When setting up a bike for the first time you should take the bike on a small local ride so adjustments can be made easily. But if the opportunity presents itself to christen a bike on a ride up the side of a remote mountain over dirt road and ruts 100km from home, then you should never ever say no.
Since completing the ascent of Ben Lomond last year as part of the Rapha Prestige, Ben (my mate, not the mountain) and I have been eyeing off his little brother (only just), Mount Barrow. Arthur, Barrow, Ben dominate the eastern skyline of Launceston Tasmania. While Ben is the most famous of the three, Barrow provides a road less ridden of equal beauty and even more brutality.
The Belgie arrives late Friday afternoon and with the leave pass arranged for Saturday morning, my night is spent a madly assembling the bike. Once together, it's a thing of beauty to behold. I am so excited to get out there, but a weather check shows that the window for success is sketchy at best with a sizable front coming through. We had no idea at the time or how sizeable this front would turn out to be but more about that later in the story.
The beginning of a chilly Tasmanian early winters morning finds Ben (again, the rider not the mountain) and I heading off through the rolling hills of the Tasman Highway. The forecast is grim but the blue skies ahead fuel our enthusiasm.
The beginning of the Barrow ride commences with a right turn off the tarmac onto a dirt road winding its way through green rolling hills of Tassie farm land. Then you hit the steep first ramp that pops you out of the green into the tall timber forest. The 14km climb is a battle of climb-rest-climb-rest, the blue skies begin to grey as we ascend through the forest to the exposed open rock scree road. Winding its way like a snake through the field of boulders is a rutted and rough dirt road to the summit - this what we had came for and why this ride is touted as harder than “the ladder” on Lomond.
Some notes on the Belgie once adjusted the bike handled the climb with ease. The compact gears balanced with the sure-footed nature of the Curve wheels provided made easy work of the rough terrain. This was especially noticeable in the tight loose switchback of the climb which from past experience on similar Tassie roads normally make road bikes squirm.
Ramp-turn-ramp-turn the exposed roads climbs ever upwards with the final pitch placing us in the clouds. We make the top, take a few minutes to recoup and explore the landscape, but it is clear that we should make our way down, with the weather closing in.
Going down the dirt ramps give us a chance to hit 70 km per hour over the open straight gravel sections, but then it was hard on anchors before entering the loose off camber corners.
Back down to the safety of the bottom, we make our hasty retreat with thoughts of cold beer and warm food of Launceston. I had a chance to reflect how the Belgie shined, it was sure footed and calm under fire. The speeds hit during the decent felt controlled and predictable on roads that were anything but. What can I say there is nothing quite like flying down a loose bit of gravel on a surface are barely wider than your little finger but at no stage did I feel out of control on this bike.
Barrow and its big brother The Ben are the essence of what Tasmanian riding should be about. Just one turn off the main road can turn an afternoon's ride into an afternoon of adventure, all within 100km of home.
So back to the subject of our chasing clouds well, they ended up dumping a wall of water 200-300ml of torrential rain behind us on to the slopes of Barrow as we retreated, turning the roads into rivers. This same cloud front continued its path washing away roads and causing wide spread flooding and damage throughout the Tamar valley. So what is the recipe for great adventure; a window of opportunity, willing participants and just a little bit of luck.