15 November, 2010

Time for a different set of two wheels.

Yesterday was a special ride day on the Eastern Link tollway. The tollway, including tunnels were closed in aid of a charity for homeless individuals. My son Julien and I chose to ride in the recreational category - a 38km route through both tunnels - followed by a further ride home of around 15-20km.

To say my derriere and thighs were sore is a fairly strong understatement!, especially since I started running again only 2 days prior (after a 5 month hiatus) and have stretched quite a few muscles which have been allowed to otherwise remain unused.

Still it was a good opportunity to try a different (much larger) set of two wheels in preparation for my forthcoming business trip to Malaysia next week.

10 November, 2010

3rd time success – the Burgie finally makes it to Birdsville!

…. and what’s this about the pink tutu tourers?

Well, I wasn’t sure whether I was fated to never achieve my goal of riding B1 to Birdsville but on Monday 25th October I am pleased to announce I arrived in town and had a celebratory pint of VB in the Birdsville Hotel.

Getting there, and back, though is a far more interesting story.

Wednesday 20th October started off cool and fresh as I headed on the 3rd annual Suzuki 1400 MCR ride to Bathurst. This time there were only 8 of us, heading East to Bairnsdale and over the top of Mt Hotham before arriving for our first night on the road at the Tallangatta Hotel. It was an inauspicious start as not more than 100km down the road in Yarragon, a fellow rider noticed my handbrake hanging loose from the rear brake calliper – a 12mm nut and washer was sufficient to get me going again, but did cause me to have a few niggling doubts about whether I had sufficiently tightened everything after my rebuild of B1 with its replacement motor and drive train.

It was a chilly start to the day and on the long boring stretches of the Princes Freeway it was good to be able to crank up the heat in my Gerbing’s gloves and enjoy some toasty warmth.

From Bairnsdale things started to get more interesting as we followed the river valley North from Bruthven to Omeo and on to the top of Mt Hotham, before descending to Harrietville, refuelling at Bright and taking the back roads to Tallangatta.

Now for this ride, which included a group of by-now-well-known-to-each-other regulars, we had decided to have a pink tulle tutu made up, and it would be worn by each person whenever they performed an act sufficiently foolish to deserve the privilege. I was fortunate enough to not need to wear it till we reached Bathurst, but more on that later.

The following day we left Tallangatta bright and early, following the Murray Valley Highway over the top of Mt Granya and then down to Corryong before taking the Alpine Way to Thredbo for lunch. The ride along the Murray was magnificent – albeit with a little threatening rain - and it was wonderful to see how much the river levels have risen with the recent rains.

Leaving Thredbo we headed North to Cooma and then East to the coast via Brown mountain – what a brilliant descent it is down a very tight stretch of road with challenging, but smooth, hairpin bends.

Thursday evening saw us once again billeted in the Tathra hotel for the evening, where we were rewarded by a special performance from Winkey* the whale.

* Tathra is one of the best locations in Australia for whale watching. If you want to know more about Winkey then check out the Tathra hotel website.

Friday saw us arriving in Bathurst around 5pm after picking up a couple of stragglers in Goulburn. This time our ride was without incident (unlike last year’s unfortunate accident with Fraser) apart from the heaven’s opening in a major way for the last 10km into town. The force of the downpour was incredible, like someone had turned a hose on you, soaking though most of our ostensibly rainproof gear.

After a late night of merrymaking and catching up with old friends from previous MCRs, I took my 1st rest day as Saturday dawned gently and we made our way out to Mt Panorama to await the core Sydney crew’s arrival.

Now at the top of the mountain there are some great viewing areas. I looked across the kitty litter saw a few 1400s parked the other side of it and figured I would take a short cut – I got around 5m before it was obvious no further forward motion was achievable.

Much to my ignomy, the attached video shows 4 of us retrieving B1, and that is the story of how I earned the right to wear the pink tutu!

After lunch we headed back up the road to Oberon for lunch, but once again we all ended up as drowned rats as heavy rain set in for the rest of the day and following morning.

7am Sunday dawned cold, wet and very windy – I was not looking forward to this as I had a ride of 1,200km ahead of me – but fortunately by the time I reached Dubbo 250km later the roads were drying out nicely, even if the sun wasn’t able to break through the clouds till much, much later that day. Following the same route North from Bourke as I took on my ill-fated August ride, I arrived in Quilpie just as the shops were closing for the evening, filled up with fuel and then headed back out of town to set up camp in roadside stop. It was a pleasant night – clearly a lot warmer than it had been on my previous ride up here and a lot warmer than it had been earlier that day.

From Bourke North it was clear that even though the roads and sky were relatively dry, the ground was still waterlogged after months of deluges, as evidenced by the sheer numbers of emus with their chicks. In the past when I have been through this area it has been mobs of ‘roos I have had to watch out for, but this time there were flocks of dozens of big birds standing by the roadside ready to race you down the road – in particular the mothers who would do anything they could to lead one away from their chicks. They were quite a hazard, requiring regular slowdowns to avoid a nasty incident.

Monday morning I retraced my steps past my earlier breakdown on the 250km ride to Windorah. What started as a monotonous, but relaxing, ride changed somewhat 25km South of Windorah when I reached the first of two causeways across the Coopers Creek overflow. These were around 200m long with a concrete base and water depth of 20-25cm – not much current, and a lot of fun, as the Burgie set up a bow wave spraying me from head to toe with cool, fresh water.

