Lake Macquarie History

Loop the Lake event history 1997 -

by Laurie Beard of Valentine

After retiring in the early 90’s, Alan Beard rediscovered his love of long rides and took the challenge of the 1992 Big NSW Bike Ride, over 9 days. I volunteered as a marshal, determined to share the experience, though not a rider, and so began our annual holiday for many years, around the backroads and little towns of NSW.

As a Route Marshal, I was part of the Road Crew which met each night of the Ride before dinner, receiving instructions, along with the Sign Crew, St.John Ambulance, Water Crew and 2 way radio. We knew the terrain and the danger spots and everything to keep the cyclists safe during their ride the following day.

After a few years of this experience Alan set off early one fine autumn morning to ride local roads, making a full circle around Lake Macquarie. I followed as support car and we clocked up 85km, an ideal one day ride. With the wind in his face, Alan had a spark of an idea to make it a local charity ride, wondering how he could make it happen.

As a member of Warners Bay Rotary Club, Alan appealed to the Club to be volunteers for his project to be called Loop the Lake Bicycle Challenge; the date was to be the second Sunday in March; the charity was chosen as the John Hunter Childrens Hospital. Club members followed all of the processes required, a list drawn up from my training and experience at the Big Ride.

I have to say I think we were good organisers, but we had a good model to follow. We had to use innovative ideas to keep costs at a minimum, as there was no funding for all the necessaries. Road signs were made at a workshop in our garage from Masonite donated by Mac’s Timber and paper copies of arrows glued thereon. Cyclists needed a number for identification. Someone donated calico which I cut into squares and painted numbers 1 – 800, though we had no idea how many cyclists would come on that first Ride, thinking 500 would be good, as in another regional Ride. Those signs and numbers (added to make 1000) were used for three years before we had funds for professional ones. Water and rest stops were planned; St. John was happy to be involved; Lake Macquarie City Council gave its blessing, lending use of traffic control equipment. A Security van for the entry fees was set up and Police came to the Start and Finish, surprised at no incidents among the happy cyclists.

Realising that some riders would prefer a shorter distance, options of 65km and 16km were added, bringing in families with younger children. All riders finished at Speers Point Park where lunch was provided. Our first sponsor was the Greater Building Society which printed our entry forms with all the information needed.

It was dark as we made our way to the park to set up on that first autumn morning. It was all familiar to Alan and me, but some Rotarians were surprised how things came together. We were rewarded with clear skies, a perfect day and 637 cyclists completed the course.

The vision of Alan Beard had been successful thanks to the way Rotary took up the Challenge. The popular annual event gained a good following, with numbers swelling to 2000 riders. Some came by car or train from Sydney, the Central Coast, and even interstate. Lake Macquarie accommodation was tight and by some miracle it was always a fine day.

To cope with the larger numbers, other Rotary Clubs from around the Lake provided marshals and other support as needed. The charity has received over 2 million dollars in the 23 Rides since that first day, as newer members of Warners Bay Rotary Club have carried the banner.

Post script:

In 2019, because of traffic concerns, a new route had to be planned for Loop the Lake 2019. While not actually looping Lake Macquarie, this route included the off road bike trails of Fernleigh Track and Wallarah National Park, to Catherine Hill Bay, to the delight of the cyclists. The lake road around the outskirts of Swansea gave Lake views, before joining the cycleway from Valentine through Warners Bay to Speers Point Park.

This route will be known as the Loop Charity Ride, and will maintain its reputation as one of the best run Rides on the NSW calendar.