What is it like to ride Sydney to Wollongong?
Read my review of the MS Sydney to Wollongong bike ride 2017
The Sydney to Wollongong ride is the biggest cycling event in Australia, held annually during November. It’s always completely registered, maxing out at 10,000 riders.
I have ridden the “Gong Ride” (as it is locally called) twice. It has its good and bad points, which I would like to share with you.
If you are planning on joining a long ride cycling event, I hope this article will provide insights as to what to expect.
Summary of the Sydney to Wollongong Ride
- 80km ride or 56km
- Approximately 4 to 5 hours of riding
- St Peters to Wollongong City
- Partial road closure
- Medium hill training is needed
- There are two major pit stops along the way.
In Aussie terms, it was “pissing” down at 5am on a dark cool Sunday morning in November. Always hard to get a good night’s sleep before a race, I was already quite alert as I jumped out of bed and begun to gather my gear for the MS Sydney to Wollongong bike ride.
This was my second time participating in the event so I knew what to expect. Or so I thought. I had never ridden long distance in the rain before, and I didn’t anticipate full blasting rain. This is going to miserable or awesomely fun.
The MS Sydney to Wollongong bike ride is an annual event held in NSW Australia. It can be considered the most popular with thousands of riders participating each year. It is for both the recreational and experienced riders, with riders free to choose any style of bike they want. The most popular are road bikes, but you also see the flat bar, mountain bikes and even BMX bikes.
Many years ago, the riding distance of the Sydney to Wollongong ride was exactly 100km, however the organisers have gradually moved the starting line closer and closer to Wollongong. According to last year’s map the distance is now shortened to approximately 80km. This has seriously turned off the hard core riders as the event is not exactly cheap to partipcate in.
I can’t quite remember, but I think the ride varies in cost, starting from at least $100 for the bare minimum “just ride” through to a $200 package that includes a train ticket from Wollongong back to Sydney and a simple lunch mid race.
Given the cost and knowing many hard core riders burn through 80km on their normal weekend morning rides alone, it’s hard to understand why any serious rider would be willing to pay to join this event just for the ride.
But the Sydney to Wollongong bike ride is more than simply a ride. It is also a large charity event raising money to cure Multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is impacts the central nervous system by preventing brain signals being sent to various parts of the body.
Leaving home to get to the start line
I live approximately 10kms from the start line, and my wife wasn’t going to wake up to drop me off at the starting line. I don’t know why? 5am cold and raining with husband and bike in the car, what’s not to love? With no public transport at 5am either, my only option was to ride there. In the rain and in the dark. So, no mucking around, I rode into the dark in pouring rain.
I arrived at approximately 5:45am with the sky showing no signs of the rain abating. A few other riders were already present and marshaled to the starting area. I met my riding buddy for the day – Brett, who had the same stubbornness as me. We paid for it, so we will ride it! And we rode to the start, positioned along side many shivering, yet excited riders.
6am came and we started off. If I haven’t mentioned it already, it was pouring rain.
The Route to Wollongong
The route is absolutely gorgeous, starting from the inner city of Sydney then winding down south through the famous Shire. The roads are lined with many trees, giving a calming experience. With some roads partially closed for bike riders only, it was safe and sound.
I wouldn’t ride the route, without partial road closure. It would be too dangerous with cars speeding past, however technically in NSW, the law permits riders to ride on roads.
If you are a strong rider don’t expect to be able to ride fast through the pack. There simply are too many riders. If you do attempt to continually overtake it can be dangerous. There is very little room on the partially closed roads and there are various degrees of experience with riders. Many would not know the common road rider hand signals and call outs.
Heading out of the Shire and into the National Park, the claustrophobic start with riders squeezed together becomes like gas molecules filling up an empty void. With more room to ride through the National Park, riders could ride more freely at their own pace and spread across the wider roads. Brett and I weren’t fast, but we had the training behind our belts to have a strong and steady ride. In the National Park, we came across the steepest part of the route. If you look back at the elevation picture I placed at the front of this article, you will see two steep rises. These two steep rises are both in the National Park.
Pace yourself when riding these two hills. Many riders will be able to ride up these hills as long as they take their time and stay in the lowest gear.
Exiting the National Park, we came to a place called Bald Hill – famous for hang gliders launching themselves off a cliff. The view is simply spectacular, except on this day with the grey skies.
Bald Hill is at the top of the summit, and as you can see in the picture, it was still bucketing down. It it one of the major pit stops, that offers toilet break, water and refueling.
After the quick pit stop at Bald Hill, there is an extremely steep decline to descend into Stanwell Tops. Many riders will zoom through this section with reckless abandon. For the inexperienced and newbies to the course, I recommend holding firmly on the brakes and easing yourself down the steep decline. Having an accident at speed on a slippery road is the last thing anyone would want.
Passing Stanwell Tops, we continued riding along the Grand Pacific Drive – cliff face on our right and the ocean to our left. Here there were no trees, we were exposed to the full force of nature. Wind and rain, no pain no gain.
As we neared Wollongong, the sunshine began to break through the clouds and the rain softened. At approximately 1pm, we arrived at Wollongong, wet, dirty and exhausted. From here Brett had the luxury of his wife driving him back home, while I had to catch the dedicated public train for Gong riders back to Sydney. (Why couldn’t my wife pick me up too?)
A Great Day!
All in all, it was actually a great day. The rain was constant and strong, but in a strange way it was probably more enjoyable that an incessant drizzle. Although the roads were super wet, I believe we road extremely cautiously such that slipping on the roads wasn’t an issue.
I would strongly recommend riding the MS Sydney to Wollongong bike ride, if you haven’t. It’s a great experience and a lot of fun. Allow for the whole day to be set aside, if you are returning back to Sydney.