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Taking it slow: Melbourne to Mallee

Discussion in 'Roads, Touring, Journeys, and Travel' started by mattb, Feb 26, 2009.

  1. What’s the best thing to do when life’s getting you down? Well, if it’s the height of one of the hottest Australian summers, and if you own a 30 year old kickstarter bike which is prone to overheating and you are prone to anxiety, then I’d suggest riding 1400km seeking out the isolation of unfamiliar rural back roads, which I just spent the weekend doing.

    Well, the above has dramatic effect but the main point was to combine a
    motorcycle ride with going to visit my Mum in Nyah, in the north west of
    Victoria. I’d been wanting to do this on the SR for a long time but had
    chickened out, for fear of hurting my baby or being stranded somewhere. It's an old bike, with its gremlins, a 500cc single, and it feels strained at 90, very unhappy at 100, and like it'll explode at 110. Since owning the SR however, I’ve moved away from fast twisty road riding which is its natural home and toward light touring; the SR really invites me to take my time and look about. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance says something about preferring the back roads and in many ways the SR is an excellent touring bike, not only because with it you can repair most problems in the shade of a tree, but it is so good for the same reason that is so bad for touring: it forces you always to search for the back roads, which constitute the true vantage point from which the local country is seen. So I did my 1400km at no more than 80km/hr, often in places where I’d see one car per hour.

    I also had another reason for this ride. As I say, while I ride day trips every weekend on the SR, I’d wanted to do some proper touring on it for a long time, but had chickened out, preferring the safety of the GR650. The SR has left me stranded before. Now a couple of months ago I came to know Devery from this forum who was looking for his first bike. People were giving him the advice that, in different words, he should get a modern boring thing, which wasn't my opinion and we struck up a PM-ing friendship. He came to buy a 1973 CZ175. It spent most of its first two weeks at my house because James couldn’t get it going after visiting me the first time, or because I was the closest place to which he could push it when it died out on the Boulevard. Then, after sorting out some gremlins, he decided to go on his first country run…a few days after that four-day heat wave he jumped on his bike and for his first ride out of the suburbs he rode to Cowora, NSW! Friends told me to talk him out of it, but I thought it a crime to rob a future old coot of adventurous memories, and it occurred to me that I was doing the same to myself, so now a fortnight after James I set out on the SR.

    Twisting north on Saturday morning, I chose roads that had been closed due to the recent fires, leading to Bendigo. A few stretches were burnt out, and you could see the way that the fires had gusted about, leaving one space free while burning out the patches beside it. It was comforting to know that I was riding a bike which was prone to stall and not start, in a place where there was no assured spot to hide from the flames! I took my camera along but as always was too lazy to stop and take pictures. Besides, I had no high beam and was likely to hit a kangaroo at dusk, so I figured that to dilly dally was not in order.

    From Bendigo I headed out to Wedderburn. It was a hot deserted place,
    except of course that as you rounded one corner you saw a green oasis of
    pensioners playing lawn bowls, the lifeblood of every Australian town! Through Boort, which was another oasis of the more traditional sort – a lake amidst dry flat country, except that the drought was having its effect and the oasis was rather low and thus swampy – and on to Quambatook, where I had a drink at the local pub, alongside its two other sole patrons. We all watched a big screen, on which was showing lawn bowls. From there to Swan Hill where, for the first time, I felt the need while riding to stretch. Everybody comments that my rear shocks don’t work and I think they’re right. The SR has a plank for a seat but again, it is excellent for touring because the frame you can feel through that seat provides rock solid support. I have higher bars on the bike and they also make long hours easier, especially on long straight roads. On these empty back roads a bottle of water in your backpack removes you from any angst-like sense of fellowship with the sun-bleached bones of sheep littered around the holes that used to be dams.

    I took Sunday off at Mum’s, except for a morning ride out to Moulamein with her partner Danny, who currently rides my old SR185. We swapped bikes and I confirmed the suspicion that the 185 sits at speed much more easily than the 500. I now have thoughts about a dedicated touring SR250. I got to enjoy one of those perverted SR-owner moments, watching Danny try to start the 500.

