EDIT: The goodnessgravel Gundy Gravel Fondo cycling event planned for October 8 and 9 has been postponed until December due to severe weather predicted for the Hunter Valley.
Rediscovering the treasures in our own backyard is at the heart of a hybrid style of endurance riding attracting cyclists to explore roads less travelled and appreciate the beauty within regional Australia.
Somewhere between road cycling and mountain biking, gravel riding is relatively new to the cycling scene and usually takes riders along a mix of sealed and unsealed back roads and across country trails in marathon-style events.
But the sport is more about the spirit of adventure than racing against the clock.
Cyclist Laura Renshaw from Newcastle said gravel rides were also the "friendliest events".
"Most people are there to have fun, and for some that means racing their friends and the whole field. That's the great thing about them, you can go your hardest or take it easy with friends and really enjoy the ride.
"They are often in beautiful areas of the country and take in some of the most scenic routes. The people, places and good times keep me coming back," she said.
Coming from a background of road cycling and mountain biking, Renshaw said she had experienced her share of gender bias at the starting line. But while some areas of the cycling world were still playing catch-up, Renshaw felt gravel riding offered a more inclusive culture that was becoming more popular among women riders.
"Some men are maybe a little miffed when you pass them on the bike, but most are more impressed," Renshaw said.
"I remember vividly when I got into cycling how scary it was and how intimidating events were.
"My goal is to have more women involved and being able to enjoy all that cycling has to offer. I love running beginner rides and social rides open to all and my aim is to help provide a welcoming and fun environment to those new to the sport," Renshaw said.
For those new to the sport or keen to get involved, the best way to get started is to "find local people to ride with, then contact your local bike shop or local mountain bike clubs" to point you in the direction of up coming events and information on equipment, Renshaw said.
Due to the pandemic, more gravel riding events have started popping up in regional Australia as a way to connect communities of cyclists with regional towns doing it tough.
One such event born from the impact of COVID-19 was goodnessgravel, which held its inaugural ride in 2021.
The event at Gundy was scheduled to return to the Upper Hunter on October 8 and 9, 2022, but has been postponed until December due to severe wet weather forecast to hit the region this weekend.
goodnessgravel coordinator and founder of twowheeltours Will Levy, said the event aimed to combine his passion and expertise for creating memorable riding experiences (many of which were international pre-pandemic) with the real need to support local Australian communities.
"We all know that 2020 has a lot to answer for. Many Australian rural communities have had it tough; first the fires, then the floods and months of COVID restrictions," Mr Levy said.
"Due to not being able to travel overseas for our tours, we contacted various NSW rural councils to see about visiting their regions to consult on their cycle tourism opportunities."
It was also a timely opportunity to discover what gems lay waiting in Australia's own backyard and share them with others.
"We found more gold in the Upper Hunter Valley. This region, just three hours North of Sydney, has fantastic roads ... the region is a slice of paradise in all directions." Mr Levy said.
"Gundy is one of the glorious small towns in the Upper Hunter Shire."
"It is an area not yet associated with gravel riding [which] is a new and rapidly growing sector within the riding world."
Before taking part in the inaugural Gundy gravel ride in 2021, Renshaw, who was invited back as an ambassador for the event this year, had never heard of Gundy, let alone knew where it was on a map.
"I didn't even know Gundy existed!" she said.
But now she can't wait to get back there and advocates for more people to take to their bikes to explore their local areas.
"The Gundy area is beautiful with rolling hills and also it is located at the base of the Barrington Mountains.
"There is no better way to see your local area than on a bike. The best way to explore is by bike," Renshaw said.
Organisers had hoped the rain would hold off for the event to go ahead on October 8 and 9, however the threatening forecast for severe rain and adverse weather this weekend as forced them to postpone until December.
"Unfortunately due to the rain forecast over this coming weekend we have had to postpone the event until the first weekend in December," goodnessgravel organiser Laurie Newman said.
"In talking to the council, the main aim is to bring tourists to the region to enjoy all the benefits on offer and riding in the rain is not pleasant".
"Given the weather was less than perfect [last year] (it rained the week before and on the day) the feedback from the 170 riders was very positive as most had never ridden in this area before," Mr Newman said.
