The Climbing Cyclist, also known as Matt de Neef, is conquering Victoria's mountains; he has climbed Mt Hotham, he’s beaten Mt Baw Baw and he admits that Terry’s Avenue, Belgrave, almost had him heading to the bottom before he had even reached the top.
The Climbing Cyclist started as a university assignment, Matt was required to create a website on any topic, he took his love for cycling to the next level and created an online guide for cyclists looking for a new mountain to climb in Victoria, and he’s climbed almost all of them.
Matt is now hanging out to climb the back of Falls Creek after mechanical problems marred his efforts at the 3 Peaks Challenge earlier this year. Matt said the 30km climb at the back of Falls Creek would be a fantastic challenge and as a cyclist who likes to climb mountains I couldn’t agree more; I will however be waiting for his account of the climb before I attempt it.
Matt took time out to speak with Rowena Scott of Bicycles Network Australia (BNA) about pushing the barriers, making it to the top and that feeling that makes us want to keep on climbing.
BNA: When did you first start cycling, how did you get into it and why did you end up climbing?
de Neef: I got my first bike when I was 4 or 5 and I’ve never really stopped cycling since. The high school I went to (Box Hill High School) ran a bike camp every year which saw us riding around Wangaratta, Beechworth, Myrtleford and the surrounding areas. I went on bike camp every year that I was at Box Hill and it was one of the most memorable of my school experiences
Part of that camp was the ~3km climb from Woolshed Falls to Beechworth where the King of the Mountain title was up for grabs. I won it once and every year it was something that I looked forward to. It seems like a short climb now but it’s still pretty steep!
BNA: How did the website ‘The Climbing Cyclist’ come about?
de Neef: The site began as a university assignment where we had to start up a website on a topic of our choice. I decided to write about cycling in Victoria and more specifically, the great climbs available to Victorian cyclists. While there are a number of sites that give a bit of information about these climbs, I wanted my site to be more comprehensive and become a valuable resource for Victorian climbers.
Since finishing that subject I’ve continued working on the site and this time last year I bought some web space and starting trying to make it look a little more professional. I hope!
BNA: Tell me about ‘The Climbing Cyclist’.
de Neef: The Climbing Cyclist is a site dedicated to providing detailed information about the many great cycling climbs Victoria has to offer. For each of the 20 or so climbs on the site so far, I’ve got photos of where the climbs start and finish, a map of the route, a profile of the climb and a detailed write-up of what’s involved if you are going to try the climb.
The site also features a number of short articles about cycle climbing and a blog where I share my thoughts about training up for the 3 Peaks Challenge. We’ve also got a presence on Facebook and Twitter and these communities have been growing steadily in recent months.
BNA: Was there a climb where you almost reached breaking point, where you’d had enough and were about to throw it all in?
de Neef: There’s a hill in the Grampians called Mt. William and the first 9km is fairly easy at around 5-6% but after that it climbs at around 13% for 2km. At the start of those final 2km is a 400metre stretch that sits at around 20%. I have to admit that I stepped off the bike at one point during that section. I was going so slowly that I would have fallen off anyway! That said, I did manage to finish the climb after a short break.
The Terry’s Avenue climb out of Belgrave is probably the hardest sustained climb I’ve done – harder than Mt. Baw Baw I’d say. Climbing that beast was the closest I’ve gotten to throwing in the towel and heading back down the hill.
BNA: How do you push through that pain barrier?
de Neef: I’m not quite sure to be honest! Stupidity? The desire to get fitter and stronger? A desire to feel a sense of accomplishment at the top? Could be any of those I suppose.
BNA: Do you have a climb that you consider to be enjoyable, something that you would happily do repeats on?
de Neef: Most of the climbs that I’ve done are enjoyable, to a point. I’m not nearly strong or fit enough to enjoy an afternoon spent riding up and down the 1 in 20, for example, but if I had to pick one climb, I’d say the Tawonga Gap. At least if you do repeats of that, you get to do two different climbs in the process. Plus, the descent from the Tawonga Gap down toward Bright is one of the best going around.
BNA: Do you do any training for the climbs that you do, or is it just a matter of reading the profile and then going out there and giving it a go?
A bit of both I reckon. I try to get to a reasonable level of fitness before I go out and do any serious climbing but I certainly wouldn’t spend months training just so I could get up and over Mt. Hotham, for example. I’d rather just go and do it and see how I go.
That said trying a climb like Mt. Baw Baw without a good fitness level probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing you could do as a cyclist.
BNA: What is your advice to someone who is a novice at climbing hills?
de Neef: Just go and do it. Be prepared for it to be hard work to start off with but, as with anything difficult, the more you do it the easier it becomes. At the end of the day, getting to the top of a huge mountain on your own steam is more than enough reward for the pain you’ve gone through to get there.
BNA: What’s going through your mind when you head up a mountain, are you thinking about the things you have to do tomorrow, or is it purely about making it to the top?
de Neef: Without sounding too corny, I tend to get lost in the moment a little bit. Especially if it’s a climb as beautiful as, say, Mt. Buller, I can’t help but just lose myself in the experience.
BNA: On any given day, what would you consider the best place to ride in Victoria?
de Neef: You’d be pretty hard-pressed to go past the Victorian Alps and the area around Bright. With so many great climbs in the area – Mt. Buffalo, Mt. Hotham, Tawonga Gap and Falls Creek – it’s sacred ground for Victorian cyclists. In fact, if you are a Victorian cyclist who hasn’t been to Bright for a cycling trip, you might want to find some time. You won’t be disappointed.
All that aside, there are certainly worse places to ride than the Grampians, the Great Ocean Road and the Yarra Valley, just to name a few areas.
BNA: Are there any climbs in Victoria that you haven’t done and are looking forward to attempting?
de Neef: For some stupid reason, I’m really looking forward to tackling the ‘Back o’ Falls’ climb, from Omeo up to Falls Creek. I would have done it last year in the 3 Peaks Challenge but a broken gear cable thwarted those plans.
Just the idea of 30km uphill, with the first 3km at 10% sounds like a fantastic challenge. Or maybe just stupid, I’m not sure.
BNA: I understand there are some wicked hills in Tasmania and New South Wales; do you have any plans to travel through the rest of Australia and see what the other states have to offer?
de Neef: Absolutely. I’d love to take The Climbing Cyclist to a national audience and as soon as the resources and the opportunities present themselves, I’ll be there.
BNA: What sort of gear ratios are you riding to complete these rides?
de Neef: All of my climbing at the moment is done on my trusty Trek 1.2. It’s seen me through almost 8000km and while it’s a little basic for some, it gets the job done. I’m riding a 34-50 at the front with a 12-26 at the back. The 26 gets me up most hills without too many dramas, Mt. William excepted.
Bicycles Network Australia wishes Matt De Neef, The Climbing Cyclist, a puncture free ride at the back of Falls Creek and clear skies at the 2011 3 Peaks Challenge. You can find out what Matt’s been up to by logging onto Twitter, Facebook and his website: http://www.theclimbingcyclist.com/