    On Monday I headed north from Nyah to Moulamein again, on my way. I had planned to go via Deniliquin but it was in the high 30s out there and I didn’t want to cook the engine (I suspect I am over-anxious about such things, but biking on a stingy budget makes you so). So I headed down to Barham, which means riding in the river region, chatting along the way to a servo attendant who rode an XS650 back in the day, and then headed toward Deniliquin in search of a back road to Echuca, rather than taking the busy highway. Below is a picture from when I stopped, realizing that I had gone the wrong way and that it was very hot and quiet. This is also just before I entered the road from hell.


    There was a series of road works between Moulemein and Barham, such that I’d had to detour on the dirt. This was hard compact dirt and I cruised along at 60 having a great time. I am no dirt biker whatsoever, but I first learnt to ride bikes by riding in the dirt chasing my uncle and brother on a 30 year old Honda CT110, dual range. Presently, I entered a road which was 75km to Moama, with a stretch of 25km of dirt in between. After the earlier fun on dirt, which had got me to thinking about doing some dirt road touring (though on something other than the SR, my having played with the sprockets for taller highway legs, thus creating a tendency to stall when going slow on such stuff), I decided not to turn back. Now, you don’t see many signs in the country that warn you that the upcoming dirt-gravel road is horrible and dangerous! Here was one - as big determined one! - and perhaps I should have let that influence my decision to continue, but I am stubborn. I learnt to regret that fault deeply. At first I pushed out of first and second gear with joy, cruising along again at 60, despite the rougher more complicated surface, having gained confidence on my last sortie of a detour. But what had previously led to smiles now led to the handle bars being yanked almost from my hands, back and forth, while the rear slid about in fish-tail fashion! This was not a tank slapper, this was the result of a road surface so bad it had earned the rare honour of a sign warning the wise, ignored by the foolish. I slowed down, sped up, and it happened again, three times in a horrible slow-motion succession of saves, and as I fought to remain upright it occurred to me how isolated I was, how very hot it was, and that if I went over I’d probably lose the clutch lever and effectively have no bike! My mobile is useless beyond the outer suburbs of Melbourne to the point that it was turned off for most of the trip. The bike swiveled almost uncontrollably one last time at the road’s edge and in an effort to keep upright I decided to take my chance with the fallen trunks and natural debris and barbed wire fence off the road, somehow succeeding to stop. So I rode the 25km of road at 25km/hr, placed between the hot sun bearing down from above and the heat rising from my engine below, along with its growing symphony of tapping and clapping, the sound of metal overheating, while riding along tentatively with frequent moments where the surface went ‘Boo!’ Whenever I passed sun-bleached bones (there were no remains of dams out here because generally men do not live in places God has cursed) it occurred to me that I had drunk all my water. Whenever I thought I saw the bitumen in the distance (when I spared a nervous moment to look up from the perilous road surface) it turned out to be blue gravel, a cruel joke.

    Eventually, after almost an hour of this, the bitumen appeared. I stopped for a while to let the engine cool, but I couldn’t relax because I felt quite dehydrated. Riding again I felt woozy, the bike felt unstable under me, and I knew I was a little addled and that really I needed (in stubborness) to push on (for an eternity it felt), relying on the cooling breeze generated by speed and on my fantasies of what I would do when I hit Moama-Echuca, river town. After a hard-earned beer in Echuca I fueled up at a servo, only to be greeted by a local fellow whose neighbour is an SR Club member who owns numerous SRs. After this I was a bit ready to end the day, so I rode along an endless long straight road to Mitiamo, in a strong head wind longing for the left turn, then turning left from Mitiamo I road along an endless long straight road in a strong side wind, longing for it all to be over, the road from Hell having left me out of sorts, as it does. I spent the night in Bendigo.

