Whether it’s cruising through lush farmland from winery to country pubs, carving through magnificent alpine forests, or pottering around the capital city Melbourne on a summer’s day, Victoria has cycling covered.
Capital City Trail (29km one-way; easy riding)
With its flat topography, strong local bike culture and great cycling infrastructure, Melbourne is Australia’s best city for the tourist on two wheels. The Capital City Trail (onlymelbourne.com.au/capital-city-trail) – which embraces downtown, buzzy inner suburbs such as Fitzroy, Richmond and Carlton, plus big-ticket sights such as the Melbourne Zoo, Royal Botanic Gardens and the MCG – is the jewel in the city's crown. Best of all, long sections of it follow the curves of local waterways like the Yarra river and Merri Creek, through bushland and verdant suburbs, providing the illusion you’re miles from the hubbub of a major city. The Melbourne Bike Share (melbournebikeshare.com.au) scheme, and plentiful inner-city cycle shops, make hiring some wheels in Melbourne a cinch.
Great Victorian Rail Trail (134km one-way; mostly flat)
The Great Victorian Rail Trail (greatvictorianrailtrail.com.au), Australia’s longest rail trail, might seem daunting but a gentle gradient and plentiful opportunities to stop and revive make it quite accessible. Running through Victoria’s storied High Country, it sweeps past water (notably Lake Eildon and the Goulburn River), through handsome historic towns (Mansfield, Yarck and Alexandra are standouts) and among eucalypt forests. If you don’t fancy tackling the whole trail, we suggest you head to the gorgeous Gold era town of Alexandra, then north to Molesworth and the main trail, west over the Goulburn, and through the 200m-long Cheviot Tunnel. Beyond lies lovely Yea, if your legs are up to it. Bike hire and transfers are available through greatvictorianrailtrails.com.au.
Coast to Crater Trail (34km one-way; moderate)
While it doesn’t actually reach the coast yet (the final link from Timboon to the 12 Apostles on Victoria’s dramatic Great Ocean Road is in the pipeline) this moderately challenging trail (railtrails.org.au) makes for a perfect day’s mountain biking. Starting from the broad avenues and dignified Victorian buildings of the historical pastoral capital Camperdown, it follows a former branch of the Port Fairy railway through the volcanic Kanawinka Geopark, past historic trestle bridges (these sections are the steepest and most challenging), and under looming wet forests. Bike hire is available in Timboon.
Bellarine Rail Trail (32.5km one-way; moderate challenge)
Many Melburnians neglect the Bellarine, opting for the more glamorous Mornington Peninsula on the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay. But the western shore – gently graded, studded with flowering grasslands and historic towns is ideal for short-to-medium cycling trips. Starting on the outskirts of Geelong, Victoria’s second city, the trail (railtrails.org.au) wends south towards the historic Drysdale railway station, then follows the Bellarine railway (originally built to defend against a feared Russian invasion; now a charming volunteer-run tourist route plied by restored steam engines) across the peninsula to Queenscliff. Built in Victorian times as a resort for Melbourne's elites, this handsome red-brick town, stuffed with B&Bs, cafes, pubs and antique stores, is just what you want in a post-ride destination. Bikes can be hired at either end.
Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail (107km one-way; flat)
While horseback may be the romantic High Country transport, the flat, meandering Murray to Mountains trail (victoriashighcountry.com.au) has opened up this iconic region to leisurely cycling. Meandering along the Ovens River valley, under the proud hump of Mount Buffalo, the trail is dotted with alpine wineries and excellent regional restaurants. From Melbourne it is a three hour drive, or even better: take the train that runs to Wangaratta. It’s worth setting aside several days, staying in Myrtleford or Beechworth (where bike hire is available) to explore the whole region by bike. March to May, when the air cools and the deciduous trees around Bright begin their autumnal blaze, is the best time to visit.
Penguin Parade to the Nobbies Cycling Track (9km one-way; easy)
This one may appeal to families looking to combine a short, leisurely ride with several of Victoria’s most-loved sights. Starting at the famous Penguin Parade – where a colony of impossibly lovable fairy penguins waddles ashore every night at dusk – the trail (visitphillipisland.com/listing/cycling-trails) follows an unsealed road along the notched coastline, ending at the spectacular headland known as the Nobbies. There are seabird colonies to admire, a blowhole to gasp at, and Australia’s largest colony of fur seals, just a mile offshore. Bikes (some equipped with electric motors if you’re feeling less energetic) can be hired in the island’s main township, Cowes.
Ballarat to Skipton Rail Trail (53km one-way; fairly flat)
The Goldfields of central Victoria, rich with handsome nineteenth-century townships, are ripe for cycling exploration on this rail trail (ballaratskiptonrailtrail.com). Ballarat, the region's ‘capital’ and the best place to hire a bike, is just over an hour from Melbourne. From there it’s a day’s leisurely ride through rolling country and deep swathes of native bush to Skipton. You're unlikely to run into many tourists in hamlets such as Smythesdale and Linton. Leave time for photo ops such as Nimmons Bridge, a spindly, weathered timber trestle bridge that looks too fragile for the steam trains it once supported. Graded in 2008, the gravel trail has plenty of rest stops for picnics.
Old Beechy Rail Trail (45km one-way; includes steep sections)
Great Otway National Park (visitmelbourne.com) – a gem that’s sadly often overlooked by visitors to Victoria – is prime mountain-biking country. Since logging ended, the Old Beechy railway has been converted into a cycling trail (railtrails.org.au), running south from Colac (two hours to Melbourne by train) through svelte dairy country, on quiet roads and beneath towering gums. The additional 4kms between Beech Forest and Ferguson is worth it for stunning views to Bass Strait. Forrest (near Colac) is the best place to hire your ride.