10kms before Windorah I crossed the Coopers itself which was running at very high levels and very high speed, however, it was still a good 30cm below the bridge so there no problems during the crossing. Windorah itself had a couple of surprises for me: firstly because of the solar energy farm they have operating on the outskirts of town, I’d never seen one of these before; and secondly the owner of the local garage – a blind gentleman well into his 70s who operated independently despite his handicaps. The first indication that he was not fully sighted was the mental arithmetic he performed in adding up my fuel and food bills before entering the amount into his EFTPOS terminal. He was able to do this and also run the entire place independently – the only thing I saw his wife do was call out to him the amount on the bowser after I filled up.

I subsequently discovered he is also the garage mechanic – amazing. What struck me the most though was his positive attitude to life. He genuinely loved his work, and loved to chat and meet people – his parting line being ‘well, better get back to work otherwise I’ll lose my job and where I am going to find another at my age!’

From Windorah, it was time to head West. After 120km of bitumen I reached the turnoff to Birdsville and 270km of gravel on the Diamantina Development Road. It took me around 15 minutes to become comfortable with the changed road surface and I was then able to maintain a comfortable 80-90kmh once B1 found its ‘dirt legs’. There was a fair amount of traffic on this road – approx 1 vehicle per hour – including two triple-bogey road trains running empty to pick up cattle in Birdsville, which I had overtaken just prior to the dirt section of the road. I placed cat and mouse with this pair as we passed and then re-passed each other for the remainder of the day, whenever I stopped for photos or a food/drink break.

Overall this road was in very good condition, with only a small number of easy creek crossings and a few detours around the larger mud holes. Speaking of which, I managed to seriously get one of these mud holes badly wrong – preferring to stay dry rather than ride through the slop.

As the video below shows, by trying to take the dry surface to the left of the main track I ended up in a form of quicksand where the more I tried to push the Burgie out, the deeper it sank. By mid afternoon temperatures were up to the mid thirties, and pushing the Burgie whilst wearing my full riding gear caused me to rapidly start perspiring and lose electrolytes. Knowing the risk of this (as per my experience a year earlier on the Tibooburra Road) I thought it wise to sit it out and wait ,rather than continue to struggle. Fortunately 20 minutes after getting stuck a young couple heading East in a 4wd stopped for me and together we managed to free B1 from the glutinous slime.

150km East of Birdsville, near Bettoute I passed the turnoff to Cordillo Downs and Innamincka, via the gibber plains of the Great Stoney Desert – this was the route I had planned to take last year from Cameron Corner..

After that it was plain sailing for the rest of the run into Birdsville as I decided to plough straight through the middle of any wet sections, instead of trying to find a drier route.

Arriving in Birdsville you first pass the racecourse and then the turn-off for the Birdsville track. The racecourse is quite impressive for such a small, remote township and it is easy to see why the race is such an important event on the town social calendar. Unfortunately this year the races had to be cancelled due to the waterlogged track, and this did not bode well for the next stage of my ride - South along the Birdsville track to Marree.

After a refreshing ale in the Birdsville Hotel I checked into the local camping ground at just on 5pm. The manager and his partner had just taken over a few days earlier for the summer season (in outback centres the business owner/operators tend to fly out to the coast for the 6 months of the quiet season and put in part-time “summer managers”). The “summer managers” are typically grey nomads who have stayed at the camp during their own Round-Australia tour and are looking for a different experience, after one season most have learned enough to realise they don’t wish to repeat the experience. Due to their newness the managers were still very enthusiastic, friendly and helpful. The caravan park itself overlooks the local ‘billabongs’ (cut off meanders of the Diamantina river after it changed its course, and where you can rent canoes) and has plenty of space to accommodate the huge crowds that swell to over 3,000 over the race weekend. I camped 50m away from another pair of grey nomads in a Toyota ‘Troopie. After politely saying hello, I had a brief chat, discovered they had just come up the ‘track and asked them about road conditions. Sadly, the female partner in particular, was quite disparaging about my plans to take a ‘scooter’ down the track and regaled me with all the reasons why I was a fool to attempt it, including horror stories of long and deep water crossings, a muddy track and few vehicles on the outback roads now that the tourist season had ended.

I tried to ignore it but do admit that her words did affect me and left me with a few doubts and an increased level of trepidation, so the following day (my 2nd rest day) I went down to the roadhouse, tourist office and police station for 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinions. Sadly, these were no better - all advice and the daily road condition status report, stated 4WD only, and the police suggested I delay as long as possible so that the road could further dry out..

Now in Birdsville they do have one great feature – a free DIY vehicle hot wash using high pressure water from a local artesian bore. That morning I cleaned all of the preceding days mud from B! and then went over her with a fine tooth comb – oh,oh – why is the rear engine mount bolt sticking 4cms out from the rubber engine mount? Looks like you’ve lost the nut Garry – hmm, well that one on the centre stand looks to be a good fit, and besides there is a cotter pin on the centre stand so you ain’t going to lose that bolt even without a nut on the end. Let’s look at how the rest of the Burgie is holding up – all seems fine so I reckon she’s as ready as she ever will be for the journey down the ‘track. I walked around town and lazed around the billabong for the rest of the afternoon before deciding a sunset ride to Big Red (the tallest dune in the Simpson Desert) would be in order – and likely a good test of what the real ‘track would be like. Big Red is roughly 37km West, and effectively represents the Eastern edge of the Simpson.