    After a sleep-in I rode out to Maldon, for my first visit. Maldon stopped progressing through time in the 1950s. A lot of tourists turned and stared at the SR as I did a riding tour of the town, cruising at 2500rpm like it was something old and British. I visited the cemetery to see the graves of the people from a memoir on which I am writing a thesis, then on to Castlemaine, which almost stopped in the 1950s except that the kids found spray paint and the Melbournites decided to leave the rat race and create their own, complete with sprawling suburbs in a place that used to be beautiful. Chips in gravy for lunch and I was intending head south to Daylesford and below, but of course some massive bushfire had broken out – should have known! So I jumped on the highway whose elevation gave me a view of the smoke and so fire, and concluding it was safe enough turned off east away from Daylseford and lost myself in the same naked hills and forest that I had first ridden on Saturday. I arrived home in time to attend the SR Club meeting.

    All up, the bike stalled once – on the way out of Melbourne! – mostly started first kick, used a whiff of petrol only, ran happily at my easy pace even in the heat and sometimes for long hours, and proved to be surprisingly comfortable even with a full backpack on. At the same time she drank 500mls of oil, but as I purposely over-fill on this stuff and carried some spare on me, there was no risk. She proved herself an excellent 80km/hr back roads tourer, which is the best place for touring, and could still cruise at a higher speed for short periods where I needed to jump on a highway and where I needed to avoid being trampled by a semi. Most importantly, she got lots of looks and made me feel, when I wanted it, that I like Maldon was traveling through a different time. On a ride down the Great Ocean Road the weekend before, I had stopped on the roadside to repair the carburetor, and it was great also to know that it was possible to do such things on the SR. I plan to extend the SR’s touring wings from hereon. One lesson I have learnt, is that I need to pull out my map when outside of town. All the friendly locals want to come and help when they see me do it, and they just can’t seem to understand that I want to take the longer less convenient route.




  2. Great read

    Thanks for the pics and looks like no shortage of fun times on the SR :cool:
  3. Thanks for that - really enjoyed reading it!
  4. Great read thanks for writing it up, enjoy your riding and many more km's of touring on the SR
  5. That was a great little read - thanks a lot for the write-up!
  6. I enjoyed that :).

    You've no idea the paroxysms of joy the Yanks went into when the SR was released, incidentally. It was on the front cover of Cycle, Cycle World, Motorcyclist, and it was set to be sold by the bushell-load to all the nostalgic ex-Brit-bike owners. Sadly, that didn't happen, but it was destined to be a cult bike some 30 years after its release.
  7. Here's my favourite (funny!) pic from the cover of one of those reviews.


    I've recently made a riding friend, Mike, who bought his new in 1980 and still rides it!
  8. Great story matt...but beer is the wrong choice of fluid if your dehydrated.
  9. Yeah, but never will you drink a beer more satisfying and delicious!

    Great read Matt! I too enjoy exploring dirt roads with the wrong equipment!

    Some nice photography there too ... now I long to hit the road again. :cool:
  10. Been hunting out nyah forest, stayed at swan hill for a few days.

    Nice part of the country, i love the outback.....lots!!!
  11. Thanks; doing another one of these trips in a fortnight: again finding a route to Nyah that takes from sun up to sun down on the most backward sealed roads I can find. It's just such beautiful country on the way out there, with those massive skies and irregular dusty weatherboards...

    Hanging to get a proper touring bike (alongside the SR) though, and do this stuff properly rather than remaining in tame country because the steed is 30 years old and finicky (eg currently sitting with its stripped layshaft!) and dirt-incapable...
  12. Matt, next time you come through Castlemaine drop into the buslines right in the centre of town at the traffic lights and say hi.

    I'm the fat, greying bugger called Geoff sitting in the office (I'm almost always there if the place is open).

    Failing that out of 25 staff there are 6 motorcyclists, a couple of scooter riders and 2 mechanics so if you have mechanical issues we might be able to help (we'll just move the red SR 'project' out of the way to make room for yours ok) :wink:
  13. Geoff, sooner or later I'll be in your neck of the woods - certainly will do!