Finding the Twisties in South-Eastern Australia
Blinman, South Australia
There was never any intention to begin with six riders and end up with one. It just happened! Honestly! We all know that BMW riders are individuals at heart but there were no rules for this trip other than the fact that Les (Fitzpatrick) heron known as "GOATIE" (for reasons that will be explained later) announced at a BMW Motorcycle Club Qld meeting that he was riding to South Australia (SA) to watch the Lake Gairdner Speed Trials that involves land speed attempts on an extensive salt lake. We began with two R1200GSA's (Les and Mark), R1200R (Dell), R1150GS (yours truly), R1150R (Mal) and a spanking new 1600GTL (Damian). Even before we six departed the Trials were cancelled due to wet weather that seemed to have affected the entire eastern Australia during the past month with floods everywhere. And it was to cause many changes to our route as flooding throughout NSW and VIC was pretty endemic. Rather than get depressed we basically chose our route to coincide with the best motorcycle roads through the mountains all the way to Sydney followed by the scenic Highway 1 that tracked the coast all the way to SA.
To say this ride was tough would be lying. Lets face it! We took nearly 2 weeks to ride to SA and back. It was cruisey and there were no signs of a flat spot on my tyres on my return because we found so many roads with twisties on them.
We made it to Grafton (NSW) the first night where five of us generously shared a bunkroom in a pub overlooking the Clarence River. Considering we were all over 50 it was a pretty quiet night. I did wear earplugs to bed just in case. Damian opted for a motel as he was sure he could not sleep anywhere near us lot! Despite some threatening promises of rain from above, the roads were mostly dry and we cracked on a good pace between Grafton, Armidale and then down Thunderbolts Way to Dungog where we camped (right next to the interstate railway line). The railway crossing that was 200m south always gave us a little warning by ringing a bell for 10 mins prior to the trains coming. Dungog was just small town but my, those locals keep some pretty weird hours with traffic passing by all night. We continued on backroads to Singleton and then streamed off down the Putty Road and through the Western Suburbs of Sydney. The mandatory coffee stops mid morning kept the socialising alive as we met three gals from Wagga (Ducatti and two F800's), and a host of interested tourists. These were also important breaks as the GOATIE did not get hungry until around 10:30. In my case, hunger is the reason I wake up and get out of bed. By this time we all finding our own little habits could be adjusted. Other than the fact that I found the 1150GS fuel range was less than 350kms by running out of fuel our ride had been nothing short of exhilarating and a lot of fun. The R1200R always went to the top of the class averaging 4.5L/100kph with the GS's getting around 5.6L/100kph. The surprise package was the 1600GT getting a tad over 5L/100kph. We did not see a police patrol car very often but as a group we decided to try and stay within the speed limits especially in NSW where billboards are strategically placed on every bend reminding riders how to take a corner…..fast!
It is tragic having to rely on GPS navigators to get through cities like Sydney, but in our case it worked and much to Damian's delight, we avoided having to pay tolls on the motorways.
Despite all the traffic hazards, we all got out of Campbelltown in SW Sydney still together and headed for Bowral where my brother hosted a pretty swish afternoon tea party.
From hereon there were lots of new roads for the group. We zoomed off down Kangaroo Valley to the coast near Nowra and spent the night in a very cramped caravan park in Sussex Inlet. It seemed that Sydney-siders like to take their vacation in much the same way as they live in the city (ie living on top of each other). We barely had enough room to park the bikes let alone consider putting up a tent. In the end GOATIE slept in his tent and we shared a caravan.
Although we had planned to ride down via the Snowy Mountains, many of the roads were closed. Hence we skimmed south all the way to Lakes Entrance that day. It was a part of Aus that few of us had explored and the roads did not disappoint.
Our lunch stop near Eden was not meant to be memorable. However we were all sitting at a picnic table boiling the billy and looking at the bikes (as you do). All of a sudden we heard a loud crash. The 1600GT had fallen over as the sidestand had sunk through the bitumen. Damian was very upset. There was no major damage but these bikes need to remain in mint condition and the insurer's will write them off if any part of the external plastic bits are damaged due the costly repair bills. It was a gentle reminder of the risks in riding these expensive flagships to unfamiliar places.
The roads were fantastic and the traffic very light. I had calculated my fuel range carefully to ensure that I wouldn't run out ever again. But when we arrived in Orbost the power supply to the whole town had been down all afternoon. It was surprising how friendly people became waiting at a servo for fuel for an hour. In the end I decided to head for Nowa Nowa some 80K's west. Having ridden fairly hard that day I fully expected the GS to snuff it well before 400K's. But it made it leading me to conclude that the tank barely holds 20L.
Lakes Entrance is the first of the big tourist towns that services Melbourne. It is glitzy with lots of cramped caravan parks and motels. So we were relieved to find the local Council sport grounds also hosted a very cheap camp ground right on the river. I dived straight in for a cool swim with some friendly black swans. Then I realized that I was with bike riders (and they don't know how to swim). Our plan from here was to head south and keep as close as possible to the coast with the option of riding down to Wilson Promontory. It didn't happen as we struck some very heavy storms and we did not want to miss the ferry crossing across Port Phillip Bay that afternoon. We had kept an eye on the weather maps via our mobile phones for much of the trip. And it seemed like we were in for sunshine all the way to Adelaide.
