Turning left at the Great Ocean Road, you follow this sublime stretch of tarmac back to Lorne – it is a little lumpy so don’t expect to saunter back, however remember to soak up the views and the experience as it’s quite special to be able to ride on the water’s edge for such a length of time.
What are the key road cycling events in Geelong and the Surf Coast?
Pro cycling events
Geelong hosts the UCI World Tour Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on the last weekend of January. The 2023 event greeted the pros with a new course route and delivered a spectacular event both in terms of scenery and racing.
Geelong is also the host of the Citroen Bay Crits in early January – a lightning fast 3-day criterium event with Australia’s fastest riders racing hard in the first big event of the year.
Amateur cycling events
For the rest of us, there are three major events on offer.
First up in January we have the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race People Ride, with three distances on offer: 35km, 50km and the 125km replica of the elite road race course. The event is back after a two-year Covid induced hiatus and promises to be a huge weekend of cycling in Geelong.
The last weekend of April brings the Great Ocean Otway Classic. Based in Torquay, this event also has three distances to choose from – 60km, 145km and 204km.
And come September it’s Amy’s Grand Fondo in Lorne. This is a special event and also doubles as a UCI World Championships qualifier event. It gives the riders 130km of fully closed roads which enables the very unique opportunity to ride on the Great Ocean Road with no cars! It really is something not to be missed.
What are the best places for cyclists to stay in Geelong and the Surf Coast?
This is a tough one to pinpoint as it’s a large region.
Geelong, being a major city, has an array of accommodation options to meet the needs of all budgets from caravan parks to 5 star hotels.
Personally, I’d suggest heading to the coast, to Torquay, Ocean Grove or Anglesea, as all three towns have easy access to Geelong and the coastal cycling routes. They are all tourist destinations so there is no shortage of accommodation.
Further afield, Lorne is also a beautiful place to stay, however it’s a little far from Geelong and it’s a two hour (plus) drive from Melbourne.
Are there many places for bike hire/bike shops in Geelong and the Surf Coast?
There are a couple of places to find bike hire locally. Rent my Bike Australia hires road bikes from Geelong and Torquay, while Livelo also has a Geelong location. Hendry Cycles has locations in both Geelong and Ocean Grove. Further afield you also have Trailhead located in Anglesea.
If you are travelling through or linking your visit to Geelong and the Surf Coast with a stay in Melbourne, you can also hire a bike through one of the hiring options based in Melbourne. I personally don’t have a favourite or insider tip as being a resident I have never hired here, but Livelo is in Melbourne, and I have used them in another location and had a first-class experience. I have listed below some of the better-known hiring options.
Geelong and Surf Coast
Geelong and the Surf Coast have a number of well-regarded bike shops. In Geelong you can find Bicycle Centre Belmont, De Grandi Cycle and Sport, My Ride, Good Cycles, Marshalls Cycles and Hendry Cycles, while in Torquay there is Bike Matters, Trailhead in Anglesea and Hendry Cycles in Ocean Grove.
When to visit Geelong and the Surf Coast?
You can come and visit Geelong and the Surf Coast all year around, but like practically any destination, some months are better than others.
From a weather perspective, December through to May are the best months to visit, as the weather is warmer and generally speaking the winds are lighter. However, if you are not used to extreme heat, then January and February should be treated with particular caution as consecutive days of 40+ degrees are not uncommon.
However, if you want to join the thousands of other people who come to the region for the cycling events, then late January, April and September are when you want to come.
If you can’t visit in the “perfect” months, do not be deterred. We visit the area all year round and get our cycling fix in on each visit.
Any tips for riding in Geelong and the Surf Coast?
Getting to the area is fairly easy with airports in Melbourne and Geelong (Avalon) and you can also take the passenger ferry (bikes permitted) from the Melbourne CBD to Portarlington on the Bellarine Peninsula.
Traffic on the coast
This part of Australia is world famous for its beaches – and the coast does get busy. So if you’re visiting in the warmer months it’s a good idea to get your ride in nice and early, as the traffic will get heavy as the morning ticks on, to a point where there will be traffic jams to navigate.
On top of this there will be high pedestrian activity in unusual areas as people clamber for car parks near to a beach. So take care!
Traffic on the Great Ocean Road
If you’re taking on the Great Ocean Road, again get out as early as you can. The points above apply and regardless of weather, the road attracts a high volume of motorists and tour buses all year round.
My favourite hack to combat this is to head towards Lorne as early as possible to beat the traffic, then when you make your return you will enjoy mostly light traffic conditions as the majority of traffic will be flowing against you heading towards Lorne and the 12 Apostles.
Geelong v Melbourne
Geelong might be the second biggest city in Victoria, but really it’s still like a big country town and has a nickname of “Sleepy Hollow”. If you avoid the major roads you will enjoy reasonably quiet roads compared to Melbourne.
Kit – and sunscreen!
Lastly, the kit you pack will obviously depend on what time of year you are here – but I would suggest you have a rain cape no matter what time of year and some arm warmers. The mornings can start off quite crisp even in the warmer months.
Also make sure you wear sunscreen and bring a small tube for your jersey pocket so you have some available on your rides. If you are not careful you will get sunburnt through your jersey during summer.
Here are some helpful links to help with your visit –
Myki – public transport in Victoria
Information about bikes on public transport
Information on rules of the road for cyclists
A huge thank you to Chris for his incredibly useful insights!
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