Unfortunately, due to flooding you can only get to within 5km of Big Red before the road stops abruptly at water’s edge. This is DEEP water and around 200m wide – directly across the water is Little Red, which the track traverses. Right at the water’s edge were parked two mobile homes. One with a mature lady enjoyed a nice goblet of chilled chardonnay whilst her partner was busy in the galley of the other vehicle preparing the evening meal – what an idyllic scene it was looking west as the sun set over Little Red and a 4WD perched atop it. The mobile home owners directed me to a 12km detour through soft sand to get to Big Red, I decided to attempt it but gave up approx halfway due to being waylaid by a 4WDer who spotted my China – Russia stickers, hailed me to pull over and quizzed me about the Burgie’s travels through foreign climes. With the twilight rapidly encroaching as the sun descended behind the dunes I turned around and headed back to Birdsville and my camp for the evening.

That night I lay awake pondering the next day’s 350km ride down the ‘track to Mungerannie and wondering how bad the road conditions really could be.

Well they were, and they weren’t that bad. It was certainly a lot slower and tougher going than the road into Birdsville had been, particularly in the soft sandy detours around the original route which with the recent rains was now part of a swamp.

Leaving Birdsville at 7am (Qld time – 6.30am SA) it was clear most of the track had dried out quite nicely, as there were lots of hard sand sections with deep tyre tracks baked into the surface where other vehicles had slithered their way along whilst the track was till waterlogged. There were numerous long and deep sections of water where the road passed through what were now small lakes with plenty of waterfowl swimming across the road! Based on what others had told me I knew these sections weren’t too deep and they had lots of gibber on the bottom to provide traction.

I would have much preferred to have had another vehicle following me but alas I saw only 4 other vehicles on the track that day so I was obliged to just give it a go regardless. Now the big concern was not personal – I could easily walk out, albeit somewhat muddier – or even push/drag the Burgie out, but more what would happen when the water was above the CVT intake and exhaust and entered the CVT itself.

As I went to enter the long and deepish water crossing I first had to traverse some wheel ruts through the mud, where unfortunately the gibber base had been pushed away by previous vehicles and replaced with pure slop. I gently paddled my way through whilst applying just enough power to keep moving forward – suddenly the rear wheel slid sideways and before I knew it B1 was going down. I stepped off to hold her up but in the slippery mud she just kept slipping down – right on top of my leg. So here I am, no one else to assist, sitting in a mud pool with my foot trapped underneath the bodywork. First thing is to get my foot out, second thing is to try and bring B1 back upright – easier said than done when she just slides sideways every time I try and raise her. Eventually I got her upright and then set myself the target of getting through 200m of muddy water that was who knows how deep. As it turned out, it was around 40cm deep and I could hear the flatulent exhaust struggling to maintain breathing efficiency as the water tried to enter. In these sections I knew I had to keep going regardless as any stop would definitely mean considerable water entry to the CVT and consequent Pulley Position Sensor failure – the CVT had a small drain plug and could handle small amounts of water without too much problems but complete submersion – as I had experienced previously – would have much more dire consequences. So there I went trying to hold a constant speed of around 25kmh, with a bow wave drenching me from head to toe and B1 threatening to buck me off as it bounced and jumped over the uneven base.

The above exercise was repeated at least 15-20 times that day, fortunately as I gained experience my confidence levels raised accordingly and by the end of the day I was plunging in without even first reccie-ing the crossings.

However, … there is always a however……., the last major mud hole crossing 25km out from Mungerannie – my destination that day - was the one that finally brought me unstuck. It was a 70m long section of heavily rutted thick sloppy mud and I made the same mistake as the day previously – rather than ride straight through it I chose to take the driest path. The reason for this was simple – if for any reason I did stop / get bogged, whilst crossing then my CVT would be filled with this mud – a situation even less preferable than having the CVT full of water - and I would need to tear the CVT down to remove all the slop, not something I fancied in the middle of nowhere.

So I elected to follow the wheel ruts left by trucks. The problem with this was that the wheel ruts were deep – around 35cm - and relatively narrow. I got halfway through when B1’s lower fairing simply jammed themselves against the walls of the rut and lo and behold to use a Rolls Royce’ism, B1 “failed to proceed”. Ok I thought, I’ll simply kick down the one of the rut walls so she won’t hang up. First task was to park the Burgie upright, which meant pushing her over on her left so that she could rest against the taller rut wall – easier said than done as B1 preferred to lay down her right side directly into the slop. Next was to take off my helmet, jacket and gloves as I was by now sweating tremendously in the late afternoon sun. Now to kick down the rut walls – ok, done. Finally to get B1 started and moving again – well she started fine, and I assisted the motor by slowly pushed her forward into the deeper goop with the muddy slop oozing over the top of my boots.

I managed to move her forward around 5m before B1 again lost traction and by which time I was once again exhausted. Usually what was left of my energy I propped B1 up against the wall of the rut again and went to sit down to recover my energies for a second attempt. 15 minutes later I was ready but what is that I spot in the distance? – two FWDs coming down the track from Birdsville and bearing knights in shiny armour!

After surveying the scene, one of the drivers reluctantly agreed to assist (quite understandably, he really wasn’t that keen in stepping out of his air-conditioned luxury cabin and into the hot, stinking ooze) and gave me a push to get B1 moving again. This time I got a further 10 metres before she once again lost traction and span her rear wheel in vain. Ok, another 5 minute rest and I was ready to sit astride B1 and with one final push she was free and I bucked and hopped through the remaining 15 metres of goop onto dry ground.

The final 25km into Mungerannie went smoothly and quickly, and it was sight for sore eyes to see my first man-made structure for 350km.

