Three gorge challenge


Sydney’s three gorges loop offers testing climbs, thrilling descents and breathtaking scenery, finds Lauren Pevy.

Bobbin Head by Stephen Ridgway via Flickr Creative Commons

Sydney may not have the famed three peaks of the Victoria’s High Country to ride, but what it does have are three gorges offering up a challenge to those on two wheels.

The three gorges loop has become one of the city’s iconic road rides. It’s ideal for anyone seeking a physical challenge amid stunning scenery just 30 minutes north of the CBD. Each weekend thousands of roadies descend on Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park and its surrounds to enjoy its delights: the resurfaced roads of Akuna Bay and West Head, the classic three gorges loop or the 100km-plus extended ‘Pie in the Sky’ loop up the old Pacific Highway to the Central Coast for a ferry ride return to Palm Beach.

We decided to tackle the 60km three gorges loop for our ride, which just happened to be a social ride with Team Bicycle Network. The three gorges ride starts and finishes in Hornsby, and, as its name implies, passes through three gorges: Galston Gorge, Berowra Waters and Bobbin Head. It’s a tough ride with over 1,100 vertical metres of climbing. However, with a reasonable level of fitness it’s achievable in anywhere from two to four hours, depending on just how strong your climbing legs are.

We met for our ride early on a cold but sunny winter morning at the bus shelter in front of Hornsby Park on the Pacific Highway.

Our peloton of 15 included Alex Malone and Anna Pelisikoti, from Team Bicycle Network, two work colleagues and another 10 keen riders. Hornsby is roughly 30km from Sydney’s CBD, so for those riding to meet us from other areas of the city, the ride each way to the starting point plus the 60km ride made for a solid day in the saddle.

Those who prefer to save their strength for the three gorges loop itself can catch a train from the city to Hornsby Station. However, it’s worth noting that bikes are not permitted on trains 6am–9am and 3:30pm–7:30pm on weekdays.

three-gorges-2What started as a leisurely pedal along the Pacific Highway in Hornsby, quickly became an intense roller coaster of a ride as we swooped down a winding 3km descent of hairpin turn after hairpin turn into the fog-filled Galston Gorge along Galston Road. I quickly realised my arm warmers and gloves were no match for the freezing wind chill on the descent, and I looked on with sympathy at the even less rugged-up riders flying past with gritted teeth. So it’s a good idea to rug up on cold days. Though it was chilly, at least the cold motivated us to pedal hard up the hill on the other side and raise our body temperatures.

Out of the gorge and grateful to be back in the Galston sunshine, we regrouped just past the Crosslands Road intersection. After the first climb we were glad to take a break, catch our breath, and compare notes. Our spirits were high, despite the cold and the post-climb burn in our legs, with everyone happy to be out and about on a beautiful, blue-skied Sydney morning. On that count, we weren’t alone; around us other pelotons regrouped, riding buddies chatted and solo warriors powered on ahead. There was a real sense of camaraderie in the air and sharing the road with so many other keen cyclists made our ride that much more enjoyable.

Once recovered, we took off again, turning left onto Arcadia Road and zigzagging through the ’burbs. Unfortunately, a couple of flat tyres and mechanicals slowed us down a little. Each time, a few riders stayed back to fix the problem while the rest of the group pedalled slowly on until everyone caught up again, like the military creed, ‘no-one was left behind.’

As Arcadia Road turned into Bay Road, the group sped up, flying down another thrilling descent into the fog at the bottom of the tree-lined valley. At Berowra Waters, we regrouped after yet another flat tyre had separated us, for a slow chug across the inlet on the local ferry. It was a chance for riders from different groups to connect, share stories and prepare for the upward slog ahead.

Climbing up Berowra Waters Road out of the fog and into the sunshine to take in the view across Berowra Creek—a major tributary of the Hawkesbury River with stunning rock formations, trees and water, I realised again how incredibly lucky us Sydneysiders are to have such first class cycling right on our doorstep. The creek has a lot of history, as well as Berowra Waters itself (though it is brutal in parts—many indigenous people in the area succumbed to smallpox within weeks of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788).

On this part of the ride there was some traffic on the roads, but being such a popular cycling route, drivers expected to see us and gave us a wide berth.

Back on the flat, we pushed along the side of the Pacific Highway for a stretch and into the quieter area of Mt Colah. We then turned left onto Yirra Road, and left again onto Ku-Rin-Gai Chase Road to begin the final 3km descent into Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. The heritage listed park is worth visiting in its own right. It’s Australia’s second oldest national park and a nature lover’s playground of ribboning creeks, rainforest, mangroves, rocky cliffs and beaches. Given the varied abilities of the riders in our group, we spilt up so that each rider could handle the descent at a speed they were comfortable with. It was a real thrill ride, and each rider, no matter what their ability, arrived at the Cowan Creek Bridge at the bottom with a racing heart and a wide smile.

cafe-crop-1The final climb up Bobbin Head Road felt the longest. Thinking I was nearly at the top, and with the promise of a post-ride latte urging me on, I surged ahead, but soon realised there were plenty more vertical metres hidden further up the curving road. The group again spread out, those with energy left raced each other to the top—like a scene out of le Tour—while others slowly but steadily battled to the peak. When we all finally emerged and collapsed at the accommodating Corner Café in North Turramurra, the burning legs were quickly forgotten and replaced with that sense of achievement we all know at the end of a great ride. We celebrated with well-deserved coffee and sugary treats that any good post-ride debrief includes!

Distance: 60km

Difficulty: Moderate to hard

Surface: Sealed road

Type of bike: Road

Web link:

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

One thought on “4”

  1. A great article which was readily digestible re: David Heatley’s article re: nutrition advice to go the distance. Gave me an understanding of your body needs dependent upon the pace and/or duration of your ride.

  2. An even better ride is 8 Gorges (technically its only 2 Gorges and 6 hills, Start and finish at North Turrarmurra Vet. Bobbin Head, Crosslands, Galston Gorge, Berowra Ferry up to Berowra & turn around at roundabout & repeat. All up ~ 120km, 2,800m of climbing @ 25km/hr average over ~ 5 hours. Good road surface, scenery & lightish traffic for 5 hours. Plus avoids Pacific Highway. It’s my 3P’s training. If you can bear it include 5 repeats of Crosslands on way out and on way back.

  3. Great article. After picking up my first road bike a few weeks ago and doing Bobbin Head a couple of times, I’m now looking to push myself onto a course like this. Can anyone recommend any riding groups for a beginner getting into cycling?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *