Great Ocean Road: Cycling

The Great Ocean Road provides the most spectacular cycling in all of Australia.  Since this was at the top of my 2014 Must-Cycle list, it was one of our first destinations when we arrived in Oz in January of 2014.  I’ve created a Google Map showing route and distances, and where to stay/eat for cyclists who have the extraordinary good fortune of putting wheels to the ground on the GOR.  Below is a written description of the suggestions on the map, and some very important tips for cycling the Great Ocean Road safely.

You can easily start at Geelong (the beginning of the road, about 45 miles southwest of Melbourne) and cycle the entire road, but I did not have that much time, so I chose to stay in Lorne and start from there to focus on the prettiest part of the road.  Here are the basics:

Route: For a short ride (28 miles one way), cycle from Lorne to Apollo Bay.  For a longer ride (75 miles one way) continue past Apollo Bay to The Twelve Apostles.  It is a straight shot with no turns.  Simply head west out of Lorne and keep going. 

Tip: If possible, do a one way ride and have someone pick you up in either Apollo Bay or at The Twelve Apostles. The ride going east back into Lorne has almost zero shoulder and is very, very dangerous because motorists cannot see cyclists on the hair pin turns. The route west has a bit of a shoulder, plus, it hugs the ocean side of the road so you get the great views this way.

Refueling:  Don’t count on it.  There is only one little store on this route (the Koala Cafe) which is not too far from Lorne.  If you are going on the long ride all the way to the Twelve Apostles, it is best to have someone driving a sag wagon for you if possible.

Tip: If you do stop at the Koala Cafe, look up.  It is named this for a reason.  You might have to take a bit of a walk up the hill into the woods, but you will likely see a koala bear or two if you make the effort.

Bike Gear: Make sure you have everything you need before you arrive because there are no bike shops in any of the towns along the road.  The weather was a little chillier than I expected and I left my long-sleeved jersey back in Melbourne.  I ended up buying a surf-shirt at one of the many surf shops, which worked fine, but if I had forgotten tubes, cartridges, etc. I would have been out of luck.

Accommodations: There are about 10 hotel/motel/B&B options in Lorne, although all are very basic (be prepared to haul your bike up the stairs since there are no lifts).  The two that are at the end of the little town with easiest access onto the GOR are the Lorne Hotel and the Grand Pacific Hotel.

Tip: Weekends are the most popular times for tours, so hotel prices will be lowest if you can schedule your ride during the week.  This is also the safest time to cycle the road, since there is much less traffic.

Food:  There are a couple of three star restaurants in Lorne (Mark’s is probably the best) but there are 15 very solid little restaurants and cafes along the main road (hey, you are not there for the food).  The Lorne Pier Restaurant is a good for very fresh seafood and a beautiful view.  The Lorne Beach Pavillion is a nice little spot for drinks and appetizers.  La Perouse Cafe has a good breakfast.

Tip: Food in Australia is very expensive (on the positive side, it lacks the processed, chemical-laden flavors that comes with the cheap food that is readily available in the U.S.).  Many of the restaurants and cafes have happy hour deals, so eat early to cut down on food costs (for example, the Lorne Beach Pavillion had a pot of mussels for 7 Euros when I was there).

Safety:  PLEASE DON’T SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH.  Cycling the GOR is dangerous business folks.  It is hard for motorists to see cyclists on the hairpin curves and almost nowhere for a cyclist to go in an emergency (few turn-offs, very little shoulder).  The GOR is a high-accident area in Australia; plus, there has been a growing anti-cyclist sentiment in parts of Australia over the last year (I might not have ridden the GOR if I had read this article first).  We all know the rules of safe cycling — it is imperative that these rules be followed to the letter on a high-accident route like the GOR.  Some additional precautions to consider:

  • Ride after “rush hour”, i.e., mid morning and be back in Lorne well-before the evening rush begins (there isn’t that much of a rush hour on the GOR but traffic volume is noticeably higher during normal peak times)
  • Don’t ride when the light is low, when there is fog or when conditions make it harder for motorists to see you — the risk factor on the GOR is high enough when it is a clear day with high visibility.
  • As noted above, avoid going east.  Try to do a point to point ride going west.
  • Avoid swinging into the middle of a lane on a tight curve — take the curve slow enough that you don’t have to do this.  Visibility is very poor and motorists travel fast along this road.
  • You may want to consider timing your trip so that you can participate in one of the many official cycling events on the GOR, where roads are closed (The Great Ocean Road Cycling Challenge, The RACV Ride, or Amy’s Grand Fondo).

If you are a cyclist, the Great Ocean Road has to be on your bucket list.  It is quite possibly the most beautiful stretch of road I have ever cycled and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  As the younger (fitter) crowd in Oz might say “Get out there amongst it!”.






    • Nan Dawkins says

      I did not try the app — honestly, the phone issue has been one of the practicalities that I really need to write about. I did not have a good phone in Oz and the coverage was terrible. I’m very interested though and will do some research — are there other locations as well? Thanks for commenting!

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