The ferry trip from Sorrento to Queenscliff was simple and lasted about 45 mins. It certainly saved a noxious ride through Melbourne. Sometimes GPS navigators can be very misleading. The GOATIE was leading us up and down back streets in an attempt to find a route to Torquay. 50 intersections and 2,000 gear changes later, we finally found the highway. In reality, it would have been simple to follow the road signs. But we are slaves to technology, lets face it! The campground in Torquay was big and busy. Despite the well laid out campground and cabins it did not prevent a bunch of feral Y Gen party animals staying up all night. If it were not for the fact that their bad taste boom boxes installed in several cars played so loud that even my earplugs were useless, I would have woken feeling refreshed in the morning. Vengeance was a priority before we departed. Their tents were oriented wagon style in a circle. Riding through the middle with a minute of tedious horn blowing and whistles was enough to create movement in every tent. My mission was achieved. Adjacent campers all cheered loudly.
I had not ridden the Great Ocean Road since the late 1970's and my recollection had been of fierce wind and horizontal rain for its entirety. Well our ride couldn't have been better. It was very well signposted (and speed limited). However most of the tourist traffic appreciated the presence of bikes and let us pass without any dramas. It was a fabulous ride with blue skies and perfect conditions. At Apollo Bay I sneaked off to visit some friends whom I had met in South Africa in 2006 on a cycling trip whilst the team soaked up a few coffee's. Dell had left us and headed straight for Bordertown to visit the grandkids. And then Damian just rode off to do his own thing without notice. So we were down to 4 and counting. It is always difficult to know what other riders want out of these trips but it can be difficult to meet everyone's needs and expectations. I am an adamant camper and was looking forward to finding a quiet peaceful spot away from the tourists. The opportunity arose at the SA Border in Glenelg River NP. Sadly I camped alone as nobody was prepared to ride the 8kms of smooth gravel roads to the river campsite. In the morning I missed the rendezvous point that the guys had described and headed up to Bordertown alone to meet up with Dell. GOATIE and the boys headed straight for Adelaide to check out the Birdwood Museum. They also met up with the veteran BMW club junkie John Sargent to present his club with the "Pudding". His prodigious collection of must do projects is famous.
Because the Lake Gairdner Sprints had been cancelled, I proposed to take the team up to visit Aroona Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. It was a very special place for me as I had worked throughout the Flinders ranges for many years when living in SA during the 1980's and 1990's. In addition it was my 60th birthday and I wanted to be somewhere special. In the end Mal didn't do gravel on his roadbike and Mark was suffering serious back pain. That left GOATIE, Dell and I to enjoy a few days in the Flinders Ranges. We met up again in Clare where locals suggested we should cover up the oil coolers because of locusts. There certainly were travelers whose bonnets were splatted with 'hopper guts'! The ride to the Flinders Ranges was as good as it gets in motorcycle touring. Quiet winding roads for the remainder of the day that was just on 500 kms. We arrived after dark and ended up riding up a soft stony creek bed for several hundred meters in an attempt to find the perfect campsite. Crossing rocky creeks is never easy on fully laden BMW's. But Dell gave it her best and managed to get through the water and up the steep bank ….and then just fell over. I think she was just looking for some attention. We spent two days in the Flinders Ranges with a stopover in Blinman at the Wild Lime Café for my birthday treat. By this time Les (GOATIE) had secured a goat skull to the front of his GSA. It really looked the part and seemed very comfortable for the remainder of the trip. It had been a good season and many of the waterholes and creeks were still running, a sight that that was pretty rare in these parts.
After returning to Hawker, we headed for Olary en route to Broken Hill and stayed in the pub for the night where the publican was an ex-speedway rider and Ulysses member. GOATIE and I agreed to swap bikes as I was keen to try the new GSA on the highway. Despite both bikes being set up for personal preferences (seat height, handle bars, suspension settings etc) I could not believe the difference between the two bikes. The heavy steering and harsh dampening in the suspension was stark as I like the suspension to do the work of eliminating humps and bumps. And Mr Ohlins seems to understand that principle very well. I think we were both content to get back on our own bikes after and hour. It was obvious that the new 1200 GSA has moved the power supply up the rev range a tad as the gearing indicated 4200rpm @ 110kph verses 3500rpm on the 1150GS.
I was very familiar with this country as I had worked on many sheep and cattle properties assessing grazing conditions. For many travelers this country appears bland, monotonous and boring. For me it was fascinating as I was appreciating the dramatic changes that had taken place since my days here in the early 1990's. Our host at the Olary Pub insisted on taking us on a tour of his weird custom bike collection and to meet his giant pet pig before we departed in the morning. At Broken Hill we met many touring bikes en route to the Ulysses AGM in Mildura the following week. It was all a bit much for me as it seems like one needs to be towing a camper trailer these days to attend the meetings. We camped in Cobar with about 20 other bikers for our last night together. Dell knew a few of these guys as she was an active member for some years and enjoyed the 'good ol days' before all the fancy nancy bike trailers were in vogue. GOATIE was heading north to see a cousin near St George and we were going to wander past Macquarie Marshes NP and head for Moree via Walgett. By the time we all arrived home the group had all but dissolved. Collectively we all had a great ride and saw some stunning country. For Dell and I it was shake down and practice for our four month tour of the US, Canada and Alaska during the coming northern hemisphere summer months.