Starting Out

A big part of my life is motorbikes.

When I first got my licence I hadn’t actually planned to get a bike. I had gone for the learners test on a whim, booked only the day before. Once I had the licence I basically decided that I may as well use it. I quickly decided that I wanted a new bike with full fairings, my choices appeared limited to Kawasaki GPX250, ZZR250 and the Honda NSR150. There may have been others but a bit of research didn’t really uncover any. I eliminated the NSR immediately: a 150 two stroke. That left the GPX and ZZR. The same bike in different clothes. I choose the ZZR by appearance and it has larger brakes (my sole technical consideration!)

This was my first bike. And not a bad learners bike, since then I would probably recommend a Honda VTR250 if you have to stay on 250s. The rules in many states here have changed and there are far more options, and the ZZR isn’t too bad to look at. I say that as it’s one of the reasons I bought it. At the time I knew very little about bikes. I did know that I preferred new stuff and I liked the guarantee of support you get with a warranty.

It proved a good choice. The bike hasn’t changed in about 15 years by all accounts, so it’s rock solid. I enjoyed riding it and quickly built up my confidence. Two years and 47,000kms later I earned my full licence and traded it in.

A good bike, but nothing when compared to the bigger bikes.

My second bike is my Honda VFR800. Now I put a lot more effort into this choice. I read articles on various bikes for about a year. The VFR was quickly shortlisted, along with Kawasaki ZX6R, ZX9R, Honda CBR600RR and the Suzuki GSXR750.

So what was I looking for… firstly a commuter, that was bit more fun in the weekends but wouldn’t kill me on a long trip. I simply decided that I didn’t want to bust the 1L size, it was probably a lack of confidence on my first bigger bike. I preferred fuel injection and I’m a technology fan (can you see where I’m headed). I also wanted something less than $20K

The ’03 6R was uncomfortable even in the showroom. The 9R was the end of the line and had carbs. I actually went for a couple test rides to make this choice, unlike the first bike as partly I figured it’d be about the last bike I would ever buy (my wedding was imminent)! I rode the VFR800. This was my first time on anything bigger than my ZZR. I wobbled off down the street from the dealer but I settled in pretty quick. Later I rode the 600RR. This was a test case. If I had felt comfortable on the RR I would have looked more seriously at the GSXR. I rode it and the VFR back to back.

I bought the VFR. I find a great bike. It suits my bumbling along daily rider style, allows me to keep up with the hyper sports on the day fangs through the twisty stuff. Well it would if I could ride it to it’s potential! I also rode away for the weekend and found it a comfy trip. As they say it’s a great all rounder. My wife has actually been on it a few times. She’s enjoyed the rides but the hassle of all the gear bothers her (she’s a squid at heart) and it messes her makeup/hair whatever. It’s very competent when two up.But she’s happy to let me disappear for a day on a ride.

It’s about 5 years old now, done almost 97,000kms and is great. I sometimes consider getting a weekend fang bike (like the GSXR) but to be honest it would be wasted on me and would be more about the image. I certainly wouldn’t consider a replacement.

Observations:

* My riding style at mostly 80s-90s km/h has an endurance of about 320-330kms on about 17L. It’s a 22L tank so that reserve must be pretty big or the display a little inaccurate. It actually increased as the bike passed 12,000km. Pretty usual for VFRs apparently.
* Don’t let sap drip on the plastic, that stuffs it right up.
* Fitting the top box for the first time – the trick is knowing when to switch from the bracket instructions to the box instructions. The next time, it’s a five minute job to swap the whole lot for the grabrails.
* The fact that there’s no sticking out indicators etc is great, I found out that when it falls over (bugger) there’s very little to break off. The mirror folds up, and the bike rests on the fairing (dammit) and the center stand. Only cosmetic damage.

Riding With Charlie Boorman

Posted ImageMy latest ride report starts with me browsing one of the website of a Sydney group that I used to ride with a lot more often than I currently do. Noticed an entry “Ride with Charlie Boorman”, you know, the guy who did “Long Way Round” with Ewan McGregor, and more impressively did “Race to Dakar” [which I thought showed a lot more about the race than I have ever seen on TV here]. On Tuesday he was finishing his latest project “By Any Means” by riding from Wollongong [coastal town, south of Sydney] to the city centre in Sydney. He was also inviting any and all to come and ride with him.

Seemed like a good idea, with two problems… it was a work day and I needed to be in Wollongong [about 1.5 hours away] by 0730. So the first was easy fixed.

Tuesday dawned bright and clear. Which was really good, because by this time I was getting very chilly standing in the Heathcote McDonald’s carpark [about 40mins from my place] waiting for the others I was meeting. They turned up, late. As they say, the problem with being early is that there’s nobody around to appreciate it.

We waited for another and when he turned up, we set off. Initially down the freeway, but turned off and headed into the Royal National Park. Only my second time here and it was still a little gloomy under the canopy so I took it at my usual pace. That’s probably about 50% of the pace of someone like SEBSPEED or HISPANICSLAMMER. And about 80% of the pace of my companions.