Bike riding through the countryside sounds like a nice way to spend a weekend. The breeze on your face as you meander along quiet, rural roads framed by sweeping views of rolling countryside, with a gentle hill climb here or there and adventurous creek crossings to keep things interesting.
For bike-riding enthusiasts, the goodnessgravel ride at Gundy in the Upper Hunter paints a picture of all that and more when it returns to the picturesque region for a two-day cycling event that was planned for October 8 and 9, 2022, but due to severe weather, organisers have decided to postpone the ride until December.
Those looking for a casual ride can head out for the social pedal on the afternoon of day one. But for the more serious rider, a challenging loop ride with gruelling hill climbs and rocky descents awaits on the Sunday.
"Not for the faint-hearted" - that's how organisers describe the 135-kilometre loop of the Gundy Gravel Fondo. But if that sounds stamina-crushing, there is the option to ride the "shorter" loop of 75 kilometres, with 1,640 metres of ascent.
For those of us not of the cycling world, a Fondo (not to be confused with the melted cheese dish) is a long-distance "endurance challenge for the masses" originating in Italy, where swarms of cyclists compete against the clock and each other for the sheer exhilaration of it.
But organisers don't want to think of Gundy as a race. It's more important to them that cyclists ride within their limits to savour the experience and the nourishing sense of community the event brings.
With the idea of drawing cyclists to these events, Mr Levy and his team hoped to give local tourism and small businesses a much-needed boost throughout small Aussie regions like the Upper Hunter.
On top of that, $10 from each cyclist registration fee would be donated to the local community. This year the beneficiaries are Ellerston Public School and the local Rural Fire Service.
More than 120 cyclists have already signed up to take part at Gundy, with more expected before registrations close on the day of the event.
Based on registrations from last year, around 80 per cent of riders were from outside the shire, said fellow goodnessgravel organiser Laurie Newman.
"Alerting riders to different regions means that some of them repeat their visits many times over and encourage their friends and riding clubs to also visit," Mr Newman said.
Cyclists can challenge their riding skills on Gundy's regional gravel roads while taking in the adventure of riding through some of Australia's unique and awe-inspiring countryside.
"There are so many well-made gravel roads with minimal traffic going through magnificent Australian countryside. Plus the availability of roads means we can make the route very interesting for riders by giving them some challenging climbs as well as long, sweeping, rolling experiences,"
"The ability to offer riders flat, hilly and mountain roads within the archetypal Australian countryside is quite unique," Mr Newman said.
"There is the ability for advanced riders to challenge themselves on the mountain climbs as well as for the more leisurely riders to simply pick a comfortable pace and enjoy the experience."
Organisers expect the 135-kilometre course to take about seven and a half hours for riders to complete. That's going about 18kph, without stopping.
While the event is open to everyone over 16 years old (under-16s need to be accompanied by an adult at all times) there is an expectation for a level of fitness that means cyclists can maintain an average speed of 18kph to finish the course within the event time frame.
Starting at 7.30am, riders are scheduled to head north in waves from the Gundy Recreation Grounds for an eight-kilometre scenic stretch of country tarmac, before crossing the Isis River to get going on the gravel trails that await.
They'll head through lush farmland and horse properties on their climb towards the 26-kilometre mark at 523 metres above sea level, where some superb views of the Upper Hunter Valley can be enjoyed.
From the first rest stop at the 42-kilometre mark, riders will make their way toward the major climb of the day. Organisers say this is where the gravel riding experience really takes riders to the next level with "amazing stretches of gravel road you are ever likely to experience".
The road is lined by hundreds of centuries-old grass trees.
"It is something that amazes us each time we pass through this section. There must be hundreds of them waving in the wind. They must also be 600+ years old," Mr Levy said.
At kilometre 61 and 958 metres above sea level, things start to get a bit steep. This is where the real gravel-riding skills will come into play as riders navigate up and over to safely descend the steep down-hill gravel stretch. The reward is rolling and winding through beautiful country alongside sections of Pages Creek for the next 57 kilometres, where riders will pass through the tiny town of Ellerston and reach the second rest stop at kilometre 86.
The gravel then begins to fade back into tarmac at 99 kilometres and a final hill climb before the 135-kilometre finish line will test those tired legs.
Once they reach that finish line riders receive a complimentary sausage sling and a cold, hard-earned beverage with the event wrapping up at 3.30pm.
For more information visit: goodnessgravel.com/events/gundy
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