Monthly Archives: March 2013

Reminiscing about bikes: the first travel writing attempt

The new ride. Photo: Helen Byers

The new ride. Photo: Helen Byers

Change is afoot here. Very soon, I’m going to launch a new blog/website, just before my first novel heads into the world. The new semester has started in earnest, I’m ensconced in a new home. And amidst all this … I have a new bike.

I won’t attempt to convince you how important this is. If you’re a biker, you get it already. And if you’re not … well, that’s ok. I claim a genetic disposition for biking that showed itself despite my mum having stopped my dad riding before I was born. Sorry, Mum.

My new ride is a spanking purple Street Triple, a thing of two-wheeled joy that also eliminates parking hassles everywhere. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I still think fondly of my first bike, a 250cc cruiser, and the first piece of travel writing I attempted from its back. I orginally submitted this to an online biking mag, which accepted it, but I’ve gotten permission to put it up here, in this reminiscy post.

The first long trip … or 2000 km on a 250cc cruiser (October 2011)

sth of kempsey_2 (Large)

My original cruiser, somewhere south of Kempsey, NSW

When I separately told three experienced biking friends about my proposed road trip, I got the same reply: “That’s a long way on a 250cc!”

My first reaction was naturally, “What does that mean?” But I didn’t ask. As I said to one, sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re in for. He was kind enough to say it would be an adventure.

And that’s what I was after. I was pretty fresh on my LAMS in October when I got the road trip itch. I love the open road, the act of getting from place to place. It’s a little bit about where you’re going too … but nothing beats the act of travel itself. Especially adventuring. I had a bright, shiny new LAMS bike (Suzuki Intruder VL250). That would do, wouldn’t it? All I needed was an excuse.

I spotted TeamMoto Blacktown’s Demo Day by the Hawksbury River, a Sunday event roughly 1000 km from home in Brisbane. I also had a client in northern Sydney. A few clicks on Google maps and I had a plan. Two days to ride down, Demo Day, work in Sydney for a day, two days to ride back. Down on the inland route, back on the coast. No problem.

The only additional gear I got for the trip, on advice, was a pair of waterproof pants (Dririder). Those really came in handy when I met a thunderstorm coming down the range into the Hunter Valley early Saturday morning. Otherwise, I got myself decent roadside assistance cover, and improvised a waterproof cover for my bag, which I bungee corded down in the pillion space. I had some soft panniers already with waterproof covers, although the first time I used them, I melted one to the muffler. Still picking the damn stuff off. Lesson learnt.

So, duly equipped, I left Brisbane 5:30am one cold, foggy, smoky Friday morning. I discovered pretty immediately I needed different gloves. My well-vented summer gloves couldn’t cut it in the early morning chill at 100 km/hr. But there’s not that many gear shops on the highway. I toughed it. Got to Tamworth around 3:30pm. Hot shower had never felt so good.

Next day was an easy ride down to Windsor, initially over the worst road all trip (through the Hunter Valley) then the last part along the famous Putty Road. Then Demo Day Sunday. Being still on LAMS my choices were limited, but I lined up two Yamahas – XJ6SL (600cc) and XVS650 Custom cruiser. About five seconds into my first ride, I suddenly understood the, “That’s a long way on a 250cc”. Oh. The power! I nearly fell over when someone described it as “severely limited”. Yeah, clearly, I’m still learning. Then I worried I couldn’t get back on the 250. I was 1000 k’s from home – was I really going to ride it back? Then I got on it. And bless it’s 140ish kg heart, I still loved it. It doesn’t have the power to overtake a road train, but it got me reliably from place to place, and no numb arse to boot.

I headed back up the coast on Tuesday morning, reaching Coffs Harbour by 4:00pm. Liked the vibe of the place, and had some work come in, so I stayed a day. Met more interesting locals, watched whales from Muttonbird hill while the storm clouds rolled in. Talked bikes with Virago owner where I was staying, and stayed up way too late enjoying the end of the trip while drinking bad tea. The next day, perfectly sunny, I rode home, picking up an hour over the border. Bone tired, I was also high on the thrill. It was a fantastic ride.

Route Map (2)

The route …

Quite a few people seemed surprised I did this as a solo trip. But the best thing about not being in the companion bubble is you meet new people. I met two BMW owners who enlightened me that some bikes have grip warmers! Yeah, I pooh-poohed that for about thirty minutes, then as my hands re-frosted, I wanted them. Another Triumph owner heading south to Philip Island told me about good places to stay. About a dozen really pleasant folks at the Demo Day completed the experience. And one guy at a truck stop took the time to point out all the ‘legendary’ routes on my map. Duly noted. Bike culture out on the highway was like car culture way out in the middle of nowhere. It was a lovely surprise.

I also came away with a heap of new knowledge and skills. To be honest, I left with a few aspects of riding still shaky. I came back with far more intimate knowledge of my bike, its handling, what I could do and where the limits were. I had two scary moments. One involved a loose shoulder on Putty Road. The other involved a lot of fog and a road train. More healthy respect from me. I also had one moment of stripped dignity, where I dropped the bike in front of a large number of people. It involved sand covered concrete and my foot slipping … we’ll say no more save I’ve learnt to be cautious in unfamiliar parking spots. And thanks to the gentleman who helped me get the bike up again. Sorry I was too embarrassed to buy you a drink.

So, long way on a 250cc? Yeah, it was a long way. But this is Australia. Everywhere is a long-bloody-way. I suspect my enjoyment of travel isn’t dependent on pure power. I had reliability and comfort (except for the hands, and I can fix that). Not saying a more powerful sports tourer wouldn’t be fabulous fun, but I would do it again on the 250. I probably will.