To say I had well and truly worked up a thirst would be quite and understatement, so immediately on arrival it was straight in to the bar and two cans of VB followed each other in quick succession down my throat.

Feeling a little more refreshed, I paid for my campsite and went to set up my tent by the lagoon which is fed by an artesian bore. There is a natural pool you can swim or luxuriate in - with its high sulphur content it’s a little smelly – and very hot (around 75C), but you can vary the temperature by mixing the cool lagoon and hot bore water. The birdlife here is prolific with hordes of swirling, screeching parrots and gentle sedate waterfowl, including pelicans, paddling peacefully around. A very relaxing night was had indeed, which put me in good stead for Thursday’s riding.

As I only had 250km more of the Birdsville track to go I decided to take a relaxed approach and it was close to 8am by the time I was all packed up and ready to hit the road again. By comparison with the previous day the first 60kms of riding was an absolute breeze with a nice hard packed surface that you could easily maintain 100kmh on, and minimal water crossings / bog holes. On the advice of the Mungerannie hotel manager I rode past the ferry detour sign and continued on another 8km to Coopers Creek. The track gently disappeared into the waters whilst the small hillocks that bordered the track continued out into the water in much the same manner as the silt arms of the Mitchell River in the Gippsland Lakes – quite a surreal picture.

Once back at the ferry detour turnoff the track became very soft, sandy and corrugated – the conditions I hate most to ride on. – for the rest of the way to the ferry.

At the ferry the Burgie was able to fit behind a LandCruiser and it was a quick crossing. The ferry operators were a great pair of blokes but they have clearly been given some grief by the powers-that-be though, as they are most officious about ensuring you wear a life jacket during the crossing.

Once across the water it was another rough corrugated ride back to where the ferry detour joined the main track, then a fairly smooth surface all the way to Marree as a lot of the track had either been, or was in the process of being, graded. This graded surface was not the best for the Burgie though as B1’s small front wheel tends to dig in as soon as the surface is either loose or soft, so speeds were kept well down. In addition, there were still quite a few corrugations and chopped up areas, which caused the Burgie’s back-end to hop out and give me a few heart-stopping moments.

I thought the hopping out was a little odd, however, especially the way it caused bump steer in the ruts, and initially I thought must have a flat tyre, but then realised I must have spun a rear wheel bearing again – a result of the hammering the rear wheel was taking on the corrugations. The bearing was definitely gone, but not too bad especially later when I got back on the bitumen - as it was, it got me all the way back to home (another 1,500km) but only just, as the whole bearing had disintegrated apart from the inner and outer shells. In addition, the corrugations had caused the frame - fairing mounts to crack again. Now with a spun wheel bearing and a loose fairing I decided to drop my speed and take things a little easier, doing this though I noticed something unusual – the Burgie was running hot, much hotter than it usually would in such conditions, even with the relatively high inland SA temperatures we were experiencing. Each time I stopped I noticed the radiator fan would continue operating for a minute or so – hmm, that’s strange I thought?

Now things got even more interesting. When I reached Marree (the beginning of the Oodnadatta track) I pulled up to the general store to ask if they had a mechanic shop (to help with replacement of the wheel bearings – I was carrying spare bearings but realised I would need a puller to get the old ones out as tapping them out would not be achievable if the inner and outer races had separated). Alas the nearest workshop was 110km further South in Copley.

I walked back out to the pump forecourt where B1 was parked and saw a small pool of oil on the ground directly under B1. Looking underneath I realised the transmission drain plug had departed somewhere up the track and I was running with no oil in the transmission – I now had an explanation of why B1 was running a bit hotter than usual with no lubrication for the transmission (Note: at this point it is important to explain that the transmission in the Burgie is not likely a regular transmission. It is simply a set of two cogs acting as a reduction ratio from the clutch output to the gear driven final drive). There was nowhere I could buy a replacement fine metric bolt in Marree and decided to risk riding slowly South whilst stopping frequently to avoid further overheating. I got as far as Lyndhurst (turnoff for the Strezlecki track to Innamincka) when I thought I should fill up with fuel. I figured just for the hell of it I’d ask the store owner whether she sold drain plugs and before I knew it she directed me to her husband who was sitting enjoying a few quiet ones in the workshop out the back. Turns out he had a full workshop out there but had let the mechanic go due to the intermittent and irregular business requirements in a small town like Lyndhurst. Anyways, this gentleman (Neil) was great, made me feel right at home and suggested we use an old spark plug as makeshift drain plug as sparkplugs came in fine metric pitch sizes. He offered up ½ a dozen old plugs, one of which was a perfect fit. I put that in, bought a litre of oil from Neil, pumped in 350ml to the transmission, threw the rest in the engine and Bob was most definitely the avuncular old fella he is known to be, from that point forwards. I am sure Neil would also let me use his workshop to replace the rear wheel bearing but decided I had already troubled him enough and did not want to take advantage of his hospitality and overstay my welcome.

From there it was a fairly straightforward ride down to Copley (a town with a sad and disenfranchised indigenous population), via Leigh Creek coal mine to check into the local caravan park and then into the local pub (named the Leigh Creek Hotel but situated in Copley – yes, there is a history to why this is so) to take advantage of their huge Thursday $12 schnitzel specials.

Friday it was a straightforward run down the bitumen past the Flinders Ranges, and across many sections of flood damaged roads, to Hawker (gateway to the Flinders Ranges) and Quorn – at which pint the heavens opened. I pressed on to Pt Augusta and walked into the tourist Office dripping and not even removing my helmet or gloves. They directed me to the local caravan park where that night I elected to rent a cabin rather than erecting my tent.

