The suburb of Randwick in Sydney sits atop the crest of a high hill, which is prominent enough to have its own trig point (elevation 91m, next to the water reservoir on Howard Street). I’ve begun to affectionately call this hill Mt Randwick, or more often, Mt “Fucking” Randwick.
The eastern side of Mt Randwick runs down steeply to Coogee Beach, usually a nice place to swim (when not contaminated with sewage overflow after rain). If you climb up Carr Street or Coogee Bay Road straight from the sand, this slope climbs 91 vertical meters in about 1080 meters of horizontal distance, giving an average gradient of just over 8%. The Climbing Cyclist describes an 8% gradient as “…uncomfortable for seasoned riders, and very challenging for new climbers”.
Mt Randwick and Coogee Bay, while awesome if you’re training the big guns to shred the big gnar, are severe obstacles to cycling home from the pub after a few beers.
Warning: Ignore Any Bicycle Route Signs You May See
The council has recently spent (probably far too much) money putting in bicycle route signs in Coogee. They’re fucking stupid and point you in stupid directions. Ignore them.
Part 1: The Lost Rail-Trail
As you might recall, there used to be a tram running to Coogee Beach via Randwick. The nicely-graded tram route would have been perfect for cycling, if it hadn’t been mostly destroyed by building apartment blocks on top of it. In fact, the old tram itself would have been awesome. Maybe one day the new light rail will go all the way to the beach…fortunately the sections east of Randwick haven’t been built on, and could have the tracks reinstalled relatively easily.
The route was from the Alison Road/Darley Road junction near the racecourse, slightly north of Alison Road and parallel to it (parts here are now oddly-aligned apartment blocks, and another part is now Kynaston Avenue), up Belmore Road through the center of Randwick, down to the Spot, and hanging a left past the Ritz cinema down St Paul Street.
Then the tram went along the footpath that now goes through the Tramway Reserve (which I used for ages as a walking shortcut to the Spot without realising!), across the weird flat bit across Carrington Street (that’s why there’s a weird flat bit across Carrington Street!) and through the back of the primary school to Carr St.
You can see all of this as long, skinny, linear easements, lanes and blocks still visible on Google or SIX maps.
The secret rail trail: Havelock Avenue
Then the tram went down at cutting, which is now Havelock Avenue. It’s a road that you can use, and by FAR the nicest grade to ride to and from Coogee Beach! No one drives down here, however buses regularly go though, and you would definitely not want to have one come up behind you while riding uphill through the cutting (downhill is no problem). If you time it so you go in just behind a bus, it’s perfect.
Part 2: Escaping Coogee Bay
To the west and north
Coogee Bay Road and through Randwick is probably the best way to go. Every other route is harder, at least physically, trust me on this! Though, I understand if you would want to avoid the busy part of Coogee Bay Road by starting up e.g. Dolphin Street.
After you’ve finished the climb, if you’re heading north, go around via Avoca Street and Frenchmans road.
A more direct route, if you’re feeling strong, is along Dolphin Street and then north up Carrington Road.
At all costs, avoid the “bike path” that puts you on Mount Street heading north. If you go up Mount Street to the north, you will reach an infamous corkscrew corner with a 25% gradient (Strava suggests 28% !?), that everyone ends up walking. Then you will end up lost in the Bermuda Triangle of extremely steep laneways in Clovelly and Waverly.
However, I have recently discovered, if you escape right just before the corkscrew, by going the wrong way up the one-way part of Division St, before then turning right onto Brook St, it’s much better. This is probably the best way to get out of Coogee heading north.
To the south
Climbing up either Carr Street or the secret rail trail, then turn left at the roundabout and climb up Mount Street, this will lead you to Malabar Road and the popular signposted route south to LaPa etc. Unfortunately, the section of Mount Street between the top of the climb and Rainbow Street is capital-S Sketchy, very narrow and busy with three roundabouts in a row. I hate it in the car, let alone on the bike. Taking the lane on this section is highly recommended (drivers are pretty used to both traffic and bikes, you might get less road rage than you expect). There’s no real way around it unfortunately.
However, if you are heading towards Kingsford or Maroubra, try this next route instead.
To the south-west (The RSL Zig-Zag)
After climbing Carr Street or the secret rail trail, go past the Mount Street roundabout, and instead take the next left up Byron Street past the RSL. This is a moderate climb up to an awkward intersection. Turn right at this intersection on to Dudley Street, then left again up Higgs Street, completing a moderately graded zig-zag to the top.
