It's all downhill

Mount Lofty has expansive views and 130 species of native animals.
Mount Lofty has expansive views and 130 species of native animals.

With a little help this time, cyclist Daniel Scott sets out to master his machine — and Adelaide's loftiest challenge.

For financially challenged men of a certain age, mountain biking seems to be the modern equivalent of buying that shiny red sports car.

Every weekend around Australia, groups of us stuff our bulging bodies into figure-strangling lycra and head off along muddy trails to prove we still have what it takes.

So it is this morning in the Adelaide Hills that 49-year-old Hamish from Melbourne and I have joined young, svelte Escapegoat guide Deborah Fehler for a 17-kilometre bike ride from Mount Lofty to Adelaide.

At 710 metres, Mount Lofty is probably the meanest hill in Adelaide and I remember it well, having "conquered" it on a hot summer day 15 years ago.

It took several hours of climbing and many re-hydrating bottles of water to reach the top that day. Today, a sunny but cool spring day, Escapegoat have made it considerably easier for us. By driving us to the top. Nonetheless, Hamish is a tad nervous. "I've been practising at home," the portly Melburnian says, "but I'll take it slowly."

"Best not to hurry, anyhow," our guide chirps as she completes a safety briefing, "or you'll miss the koalas beside the trail."

Escapegoat recently obtained special permission to ride through the Cleland Conservation Park for this "Lofty Descents" tour, guaranteeing that, apart from a few local walkers, we have the trail to ourselves.

Which is just as well, because Hamish and I are having some issues. Soon after we've begun riding downhill through Chambers Gully, Hamish brakes hard and I narrowly avoid ploughing straight into him. A little further on a brown snake has to look lively to avoid being flattened by not one but two top-heavy velocipedes.

Miraculously there are no further incidents before we reach our first stop, the Cleland Wildlife Park.

Here, on 35 prime hectares that have similarly expansive views of Adelaide to those of Taronga Zoo over Sydney, there are 130 species of native animal.

Over the next hour we roam among kangaroos and emus, spot yellow-footed rock-wallabies and get close to a Tasmanian devil, splayed out in the sunshine like a lounging teenager.

Back on the bikes we continue our descent, passing the promised koalas in gum trees and threading down a bright-green hillside splashed with purple wildflowers. It is so wild that it's hard to believe we are on the fringes of Adelaide.

Gradually, with careful coaching from our guide, we establish some mastery over our machines. We negotiate hairpin bends, fly over natural ramps and speed along straight sections like middle-aged men in would-be Lamborghinis.

Too soon we reach the end of the trail and the quiet Waterfall Gully Road. By now we tackle its speed humps fast, taking off briefly like lumbering jumbos before landing on the other side. The ride ends by meandering through leafy Burnside and cutting across Victoria Park, part of Adelaide's surrounding green belt.

Reaching the centre, Hamish and I congratulate ourselves with an awkward high-five while our guide Deborah simply looks relieved that her ageing charges made it safely down the mountain.

Escapegoat's Lofty Descents costs $99 a person and includes pick-up in Adelaide, bike hire and helmet, entry to Cleland Wildlife Park and morning tea. It runs Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 9am-1pm. See

This story It's all downhill first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.