Saturday, another wet ride South to Adelaide and a downtown backpackers where the majority of guests were dressed up a zombies for an early Halloween celebration.

Sunday morning was also damp and I raced up Mt Barkley only to overtake 25 postie bikes taking part in the ‘Male Bag’ ride for prostate cancer research.

Crossing the border at Border Town I felt and heard further grumbles from the rear end as the bearing further collapsed and the balls started to pulverise themselves. I then took it fairly slowly the rest of the way back to Melbourne arriving home late afternoon.

The total ride distance was just over 5,700km (or approx 3,600 miles) over 10 days of riding (and two rest days), averaging 570km per day.

B1 has been cleaned washed, her vital fluids replaced and her rear wheel replaced with the spare I have – given the damage to the hub caused by the bearing failures in Kazakhstan and Marree I think it is time to retire it. The fairing mounts have been welded I have also swapped out a few of the badly damaged body panels with spares which I found on eBay.

B1 is all ready for her next trip, the question now is where? Why do I keep hearing that little bird whispering Oodnadatta Track and Gun Barrel Highway?

16 September, 2010

Help Needed - Stuck In Quilpie .... the rubber band snapped!

22nd August 2010 - the story begins. On my way to Birdsville, the CVT belt on B1 snapped last night on the Quilpie - Windorah road. I ended up camping by the side of the road, surviving a massive storm, hitching a ride to Quilpie and then getting an RACQ tow back to Quilpie the following morning. I'm now trying to work out the best way to get the bike and me back to Melbourne. There is no way it is fixable locally as replacing the belt requires tearing the motor down - and besides it'll take at least a week to get a new belt delivered.


26th August 2010.
In short my life over the last 5 days has been.

Day 1 - Saturday - go and vote (Australian Federal Elections - compulsory voting) then ride North - planned to get to Bourke but too many animals on the road so stopped in Cobar well before dusk. Bloody freezing night in Cobar and my self inflating mattress springs a leak.

Day 2 - Sunday - ride North to Windorah up through Bourke, Cunnamulla, Eulo and Quilpie - around 4.30pm riding across the floodplains to Windorah I accelerate out of a gentle creek crossing and the revs go sky-high whilst the Burgie starts to gently roll to a stop. Pull over and push bike off road, set up tent and the rains hit - in a very short period of time I start to realise that camping on a floodplain is NOT a good idea but I had little choice.

Day 3 - Monday - hitch a ride to Quilpie, call the RACV and get a tow back to Quilpie. Tow truck driver and I had a hell of a time winching the Burgie out of the mud which it was by now well and truly stuck in (as a side note, it's lucky I didn't get onto the actual Birdsville track as I would still be stuck due to all the rain/mud). RACV helped me out by paying for a motel for the night (first shower/shave for 3 days - I was reeking ) whilst I tried to find options to get home. Finally struck a deal with the local postie courier to put the Burgie in the back of his transit van to Charleville next morning.

Day 4 - Charleville. Postie dropped me and the Burgie off at Kurtz trucking depot. Tried again to get a car - AVIS offered to get me a dual cab ute in 2 days time - total cost for a one way rental to Melbourne including delivery from Toowoomba to Charleville and excess km charges (but NOT including fuel) would be $2,500! Instead I got Kurtz to put the Burgie in a cage on the back of a semi and send it to Rocklea (Brisbane) whilst I took an overnight Greyhound to Brisbane.

Day 5 - Arrived in Brisbane, totally stuffed with little sleep. Called up Kurtz whilst they tried various options to get the Burgie back to Melbourne. A lot of stuffing around because just about every trucking company insisted the Burgie be crated before they would ship it. Spent all day at the Brisbane downtown bus terminal trying to contact bike shippers - some successfully, most not. Kurtz came through with the goods around 3pm and put me onto a mob called CEVA who will collect the Burgie tomorrow and have it down here by Friday next week - only worry is to make sure they take my Givi topbox (which had to be removed by Kurtz to fit the Burgie into the cage) as it has all my gear in it.

Once the Burgie was sorted I then booked a Tiger Airways flight to Melb leaving 8.15pm. Took the train to the airport, checked and was told the plane would be delayed by an hour. An hour later, another hour delay - this happened 4 times till we finally left the tarmac at 12.15am Most of the passengers were totally crapped off and there was a big barney between the cabin staff and half a dozen more vocal passengers who had spent the last 4 hours in the airport bar. I was getting really worried there was going to be a riot mid flight and to add to it, the drunkest and most vocal passenger had the seat next to me.

Arrived at Tullamarine at 2.30am, crashed in the airport till 5am, took the airport bus to the city and then a tram home - quick shower and shave and back in the office by 8am. What an adventure!

... and one that really should not have occurred! I have a complete new motor/CVT/Drivetrain/Swingarm and rear wheel assembly for the Burgie sitting in the garage which I planned to put on once I came back from Birdsville. I just wanted to clock up 100,000km on the original before I did - the speedo is currently registering 95k km so as Maxwell Smart would say "missed it by that much".

8th September 2010.
My son Julien went down to the CEVA logistics office in Melbourne ot collect B1 on the back of our trailer. It's amazing to think that a bike as big as the Burgie will fit in the back of a 6x4 trailer but it will - diagonally and with the tail gate open.


