Top 5 Cycling Routes
We wanted to do a post about some of the great longer routes that can be ridden in the Victoria area, as well further up our beautiful island. As our friend Bill Chimko did such a great job with the Top Five Hills article, we asked him if he could come up with the Top 5 Cycling Routes...over 50kms. He graciously obliged. Enjoy.
Russ Hays Waterfront Classic Route (52km)
Russ Hays Waterfront Loop: https://www.strava.com/activities/140879017
This is one of the Victoria cycling community’s classic routes. Simply known as The Waterfront Route, this ride has it all: sharp climbs, TT-worthy flats, smooth winding descents and, of course, world-class vistas. Perhaps one of the best-but-subtle benefits of this route is the minimal amount of crossing roads from the right - as you are traveling counter-clockwise along the waterfront, there is rarely traffic coming from your right all the way to Mattick’s Farm. An extra bonus is there are not many stop signs either (We DO stop at stop signs, don’t we? All of them.)
This ride generally starts at Russ Hays on Hillside - or from your favourite downtown coffee shop - and leads along a path hugging the the Inner Harbour along to Dallas Road with great views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There’s a slight grade along the stretch leading from Ogden Point to warm the legs up, and then you’re rewarded with a rather quick and smooth TT-worthy stretch along to Clover Point and Ross Bay. Don’t be lulled into false dreams of lavender pillows however; just around the corner lies one of the area’s more iconic short (but leg-cracking) climbs - King George Terrace (a/k/a KGT - similar to KFC, only your legs are fried). Best to take the inside line (read: it's sharp and steep) to get this one over with quickly so you can enjoy a great view of the straits at one of Victoria’s premiere viewpoints while your friends suffer up the scoop. Be sure to calm your breathing and look totally relaxed before they arrive: “What hill?”
The ride then continues along undulating grades through scenic golf courses, marinas, high-end Uplands estates before moving on through a great low-grade climb through tree-sheltered Gordon Head. The climb here starts at Queen Alexandria Children's Hospital, and continues with a gradual grade up Gordon Head Road, where you’re met with a great banked descent clearly designed by someone with fun and performance in mind. Your reward? Another climb up the Ferndale Popper - a 30-second sufferfest which will surely tame your cadence.
From there you’ll enjoy one of the fastest descents on the local group rides, a nice 70kph+ drop to Ash Road. Here is where you can drop the unexpected hammer on your party. While they are all wistfully coasting downhill in a Chris Froome Aero SpeedTuck, you lay down the steady pressure and set the foundation for a solid power climb up Cordova Bay Road. Cue the solo breakaway, and work to extend your time gap through a pleasantly level Lochside Drive until you reach Matticks Farm. Again, slowing your breath and sipping gently on your bidon - this ride makes you euro enough to call it that - one-leg straddle your bike like a pro and await the peloton.
And that’s only halfway.
The route continues to Sayward Road. Hopefully here you’ve done your research and read the previous article on the 5 Top Local Climbs, for it’s about to get real. The key here is to build some momentum on the flats leading up to the climb; drop the hammer at the base and do your best to hold your cadence all the way to the top. You’ll get a decent break waiting for the light at the highway crossing - unless you’re unlucky and roll right through - and from there you’ll have a nice cruise along the backside of Elk Lake to Oldfield and Sparton. This is quite a pleasant rolling route regularly used for triathlon start/finish routes. Follow Sparton’s awesome downhill all the way to West Saanich at Mosi’s (Uou did read my last article, didn’t you?)
For the dedicated, this is really where it all begins: a pleasant spin at a relaxed pace towards the Observatory belies the experience you are about to deliver; your opponents (um, I mean friends…) are moments away from the most sought-after KOM experience the island has to offer - the Interurban Super Sprint. With a rapid downhill from West Saanich, a smooth right turn onto Interurban begins the greatest TT and pace line training along a very slight descent with two dips and poppers. Choose your positioning and strategy wisely, and flat-out empty the tank. Nothing after the two man-hole cover finish line at the top of the climb at North Road matters, and you’ll spend the remainder of the route discussing the glory, the defeat, the suffering, and the fun of it all. Believe me; this is an iconic route for great reason.