Its a nice ride, and I’m certain the road is in a lot better state than last I went in there about 4 years ago [actually only a few weeks after I bought the VFR] A string of corners ranging from 35kmph to about 55kmph and not much in between. It opens out at Stallwell Tops to a panoramic view of the Tasman Sea.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy the view as my companions saw me pop out of the forest and started on their way again. I kept up for about 2 corners…. ah well. I ride how I feel and won’t change that for anyone.

After a pleasant cruise down the coast to Wollongong I arrived [only a few minutes behind the others] to the start point. I guess there were about 200-400 bikes, it was a little hard to tell actually. Charlie was there, talking to the press, surrounded in a throng of riders. There were all kinds of bikes, from cruisers through tourers, adventure bikes and hypersports. Korean rides to the exotic Italians… almost a bike show!

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Less than half of the bikes waiting.

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Charlie talking to the press (was on Channel 9).

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The VFR in the throng.

We took off and it was immediately obvious that apart from warning the police what was happening, nothing had actually been organised. The group was immediately split by traffic lights and such until after several kilometres there must have been several groups of 40-50 bikes all spread out. They could have sorted that with some police blocks etc [I have seen it done on a fundraising ride, worked fantastically]

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Starting out… already I am concerned as to the whole organisation

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Looking back.

Eventually my group was herded onto the freeway [no return up the RNP] by the cops, and this is where things went really messy. With morning peak just finishing and traffic lights etc the group I was with was quickly down to 20 or so. The leaders took all kinds of turns, and we blindly followed. Eventually the 8 or so I was still with decided we knew better and split off.

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At the petrol station. Making plans.

We pulled into a petrol station to regroup. By this time it was a long time since my buddies had disappeared. We introduced ourselves to each other. A very funny moment as we determined we may have following people heading home, nobody actually knew exactly where we were and only a couple knew where we were headed. We had a couple of people knew how to get to the city, I knew how to get to the Botanical Gardens where were headed to and so we set off.

And we were soon in the Botanical Gardens. The bikes were everywhere again, but there was obviously a lot less than we started off with.
Charley was talking to the press again, but shortly broke away and was soon signing autographs and taking photos.

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Charlie signing autographs.

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Charlie’s bike and a nice backdrop.

After a bite to eat I set out home and time for sleep!

Apparently the DVD will be out around Christmas. http://www.byanymeans.co.uk

And as a post script… the next day, today, I have just got home after throwing the VFR down the road. I’m fine and it looks like I got away with cosmetic damage only. Still one for the insurers. Struck a patch of diesel going around a roundabout. [To clear up some confusion. I made it home from the ride without any dramas by mid afternoon. The slide down the road happened the next afternoon on the way to work]

Storm the Island

Well I have just arrived back from a ride that must be about 5 years in the making. This past weekend as many of you will know was the Australian round of the MotoGP. It’s held at Phillip Island, near Melbourne. I live in Sydney, and in a straight(ish) line that’s about 900km. I’ve been planning to take this trip for a while, but family or work commitments have prevented me.

So this year after having approved leave from work I eventually got leave approved by the other half as well. Having company for the ride got me over the line and I was set. As usual, the route was not planned to be a straight line. But with Australia as big as the US, some long stretches of open flat top were inevitable, mostly due to time pressures.

Day 1.

We left Sydney headed south along the Hume Highway. A big dual carriageway that stretches (almost) unbroken from Sydney to Melbourne. If we were in a hurry you can make this in about 8-11 hours of riding, depending upon how much you want to risk your licence. After a couple of fuel stops we turned left onto the Snowy Mountain Highway. And immediately we started enjoying ourselves. This stretch leads you up into the Snowies, and a lot of the interesting roads up here are in good condition and enough little towns with fuel along the way. Tumut to Adaminby is the longest at 128km.

We stopped once to check the map, and make sure we were still in Australia as the terrain had changed a lot. I had a little moment shortly after when I stupidly concentrated on the outside of the turn, not where I was supposed to be going. Brain was screaming but held the bike firm and it carried me (easily) around the bend. Was a little timid after that for some time, until I figured my mistake. As they say, look where you want the bike to go.

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Stopped on the Snowy Mountain Hwy

We cut the corner before Cooma, heading for Jindabyne. As we approached a big storm came our way but we skirted through just ahead of it and made Jindabyne without needing our wet weather gear. The other big dark clouds in the area carried on south and we didn’t see any rain for the whole day. We stopped for lunch as we had only stopped for petrol since 10am and it was about 2pm. Had a sit and a rest.

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Stopped at Jindabyne for Lunch

On to Thredbo and the highest peak in Australia. At a 2200m it’s barely a mountain in my books, but its the most we have. One of those dark clouds had been through and the roads from Thredbo onwards were wet.

That was a shame as on leaving Thredbo I passed this sign. “Next Services Khancoban. 72km. Approx 2 hours” That last bit had me confused, why would 72kms take 2hours? A few corners later I read this sign “Winding Road. Next 65km” With corner advisories in the 20-40km/h range and soaking roads it took the full 2 hours to get out of the mountains.