15th September 2010
I wasn't able to do any work on B1 until now as last weekend I was away on a ride to Port Fairy on V2 with the Mild Hogs team.

Tonight I started stripping B1 down ready to remove the whole drivetrain/motor. It's just about the there and I expect to start bolting the new one up tomorrow night. Once I have the new motor in - ready for the 3rd attempt at reaching Birdsille in mid October - I wil start to strip down the B1 CVT and find out what caused the belt to snap - was it just age and a hard life? or was there something else which may have been the culprit? We will soon know (cue: Twilight Zone music).

21 August, 2010

Biking adventures – 1H 2010 .... disaster’s about to happen, and not just once ..........

Firstly, I sold the ST 1100 in December last year and now dedicate my riding to Burgmans. Although having said that, I’ve also taken the Aprilia Mana 850 out for 2 test rides but it is very Burgmanesque given it uses electronic CVT technology licenced from Suzuki. If I was going to buy a naked road bike it would definitely be the one to go for but it is very expensive for what you get.

I also test rode a Buell 1125R – the last of the Buells are now being sold, the end of an era. The Buell is an in-your-face raw and visceral experience – VERY fast and powerful but an absolute dog around town. If I could afford an exclusive dedicated track bike the Buell would definitely be the way to go though.

However, Burgmen is I’m sure what you want to hear about so here we go.

After all the difficulties in getting B2 running after its immersion, which all boiled down to the CVT Pulley Position Sensor (PPS) being the culprit, it happened again! - would you believe it? In March there was a flash flood when I had B2 parked at a customer site and lo and behold the CVT flooded again! – what a coincidence! the bike has now drowned twice! Needless to say, the PPS died again and I had to get a new one.

Over Easter 2010 I decided to ride B1 up to the Flinders Ranges again and had a great time riding and exploring.

This time I elected to take the coast road west to Adelaide and then head north to Ororoo, rather than heading directly inland. In many ways, this was a reverse of last year’s ride.

The first day’s riding took me along Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, and B1 was in its element – swooping and diving through the tight turns, with magnificent cliff top views to add to the experience. By late afternoon I crossed the border into South Australia and camped overnight in Kingston S.E. Next morning I followed the coast northwards through the salt lakes of the Coorong National Park salt lakes before heading inland and taking the ferry across the Murray at Wellington (same ferry as last year) and then heading weat to Mt Barker and Hahndorf for some further swooping and diving through the Adelaide Hills before riding North up through the Barossa valley and arriving back in Ororoo and camping at the same campground as last year.

The next day I decided to do a full circuit of the Flinders. First stop was Wilpena Pound where I did a fast walk up to the top of Mary’s Mount – I was quite surprised how fit I was, climbing walking up and back in half the time of most other visitors. From Wilpena it was north to Blinman, and the road is now fully bitumenised with some nice corners as the road follows the curves of the hilly undulating countryside. From Blinman it was west to Parachilna through the gorge. This was around 50km of gravel tracks through some very pleasant hills and dales, across dry creek beds and around blind crests. A most enjoyable ride except for the dust kicked up by the ubiquitous 4wd drivers. Parachilna was quite disappointing – really just a rail junction with a hotel - albeit the hotel does a roaring trade in cooking native animals (ferall meals) with emu and roo being big on the menu.

The most important thing about Parachilna, however, is that from here you head North on the bitumen to Leigh Creek form where you meet the gravel taking you up to Marree and then on to Birdsville – so I will be heading back that way again in the near future.

From Parachilna I took the road south again back to my camp at Ororoo and next day left for Mildura and Swan Hill, where I set up camp on the banks of the Murray.

The following day was Easter Monday and I decided to meander South to Melbourne, avoiding the main highway as much as possible and taking as many gravel and back roads as I could.

At lunchtime I arrived in Bendigo only to find the main street blocked due to the annual Easter Parade. I had head many great things about this but in all my years in Australia had never seen it before. The parade is most famous for having the longest Chinese dragon in the world – and at an impressive 50m it really was.

What really stood out though was the community involvement in what is really a small town affair. In particular, the vast majority of participants were Chinese! It was most interesting to observe the amount of community involvement, effort and commitment that the Asian community had made, whilst by comparison the European presence was tired, lack lustre, and paltry. I do believe this says a lot about the way Australia as a country is heading and that hopefully the new wave of Asian immigration can shake up and revitalise the small rural communities that have been allowed to wither by the ex-convict Irish Australian stock.

The parade was a most enjoyable affair and after it completed I chose to continue my meanderings along the backroads. Little did I know what was in store for me as disaster struck!

I was leaving town heading towards Newstead following a P-plater driver in an old Holden Astra. She pulled over on to the left verge without indicating and stopped at the side of the road. I continued driving straight ahead when she suddenly did a right hand turn (no indicators) across in front of me into a driveway!!

I grabbed both brakes hard, locked up and low-sided down the road on my left side stopping a metre away from her car. I was still in my seat and astride the bike when I stopped sliding but my left foot was stuck under the body work so I had to enlist Ms P-plater to help extricate myself (that’s the polite version of events anyway). Turns out she had her licence only 3 weeks but blames me for the accident because I never actually hit her car! I ended up with scratches down the left hand side of the bike, broken indicator, broken screen and bent centre stand. Fortunately my clothing took the brunt of the damage to myself and I ended up shredding my leather jacket, pants and boots. Luckily the gear protected me well and all I had to show for it was a sprained ankle, a few bruises and grazes and a haematoma on my hip.