Pat Bay 50k TT (well… 56km.)
https://www.strava.com/activities/723663461 - (actually 56k, went right to the end)
For those that love long, high speed TT routes along the flats - this one is for you. The Pat Bay is an outstanding route for TT sessions, yet also includes two wildly underestimated climbs to keep you honest. The great thing about the Pat Bay Highway is the sizeable shoulder you’ll have, with a very short exception at Sayward Road. For the most part the shoulder is clear and wide. Beginning at the start of the Pat Bay Highway (#17) near the Saanich Municipal Hall (you can actually start in the parking lot, which has a convenient access direct to the highway), this is possibly one of the great complete workouts. It's perfect for a sunny day. If you’re truly fortunate, you’ll have a rare Victorian tailwind. This is rare as a unicorn. It’s more likely you’ll have headwinds both ways, out and back.
You’ll start smoothly with a pleasant downhill after you cross the McKenzie overpass, which will allow you to settle into a solid tempo. Get your heart rate up, get into the groove (you can hear Madonna now, can’t you?) and get your cadence up (I prefer 95-100 here) to open those blood vessels. You’ll need it.
Remember those climbs I noted that will keep you honest? Well, the first one starts now. You’ll be right into a steady grade from Vanalman Avenue up to Elk Lake. For those of you who like high average speeds over your ride, this is where you’ll buy some big real estate. Hold as best average speed as you can sustain to the top - across from the Beaver Lake entrance - and settle back into your rhythm. After a very slight rise across Sayward (*shudder*) you’ll have a great descent to Island View, and it’s full TT mode from there all the way out to the Wain Road turnaround. Follow the overpass and just keep hugging right, and you're right back on the reverse course.
For the return route, maintain the same aero form on the bike and elevate your pressure on the pedals for a ‘reverse split’. Shoot for a faster return time, and use the knowledge that you’re on the way home as motivation - or cookies, or donuts, or Ichiban noodles, as your vice may be. The return route also includes the second solid climb of the Pat Bay - the climb from Island View up to Tanner Rd. This climb is more of a steep grade, but if you look at it from the perspective that it is shorter if you hammer it, then it will feel better. You’ll get a slight downhill grade before another slight climb to the "Welcome to Victoria" sign, and it’s all 60kph+ downhill from there. By the time you return, you’ll have an excellent estimate of your power threshold, your ability to maintain an aero position, and a definite grin that only sustained time at speed can deliver.
Land’s End (75km)
Lands End Route Map: https://www.strava.com/activities/293273143
When your coach prescribes a route with rolling hills, completing this route will leave your coach lightly touching their chin while nodding slow approval. Although I’ll describe this route from the counter-clockwise direction, this route can be done either way with an equal measure of suffer. Starting this route from Interurban/West Saanich intersection, the route could not be easier to follow on the map (other than maybe the Pat Bay route). Simply follow West Saanich out to the very end - Land’s End. West Saanich provides the backbone of this route and is blessed with well defined, smooth and mainly clear shoulders throughout. It's a true pleasure to ride.
Beginning this route, you’re going to encounter popper climbs in the observatory approach and the climb from Red Barn before you descend to the Keating Cross Road intersection. Enjoy the rest while you have it, as a quite miserable climb awaits. Once you leave Brentwood Bay, you drop down a slope into a valley, from which you can sadly see the climb rise ahead of you before it banks off into the forest. This is the climb alongside Mt. Newton. Know in advance that it is longer and more painful than you expect. It does have steps to reduce your suffering however, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here to own this climb. Settle into a good rhythm and focus on keeping an steady cadence, adjusting your power accordingly as you go. After this climb, you’ll have a number of smooth rollers and brief flat sections before a descent to the Victoria airport.
Passing along the airport, you’ll be welcomed by the serene waterfront of the Saanich Inlet, closely watched by resident eagles and the ominous Malahat on your left. Cruelly, the road turns away from such serenity and begins a steady climb from sea level up to Wain Road, which is a frequent turning point for many a cyclist. BUT NOT YOU.. You’re going further, along a quite innocent looking straight road until you arrive at another fine downhill...and another fine climb. This climb delivers you to yet another downhill - the definition of rollers, no? - and the namesake road of Land’s End. Take a right.
As you’d expect, Land’s End rolls along without flat sections all the way to the Pat Bay Highway, which gives you an exit path if a) you need a TT session, b) you need to get your daughter to her volunteer session at the local animal hospital or c) you’re a wuss. Again: NO FLATS FOR YOU. You’re going to continue along, following the cycling path along the Pat Bay Highway until the Wain Road overpass, which you’ll happily take and follow all the way back to West Saanich. There you’ll complete the reverse route along West Saanich or mix it up and take the East Saanich Route. Should you decide for the latter, turn left onto Willingdon Rd toward the airport. Enjoy the inevitable headwind, and follow through until the roundabout at East Saanich intersection.
