There’s something deeply satisfying about the crunch of gravel beneath soft tyres. Similar to how every ride on the road is different, the same can be said about a day exploring on gravel. The difference is, in my opinion, the sense of adventure. I have been called ‘The Most Extreme Cyclist on Earth’ by media outlets from around the world. My name is Jack Thompson and I go by ‘Jack Ultra Cyclist’. While a lot of my own extreme endeavours are completed on the tarmac, I am constantly pulled to explore off road. The remote nature of unsealed roads and the many hidden treasures such roads lead to cause my eyes to light up and my inner child to be re-born.
I’m the first to admit that life at present is hectic. While I have my own personal cycling challenges planned for the year, I also have a series of guided adventures that will see me guide guests to the far corners of the earth. I love to travel. It makes me feel alive. The unique smells, the experiences, the differences in culture—I can’t begin to describe the joy they bring me. BUT… I still love home, and when I’m away from my base in Perth, Western Australia for too long, I find myself craving the familiar training roads and the ability to share such roads with mates.
Perth, Western Australia is considered one of the most remote cities on earth. When people picture Australia, especially those from large cities abroad, they often picture desolate coastlines and large desert expanses. Sure, Australia certainly has a lot of that, but the cities themselves are actually less remote than you might imagine. Perth is no exception. With a population of approximately two million, Perth is now an urban metropolis. The city sprawls from north to south along the coastline and is bordered to the east by the Darling Scarp or, as we like to call it, ‘The Perth Hills.’ With a maximum average altitude of just 350m, the hills of Perth are more like ‘lumps,’ in stark contrast to the mountains of Europe. However, though we may not have mountains, we have incredible gravel roads and that brings me to my favourite stretch of gravel in Perth, ‘The Heritage Trail’.
The Railway Reserve ‘Heritage Trail’ follows the old Eastern Railway and provides a world-class, 41-km cycling route, built entirely on old railway formations. The trail itself commences at the base of the Perth hills and winds its way east towards York. Passing through various hillside communities, riders are afforded scenic views as they pass various points of historical significance. There are three or four minor road crossings along the route, but aside from this, the trail is 100% free of vehicular traffic, and at times has you feeling as though you are in the middle of the bush, far from civilisation.
I first stumbled across the Heritage Trail in early 2015 and since this time have used the trail as a regular training route. Perth is great in that we have a comprehensive bike path network, but I personally can’t think of anything better than exploring off the beaten track. I’ve been lucky enough to explore some of the most remote locations on earth, but I still I find huge enjoyment in exploring my own backyard. Unlike countries such as Holland, where the traffic is tolerant of cyclists, Perth, and Australia in general, still sees cyclists as ‘the enemy’, and it is normal to have run-ins with traffic on a daily basis. For this reason and the fact that I ride 800-1,000+ kilometres every week, I like to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city roads and explore. To remove myself from the risk of a traffic run-in, I spend at least one or two days a week completing my training along the Heritage Trail.
Its gentle gradients are perfect for long efforts, and the sound of nature coupled with the aromas of the native Australian vegetation add to what can only be described as therapeutic riding.
Earlier this year, to coincide with the release of Giant’s new gravel bike, ‘The Revolt,’ I was fortunate enough to guide 18 lucky riders on their very own ‘morning adventure.’ We met at the base of the Heritage Trail in Midland, before setting off towards Helena Valley, the midway point of the trail. The first half of the ride covered a gentle uphill gradient, which enabled riders to become acquainted with their new machines. After some 90 minutes, we arrived at the ‘Helena Valley Gold Mine’, which is not actually a gold mine, but a general store, where riders were eager for coffee and breakfast.
Interestingly, although all riders were Perth locals, just three of the 18 had ever ventured along the Heritage Trail previously, and the smiles and banter that ensued over coffee highlighted the fact that almost all were shocked that such incredible riding existed on their own doorstep.
Post re-fuel, we made our way west and back down the scarp en-route to the expansive rock faces of the lower hills. A short section of single-track led us to an amazing outlook, before we clipped back in and hightailed it towards the finish point. Two and a half hours in the saddle, with 20km of climbing in 40km, later, each and every rider smiled and laughed as we arrived back at the start point. Sad that the morning was over, a number of riders that day went and purchased their own gravel bikes, eager to spend more time exploring the secluded trails of the Perth hills.
While we in Perth are fortunate enough to have world-class gravel right on our doorstep, the real joy in gravel/adventure riding for me, is exploring the unknown, be it on gravel, on the Dutch cobbles, or along the beach on a fat bike. If I can leave you with one bit of advice, it would be:
“Your bike is an incredible form of transport. The next time you leave the house, challenge yourself to ride a different route and venture somewhere unknown. I guarantee that, provided you leave with an open mind, pockets stuffed full of food and bidons full of water, you’ll have a great time pushing yourself and adventuring off the beaten track.”
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