This was only my second motorcycle accident since 1978 (when I was in Africa) and like my other one in 1997 (where I had only owned my Suzuki PE250 for one day) it was directly the fault of the other driver – very annoying!

Like my accident in 1997, the insurance company ended up writing off B1 and wanted to me to forfeit her in return for a financial payout. I refused to do this and was eventually able to negotiate a settlement where I bought B1 back as salvage. With minimal replacement parts (indicator lens and screen) I patched her back up and went through the rather costly ‘written off vehicle’ inspection process to get her back on the road. So all ended up well ….. for the moment.

In the last week of May I decided to test her endurance and offroad capabilities again by doing a 600km day circuit from Melbourne to Licola to Jamieson and return to Melbourne. I had done a similar ride on B2 a month or so earlier, heading up to Jamieson via Woods Point, however, the Licola road is a lot rougher and higher.

The road was due to be closed for winter the following weekend so I knew it was make or break that weekend. A constant downpour ensured that I was the only bike on the road as I hit the 100km or so of dirt that heads up (and down) to the summit of Mt Skene at 1600m. The first 50km or so was fairly good going as I could power on up the hills and enjoy the rain protection provided by B1s bodywork. Once I hit the top though the road became muddier and slipperier – not fun at all under brakes, as the Burgie’s CVT dies not provide the low speed engine braking other bikes can. It took me 2 hours to cover the final 50km as I slipped and slid down the mountain.

The following weekend it was time for another road adventure as I headed off with half the mountain madness crew for a ride over the top of Falls Creek before that road was also closed for the winter.

The morning was a great ride and we stopped for lunch at Whitfield only to find Neil and Lorrain limping in with a flat rear tyre on their Triumph Sprint. I always carry a tyre repair kit with me and was able to put it to good use plugging Neil’s rear (tyre that is).

We made good time in the afternoon, crossing the Tawonga Gap for the run down into Mt Beauty, and then up the road to Fall’s Creek. The road was damp in parts so we slowed down considerably and as we took a hairpin left hander I spotted two lyrebirds walking by the side of the road. I’ve lived in Australia since 1963 and this is the first time I have seen lyrebirds in the wild – quite a magical experience.

On reaching the top of Falls Creek it started to get very cold – just slightly above freezing. Rather than waiting for the other riders to catch up I decided to lead the pack of bikes down the road to Angler’s Rest, and Omeo – our stop for the evening.

Now it is worthwhile to first say a little bit about this road. It is a tight, steep and windy road that has only recently been bitumenised (January 2009). I have ridden it twice since then, both times uphill and I did not like the road surface at all.

In the Alpine regions in Australia the road builders build roads in two stages. They first put down a bottom layer of rough bitumen and let it sit for two years before putting on the top layer of hot melt asphalt. In addition, the first layer of road surface uses a different type of aggregate – round pebbles instead of coarse screenings. What they did at Falls Creek though, beggars belief. They never swept the road after the first surfacing and as a result the surface is full of round pebbles just waiting for a bike to apply a cornering force and for them (the pebbles) to start rolling sideways.

Knowing this, I took it very easy as it is a most unsettling experience riding this road.

To cut a long story short, around 8 km out of Falls Creek I took a gentle left hander at around 50kmh. Before I knew what had happened, and without warning, B1 slid out from underneath me and I low sided on my left. My immediate thoughts were “Damn, not again…”, before the rear wheel gripped and I high sided over to the right.

My first action was to switch off the ignition (the tip-over sensors had done their job and switched off the engine) and then to run around the corner warning the other riders to slow down.

At first I thought I must have hit some ice on the road – so quick and uncontrollable was the slide – but on closer inspection I realised that the inside of the corner was covered in ball bearing shaped ‘white pea gravel’ that the road builders had put down and that the regular parade of passing vehicles had pushed into a pile.

Now to add insult to injury, not only had the pea gravel caused me to go down but it had viciously eroded and tore out huge hunks of B1’s bodywork and my riding gear – the damage was far, far worse than in the previous incident with a torn off mirror, bent handlebars and broken brake lever along with bodywork hanging off left right and centre – thank goodness for duct tape!.

As for myself, I came out of it totally unscathed with not a scratch on me……. or so I thought at the time.

The rest of the ride was uneventful and I returned to Melbourne safely. I elected not to claim on my insurance as I thought having two accidents less than 2 months apart would not bode well for my future insurance coverage. I ended up repairing / rebuilding the damaged bodywork myself … not quite as easy a job as last time as this time it wasn’t just scratches I needed to repair.

A few days later though I was reading a newspaper when I thought to myself – hmm, my reading glasses must be scratched because I can’t see through them properly. .

I thought nothing more of it until a week or so later I had cause to look at something with just my right eye and realised my vision was clouded and I couldn’t see any detail.

I went for an eye check and as it turns out I have a haemorrhage in the retina of my right eye – no doubt caused by my head getting tossed from one side to the other during the high side. It will take another 6 months or so for the blood in my retina to dissipate so improvement in my vision is relatively slow.

B1 now has over 93,000km on the clock and is my dedicated ‘adventure bike’, whilst B2 is my comfy tourer. However, I had the opportunity back in June to acquire an almost new K8 Burgman motor, CVT and complete rear end including swingarm and rear wheel/tyre.

My plans are to keep the new motor ready for swapping over once B1’s engine and CVT fail – in any case I want to see the magic 100,000kms come up on B1’s odometer before I consider the change. Hopefully that should occur before the end of 2010 so there will be plenty more adventures in store.