Here you’ll commence the famed Panorama Climb, a rather testing grade that takes you past the Panorama Rec Centre with a final kick at the top. Follow this road until a right turn at Wallace, and be sure to enjoy a nice aero speed session through the curved section at the Stelly’s climbing wall. Link up again with the route with a left turn at West Saanich, and revel in the honourable completion of a textbook rolling route.
Otter Point via Metchosin (112km)
Otter Point via Metchosin: https://www.strava.com/activities/130058883
Let’s be honest - for those of us that live here on the west coast, we’re pretty blessed with epic scenery, forested oceanfront roads, a wide variety of riding terrain and some great weather in all seasons. This local route promises to showcase some of the best of that with a scenic coastal rural route, often known for its penchant for delivering 4 seasons in one ride. Think of a solid mix of hills, sun, flats and fog. Add a sprinkle of lactic burn and suffering, and you’re pretty much already there.
This route starts at the intersection of Metchosin and Sooke Road. Follow Metchosin Road along the plateau to the waterfront, and the road soon descends at a steep grade along the very familiar sand pits. Be very careful on this descent however, for crosswinds are quite strong and regular. This is further exacerbated when large trucks pass which briefly block the gusts coming off the water. This will be a solid test of balance, particularly if you have deep-dish carbon wheels. Once completed, settle in to a good tempo effort, as you’ll be riding repeated rollers for the next few kilometres while you enjoy rural scenery mere minutes from Victoria. Turn right at Happy Valley Road, followed shortly by a left turn at Rocky Point Road.
For the uninitiated, do not underestimate this rather sinister stretch of tarmac as you cruise along. You start out on a seemingly innocent false flat, during which a sense of foreboding subtly creeps into your psyche as your body warns you what is happening. Before you know it (or more accurately, shortly after crossing Kangaroo Road) you are lungs deep into a multi-stage climb. There are three sharp steps of increasing pedigree, politely hidden behind tree-shrouded bends in the road. Yes, there is a reason this climb is included in the BC Championship road race. This climb creates gaps. The climb crests just before Liberty Drive, which you will entirely ignore (thank me later) as you assume a floating tuck diving along an absolutely enjoyable winding descent. Make sure the route behind you is clear, and take the lane - it’s that quick. As you zip past the road to Matheson Lake, anticipate your braking as you’ll be taking a sharp right onto East Sooke Road, which begins yet another series of steep rollers. Follow this road past Becher Bay all the way to Gillespie Road, and beware of low-flying vultures often circling overhead. Don’t be last in line as you admire the scenery - they’re watching...waiting.
Gillespie Road...it sounds so innocent. It boasts wonderful vistas along the Sooke Basin, has a Zen Centre and even culminates at the quite-popular 14-Mile Pub. But it also includes a nasty snap of a climb to the Sooke Road intersection which will test your glutes, hamstrings and quads. Don’t go too hard and instead hold a steady tempo - you’ve many kilometres to go. Take a left on Sooke Road, and enjoy a smooth ride along the famously winding Sookihalla. Smoothness here will definitely depend on whether you refuelled enough. Never underestimate your fluid intake; be sure to take in water at least every 10 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty. If you’re thirsty, its already too late (I know a number of riders who actually set timer alarms on their Garmin for this purpose). Before you arrive in Sooke, you’ll be met with two popper climbs, the second of which is immediately after the Sooke River Bridge. If you’re bold, this is a great power climb up to the plateau that is Sooke proper. Of course you’ve done your research, as you’ll know that a great coffee shop hides at Otter Point Road and Sooke Road intersections - the famed Stick in the Mud Coffee House. Remember this point on the return portion of the loop.
Follow Sooke Road (now known as the West Coast Road), and bask in the views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Peninsula, rustic and exotic homesteads and west coast rainforests as you ride repeated rollers until you turn right at the intersection of Otter Point Road. The fun truly starts here, with of course the reward at the end being a glorious coffee house. But glory must be earned! Otter Point Road is to be respected - especially from this direction. You’ll be quickly tapped into a lengthy climb with repeated strokes of mystic elegance reminiscent of a renaissance painting (or Edvard Munch’s The Scream, if you prefer). Once you’ve reached the summit (which one?) you’ll be quickly immersed in a giggling downhill roller coaster - roads like this are why your bike was made. Even more elegantly, the road culminates exactly at the entrance to the Stick in the Mud Coffee House, where you'll regale your riding buddies of the tales of glory you achieved (or inflicted), while refueling your energy reserves and invigorating the nervous system with a healthy double dose of espresso. Clearly.