I wish it was dry and I wish I was going up that road.

Once past Khancoban and in the valley the road opened up. The last stretch was pretty easy, along the road towards Wodonga, my stop for the night. The warm day, slight wet weather and approaching dusk had the bugs out in force. I gave up trying to peer through the dead bugs at one point about 12km from our destination. Cleaned the visor and by the time we got there, it was getting hard to see.

Stayed at a family friends place, and paid close attention to the forecast. They had been predicting snow for Friday (our Day Two) and we were headed over the mountains again.

Day 2.

It rained heavily overnight, but dawn was fresh and clear. Headed up the Kiera Valley Highway to Bright. This was a great stretch of road too. From easy 100km/h corners in the lower valley to the tighter stuff as you climbed up to Bright.

Bright was busy with bikes. The Shell servo guy said it was currently snowing on Mt Hotham and recommended we found another way. Of course everyone ignored him. It wasn’t far to the ranger station and they would turn us away if there was snow and ice.

They didn’t.

However it had snowed overnight and was in the middle of melting as we crossed over the top. The road itself, though wet, was clear of ice and snow, and was steaming into the fog. Stopped a couple of time for photos, and the bike tells me it was 1C. We didn’t spend too long as a southerly change was predicted and we aimed to be well down the other side when it came through. In this part of the world a southerly blows straight off Antartica and is cold and wet. At Hotham, it would snow.

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Stopped at Mt Hotham

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We continued down the Great Alpine Road. This comes from Wangaratta, right over the Victorian Alps into Gippsland, and we had picked it up at Bright. We wound our way down the hill towards Omeo.

I was getting pretty tired and slowed a lot as we got closer to Omeo. My mate got a bit ahead and eventually pulled over to wait for me. I pulled up and we chatted as we eyed a very dark cloud coming over the ridge ahead of us. We decided to break out the wet weather gear, but kept chatting. Part way through I changed my mind and got the gear out. I had barely done up the over jacket when a really wet hell broke loose. We had heavy rain, hail, thunder, lightning and very strong winds. We were a little sheltered by the forest, but it still lashed down on us. All of a sudden our quiet little verge became the hive of activity as bike after bike pulled up to break the gear out.

We carried on into the storm. I am now a total convert to GoreTex as the overjacket kept me dry while my cheaper overpants worked less well. I have since got new pants. It was a tough ride, with visors covered in water (on both sides) and strong crosswinds every time we broke cover. Rain on the visor would change direction due to the wind strength when we came out into the open.

Probably fifteen minutes later the Caltex servo at Omeo was a popular spot as bikes huddled from the weather. Being hardy souls, my mate and I dried our visors and carried on. It wasn’t long before the storm had spent most of its fury and we even had patches of dry road as we approached Bairnsdale.

It made for another long leg and we stopped for lunch at Bairnsdale around 2pm again. From here, the wind was still strong and weather was threatening so we headed up the Princes Highway to Melbourne, instead of along the coast. I got to my mates place around 5.30pm.

We rode about 850km on day one, taking about 12 hours including stops. On day two we rode about 660km and that took about 11 hours.

Day 3 and Race Day

After a day of personal business and catching up with various old friends around Melbourne, Race day dawned windy, cool and cloudy. Pretty typical for MotoGP in Melbourne. I’ve been to four now and they always start like that. It really only matters what happens between 3pm and 4pm and you can’t predict that at all from the morning sky.

Its a flat, dull ride the 90 minutes or so to Phillip Island. The number of bikes increases exponentially as you approach until at the track there must be hundreds of bikes. Traffic…. well bike traffic flows really well here, they have wide shoulders on the roads and the cops don’t care about us riding them for kilometers to get to the bike parking.

This is well organised too, right next to the gate and handouts of bits of wood to rest your stand on in the grass paddock.

Those that are interested would have seen the race on TV. Casey won. About bloody time we had an Aussie win it for a change. Chris came close last year.

The ride home is an experience. It takes a little to actually get out of the gate, but once on the road it’s not too bad. By a few kilometres its back up to highway speed. Not only are you surrounded by all kinds of bikes (including several exotics) but the locals come out and wave at everybody riding past. This goes on for about half the way back to Melbourne. Made it home without incident.
Day 5.

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Ready to head back to Sydney

With my leave from the other half on tenterhooks, and both of us pretty keen to get home and rest we decided to flat top all the way up the Hume Highway about 900km. At Yass, I turned off for Canberra as I wanted to catch up with some friends, and was worn out. Riding the Highway is a lot harder than riding through the mountains. I wasn’t sure if I would stay the night or carry on after dinner. I would see how I felt.

Made Canberra about 5.30pm, had dinner and hit the road about 8.30pm. Made Sydney by 12 midnight. The break had done wonders and the ride through the dark (and long haul trucks) went well.

Home! Yay… say hi to wife and baby. Sleep. 🙂