25 February, 2010

When in Rome..... (or more precisely, when in Thailand..........)

Ride like the locals do!.

Ok, maybe not on an elephant (those beasties were large - that's why I was keeping a respectable distance away from them), but certainly on a bike. 


Phuket is a wonderful place to be and it makes far more sense to ride two-up on a small bike - in this case a locally built 110cc water cooled FI scooter known as a Honda Click - than it does to rent one of the larger heavyweights which seem to be the preferred weapon for farang military on R&R.

LIke most Asian towns, the beach resorts on Phuket island are essentially wall-to-wall traffic going nowhere fast. The zippy little Hondas let you scoot in and around the otherwise congealed mass of bumper-to-bumper cars, trucks and buses. Surprisingly enough, given the congestion, lack of traffic rules and surprising number of North european farang who would not consider riding a motorcycle at home, especially wearing the mandatory non-ATGATT uniform of shorts, tee-shirt, sandals, sunglasses and no helmet; I saw no accidents. 

Once outside the towns, and particularly out towards the small islands which dot the coastline of Thailand, riding becomes a pleasure as you hum along at a pleasant 80kmh underneath a canopy of trees passing through small villages and enjoy a little self-generated cooling relief from the warm moist air. 

Definitely a ride we should all take at least once in our lifetime. 

12 January, 2010

Mountain Madness 2010

It never stops in the hectic world of motorcycle touring, and Kimie and I were off again on the annual Mountain Madness jaunt on the 1st of January. This is the 10th time this particular ride has been run and I've ridden around 7 of them - only missing out on the 1st and a couple of others due to unavailability / precarious licence situations.

This year was a rather gentler run than usual as we had two female riders in the group (one on a 250) as well as a support vehicle to accommodate those riders who were not up to the full ride (this included our illustrious leader Loyd who is still recovering from broken fingers on each hand as a result of an off-road tumble on his R1200GS a couple of months back). With a couple of late cancellations we were down to 11 bikes (or 10 bikes and a Burgman as some preferred to describe things) for this trip.

Day 1 started off bright and early as we had all made sure not to grow any cobwebs overnight by overindulging on New Year's Eve. Our route took us out through the Melba Highway to Healesville where the twisty sections of road began. I had prepped B2, my new Burgman, by installing YSS emulators up front and unfortunately I didn't get the settings quite right. Whilst the Burgie performed admirably through the smooth curves of the Black Spur it was not a bed of roses as soon as the road became a little bumpier. Nevertheless this didn't stop us having fun.

After lunch at Myrtleford the group split and Tony and I (and our respective pillions) did a quick ride to the top of Mt Buffalo whilst the rest of the riders continued over the top of Falls Creek (ski resort) to Angler's Rest. We finally arrived at Angler's Rest around 7pm, settling into our cabin, and having a quick meal, before the temperature dropped and the heavens opened.

 The following morning it was a rather subdued ride to Omeo around what would otherwise have been fantastic tight curvy roads. The gentle rain, gravel and mud from water runoffs and tree debris certainly put a dampener on our enthusiasm but the Burgman once again handled the slippery roads with aplomb (due to the consistent power of the CVT) whilst the other riders had numerous scary moments as their bikes lost traction through the curves.

After Omeo it was an interesting ride through an erstwhile brilliant riding road down to Bruthven.

The rain continued off and on throughout the day and as a result the majority of the group elected to take the short cut down the Pacific highway to Eden from Orbost rather than the more interesting ride via Bombala.

By the next morning, howver, the roads had dried out nicely and it was time to make our way back inland to Jindabyne at the base of the Snowy Mountains.

We had lunch at the cheese factory in Bega and made a big mistake in not filling up as I thought I could buy fuel in either Bemboka or Nimitabel, but alas this was not to be the case as both towns have closed down their only service stations. This was particularly worrying as I had been pushing rather hard up Brown Mountain (as attested to by my well ground centrestand) and I knew I wouldn't make it to Cooma. Slowing down to 80kmh we attempted to eke the fuel out as far as we could only to feel the Burgie die 8km short. Tony had been riding slowly ahead and turned around as soon as he saw us stopping. A quick search of the roadside debris unearthed an empty mineral water bottle whilst Tony got started removing the tank of his Triumph so we could drain 1/2 a litre of petrol. This was sufficient to get the Burgie firing on both cylinders again and after putting things back together we rode the 5 minutes to the local Caltex in Cooma and filled up.

In Jindabyne we were spending two nights with a spare day to use at your leisure. Considerate of my pillion, Kimie and I elected to ride the short distance (40km) to the top of Charlotte's Pass and trek the 20km return trail to the top of Mt Kosciuszko - Australia's highest mountain. It was a refreshingly cool 14C day and we (together with many other hikers) thoroughly enjoyed the exercise.

The following day we left Jindabyne bright and early - stopped briefly in Thredbo so Kimie could reminisce about her first skiing adventures there 24 years earlier - and had a wild and woolly ride to Tallangatta as conditions varied between heavy rain with thunder and lightning, and 40C heat.

The Tallangata council pool offered much needed respite from the heat and we - unlike most of our fellow riders - were able to cool down sufficiently to enjoy a good night's sleep in our otherwise uncooled rooms.

The last day of our journey saw us stop off at Bonegila and Beechworth before a leisurely ride down the Hume to home, and an opportunity to relax in our regular surroundings.

Already planning has started for next year’s ride, with Loyd handing over the reins to all comers. Suggestions include a lap or Tassie – with or without a map – so stay tuned.