From the quiet suburban spot on the summit, you can easily descend towards Avoca Street and Anzac Parade.
Part 3: Climbing Mt Randwick
From the north and north-east (Bondi Junction, Moore Park and the city)
When coming from Bondi Junction, the easiest route is unfortunately the same way you’d drive a car, down Carrington Road, turning right on to Frenchmans Road, then left on to Avoca Street. This is congested, and requires a lot of riding in the door zone, however I’ve often found it to be surprisingly chill. I think it’s an area where drivers expect a low average speed, and of course bikes are pretty common around Bondi junction despite the busy roads.
If you go the scenic route via Queens Park, it’s best to ride west along Darley Road for a couple of blocks and turn left onto Dangar Street. Then, when you reach the T intersection, do a right-turn left-turn shuffle on to Church Street. The main climb is up Church Street to the roundabout. Go through the roundabout, then turn left on Frances and right on Cook Street to arrive at the main Randwick drag. This is all bike friendly.
You see a lot of people hauling boldly up Alison Road, but I’ve found it best to duck on to King Street, and enjoy the long flat straight past the UNSW Tramshed. I used to turn right at Prince Street, but now I feel the much better route is to go another block and turn right at Church Street (see the route in the previous section). This way you can completely avoid having to ride on the busy Cowper Street.
When the new light rail is completed some time around 2050, there will a shared path alongside it. I’m guessing from the huge cutting they’ve dug for the tram, this will probably be an excellent gradient for cycling on the bike!
From the east (from Anzac Parade near UNSW)
Haul ass in the door zone up High Street. It is, unfortunately, the only way to go. Barker Street, Middle Street, Meeks Street etc are kind of funny to try though!
From the south-east (from Kingsford and Maroubra Junction)
This is the way I commute, and I’ve worked out some amazing sneaks to get through this area avoiding cars and hills.
The quietest and most pleasant line of road through this area is the series of lanes that run parallel to Rainbow Street just south of it, from Anzac Parade all the way to Mount Street. Starting from Souths Juniors you can ride up Wallace, McNair, Rigney – and then do the “Avoca Shuffle” to cross Avoca Street. From the mouth of Rigney Lane, carefully cross the northbound lane when it’s clear, and ride up the curb onto the dirt on the median strip (yelling “Freeride!” or “Braap!” helps). Then wait until the southbound lane is clear, cross it and turn left briefly (on the footpath, or salmoning against the traffic flow) to get to Bundock Lane.
Bundock lane can be followed all the way to Malabar Road, however for the easiest climb, turn left at the first intersection on to Canberra Street. You can follow this to the Spot and then Randwick (with some traffic, and a horrible roundabout), or if heading to Coogee, you can turn right on to the broad and quiet section of Oberon Street. Then turn right at the weird fork junction on to the narrow and slightly busy section of Oberon Street.
Now, the second quality sneak, is to turn left on to Higgs Street (the first street on the left after you’ve crested the climb). This leads you to the crest of the hill, and you can descend as though wilt (Hot tip: Carrington Road has the best urban freeride staircase)
From the south (from Maroubra Beach and LaPa)
This route is well travelled and actually signposted now, however if you are going to Randwick specifically, and really want to optimise for the least amount of climbing, you can avoid the unnecessary descent to Coogee Bay Road.
Turn left at the third roundabout on Mount Street, on to Dudley Street. Ride up and past the park to the horrendous five way intersection (surely one of the worst in Sydney). Gingerly cross straight ahead on to St Paul’s Street, and a short descent will put you on part of the lost rail trail. Head through the Spot, turn right, and ride up to the centre of Randwick.
Part 4: My friend doesn’t believe hills are a real obstacle to cycling, and I want to sandbag them until, in their pain, they cry out-loud for an E-bike
From Coogee beach, claim you know a “short cut” heading south towards Lapa. Head up Dundas Street into Rainbow. This is just a block away from the infamous Coogee Steps, and the closest to an on-road substitute!
From the beach, if you’re heading back to Randwick and climbing up Coogee Bay Road, say you know a “shorter hill” and turn left on to Carrington south. This section of road is known for destroying clutches on cars (I once just hung around the top with a beer and watched all the drivers freak out). It definitely is a shorter hill….in terms of horizontal distance.
If you’re heading north to Bondi, head along the bike path north on to Mount Street. This is easy to excuse, just say you kept following what you assumed was the official bike route.