From here the route is a simple (riiiight…) return along the Sooke Highway all the way to the Luxton finishing stretch, which gives a great opportunity to exercise the tempo and threshold zones. Hold tempo along the flats, and elevate to your threshold level on the climbs. Fortunately the climbs are rather short, as the return path is an excellently-defined rolling route. By the time you arrive home, you’ll have completed a solid metric century, visited some of the best coastal scenery on the south island, and exercised each and every muscle you knew - and didn’t know - you had.
Jordan River Out & Back (135km)
Jordan River Route Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/535138577
It’s Sunday. You’ve had a good Saturday group ride - not too taxing - and you feel you’re ready for a challenge. You’re pumped for glory, fueled and caffeinated. This is the day. It’s on.
For all in the local cycling community, this ride inspires awe in even the most hardcore among us. It speaks to the mystique of exploration, brings Velominati-esque honour and embodies the Art of Suffer while highlighting the maximum best of south island cycling. You need to do it at least once, and I assure you that you’ll be talking about it often. Why this aura you ask? Isn’t it just another pleasant, albeit longish coastal route? Ah, my innocent neophyte, read on.
The map route could not be simpler - even more so than the Pat Bay TT route. You simply start along the Sooke Highway, and follow it all the way out to Jordan River (have lunch) and turn back along the reverse route. Simple eh? Totally. Aside from the six (6) rather evil-rated climbs, with countless rollers sprinkled between.
Taking up the story once you’ve past Sooke, you’re soon lulled into a false sense of coastal bliss as you roll past Gordon’s Beach, a sleepy sea-level cottage cache along a pleasant bay. It is here the alarm bells go off. Before you know it after you round the bend, you’re into round 1 of the prize fight, with a climb out of Muir Creek. It starts with a solid punch, which then tapers to a more gradual extended effort before dropping into a great descent you’ll soon forget. Welcome to round two, only your opponent has doubled his weight class. Now you’re right into the Shirley Climb, which has literally killed the engines of numerous cars, trucks, RV’s and Volkswagen vans and drained the batteries (and dreams) of those most heinous e-bike riders. Averaging 8% over 1.5km, it is blessed with hops between 13% and 20%. Surely (Shirley?) the only solace here is that it is only 1.5km in length, and that you are rewarded with a great descent of equal measure to French Beach. You do recall this is a return route, don’t you?
The route continues along some great flat sections intermixed with some brief poppers, with a solid final climb which preps you for the winding downhill into Jordan River. Cross the Bridge, and before you commit to another ill-advised climb heading towards Port Renfrew (that's another story). Make sure to pull into the excellent little Cold Shoulder Cafe. Watch the surf. Refuel. Caffeinate. Hydrate. Relax. You’re going to need it, as all those wondrous descents you did to get here, are now not-so-wondrous climbs between you and home. Each has evolved into a quite different animal, I assure you.
For your return, you are immediately greeted (and I mean immediately) with a steep climb back out of town, averaging 5% over 1km. You’re then back into a short descent and false flats before perhaps the ugliest sleeper climb of the route - the climb out of French Beach. This is a soul-grinding climb at just under 2km, with a lengthy section at 9% which will certainly take the edge off any dreams of a sprint finish. True to the form of this particularly heinous route, you immediately drop into a quick descent before being thrown to the wolves for yet another 8% climb. You did refuel, didn’t you? Of course you did, as you still have to return uphill to Sooke, and across the countless rollers separating Sooke from home.
For those who have been counting, excluding even the approach and return from Sooke that is six rated climbs, with two of those back-to-back - twice. Add to that the winding route, the raw west coast and rainforest, the flora, the fauna, the silent suffer you will certainly experience, and a destination-grade coffee stop, and you have all the makings of a legendary route you’ll be sure to repeat. Mark your calendar, taper accordingly, fuel up ad start early. You know you want to.
Written by guest writer Bill Chimko
You may also like Top Five Hill Climbs in Victoria also written by Bill.