While many of us can only dream of riding somewhere hot and dusty like Australia right now, we chatted to Canberra-based Mattie Gould of Desire Lines cc and the new Capital Divide bikepacking route about the riding culture in Oz and his exciting new projects.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Mattie. We’re always envious of your gorgeous summer photos in Australia (especially in the depths of a British winter), but it hasn’t always been that way, has it?
People back home always get excited about the sunny Australian weather. For me it’s the other way around; I spend most of the summer months complaining that it’s too hot and looking with envy at the wet and cold photos coming out of the UK. Winter and the fringe seasons on either side of it are absolutely glorious over here, it’s when I get most of my adventure cycling in. Living in Canberra, we get quite different weather to other parts of Australia. Winter days generally start off in frosty negatives, but can reach highs of around 20 degrees, which is pretty perfect for cycling and bikepacking.
I’m originally from a small village on the border of Oxfordshire and Berkshire in the UK, and grew up riding country lanes and crossing farmer’s fields, but cycling wasn’t a huge part of my life for a large chunk of time between childhood and my mid-twenties. I found cycling again when I moved to London and discovered that I could halve my commuting time by swapping public transport for a bicycle, so it was a no-brainer. From that point on I rode everywhere, first on a cyclo-cross bike (basically a gravel bike by today’s standard) and later on a singlespeed commuter, which went even further, including a bike tour in Belgium.
I moved to Australia about nine years ago, exactly one year after meeting my wife while she was holidaying in England. When I arrived in Canberra, I discovered even more types of bikes, made heaps more cycling friends, had two wonderful children and haven’t looked back.
What is Desire Lines cc and how did it come about? What makes you want to share these routes or stories?
Desire Lines cc is a website dedicated to all forms of adventure cycling. From bikepacking to gravel grinding, bike touring to flashpacking, and everything in between. The site only launched in late January, so is still very much at the start of its journey. Initially, the main focus is on building a journal of routes and stories from the Australian adventure cycling community. Bringing together some of the well known routes, alongside shorter and newer ones.
While there are similar sites in America and the UK, there’s no Australian site that is focusing on adventure cycling, and that can be considered as a hub for Australian riders, so Desire Lines cc is filling that aching space.
One of my more personal drivers for the site, is that I wanted to curate a space where everyone could feel comfortable sharing their experience on a bike. We (and when I say we I mean my wife’s creative agency that built the site) deliberately styled the site so that more emphasis could be placed on the words, or the images, while still maintaining a cohesive look. And this is because I don’t want people to be put off submitting their ideas because they either don’t think they can write, or they don’t think their photos are good enough.
In the same way that I want the cycling community to be inclusive, one of my dreams for the site is that it’ll be a comfortable, inclusive and generous space.
Tell us about Australian gravel. What’s it like and how does it compare to other places in the world? What’s the community like there?
According to one of the big bike brands, Australia is still a few years behind America and Europe when it comes to gravel. Which, true or not, I’m not seeing as a negative. When a new activity like gravel riding or bikepacking begins making its way into popularity, there’s so much opportunity to shape both its image and your relationship with it. And I see that as a flippin’ exciting thing.
Compared to a few years ago, there are more events being added to the calendar, and more people getting involved in those events. Each of the major cities seems to be developing their own scene, often based around the local bike shops, or one of the Aussie brands. Everything’s so spread out over here, so I think you see lots of people building their own scene, whether it’s social rides, coffee outside, or organised campouts.
I’m not sure that it’s something I notice because I’m in and amongst it, but most of the rides and events seem to be placing strong emphasis on inclusivity and diversity. Definitely something to be proud of.
You’ve been busy, haven’t you – we see you’re also hosting a new bikepacking event. What’s the vibe and what should people expect from the Capital Divide?
This is true. I’ve accidentally launched a new website and a new cycling route at the same time; I really don’t know what I was thinking!
The Capital Divide kind of came about by accident. I’d initially been planning to ride the Vic Divide, which is 550km from Melbourne to Albury (the border of VIC and NSW), but with borders closing and total uncertainty about interstate travel, I pulled the pin pretty early as I didn’t want to prepare for something and be disappointed. So, as a substitute, I started talking about riding a Capital Divide, right here in the Australian Capital Territory instead.
Being the smallest state/territory in Australia, creating a route that traverses from North to South was never going to be too tricky. You could probably ride it in a pretty straight line in less than 150km. To make a more interesting and challenging route, I turned to a mate, Ty Domin, who’s known for his love of maps and route-making. Five minutes after pitching the concept to him, he’d replied with three different routes that were getting increasingly longer.
We’ve settled on a 250km route, which starts in the centre of Canberra, follows the Centenary trail to the Northern Border, before dipping West, slightly into NSW and then heading for the Southern Border. It’s a challenging route, with about 4,500 vertical metres of climbing, a few camping spots along the course and taking in some of the nicest riding spots around.
While the route itself is 250km, I’m super hopeful that there’ll be riders that modify the route into shorter sections. I’d like the Capital Divide to become a route that is ridden throughout the year, rather than just on one weekend, and I’d particularly like people to make it their own.
We really like the footnote on your site about land ownership. Can you tell us more about the etiquette of bikepacking in Australia in these areas?
I find this quite a challenging area to talk about, as I’m still learning more about the First Nations people. So I’ll turn to the charity, Common Ground, to explain why acknowledging First Nations people is so important:
‘It is a sign of respect to First Nations people and cultures. It is also a great way to promote awareness of First Nations cultures and issues amongst wider groups of people. Increasing awareness will help us build a more united Australia, that celebrates and embraces our First Australians.‘
When it comes to treading carefully on the land, I think that cycling and bikepacking affords you a great opportunity to be respectful and travel in a caring and generous manner. Leaving behind nothing but tracks and respecting areas of heritage and culture should be the starting point, no matter where you are travelling.
What should we expect from Desire Lines cc in the future?
As the site and the community grows, I’d love to maintain diversity through the routes we share and the contributors that share their creativity on the site. I’d love to hear about people finding routes on our site that will take them out on their first adventure cycling experience, or on a trip that helps them learn more about themselves.
Mostly I’d like to help celebrate the wide range of cycling opportunities that exist in Australia and live vicariously through the stories we share. I’d also like to celebrate the courage it takes to go cycling in the wild, the courage needed to share your words and celebrate the life that can be found by following our own desire lines.
Last modified: 1st February 2021