Sydney Roadbook: guide to cycling Galston Gorge East

A steep-looking left-hand hairpin turn on the Galston Gorge East climb.

Hairpins. Whether cycling up or down, the eastern side of Galston Gorge is all about its six dramatic hairpin corners. The road zigzags its way through scenic bushland from the base of the Gorge up to Hornsby Heights, the closest thing Sydneysiders have to the twenty-one bends of France’s Alpe d’Huez.

The climb

Distance: 3.03km
Average gradient: 5%
Elevation gain: 158m
Strava: Galston Gorge (East Side)

After descending the western side of the gorge and crossing the wooden Pearces Creek Bridge, you’ll find the start of the Strava segment at end of the next bridge, just before the road turns right and heads uphill.

Bridge that marks the start of the Strava segment when cycling Galston Gorge East.
The Strava segment begins at the end of this bridge.

Galston Gorge East is a beautiful climb, and the best way to see it is by bicycle. You’ll wind your way up from the bottom of the Gorge surrounded by trees and greenery on all sides .

The road surface is smooth, for the most part. There are a few small patches where the asphalt is starting to break up, especially on the inside of the hairpins.

For most of the climb, the road keeps a consistent gradient of around 5%, with the notable exception of the hairpins themselves.

Hairpins

At each left-hand hairpin, the road rises steeply on the inside of the corner. Combined with the tight turning radius, these left-handers can be severe momentum-killers. If you’re climbing in a hurry, you will have to brake hard to get through the corner safely. And safety is important here: with no centre line through the hairpins, cars tend to use the full width of the road while travelling downhill. Unfortunately, the smoother outside line is more efficient than the steep inside line, so if you do wish to take the turn wide, be vigilant; keep an eye out over your left shoulder for oncoming traffic. Once through the turn, sprint out of the saddle to get back up to speed.

Two cyclists approach a hairpin when cycling Galston Gorge East while a white ute drives away. The road surface is steep and cracked on the inside of the turn.
The road can be quite steep through the left-hand hairpins. Also note the cracked road surface on the inside line.

The right hand hairpins are much friendlier for the climbing cyclist. Since your side of the road is on the outside of the bend, the gradient is shallow. There is no painted centre line, but a series of cat’s eye reflectors divides the road in half. As you approach the turn, keep wide to the left-hand side. Watch out for oncoming traffic coming downhill. If safe to do so, lean through the turn, clip the apex (staying to the left of the cat’s eyes), and carry all your momentum until the exit, at which point you can straighten up and get back on the pedals.

A cyclist in Manly Warringah Cycling Club kit climbs through a hairpin corner while cycling Galston Gorge East.
While checking up the road for traffic, you can take a smoother line through the right-hand hairpins.

From bush to suburbia

In the first 1.2 kilometres of the climb, the first five hairpins come in quick succession – left, right, left, right, left. They are followed by a straighter section of road that offers some decent views through the trees and across the gorge.

After a little chicane, you’ll take the final hairpin (a right-hander) and pass the lookout with two kilometres travelled and just one left to go.

With the Gorge on your left and a low rock wall to your right, continue along the road for another 500 metres until you emerge from the bush and re-enter suburbia. Even as the town sign welcomes you to Hornsby Heights, you still have another 500 metres to go.

A Hornsby Heights town sign on the side of the road towards the end of the climb when cycling Galston Gorge East.
After you break out of the trees and into suburbia, there’s still a little more climbing to go.

Steep finish

If you’ve been climbing with speed, your legs will be well and truly full of lactic acid as you continue along the suburban road. Unfortunately, the steepest section of the climb comes at the end. After following a left-hand bend, you’ll see the crest of the hill just past Montview Parade and the white gum tree. Here, the gradient kicks up to an unpleasant 8%. Stand up, push hard and just keep smashing the pedals as hard as you can. If you’ve done it right, your lungs should feel like they’re about to explode out of your chest.

The segment finishes just after Montview Parade, but in reality the road climbs for another hundred metres. For the Strava segment, it’s recommended that you push all the way to the bus shelter to account for GPS inaccuracies.

A stretch of uphill road going past Montview Parade and a large white gum tree mark the top of the climb when cycling Galston Gorge East.
The climb finishes just over this crest, past Montview Parade and the white gum tree. Push all the way until you reach the bus shelter (not visible), which is another hundred metres past the gum tree.

Strava

The current Strava KOM is 6:13. B-Graders can challenge themselves to beat the 8:30 mark.

The descent

Again, it’s all about the hairpins. Test your descending skills on the exhilarating ride through the narrow twists and turns of Galston Gorge.

Common sense dictates that you should be careful of oncoming traffic. Try not to cross the centre of the road, even where there is no dividing line.

The gradient can be quite steep on the inside of the left-hand hairpins. You may find yourself slowing to a near-stop before the corner, and even then needing to feather the brakes all the way through the turn.

Stay safe, keep the rubber side down, and have fun!

Traffic

Motor vehicle traffic is low early in the mornings, but since Galston Gorge is the only direct route between Hornsby and Dural, expect a moderate amount of car traffic during the day, especially tradies’ utes.

The good thing is, large trucks are banned from the Gorge – though that doesn’t always stop some overambitious truckies.

When descending, a cyclist can navigate the bends faster than most motor vehicles. In fact, you may find yourself squeezing the brakes behind a lumbering queue of cars.

When climbing through the hairpins, it’s best to claim the whole lane. Conversely, on the straight sections, it’s best to keep left to allow motor vehicles to pass.

Nearby

From the top of the climb, continue along Galston Road for another 500 metres to reach \Somerville Road. There, you’ll find a small cafe and mixed business.

Masochists can ride down Somerville Road to the inhumanely steep descent into Crosslands Reserve. The only way out is to turn around and grind back up grades of up to 15%.

Otherwise, continue further along Galston Road to the Pacific Highway, where you can turn left towards some other great climbs like Bobbin Head, Berowra Waters and Brooklyn.

If you want more climbing, the other side of the Gorge is the tougher, less exciting, yet still very rewarding climb of Galston Gorge West.

Galston Gorge East is a wonderful climb for Sydney cyclists. What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments below.

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